For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy Paperback – 1 Jan 1973
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Schmemann states that we were created to live in a sacramental relationship with God and the creation, but this life was lost in the Fall of Adam and Eve. Christ, who gave his life "for the life of the world," came to restore this sacramental relationship, not only with God, but with all of Creation.
Schmemann writes that the purpose of the book "is to remind its readers that in Christ, life--life in all its totality--was returned to man, given again as sacrament and communion, made Eucharist." He goes on to discuss the importance of this understanding for our mission in the world.
I know many individuals who have wondered how the Eastern Orthodox and Christians in the West (both Roman Catholic and Protestant) can use the same terminology and mean different things. Sometimes the differences are subtle, sometimes radical. Schmemann believes that secularism is at the heart of those differences, and that secularism was born when scholars in the West sought to analyze, define and explain the sacraments, most significantly the Eucharist (or Communion).
By picking apart the meaning and "the elements" of Communion, scholasticism allowed the Eucharist to be divorced from the context of the Liturgy. Therefore, in order to satisfy an increasingly scientific approach, the West began to separate the sacred from the secular. As stated above, Christ came to restore the sacramental life as it was intended in the Garden. Schmemann maintains that separating the secular from the sacred is a Christian heresy that needs to be confronted. (By the way, he confronts this tendency among the Orthodox as well.)
I would do a disservice to this important work if I were to continue this inadequate description. It's significant that many--if not most--of the customer reviews on Amazon identify themselves as non-Orthodox readers. An Anglican reviewer quoted on the back cover states that "this is one of the best introductions to the sacraments, and not simply the 'Eastern' view of them."
"For the Life of the World" appears on many lists of books intended to introduce Orthodoxy, however in my opinion it would best suited to readers who have at least a little background in theology or Church history. As suggested above, this might be the best volume for getting a better understanding of why some of the terminology between East and West differs. Therefore, this would be a great book for improving dialogue between the many traditions of Christianity.
For additional reading, try "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church," by Vladimir Lossky or "The Orthodox Way," by Bishop Kallistos Ware.
From the first sentence we are taken into a view of the Sacraments immersed in the historic liturgy of the Church. For Schmemann, the Western Church commits a fundamental error in attempting to analyze the Sacraments as "objects" in isolation from the liturgical context that gives them meaning. Instead, the Sacraments are the act of the Church within its liturgy to transform the world through Christ by offering the world and ourselves to the Father.
Each of the recognized Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are considered within the liturgical life of the Church. This incarnational understanding of the Christian Faith presents the world itself - created by God and declared good - as something to be redeemed through Christ. Rejecting both the semi-gnostic anti-Sacramentalism of some Protestants as well as the view of medieval Roman Catholicism that bordered on "magic", Schmemann returns to a patristic view of the Sacramental life. This is no Eastern Orthodox polemic - Schmemann criticizes his own Church for abandoning the true understanding of the Sacraments for alien concepts - but a plea for the followers of Christ to appropriate a truly Christian understanding of life.
Among the many insights in this marvelous book is Schmemann's view of secularism as a Christian heresy. Secularism, he claims, is possible only in a culture already Christian. Christianity is not another "religion" but the death of all earthly religions. When Christendom mutates the true faith of Christianity into just another religion, the culture will recognize it as dead and reject it - not for another religion - but in a movement opposed to all religion. Religion is now dead and secularism recognizes this death. Only in Christianity is a life of faith possible.
This outlook blends powerfully into the section in the book on death. Rejecting both the "religious" view of earthly life as a preparation or trial ground for the next life and the secular view of death as a natural part of life, Schmemann steers toward a truly Christian understanding of death. The religious view defines life in terms of death; the secular view defines death in terms of life. Either raises death to the status of being part of God's plan for our existence. The Church of the Apostles and Fathers has always taught death is the enemy and in Christ the power death has upon us has been vanquished. This is fulfilled in Christ's resurrection and will be demonstrated in the general resurrection at the end of the age.
Those who have little experience with liturgy may have their world shaken by For the Life of the World. Even those who have long encountered the beauty and wonder of the historic liturgy and sacraments of the Church will be enriched by the depth of faith presented. This book is a classic work of the Christian Faith and should be read by all who seek to follow the Lord.
One of Fr. Schmemann's great legacies to Orthodoxy in America --and indeed, the world-- was the energy he put into revitalizing the sacramental spirit of its people. 'For the Life of the World' is a book which seeks just that goal: to remind Christians of their Eucharistic centre, and open their eyes to a way of living life 'sacramentally.' It is a book that discusses the heart of Orthodox theology, yet it is a simple book. It is a book that discusses the greatest mysteries of creation, yet in the most personal of manners.
There are few books which, in so few pages, can make so great an impact on their readers. So strong was its spiritual impact when first published as a paper, that this book was hand-translated into common Russian and smuggled into that country to serve as a help for the persecuted faithful.
'For the Life of the World' is one book that, truly, no heartfelt Christian person should be without.
That unknown beauty both crushed and liberated me. It revolutionized my worldview.
I began reading everything I could on ecclesiology, Church history, liturgy, and Orthodox apologetics. For Orthodox thinkers I dug into Lossky, Fr. Meyendorff, Elder Ephraim, Archbishop Kalistos Ware, the Philokalia, Pere Clement, St. Gregory Palamas, the Desert Fathers, the Cappadocian Fathers, St. John Climacus, Solzenhitzen, so on & forth. It was all utterly amazing. I had had no idea.
This book though, is a standout even amongst such rarified company. Schmemann is simply stunning. From the first page he piles insight atop insight. I've given my copy of the book away, so I haven't got it in front of me. Still, from memory I can tell you that he takes and reveals to you blatantly obvious truths about the sacramental life that have been right in front of our noses all along. That all of creation is in fact Eucharistic, rent with power of the Resurrection. You will never approach the chalice with the same mind again, once you've read it.
Orthodox theology and spirituality is most often like this: limpid & fierce, uncompromising. Very bracing, in a culture as decadent and corrupt in it's thinking as ours.
Shamefully, only the very best in contemporary Catholicism - both in terms of liturgy and theology - can touch or exceed the Orthodox average.
That said, the tragedy of historical Orthodoxy is that has been unable to make an apologetic case for itself in the so called West. Ground as they were for so long under the heel of all those Arabs, Turks, Tartars and communists. Maybe those persecutions preserved the "East" from modernity, and are the reason the flame burns so clean, particularly in the Russian, Arab & OCA parishes I've visited? God scourges those he favors, after all.
The yoke is mostly cast off, though. This seems to me to be an Orthodox moment. Can they get their act together, throw the bushel basket off their lamp, and engage the world? If the Orthodox are the Catholic Church of the Creed, as virtually every Orthodox I've talked to has insisted, I demand nothing less. (Heh. Demand! Quelle cheek, huh?) Heretics are swarming the West. So where's our Tome of Leo? Where is it? Is there a bishop to equal Athanasius in the East? Or are the Orthodox going to succumb to secularism, now that they've slipped the Communist & Saracen yokes? Will rationalism, relativism, sloth, lust and avarice do them in too? Will suburbia demand organs and pews, shorter liturgies, prefab iconography, the abrogation of feasts & fasts, & the rest? Or will Slavic ferocity save them?
No matter, all irrelevant, it seems. Orthodoxy isn't even really on the cultural radar screen. The Orthodox take on Church history is just incomprehensible here, mostly because people have never heard any of it before. The categories and data are for the most part utterly foreign. Is this excusable?
Or is it simply as it was in Noah's time, foreordained that no one should care about the Ark? But didn't Noah warn the people, anyway?
Or are the Orthodox anointed with the Sign of Jonah? And is the West Nineveh?
Or are they - God forbid - simply petulant xenophobic schismatics with nothing relevant to share?
In any case, this book - as well as everything else I've read by Schmemann and other Orthodox authors - needs to become part of our common discourse.
The time is ripe. The harvest is now. We all need to be Orthodox. Just as we need to be Catholic. Not all Roman, but Orthodox Catholics.
Which isn't necessarily to say that there isn't a Petrine charism or primacy of power in the Church, as per Isaiah 22:15-25.. Nor is it to say that ultra-montagne papists don't have a hard historical lesson or fifty to learn along the lines of the Donation of Constantine affair.
Let there be polemics! Catholic Answers & Co. all need more of a challenge than shooting poor 'fundamentalist' fish in a barrel. Please! Help them! Their apologetics are sooo boring. Spot them 1 Tim. 3:15. The rest of their apologetic directed at the prots is sheer redundancy. Let's get down to nuts and bolts and excavate the meaning of that verse. It all boils down to that.
The significance of the primacy is already planted firmly on the table. John Paul did that. Benedict is now throwing up huge signals, too. No one I heard remarked on the most interesting thing about his oh so terribly scandalous Regensburg speech. That quotation was not arbitrary. A pope does not accidentally quote Orthodox (Imperial!) sources.
I just know that all can be resolved and forgiven, if we only submit to each other in love and (re)adhere to our tradition. If the Arians were vanquished, why not our schism? As Paul re-embraced Peter? Forget Vatican III. Why not Nicea III?
I'm sure the Turks will accommodate us ..
The Harvest awaits. The gates of hell shall not prevail.
SS. Cyril & Methodius, SS Benedict & Anthony, SS Augustine & Athanasius,
Pray for us.
I was disappointed in the sections dealing with the Eucharist. Schmemann did a good job showing the problems with all attempts to explain exactly what happens in the Eucharist. He did an excellent job explaining what is wrong with the theory of transubstantiation. But he never gets around to talking about the basic Scriptural teachings regarding the Eucharist--that is for the forgiveness of sins. I expected the author to speak of the Eucharist as the medicine of immortality but I didn't find that either.
On the other hand, what Schmemann does speak of is worth reading. He does an excellent job of showing how the Eucharist is not a distraction or hindrance to the mission of the church but in fact is the mission of the church. He also convincingly argues that the Eucharist should never be considered separate from the liturgy. Probably the best parts of the book deal with secularism. He shows the folly of ecumenical movements that join together to battle secularism. (With things like the Glenn Beck rallys this is especially relevant in our day.) He shows that when these groups cast aside their differences to fight secularism they end up with a set of values that don't look much different from that of secularism. We should not alter are worship to be more secular and attract the secularists. When people realize that there is something wrong with secularism, it doesn't do any good to say, "Hey, I've got more secularism over here for you." We need a rediscovery of the power of historic liturgical worship so we have something to offer that is significantly better than what secularism has to offer.