The Legacy of Father Alexander Schmemann

General Presentation

Throughout his life and his long service as a priest, Father Alexander Schmemann was actively involved in the life of the Church. From the time he was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 23, he was a pastor, a teacher, a polemicist and a theologian. His premature death on December 13, 1983, soon followed by that of Father John Meyendorff, left a great void. The twenty-five years since Father Alexander’s passing have been marked by deep turmoil in the world. The collapse of Communist regimes in the USSR and East Europe has led to a revival of the Orthodox Church and a radical change in its place in the world. In many respects we live in a world that is quite different from the one Father Alexander lived in.

Yet the presence and influence of Father Alexander have not diminished over the twenty-five years; on the contrary, they are growing. The significance of his actions and ideas, even separated from the context in which they were conceived, is becoming ever more clear and coherent. His living voice, always strong and often prophetic, is still present among us through his works, and is increasingly recognized by the Orthodox as the voice of the Church itself, transcending national and ideological boundaries.

The work of Father Alexander is directly descended from the Russian theological and liturgical tradition, which found a refuge at the Saint-Serge Theological Institute before being spread to America and throughout the world. Today it plays a critical role in the renaissance of the Church in Russia, where so many links were broken and where Father Alexander’s work serves as a reference for many among the more sincere members of the clergy; as a precious link which reconnects them with Tradition. Many of those who find inspiration in the works of Father Alexander today could not know him when he was alive because they were too young. The revived interest which we now observe can be explained by the recent publication of the Journals of Father Alexander, without doubt his most important literary work. The publication of the diaries in Russia was a major event which has not ceased to inspire and nourish debate and reflection. A complete collection of his works, some of which are hard to find, will appear in Moscow this year, and it will contribute to a better knowledge of the different aspects of the theologian and writer. It is hoped that some day the abundant correspondence of Father Alexander will also be published, completing the image of the Journals.

The 25th anniversary of the passing of Father Alexander Schmemann is an occasion for reflection and evaluation on the place that he and his work occupy in the Orthodox world today.  Conferences on his works have already been held on several occasions. The present Colloquium intends to make as complete as possible an assessment and review of the different aspects of the activity, work and vision of Father Alexander; the different interpretations they might elicit and their relevance within the Church today.

This conference might also be an occasion to remind us of the importance of Father Alexander for Orthodoxy in Western Europe, especially in France, where he grew up and was educated, and in particular at the Saint Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. It was there that he was ordained a priest and that he began his involvement in the life of the Church, especially in the Russian Christian Student Movement. After he moved to New York City and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, Father Alexander left a part of himself in Paris. He returned regularly to visit family and friends. Today more than ever, when the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France is actively working on the process of unification, the vision of Father Alexander, with its roots in the mystery of the Church in its local and universal dimension, may serve as a reference and source of inspiration for the task of building a local Church of Western Europe.

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