I finally started reading a book that has been recommended by so many people – The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973-1983. It’s turning out to be just as good as promised. There are very few Orthodox Christians who aren’t familiar with Fr. Alexander’s works, such as The Eucharist, For the Life of the World, Great Lent: A Journey to Pascha, and Of Water and the Spirit. His Journals were published in 2000, seven years after his untimely death from lung cancer (Fr. Alexander was, unfortunately, a life-long smoker).
From the outset, Fr. Alexander’s journal entries seem to be those of a man completely given over to thinking and contemplation in a way that is rarely, if ever, done by your average church-going Christian. Most of us follow the philosophy that thinking too much is probably best avoided, and if we do fall into the habit, it often devolves into obsession or fixation.
Real contemplation isn’t just a meandering rabbit trail of thoughts and fancies. The Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines ‘contemplation’ as “concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion, or a state of mystical awareness of God’s being”. I can’t say that Father Alexander used his brilliant mind solely as a form of private devotion. I think he was too committed publicly with his role as dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and the demands on his time for lecturing to keep his contemplations private. (There is some speculation in his son Serge’s introduction to The Journals, that Fr. Alexander intended even these private contemplations to be published one day.) On the other hand, Fr. Alexander had an intense aversion to empty ritual and belief that was disassociated from a true awareness of God and his Church. His writings reflect his profound dwelling, not simply in an awareness of God (for you can be perfectly aware of something but not in communion with it), but in the unity of man with God through the sacramental life of the Church. Fr. Alexander wanted Orthodox Christians to get past the formulaic and see life as an integrated communion with God.
In everything that I preach, or teach or write, I want this answer to appear, hopefully to shine through. But that answer cannot be squeezed into any system, any recipe, any defined way of life. No rules come out of that answer. It is simply a vision of life, and what comes from that vision is the light, the transparency, the referral of everything to the “Other,” the eschatological character of life itself and all that is in it. The source of that eschatological light, the lifting up of all life, is the sacrament of the Eucharist…The Church has been established in this world to celebrate the Eucharist, to save man by restoring his Eucharistic being.
Monday, December 17, 1973