The SVS International Liturgical Symposium took place on January 29-31, 2009. It featured preeminent theologians from Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant traditions from major universities, and was held in honor of The Rt. Rev. Alexander Schmemann (d. 1983), who served as dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary for more than twenty years. Fr. Schmemann is best known for his writings on liturgy and sacramental life, which have influenced all branches of Christianity, in the practice of worship as well as in the academic realm.
The keynote speaker was Robert F. Taft, S.J.
Other speakers include:
Read more about the Symposium here.
"The Liturgical Enterprise 25 Years After Alexander Schmemann - The Man and His Heritage."
The Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Robert Taft, S.J.
In addition to serving as a board member and/or consultant of several academic and ecclesiastical bodies, Fr. Taft is a founding member of both the North American Academy of Liturgy and of the Association of Jesuit Liturgists, and a member of the U.S. National Committee for Byzantine Studies, of the Society for Armenian Studies (retired 1999), and of the International Societas Liturgica. He was a member of the Governing Council of the latter society for ten years (1979–89), and its President from 1985–87.
January 31, 2009 Length: 1:12:00
Fr. John Behr: It gives me great pleasure, on behalf of the seminary, the faculty, the staff, the administration, the students, to welcome you all here this evening on this 25th anniversary of the repose of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, our former dean, and for the 26th annual Fr. Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture. Yes, it does work out. 25Th anniversary of his repose, but 26th annual lecture. For those with programs, count up all the dates and see how it works. When thinking about that, I couldn’t help but wonder if this reflects something about Orthodoxy itself, how we’re always the same yet always moving ahead. We’re in the 25th anniversary year, but we’re already doing the 26th anniversary lecture.
There are many, many things for which Fr. Alexander Schmemann is remembered. He was, of course, a highly and broadly cultured man, a man of letters and the arts, but of course he is primarily known as a liturgist, a servant of the liturgy and one who could explain the celebration of the liturgy to others. This is really what we’re celebrating this evening on this 25th anniversary of his repose. We in fact had, as I’m sure you all know—we’re in the midst of a liturgical symposium with a number of distinguished speakers here with us, speaking today and tomorrow, addressing the question of the past and future of liturgical theology, celebrating the legacy of Fr. Alexander Schmemann. It’s been quite an event and it’s going to continue being quite an event, and I’m glad to thank in particular Dr. George and Brenda Farha, Louis and Helen Nicozisis, John and Cina Daskalakis, and Michael Herzak for all the underwriting and support that made this possible.
So this is what we’ve been celebrating over the last couple of days: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It’s fitting that at this event, at this evening, on this anniversary memorial lecture, we should hear from the foremost contemporary liturgist and liturgical theologian, the Right Rev. Archimandrite Robert Taft. So it’s an honor that you are with us today, and we are looking forward very much to hearing your words.
In introducing Fr. Robert, I am really stumped, because I don’t know where to begin or where to end. He’s a professor emeritus of oriental liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, where he served as a professor there from 1970 to 2002. He also served as a Prefect of the Library and a Vice-Rector of the institute for five or six years. He’s also visiting emeritus professor at the University of Notre Dame, where he was visiting professor of liturgy there since 1974.
And, of course, he is known as a great teacher. In fact, he supervised our two faculty members, Professor Paul Meyendorff and Fr. Alexander Rentel; also Fr. Daniel Findikyan who is here from St. Nersess Seminary; you supervised him as well, I believe. And a number of other speakers; at least two of the others who are speaking at this liturgical symposium were also supervised by him. I’ve heard many times from them in the past and in the last day or two about his utter devotion to his students, that he would do anything for them at all, that he instills in them a desire to search for the truth, rather than holding onto one’s own presuppositions or prejudices, and that he himself exemplifies, of course, such scholarship.
So emeritus professor in all these places, he’s a fellow of the British Academy—I had to mention that one. [Laughter] He’s a consultant for all sorts of special commissions, for liturgy at the Vatican. He’s a founding member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, a founding member of the International Society for Oriental Liturgy. He’s a voting member of the St.-Petersburg Society of Byzantine Studies and many, many more distinguished positions.
In all of these roles, it’s really difficult to know where to begin and end, but I really got stumped when it came to publications. I was going to talk about his publications. I’m sure most of you I’m sure have read at least one book, one article. Because, whilst doing all of this work as a professor and serving as a consultant, he’s also managed to find time for a little writing. [Laughter] I was going to mention a few of his works, but when I saw that his bibliography contained over 850 published titles, and that means 20 books written by himself and, from what I understand, they’re getting longer with each book… [Laughter], seven edited volumes, hundreds of articles, well, at that point I just gave up.
So it’s my honor to introduce Fr. Robert Taft to speak this evening, and the topic he’s chosen to speak on is: “The Liturgical Enterprise: 25 Years After Fr. Alexander Schmemann: The Man and His Heritage.” Fr. Robert. [Applause]
Right Rev. Archim. Robert Taft, S.J.: I should probably quite while I’m ahead. [Laughter] Your Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah; Your Grace Bishop Maxim, most reverend hierarchs; V. Rev. Fr. Dean John Behr, for whom I thank for the introduction; professors; students; alumni; and friends of St. Vladimir’s; dear sisters and brothers in Christ: When V. Rev. Fr. Dean John Behr honored me with this invitation to address you today in this Fr. Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture on the 25th anniversary of his repose in the Lord, that great man of God, Fr. John suggested that I give a retrospective of where we have been in liturgiology since Fr. Alexander’s passing and a perspective on where we seem to be heading. This is conventional. It has long been conventional to look back on the anniversary of milestone events in modern liturgical history in a spirit of review and reassessment of what has been done, what needs to be done or redone, what remains on the agenda as unfinished business in need of attention. So it is fully traditional, as we dedicate ourselves today to the memory of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, a great in the pantheon of liturgical theology, to look back on what has intervened in the years since his repose.
What has been happening in the field of liturgy during these 25 post-Schmemann years? I shall limit my attention perforce to the liturgical system known as the Byzantine rite, for to review the entire field of liturgiology over the past quarter-century would take far longer than the time available, and even within those limited parameters I shall treat mainly what I see as mainly new paradigm shifts as well as important continuing trends in Orthodox liturgical studies over the past quarter-century. To enter into discussion of new individual works would take forever, and besides many of the best of them exist only as still-unpublished doctoral dissertations, as yet unavailable to the scholarly world.
A basic list of significant developments would in my view have to include the renaissance of liturgiology in post-Soviet Russia; the end of an era at my Pontifical Institute with the death of Juan Mateos in 2003, Miguel Arranz in 2008, and my own retirement in 2007; the ongoing seminal importance of textual studies and the new methods of text manipulation by computer, the new finds on Sinai, the founding of a new series, Anaphorae Orientales, for the publication of critical editions of Eastern anaphoras; the growing influence of social history on liturgical history; negative developments, like retrenchment in ecumenical liturgical theology due to neo-con Catholics’ attacks on recent gains; the end of the Western romance with Eastern liturgy that led to my founding of the new Society for Oriental Liturgy three years ago; recent challenges to the once-accepted prescriptive view of Christian liturgy, due in part to the neo-skepticism of the Bradshaw School; and finally, of course, the incredible shelf-life of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s œuvre.
I shall comment on but a few of these issues I see as more directly relevant to our commemorative assembly today. First, the most startling good news on the Orthodox liturgical horizon is the renaissance of liturgical scholarship in post-Soviet Russia. Anyone engaged in the study of Orthodox liturgy will be well-acquainted with the litany of world-class Orthodox liturgical scholars of immediate pre-revolutionary Russia: Almazov, Diakovsky, Dmitrievsky, Golubtsov, Karabinov, Krasnoseltsev, [Mansvetov], Muretov, Orlov, Petrovsky, Skaballanovitch, Turaev, Porfiriev, Uspensky, to mention but some of the major names that automatically spring to mind. Today with the new generation of Russian Orthodox liturgical scholars, like Alexei Pentkovsky, Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy and Director of the nearby Abramtsevo Museum, and Fr. Mikhail Zheltov, Liturgy Professor at the Orthodox University of St. Tikhon in Moscow, the Russian Orthodox Church has already entered a new and brilliant era of unmatched Orthodox liturgiology. Henceforth, anyone with ambitions to study Orthodox liturgy who does not learn Russian is just daydreaming.
Second, I must underline the furthering of historical critical and textual studies, both in Russia and the broader world of scholarship on Orthodox worship. To know what any aspect of Christian liturgy, indeed Christian anything, means, and hence means for today and therefore how it must be understood, celebrated, preached on the pastoral level, proceeds from the premise that Christian liturgy is an objective reality whose meaning is located not in what we think or feel or imagine or would like it to be but in the data of Christian tradition. So amid the contemporary search for relevance in liturgy, I continue to maintain obstinately and against all comers: there is nothing so relevant as knowledge and nothing so irrelevant as ignorance. The only reliable way to understand and critique the present manifestation of any cultural phenomenon is to see what it once was and how it got to be the way it is. One can do this only by studying its origins and its evolution; in a word, its history, which of course includes its shape and uses today.
But to study liturgy for what it is means studying the extant monuments, and in the long Christian centuries before the development of modern methods of data recording, retrieval, and manipulation, that means studying mainly texts. To study texts, however, one has to make them reliable witnesses by editing them critically on the basis of the best extant manuscript witnesses. In this category one must note that we finally have a critical edition of the earliest Byzantine liturgical manuscript, the eighth-century Barberini gr. 336 by two of my former students. The fact that we have waited twelve centuries for a critical edition of this essential source betrays the fact that Byzantine liturgiology remains, unfortunately, an enterprise in future eschatology. [Laughter]
Thirdly, one must also note the rare but occasional and usually accidental discovery of hitherto-unknown texts that, like a bolt of lightning, suddenly electrifies an academic field. Such a lightning-bolt struck the history of Byzantine liturgy when the new finds on Mt. Sinai in May 1975 [were made], when a huge hoard of manuscripts was discovered by accident in a rubble-filled room that had been blocked off inside the north wall of the Monastery of St. Catherine. Stig Simeon Frøyshov, alumnus of St. Vladimir’s, and now liturgical studies at the University of Oslo in Norway, is studying the liturgical manuscripts in these finds, and his findings are revolutionizing our views on the formative history of the Hagiopolite and early Byzantine rites. The liturgy of Palestine in the first Christian millennium was of course one of the two main building-blocks of what is now called the Byzantine rite.
In addition to these new discoveries, there are also new methods for dealing with the issues peculiar to pre-modern texts, such as the problem of authenticity, that is to say, whether the text was really written by the author to whom tradition attributes it. One classic example, the anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, by far the most widely used eucharistic prayer, has been attributed to St. John Chrysostom with unwavering consistency throughout the entire Byzantine tradition. Did St. John Chrysostom actually author this text that bears his name? Not exactly. As I have demonstrated via the new methods of computerized text manipulation, the Chrysostom Anaphora is a later redaction of the no-longer-extant Greek Anaphora of the Apostles; and the extant Syriac redaction of that anaphora, known as the Syriac Anaphora of the Apostles 1, is a later Jacobite reworking of a Syriac translation of this Apostle Anaphora’s Greek urtext independent of the later Byzantine redaction known as the Chrysostom anaphora.
Also gaining ground in liturgical studies is what I call “liturgy from the bottom up,” an historical method in which liturgical studies have been clearly influenced by new emphases in social history. The new series, A People’s History of Christianity, for example, announces three themes that will recur throughout the book: emphases on diversity rather than sameness, on the local rather than the universal, and on practice rather than on doctrine. “Christians did indeed tend to think globally,” the text continues, “but they also acted locally. The local acts and embodied practices, as much as the universalizing thoughts of ancient Christians, therefore demand our close attention.”
This puts into relief what I call my “Tip O’Neill” rule, for what the late Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill from Massachusetts, famously said, apropos of his métier, “All politics is local,” applies also to liturgy. In its origins at least, everything is local. Like politics, liturgical uses may eventually spread beyond their local origins to enter and influence the broader tradition, but they have local developments at their point of departure, and scholars ignore this at their own peril.
Secondly, Professor Jeffery of Princeton has commented on “how little scholarship there has been on the lay experience of worship.” Similarly, Greek Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), reviewing recent work on the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, noted that good work has been done on the history of the Eucharist and on its commentaries, but, he remarks:
far less attention has been devoted to the influence of the liturgy on the daily, personal life of the people. What impact did the service have upon a Byzantine Christian who was not a trained theologian or a member of the clergy? How widely were the words of the prayers and the symbolism of the ceremonies understood by the congregation as a whole? Here is a promising field for future research.
Of late, my own work in Oriental liturgiology has been moving in this direction, shifting away from recent studies on method to more socio-cultural issues: the concrete phenomena of popular participation as they emerged in the historical documents. In so doing I have in a sense been responding to my own appeal made 20 years ago that
One can no longer reconstruct the past only from the top down. What we find in liturgical manuscripts was embedded in a socio-cultural ambiance outside of which it cannot be understood as liturgy—something that real people did. Furthermore, such literary monuments are a product of high culture, and hence only half the story.
In contemporary scholarship across many fields, this approach, called the study of everyday life, has found a name in most languages, which demonstrates how current it is. It’s called yezhednevnaya zhizn’ in Russian, ē kathēmerinē zōē, la vie quotidienne, der Alltag. For Byzantium, such studies have ranged from pioneering works like the all-encompassing corpus of undigested documentation on Byzantine life collected by the Greek scholar Koukoules, Russian Byzantinist Gennady Grigorevich Litvarin’s “Kak djili bizantitziy?—How did the Byzantines live?” And Alexander Petrovich Kazhdan’s microscopic concentration on the query “Skol’ko eli Vizantijcy?—How much did the Byzantines eat?” [Laughter]
This has been imitated in the new millennium by further studies on food and drink in Byzantium, and more recently we have Cyril Mango’s Daily Life in Byzantium, Angeliki Laiou’s study on the life of Constantinopolitan women, Hans-Georg Beck’s “Orthodoxie und Alltag—Orthodoxy and Everyday Life,” and a host of recent studies on women in Byzantium as well as the exciting new French series, Réalités byzantines, all dealing with what was really going on in the life of Alexander Kazhdan’s homo byzantinus, as gleaned from the offbeat sources hitherto often ignored.
Many sources for studies of this sort reach across the horizon of contemporary scholarship, from Egyptian papyrus evidence to travel and pilgrimage accounts, popular literature, and, above all, hagiography, that is to say, the lives of the saints. Since the pioneering 1917 study of Moscow University’s Privat-dotsent Alexander Petrovich Rudakov, who died in 1940, the huge output of contemporary hagiographers in the historical critical study of editing of the lives and legends of the saints has stimulated rapid strides in this field. Curiously, liturgiologists have been late in waking up to this relatively unexploited, almost inexhaustible, and certainly indispensable gold-mine of information on the realia of liturgy, what ordinary people really did and thought and what they themselves said about it, regardless of the approved line in the official texts we usually rely on in our histories of liturgy from the top down. In my own work, I have found that the hagiographical and popular literature can nuance, and at times even overturn, our clichés, our commonplaces or presumed certainties, thereby providing a basis for revisionism, without which no historical field can advance.
Much more could be said about these and myriad other important issues in the liturgical field over the past quarter-century, for we live in a fast-forward culture that affects even the theological disciplines across confessional boundaries. The same is clearly true of the field of liturgical studies. Though its history remains to be written, it has undergone a veritable explosion of creativity over the past half-century. It is not so long ago that liturgy was thought to equal rubrics, its study considered a sub-branch of canon law, and it is only within the past few generations that liturgy, under whatever name, has become an independent academic discipline in its own right. I know of no German or North American theology faculty that had a chair of liturgy or offered a specialization in liturgy until after World War II, and the world-renowned Institut Supérieur de Liturgie at the Institut Catholique in Paris was founded only in 1947.
So liturgics is an infant discipline, but within our lifetime it has grown enormously. A 1995 Who’s Who survey of the field lists 1,939 authors writing on liturgy worldwide, and each of the two major academic societies in the field have over 400 members. Alexander Schmemann was a main protagonist of this growth, not only for Orthodoxy but for the whole discipline worldwide. So what I have dubbed the “Schmemann phenomenon” is part of a much larger storm which, like the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, overflowed the levies of liturgical theology, exposing fatal systemic witnesses in a synthesis that had outlived its time.
Somewhere in this remarkable history we must seek the key to this “Schmemann phenomenon”: phenomenal because of the unending shelf-life of our Fr. Alexander’s thought and works and their echo that continues to resound throughout the field. Seminar after seminar is held on his writings; doctoral dissertation after dissertation is written on his thought. Book after book on liturgical theology from Kavanaugh in 1984 to Irwin in 1990 and 1994, to Fagerberg, here present, in 1992 and 2004, tomorrow in 2000 dedicates major treatment to his œuvre. Interestingly, this is largely a North American enterprise, though the Conference Saint-Serge in Paris and professors of Orthodox theology in Germany, like Vladimir Ivanov at the University of Munich and Karl-Christian Felmy of the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg, have kept the candle burning in Europe.
Just what is going on here? Why this ongoing “Schmemann phenomenon” that has reached the point where some renovationists in the field, some obnovlentsy, are calling for a halt? I am thinking of the spate of recent articles on worship, the flagship liturgical publication in the Anglophone world in which the question has been raised whether it is not time to move beyond what Michael Aune—also here present; where are you, Michael?—what Michael Aune, who gave us a wonderful talk today, what Michael calls the “Schmemann-Kavanaugh-Fagerberg-Lathrop line” of liturgical theology. I don’t know why he didn’t put “Taft” in there. [Laughter]
I have reflected much on this “Schmemann phenomenon” in the months since I was invited to give this address. I have reread and reflected on the works of Fr. Alexander and the best of his commentators, and since a man’s works cannot be separated from who and what he is, I have reflected on the man himself, for that, too, explains, if only in part, the enormous impact he had on his times.
Let me begin there as one who knew Fr. Alexander personally, if only from a distance as a younger colleague, for although he was only twelve years older than I, we were of different generations academically. When I first met him in the 1960s, he was already professor and dean of St. Vladimir’s, whereas I was still a theology student not yet ordained. Meeting Fr. Alexander for the first time, one was immediately aware of being in the presence of a great man. His bearing, his charm, his kindness, and, yes, his attractiveness, for he was a handsome, dignified, imposing religious figure, radiated an air of unmistakeably noble character. He was a man who carried within himself the cultures of several worlds.
Born in Tallinn, Estonia, to a family which, despite its Germanic name, was Russian and Orthodox through and through, Alexander was educated in the vibrant bi-cultural atmosphere of Russian émigré Paris at the crossroads of two great cultural worlds, the incomparable cultural tradition that is France, with its Paris-centered Catholic revival that followed the debacle of France’s ignominious defeat in World War II, and the equally Paris-based Russian religious renaissance of the 20th century, as Nicholas Zernov named it, centered in Clamart, and at the Institut de Orthodoxe Saint-Serge in the 19th agrandissement.
A charter member of the ecumenical movement from his student days, when he was vice-chairman of the youth department of the World Council of Churches, and later a member of its Faith and Order Commission, and Orthodox observer at the Second Vatican Council, the young Alexander was open to others from the start, unlike those closed religious minds incapable of admitting that they do not inhabit this earth alone. Georges Florovsky’s pseudo-morphosis indictment on Western Orthodoxy, still eagerly espoused by representatives of the neo-Orthodox line of contemporary Greek theology, was not the road the young Alexander chose to follow. In what seems to be a veiled rebuttal of this ritual, and by night now-tiresome anti-Western line, Fr. Alexander, in the original Russian edition of his Vvedeniye v liturgicheskoye bogosloviye, his landmark Introduction to Liturgical Theology, rejects out of hand the notion that this Western influence is just a new Western captivity: novym zapadnogo pleneniya.
Open to the post-war religious ferment going on around him, the student Alexander was drawn into the liturgical renewal and returned to the fathers with such greats as Anglican monk Dom Gregory Dix, Belgian Benedictines Lambert Beauduin and Bernard Botte, the French theologians Louis Bouyer, the Dominicans Yves Congar, Marie-Dominique Chenu, and Irénée Henri Dalmais, Jesuits Jean Daniélou and Henri de Lubac, and the great new French theological serials of those heady times, like the 76 volumes of the series, Unam Sanctam from the Dominican theological faculty of Le Saulchoir, or the 80 volumes of Théologie from the Jesuit theological faculty of Lyons-Fourvière, and, above all, the incomparable Jesuit Sources Chrétiennes series that de Lubac and Daniélou founded at Lyons-Fourvière in 1940. The series now counts well over 500 volumes of patristic editions and translations and is still going strong, a collection that proved indispensable for the resourcement and return to the fathers movement of theological and liturgical renewal via a return to the sources and to the fathers of the Church, were the slogans and program of the day.
This respect and openness of Fr. Alexander manifested to the thinkers of other traditions, largely French Catholic thinkers of the day, was reciprocated in his American years. For the best extensive, in-depth commentaries on his theological heritage are, with a few exceptions like American liturgical theologian Gordon Lathrop, largely by American Catholic theologians, principally Aidan Kavanaugh; Kevin Irwin; most recently David Fagerberg, here present; Bruce T. Morrill; and Peter Galadza, also here present. As for Zernov’s Russian religious renaissance, its history and mandarins are well-known: Afanasiev, Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Florovsky, Kartashev, Kern, Vladimir Lossky, Vasily Zenkovsky, to name but a few. And the incomparable contribution of the Institut de Théologie Orthodoxe Saint-Serge, out of the humble poverty of its human beings, produced a creative greatness that resounds to this day throughout world Orthodoxy and beyond.
So despite the horrendous tragedy of 20th-century Russia and the consequent precarious circumstances of émigré life in the vast Russian diaspora, Fr. Alexander was an optimist. Whoever heard of a Russian optimist? [Laughter] 20th-century Russians had borne the burden of far too much history, too much tragedy, to be optimistic, except for those in the emigration who were fed by the wellsprings of faith, for the Orthodox renewal abroad. All that is just another way of saying, I suppose, that Fr. Alexander was a man of the world and a man of his times. By “man of the world,” I of course do not mean worldly or mundane, but rather one with his antennae attuned to what the Spirit of God was saying through the culture of the times.
As for the “man of his times,” one might be tempted to twist that cliché as a truism, since of course we are all men and women of our times, insofar as life’s circumstances pose limits that condition everyone from the start; but there is another very real sense in which some persons are in no way people of their times, because, like the starovyery of Russian Orthodoxy, although Alfeyev writes of schismatics of post-Vatican II Catholicism, “They seal themselves within a cultural ghetto and pull up the drawbridge to keep the rest of the world at bay.” This approach was foreign to Fr. Alexander, and his cultural openness was instantly demonstrated in the American phase of his life and ministry by the ease with which he adapted to that new cultural environment.
Such personal qualities, however remarkable though they may be, do not reveal the essence of Fr. Alexander’s theological heritage, which consists, I would suggest, in the fact that he effected, perhaps unwittingly, a paradigm-shift in liturgical theology that created a veritable tsunami in its wake. This paradigm-shift has been recognized and described in different ways by what one can legitimately call an entire Schmemann school of liturgical theologians. Despite their differing perspectives, I think they would all agree that pre-Schmemann liturgical theology was not at all what Fr. Alexander meant by liturgical theology; it was rather a theology of the liturgy, a theology not inspired and permeated by what liturgy is but by how liturgy works, by what liturgy supposedly does and how it does it, by how liturgy can be said theologically to do what it does. The aridity of this theology of the liturgy, with its debates on the meaning of eucharistic presence, continually plunging us into theories of consecration, consubstantiation, transubstantiation, transignification, transfinalization, whatever [Laughter] were concerns Fr. Alexander brushed aside as scholastic—his pejorative term for the manual theology of a previous era. And he went right to the heart of things by defining liturgy in new and exciting ways, thereby shifting the perspective to what liturgy is and not how it can be said to work.
What, then, was liturgical theology for Fr. Alexander? It was a theology that rejoined ecclesiology and eschatology and spirituality, a theology that did not explain the liturgy but rather a theology that was the liturgy. As one of the best commentators on Schmemann’s thought, David Fagerberg of Notre Dame—David’s here somewhere; where are you, David? Put up your hand so everybody can see whom I’m talking about… sitting on the floor there [Laughter] trying to hide; we won’t let you hide—David Fagerberg elucidated it: “Liturgical theology is the stab at meaning epiphanized by the concrete worship event. This stab of meaning is theologia prima. It’s found in the structure of the rite in its lex orandi.” Schmemann’s classical Introduction to Liturgical Theology is about what he calls the “Byzantine synthesis,” by which he means the Typikon, the Orthodox liturgical rulebook or ordinal that ordains how Orthodox liturgical services are to be celebrated throughout the year. “The first principle of liturgical theology,” he affirms, “is that in explaining the liturgical tradition of the Church, one must proceed not from abstract, purely intellectual schemata, cast randomly over the services, but from the services themselves, and this means, first of all, from their ordo,” that is to say, the Typikon.
From what Schmemann actually writes in his books on liturgy, however, before the studies of Fagerberg and others had elucidated his thought for non-Orthodox readers, the Typikon must have seemed a mystifying framework for a liturgical theology, at least to readers unaware that, for the Orthodox, the term “Typikon” serves as short-hand for what we call the Byzantine rite, an expression almost never found in Orthodox literature. In the Orthodox mind, the Church’s Typikon or rule of Orthodox prayer is the Orthodox rule of salvation, presenting the rule of faith for the Church’s life. This liturgical rule or pravila encompasses all the hours, days, weeks, months, and years of Christian life with the sacred rhythms of its Sunday, weekday, sanctoral, and feastday cycles and sacred seasons, filling the whole year with reminders of God and what he has wrought in his saints.
What could be a surer guarantee that one’s Orthodox life and prayer are on the right path? Such a vision is by no means foreign to Western sources. In the 13th century, St. Gertrude prayed, “Ut devotio obsequias concordat quomo vicis ecclesiae—that your devotion might be conformed to the services of the Church.” And the old ordination prayer of the Roman rite instructs the ordinands: “Imitamini quod tractatis—imitate what you handle, what you practice.” In other words, imitate in your life what you celebrate in the Liturgy. This is why Orthodox authors interpret the term, “pravoslaviye,” the Slavic translation of “Orthodox,” to mean right-worshiping. To separate rite from belief is for the Orthodox beyond understanding. So Schmemann’s Byzantine synthesis is what we call today’s Byzantine rite, and its Orthodox theologia prima, basic theology, is what Hans-Joachim Schulz calls “Erscheinungsbild,” that is to say, the epiphany of its symbolic form or Symbolgestalt, as it emerges in the liturgical celebration itself. As Fr. Alexander put it, “The Church’s leitourgia is a full and adequate epiphany of that which the Church believes.”
Those of us who grew up with this vision of a holistic liturgical life tend to forget how excitingly new this was at mid-20th century, when the liturgical movement and its theological renewal had reached cruising speed, and phrases like “liturgical piety” and “liturgy as the spirituality of the Church,” coined in Lambert Beauduin’s little landmark 1914 book, La piété de l’église, translated into English as Liturgical Piety, became the code-word indications that ecclesiology, eschatology, and spirituality were being reintegrated into theology and seen as most perfectly expressed in the worship of the Church, “Christ’s work in the Spirit for the life of the world,” as Fr. Alexander put it.
Fr. Alexander’s Orthodox tradition facilitated this renewal. One virtue of Eastern Orthodox liturgy is that it has remained a stable, holistic, traditional synthesis of ritual and symbolic structure that permits liturgy to do what it is supposed to do without the self-consciousness of present-day liturgy in the West. This holistic vision of liturgy at the center of the Church’s life was of course not invented by Alexander Schmemann, but he did more than anyone else to formulate and popularize it for those of us still alive today as witnessed by the continuing flood of writings about his œuvre. Fr. Alexander never set out to define this vision of liturgy and liturgical theology in textbook fashion, and indeed he was not a systematician, yet many passages in his works break open for us the reality he taught and laid bare, as when he says:
The Church’s leitourgia is an all-embracing vision of life, a power meant to judge, inform, and transform a whole vision of existence; a philosophy of life shaping and challenging all our ideas, attitudes, and actions; an icon of that new life which is to challenge and renew the old life in us and around us.
As Archimandrite Job so well explained today in his afternoon conference, this approach to liturgy, which goes back in origin to Cyprian Kern, was a method which interpreted not just liturgy but the whole of Orthodox life and theology.
This passage is crucial, for it is here that Fr. Schmemann rejoins the long tradition of Byzantine liturgical theology in the mystagogy of the classic commentators on the Divine Liturgy, a tradition that ironically Fr. Alexander himself neither understood nor accepted. What he did intuit, however, was that this iconic liturgical theology, like all Orthodox teaching on iconography, is rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation.
For (he writes) this is especially true of the Christian leitourgia, whose uniqueness lies in its stemming from its faith in the Incarnation, from the great and all-embracing mystery of the Logos made flesh. The uniqueness, the newness of Christian worship is that in Christ this very continuity with pre-Christian natural cults is fulfilled, receives all its ultimate and truly new significance so as to bring all natural worship to an end. Christ is the fulfillment of worship as adoration and prayer, thanksgiving and sacrifice, communion and knowledge, because he is the ultimate epiphany of man as worshiping being, the fullness of God’s manifestation and presence by means of the world. He is the true and full sacrament because he is the fulfillment of the world’s essential sacramentality.
This vision of the world as sacramental is of course not Schmemann’s own invention; it is a commonplace of patristic theology embraced by the modern renewal of liturgy that flows ineluctably from the cosmic implications of the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, announced in the Scriptures and explicated in the texts of the liturgy. The letter of St. Paul to the Philippians 2:5-11 captures the entire kerigma in a lyrical creed that summarizes the doctrinal basis for Orthodox and Catholic liturgical theology in the Paschal mystery of Christ from the kenosis or self-emptying of his incarnation, passion, and crucifixion to his exaltation via resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of the Father unto ultimate glorification in the celestial liturgy of the Lamb with the angels and saints before the throne of God. These interdependent doctrines, seminal to the Orthodox worldview, are like successive interlocking links in a chain, the whole pendant from the Incarnation of the God-man Jesus.
What had once been seen as an unbridgeable gulf between the divinity and humankind had for Christians been bridged by the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God made flesh. This bridge also made God’s saving dispensation a permanent reality. For Orthodox culture it also made the divine portrayable in icon and ritual. The defenders of the holy images founded the possibility of Christian iconography on the fact of the Incarnation of the Word. For St. John Damascene, last of the Greek Fathers, who died in 749, taught in his first Apology against those who attack the Divine Images:
In former times God who was without form or body could never be depicted, but now, when God is seen in the flesh, I make an image of the God whom I see.
In this theology, Church ritual constitutes both a representation and a re-presentation, a rendering present again, of the earthly saving work of Christ. In his 15th-century Dialogue, Against All Heresies, St. Symeon of Thessalonica gives this vision of Orthodox theological expression as follows.
Jesus was bodiless, ineffable, and cannot be apprehended, but who for our sakes assumed a body and becoming comprehensible, was seen and conversed with men, remaining God, so that he might sanctify us in a two-fold manner: according to that which is invisible and that which is visible. And thus he transmitted the sacraments to us in a two-fold form, at once visible and material, for the sake of our body, and at the same time intelligible and mystical and filled with invisible grace for the sake of our soul. There is one and the same Church above and below, since God came and appeared among us and was seen in our form and accomplished what he did for us, and the Lord’s priestly activity and communion and contemplation constitute one single work, which is carried out at the same time both above and here below, but with this difference: above it is done without veils and symbols, but here it is accomplished through symbols.
But “if the basis of all Christian worship is the Incarnation, its [true] content is [always] the Cross and Resurrection,” as Bruce Morrill comments [quoting Schmemann’s For the Life of the World, pp. 133 and 122]:
Through these events the new life in Christ, the incarnate Lord, is “hid with Christ in God,” and made into a life “not of this world.” The world which rejected Christ must die in man if it is to become again a means of communion, means of participation in the life which shone forth from the grave, in the kingdom which is “not of this world,” and which in terms of this world is still to come.
Morrill points out correctly that this teaching of Schmemann is effectively a summary of what Roman Catholic theologians subsume under the concept of the Paschal mystery, and he shows how similar it is to the liturgical theology of the Flemish Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx and is also, I might add, is clearly mirrored in the liturgical theology of that great document, Sacra Sanctum Concilium, the 1963 Vatican II constitution on the sacred liturgy. So we have come full circle back to the wellsprings of Orthodox liturgical theology in the classic Byzantine liturgical commentators to see that, ironically, Fr. Alexander shared and lived the vision of this wealthy tradition for which he showed little sympathy in his writings. I have always thought he misunderstood Orthodox mystagogy’s literary genre, one that I sought to rehabilitate in my writings on the topic, and I believe that Fr. Alexander’s liturgical theology expresses in modern terms this very same Orthodox tradition.
But that still does not explain what I have called the “Schmemann phenomenon” completely. Fr. Alexander was, of course, not the only one nor even the first one engaged in this liturgical renewal, nor for that matter were all his views correct. To what, then, must we attribute what I call the “Schmemann phenomenon,” the surprising fascination he and his work still hold in the minds and hearts of those engaged in the liturgical enterprise these 25 years since his death? I think it is because, unlike all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, he finally succeeded in putting Humpty-Dumpty together again. [Laughter] He took a decomposed and fragmented vision of liturgy, known by the code-name “theology of the liturgy,” and transfigured it—the term is not too strong—into a liturgical theology expressive of what Christ and his Church is: the sacrament of the kingdom, inchoatively present among us now in mystery for the life of the world.
That is why, in my view, Schmemann’s work remains seminal, and his place in the history of liturgiology is assured, regardless of how often he was right or wrong in this or that nuance or detail. This is a paradox he shares with other path-breaking thinkers of the past, which is why Bryan Spinks of Yale, also here present, could call Dom Gregory Dix “the Charles Darwin of liturgical studies”: all his evidence is out of date, much of it wrong, but the inspired guesses continue to be useful in explaining the newer evidence. It is also why Eamon Duffy could accuse another 20th-century liturgical giant, Austrian Jesuit Josef Andreas Jungmann, of disastrous assumptions without in any way detracting from the fact that Jungmann must rightly go down in history as one of the great liturgical scholars of all time. The issue is not Dix’s or Jungmann’s infallibility, nor even in some cases their originality, but the fact that they were and remain landmarks in the field because of the place their œuvre holds in the Geisegeschichte or cultural history of our times.
So the issue is not, “Was Alexander Schmemann always right in his analyses and views?” since no one but God is always right. And some of Fr. Alexander’s statements on factual matters regarding the origins and nature of certain Christian liturgical practices were dubious and in some cases dead wrong. But Alexander Schmemann was right on target with what liturgy is on the life of the Church, a vision we need today, in my view, more than ever. For it is ironic that as we celebrate today the achievements in liturgical theology of Alexander Schmemann, one must note a recent and, to me, unwelcome shift in American liturgical writings from a prescriptive to a descriptive view of what Christian liturgy is, as if liturgy were not what Christians ought to be doing at their worship, but whatever they in fact happen to be doing.
I hold, on the contrary, that Christian history has left us an objective and, yes, prescriptive liturgical tradition, one that views Christian worship not as whatever Christians do in church but as what they ought to be doing, one that draws them to participate in a common heritage far nobler and richer than in any individual’s choice or creation. Those who seem to add force to this descriptive view cite the rhetorical question of the late James F. White, one of the major voices of the Protestant liturgical establishment of my generation. He writes:
Do we want to say that a preaching service each week on the thirteenth Sabbath Lord’s Supper as among the Seventh Day Adventists is not authentic Christian worship? Do we want to disqualify those for whom the major events in the liturgical year are Children’s Sunday, Homecoming, Revival, and Rally Day? Any scheme that totally ignores the worship life of about 60% of American Christianity is highly questionable.
As with most rhetorical questions, the anticipated, politically correct reply is, “Of course not.” [Laughter] Alas, I must confess to the diametrically opposite view. [Laughter] Reversing the rhetoric, I would ask, rather, “How can one consider authentic the Christian worship of those for whom the major events in the liturgical year are not Lent and Easter, Christmas and Theophany, and on Sundays the holy Eucharist?” So in my view, far from it being time to move beyond the Schmemann-Kavanaugh-Fagerberg-Lathrop–and-Taft [Laughter] line of liturgical theology, we need it more than ever.
Conclusion: Fr. John Meyendorff, another of the greats of St. Vladimir’s history and of the Orthodox renaissance I have been outlining, rightly described Fr. Alexander’s earthly pilgrimage as a life worth living. As I once wrote to a former doctoral student, discouraged by what seemed to him the meager results of having studied Eastern liturgy:
I cannot imagine a more fitting, immensely rewarding ministry than to study the heritage of a people, and in the East that heritage is conserved and transmitted through the liturgy, in order to uncover its riches for the good of that same people and of all peoples, to the unending glory of God’s eternal name.
Those of us who knew the person and have been nourished by the thought of Alexander Schmemann will say, “Amen,” to that. Thank you for your attention. [Applause]
Fr. John: Thank you very, very much, Fr. Robert. That was a very deep, profound, broad, and entertaining lecture. Thank you very much for that.
Fr. Taft: Thank you.
Fr. John: Fr. Robert is willing to take questions, and I’m sure that there must be at least a couple of questions after that, so please: the microphone’s open for questions. Would you please come to the front so that everybody can hear questions, for a few minutes?
Q1: Fr. Robert, thank you so much for enlightening, uplifting, informative paper.
Fr. Taft: Thank you.
Q1: I was one of Fr. Schmemann’s students. I considered myself fortunate. I hoped one of these papers would deal with the liturgy as spirituality. Thus far, the papers touched upon it but did not deal with it, and I believe if the liturgy is not spiritually uplifting and informative and leading to the kingdom, then what is it? Could you comment on that?
Fr. Taft: Yes, well, I just published a book entitled, The Liturgy: Model of Prayer, Icon of Life. That book is a modern commentary on the Divine Liturgy and the other liturgical services, that was originally a series of conferences given as a retreat, and that’s my view of the liturgy, that the liturgy is the model of what we are supposed to be. What we celebrate is supposed to be the reality that we are, so liturgy and spirituality are inseparable. Basically, the main problem of all liturgical theology is: How do we justify the claims that we make for Christian liturgy? How can we say in the churches, the apostolic churches that have a high Christology… My Christology is so high it’d give you a nosebleed—[Laughter]—in other words, which believes that Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God who became incarnate, as in the teaching of the Ecumenical Councils, that he pre-existed before all time, and that Jesus Christ is the main protagonist, as head of his body, of all our liturgical services, and that’s what gives them the reality that we assign to them, in other words, that we say that it is Christ, acting through the indwelling of his Spirit in the Church, who is the main protagonist of the liturgy. It’s not the Church that does it, separate from Christ. Liturgical celebrations are celebrations of the entire body of Christ, and the main celebrant of the liturgy, so to speak, is Christ himself.
But the point of liturgy is that we are supposed to become what we celebrate. The purpose of the Eucharist isn’t to change bread and wine into Jesus Christ; it’s to change you and me into Jesus Christ. That’s what it’s all about. We are supposed to become the word of comfort and forgiveness. We are supposed to become the bread of life for the world. We are supposed to become the healing oil. And by “we,” I don’t mean just the ordained: all Christians, you see. So there’s no possibility of separating liturgy and spirituality. Liturgy is simply the mirror of what we are supposed to be, so that when we leave the liturgical assembly, we are supposed to go out and be what it is that we celebrate. That’s why St. Paul never once uses sacral terminology, like “sacrifice, offering, liturgy, priesthood,” and so forth, for anything except Christian life in Christ. What we do in church is simply the initiation into and the feeding and the restoration of its loss by sin and the intensification by preaching in the sacraments of what we’re supposed to be.
If we don’t become it, we might as well stay in bed on Sunday morning, because what we’re doing is just a comedy. So liturgy and spirituality are one; they can’t be separated. Or if they are separated, then we have sucked all of the meaning out of what the liturgy is supposed to be. So the purpose of liturgy is that we become that which it exemplifies. Liturgy holds up to us the model of Christian life. What’s the model of Christian life? What do we put on the altar? We put on bread that was broken and blood that was poured out as signs of what we are supposed to be. When we put the bread on the altar and the chalice on the altar as the signs which will become through the invocation of the Holy Spirit the body that was broken for us and the blood that pours out, we’re saying, “I’m doing this because this is what I know I’m supposed to be.” And if that’s not why we’re doing it, why bother? What good is it?
Q1: Thank you, Father.
Fr. Taft: You’re welcome.
Q2: Thank you very much for a wonderful speech and talk. I was just reminded by what you were saying now. I remember giving a lecture once in a parish where I was talking about the change, the epiklesis, and the fact that in the liturgy we invoke the Holy Spirit “on us and on the gifts here offered,” and I made the apparently scandalous remark that that means that it is we who are supposed to become the body of Christ, and certainly not just those elements there. A pious priest walked out very quickly when he heard that.
But I would just like to add one thing, and that is: I think one of the tsunami movements I think that Schmemann brought about is the experience of liturgy as a joyful event. I mean, for those of us who grew up in a certain Russian tradition, that was shocking, that liturgy can be fun [Laughter] and something really… A deep kind of joy, not a feel-good type of joy. But I think that was something that radiated from him as a celebrant, and in some ways radiates also from his best works, especially For the Life of the World, which was given to a non-Orthodox audience, but I think has done more to rehabilitate liturgy in the eyes of modern Western American society than all the treatises on sacramental theology or liturgical history have done.
Fr. Taft: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more, Paul. [Applause] And I think that, basically, is why Fr. Alexander’s work has had the shelf-life that it’s had. People who examine a phenomenon like this can only scratch their head and say, “What’s going on here?” Most people, you know, you write something that… especially a work of what I would call kerigmatic theology… Fr. Alexander was not a systematician. He certainly was not a historian. He was basically a kerigmatic theologian in the sense that he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is a Gospel, of course, of joy. It’s a joy mixed with tears, as the Fathers say, because we, of course, have to do penance for our sins and repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, but as we heard in a homily recently—I’m trying to think of where it was: senior moment [Laughter]—”metanoite,” in Greek, doesn’t mean “do penance” in the Western sense of the term that it’s translated in the Latin “penitentiam agite”; it means “change your mind,” get a spiritual lobotomy [Laughter], change the way you think! That’s what it’s about.
Learn to think in a different way: that’s the preaching of the kingdom, because the preaching of the kingdom is at hand, as Fr. Alexander so well explained in his explanation of the Eucharist as the sacrament of the kingdom. A tension between realized and future eschatology, of course, is always with us, but Fr. Alexander placed the emphasis on realized eschatology, which is realized because the Eucharist resolves, symbolically, the wait for the coming of the Lord. The Gospels tell us: “Many will come from East and West and sit down at my table in the kingdom.” To sit down at the table of the Lord in the kingdom is the sign that the kingdom has come, and that was a strong theme in Fr. Alexander’s view of the Church.
But Fr. Alexander was not a liturgical reformer. I always say that I am not a liturgical reformer; I’m a liturgical informer. [Laughter] And Fr. Alexander was the same. He was one who what I would call renewed the liturgy; in other words, was able to bring out of the liturgy its true understanding and make it live for people as a joyous event, which is the life in Christ that we know as under the name Church. That’s why, in that beautiful first chapter of his book, where he speaks about the liturgy beginning with the call… The liturgy begins at home with the gathering. The qahal Yahweh is the call. “Ecclesia” comes from “eccaleō: we are called out, we are convoked.” We’re not just a congregation; a congregation can come together, but a convocation means to be called together: the initiative is God’s, not ours, and explains that so well in that first chapter on the Eucharist, when he’s talking about the kingdom.
Q3: In your talk, Father, you spoke about universal as opposed to local, and you also talked on Christ and the Incarnation and Christ being the Word, the Logos, and the expression of this liturgical spirituality you talk about is through our understanding of our language of the liturgy. Dealing with the local and universal, how do we deal with the fact that we have liturgical reform—not liturgical reform, but growth in liturgy, but we’re dealing with translations that… As an Antiochian, I go into a Greek parish and chant with them in English, and I’m using their translations. I’m tripping, because it’s different than ours. I’ll notice the nuances in their translations are different than ours, and we’ve never really had professors who were as attuned as Cyril and Methodius with translating Slavonic or Innocent translating the Eskimo languages as we have tried to translate English. How would you deal with this?
Fr. Taft: Well, we shouldn’t be too romantic about the past. A lot of the stuff in the Slavonic translation is simply wrong, so. [Laughter]
This is a problem of the fragmentation of Orthodoxy in the United States. Get together! [Laughter and applause] In this, I think St. Vladimir’s not only has a role to play, but has played a major role, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is Orthodox unity in the United States going to be built in a day. The problems of Eastern Christianity in general are well-known: excessive emphasis on the ethnic aspect to the exclusion of more important elements, the failure of collaboration on the local level. As I say, I think no institution in North America has done more to foster Orthodox unity in the United States than St. Vladimir’s, and certainly the faculty of St. Vladimir’s, not just the present faculty; the present faculty of course, but those down through the difficult years, the years of the pioneers where things were extremely difficult, is really a tribute to God’s grace working in this community throughout its history, and we can only pray and hope that under the leadership of His Beatitude, who is giving great hope to, I think, all of the churches of God for the necessary renewal in the Orthodox Church in America and for carrying forward its aims, under the leadership of the hierarchy but always supported by the intellectual efforts of the theologians and historians and liturgiologists and other professors, canonists, St. Vladimir’s… I always used to say that canon law is the bad side of the good news. [Laughter] We need it, because there has to be structure.
Some people like to talk about the institutional Church. Hey, it’s the only one there is! There isn’t anything but the institutional Church! And the institutional Church has to have structures and principles and norms, so canon law is also, unfortunately, a part of what students have to study. [Laughter] I’m just kidding, Fr. Alexander; where is he? [Laughter] But I can only wish that St. Vladimir’s carry forward in the spirit of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. John Meyendorff, and so many other greats of the early history, most of whom I knew personally: Georges Florovsky, Nicholas Arseniev, and so forth, so many others. There’s just really a great heritage that you have, so I can only hope and pray that the flag is carried forward, the banner of Christ, that is to say, is carried forward: towards greater unity and collaboration in American Orthodoxy. [Applause]