Monday, December 15, 2008

Commemoration of the Repose of
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
A Reflection by His Beatitude, Metropolitan JONAH

Father Alexander Schmemann was one of the towering figures of 20th Century Orthodox Christianity. A former dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary, his writings continue to provoke and inspire a new generation in the Church. The following comments were excerpted from a reflection by Metropolitan JONAH on the 25th anniversary of Father Alexander's repose.

May his Memory be Eternal!


The Only Agenda: The Gospel

If we are really Orthodox, we should be able to preach the Gospel better than anyone else, because we have it in an undistorted form. So what is it?

First and foremost that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death and giving life to those in the tombs. It is the message of the Resurrection, the victory of Jesus Christ over death and hell. It is the Good News that the Kingdom of God is present, here and now, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and you can be baptized into it, commune of its grace, and be filled with new life. It is this that we constantly celebrate in church, in the services, in the cycles of feasts and fasts. And what does it do for us? It heals our souls, and raises us up from despair, and enables us to deal with any obstacle that comes in our way.

The good news of the "Orthodox" Gospel is that we are free from the destructive perversions of the Gospel which pervade the religious presuppositions of our post-Christian ex-Protestant culture. We don't preach that God is a harsh judge waiting to damn us to hell for the least transgression. How often do we say in the Liturgy, "For You are a good God and the lover of mankind," or "You are a God of mercy and compassion and love for mankind." This is Good News. We don't preach that we are inescapably predestined to be saved or damned, and there is not a thing we can do about it, either way. And we don't preach that being a Christian is about going to heaven when we die. What do we say? As St John Chrysostom said, "For You have brought us up to heaven and endowed us with your kingdom which is to come." Here and now, not just when we're dead. And we don't need to forget those who have gone before us, but we have continual remembrance of them, because in Christ they are alive with the same life with which we also live.

We celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy, but it needs to be a real celebration of the integrity of the Gospel message. The triumph over iconoclasm has an essential point of faith: by His Incarnation, Jesus Christ sanctified matter. We can paint a picture of God Incarnate, and experience His Presence in and through venerating the icon. We can partake of His life by eating the bread and wine of His Body and Blood; we are immersed into His life in Baptism, anointed with the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, and made part of His Body. The world itself, matter, is sanctified by Christ's Coming, and becomes a means of communion with God. And we ourselves, in this body, in this life, here and now, are sanctified and made holy, partakers of the life of God. Salvation is about life here and now, not "fire insurance" for after death! In Christ, all things are made new. "For He has brought us up to heaven, and endowed us with His Kingdom which is to come."

This is Good News!

Read it all here.

Metropolitan JONAH was present at St. Vladimir's Seminary for the Panikhida (Memorial Service) for Father Alexander. The news story, with photos, is available here.