The Supreme Court, You and Me, and the Future of Marriage

witherspoon-inst-logo-150x150Source: Witherspoon Institute

By , and within Marriage

Originally published June 27, 2013.

What happened yesterday at the courthouse matters, and we must keep up our witness to the truth about marriage, by word and deed, until it is safely beyond judicial overreach.

Here’s the least reported fact about yesterday’s rulings on marriage: the Supreme Court refused to give Ted Olson and David Boies, the lawyers suing to overturn Prop 8, what they wanted. The Court refused to redefine marriage for the entire nation. The Court refused to “discover” a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Citizens and their elected representatives remain free to discuss, debate, and vote about marriage policy in all fifty states. Citizens and their elected representatives still have the right to define marriage in civil law as the union of one man and one woman.

And we should continue doing so. Already, in the wake of yesterday’s ruling, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana has called on his state to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Marriage matters for children, for civil society, and for limited government. Marriage is the institution that unites a man and a woman as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children that their union produces. And that’s why the government is in the marriage business. Not because it cares about adult romance, but because it cares about the rights of children.

If you believe, as we do, in the importance to children and to society of the marriage-based family, then of course you were hoping for different results in yesterday’s marriage cases. But you probably also put your trust in the institutions of civil society—in that vast arena between man and state which is the real stage for human development. And in that case, you never expected a court of law to do our work for us, to rescue a marriage culture that has been wounded for decades by cohabitation, out-of-wedlock child-bearing, and misguided policies like no-fault divorce. Your only question at 10:00 AM yesterday was whether the Supreme Court would leave us the political and cultural space to rebuild that culture, or get in the way.

The answer was that the Court would leave us some space—for now. Five justices in United States v. Windsor have seen fit to put the republic on notice. While coy on state marriage laws, they have held that we the people—through overwhelming majorities in Congress and a Democratic President—somehow violated the Constitution in enacting the Defense of Marriage Act.

Here we’ll describe just what the Court said and didn’t, what it got wrong, what that means in practice, and where it leaves the fight for a sound marriage culture.

What Happened in Windsor and Perry

In United States v. Windsor, the Court heard a challenge to Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a male-female union for federal purposes created in federal law. Justice Kennedy and the four more liberal justices—Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Ginsburg—struck down that section. Dissents were filed by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, and Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas.

In the second case, Perry v. Hollingsworth, the Court considered Proposition 8, the referendum in which California citizens amended their constitution to preserve conjugal marriage in state law. The California attorney general, normally responsible for defending such laws, refused in this case, so Prop 8’s proponents stepped in. But the Court ruled that they had no standing—no legal right—to do so. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. Justice Kennedy dissented, joined by Justices Alito, Thomas, and Sotomayor.

What That Does—and Doesn’t—Mean

The Supreme Court did not strike down all of DOMA, just Section 3. It left intact Section 2, which prevents the states from being forced to recognize other states’ same-sex marriages. This leads to the broader point that not a single justice said anything against the validity of any state marriage policy, including state conjugal marriage laws. That means, of course, that not a single justice voted to strike down Prop 8. Instead, the Perry majority ordered the Ninth Circuit Court to set aside (“vacate”) its own ruling against Prop 8.

That leaves us with some confusion as to the status of Judge Vaughn Walker’s district court decision that ruled against Prop 8. Some scholars think Walker’s decision must be vacated, too. Each same-sex couple seeking to marry in California would then have to sue for a special kind of court relief, applicable only to that couple. Others think that Judge Walker’s decision would stand, but they debate whether it would apply to all state officials or only the county clerks named in the suit. Governor Jerry Brown, for his part, has directed all county clerks to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses. This will surely be challenged in state court by the proponents of Prop 8.

Trouble Spots

The Court ruled that Prop 8 proponents were not the right party to bring the suit. Wherever vague and conflicting standing doctrine points, its application here eviscerated the California referendum process. That process was designed to let citizens pass laws, and amend their constitution, to check and balance government officials. If those same officials can effectively veto provisions of the state constitution by refusing to enforce and then refusing to defend them, the point of the referendum process is defeated.

Meanwhile, it is hard to criticize the basis of the DOMA case because it is hard even to say what that basis is. The opinion begins with a learned reflection on how family law has historically (but not exclusively) been left to states. Yet it refuses to strike DOMA down just on that ground. After all, DOMA leaves state family law intact as ever. It controls only how the federal government allocates federal money and benefits when it comes to marriage. Congress can’t impose on the states in this matter, to be sure; but then why would the states be able to impose on Congress?

The Court also doesn’t rest its decision just on equal protection principles, though these too are discussed. If equality required Congress to cover same-sex partnerships with its marriage-related laws, wouldn’t the same be true of the states? Yet the majority claims to reach no decision on the latter.

Finally, the Court doesn’t just rely on the principle that the government can’t deny liberty without due process. On the Court’s own accounting, that rule protects substantive rights only when they are deeply rooted in our nation’s history and traditions. But as of 13 years ago, no jurisdiction on our planet, much less in our nation, had enacted same-sex civil marriage.

So if not federalism, or equality, or due process, then what? What is the basis for the Court’s ruling? As Justice Scalia points out, the Court itself won’t say. It discusses each of these principles before refusing to rely squarely on any. As for how they might stretch, multiply, merge, or pile up to support the Court’s holding anyway, several theories have arisen. But even some who cheer the decision have called its reasoning less than coherent or satisfying.

Justice Kennedy, for his part, is just sure the Constitution prevents the federal government from treating opposite- and same-sex state marriages differently. All he knows, in other words, is that Section 3 of DOMA must go.

In fact, we would have been better off had he stopped there. DOMA, he goes on to insist, must have been motivated by a “bare desire to harm,” or “to disparage and to injure.” Its sole purpose and effect is to “impose inequality,” to deny “equal dignity,” to “humiliate.” He infers all this from a few passages in its legislative history about defending traditional morality and the institution of traditional marriage, from its effects, and from the act’s title. Most importantly—and scandalously, given his obligations as a judge—Kennedy does so with nothing more than passing reference to arguments made for DOMA in particular, and conjugal marriage in general. How else could his reasoning leap from the people’s wish to support a certain vision of marriage, to their alleged desire to harm and humiliate those otherwise inclined?

The effect of this refusal to engage counterarguments is the elevation of a rash accusation to the dignity of a legal principle: DOMA’s supporters—including, one supposes, 342 representatives, 85 senators, and President Clinton—must have been motivated by ill will.

The Heart of the Problem—and Solution

The bottom line? The defense of conjugal marriage matters now more than ever. It won’t be long before new challengers come. But whether they succeed may depend on how vigorously the democratic debate is joined that Justice Alito describes in his clear-eyed dissent.

In his DOMA dissent, Justice Alito goes out of his way to frame the central issue of both cases: They involve, he writes, a contest between two visions of marriage—what he calls the “conjugal” and “consent-based” views. He cites our book as exemplifying the conjugal view of marriage as (in his summary) a “comprehensive, exclusive, permanent union that is intrinsically ordered to producing children.” He cites others, like Jonathan Rauch, for the idea that marriage is a certain commitment marked by emotional union. And he explains that the Constitution is silent on which of these substantive, morally controversial visions of marriage is correct. So the Court, he says, should decline to decide; it should defer to democratic debate.

The Court is likelier to defer to democratic debate if it believes there’s a genuine debate to defer to. If the conjugal view’s supporters are instead cowed into silence, or convinced to forfeit on the ground that loss is “inevitable” anyway, five justices will see no obstacle to imposing the consent-based view nationwide.

Never mind that this emotional companionship rationale entails that moms and dads are interchangeable. Never mind that it makes nonsense of other norms of marriage, unable as it is to justify the limits of permanence, exclusivity, or monogamy. Never mind that by its logic, the law’s “discrimination” against multiple-partner bonds, too, would embody a “bare desire to harm” those most satisfied by other bonds.

The point is that by assuming the consent-based view, the majority in the DOMA decision took sides in the very debate it was claiming to sidestep out of respect for state sovereignty. Had the justices taken the trouble even to describe conjugal marriage supporters’ reasons in their own terms, it would have become obvious that these weren’t bigots but garden-variety political opponents.

So our first task is to develop and multiply our artistic, pastoral, and reasoned defenses of the conjugal view as the truth about marriage, and to make ever plainer our policy reasons for enacting it. That will make it more awkward for the justices to apply their DOMA reasoning in a future challenge to state marriage laws. Only conjugal marriage supporters can decide—by what they do next—whether the Court, when it next returns to marriage, will find a policy dispute lively enough to demand its deference.

Our second task is to take a long—and broad—view. Whenever and however the legal battle is won, our work will have only begun. Despite the Court’s libels against half their fellow citizens, this debate is not about “the bare desire to harm” any group. Indeed, for conjugal marriage supporters it is not, ultimately, about homosexuality at all. It is about marriage. The proposal to define marriage as nothing more specific than your top emotional bond is one way to erode its stabilizing norms, so crucial for family life and the common good.

But it is just one way.

Before same-sex anything was at stake, our society was already busy dismantling its own foundation, by innovations like no-fault divorce and by a thousand daily decisions to dishonor the norms of marriage that make it apt for family life. Atomization results from these forms of family breakdown—and from the superficially appealing idea that emotional closeness is all that sets marriage apart, which makes it gauche to seek true companionship and love in non-marital bonds. Part of rebuilding marriage will be responding to that atomization—reaching out to friends and neighbors suffering broken hearts or homes, or loneliness, whatever the cause. That, too, will make the conjugal view of marriage shine more brightly as a viable social option.

In short, winning the legal battle against redefinition is only a condition of winning the political one. And winning the political one is only a condition (though necessary) for rebuilding a healthy culture.

Yesterday’s most important developments in that broadest struggle, of course, did not happen at a marble courthouse in Washington, but in a million minds and hearts and households across the country, as people chose in ways great and small to honor—or not—the demanding ideals of marriage and family, and community. As champions of civil society, we always knew that. Yet it would be naive to deny the law’s effect on those ideals. That’s why the courthouse matters—and why we must keep up our witness to the truth about marriage, by word and deed, until it is safely beyond judicial overreach.

Sherif Girgis is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Princeton and a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School. Ryan T. Anderson is a William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and Editor of Public Discourse. Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. They are co-authors of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.


  1. Michael Bauman says

    This is not just an assault on marriage but on fundamental humanity: the ontological difference between men and women and the fecundity we are given as a gift of God. It is a new form of iconoclasm. It will be deadly. The state will not brook any opposition.

  2. James Bradshaw says

    “Not because it cares about adult romance, but because it cares about the rights of children.”

    Not romance, per se, but I think there are reasons the government should care about encouraging stability arising from romantic relationships whether children are produced or not. From Focus on the Family (hardly a left-wing group):

    “The current body of research consistently finds married men and women are:
    More likely to live longer
    More likely to be physically healthier
    More likely to be mentally healthier
    More likely to be happier
    Recover from illness quicker and more successfully
    Generally, take better care of themselves and avoid risky behavior”

    A man who married during his incarceration states: “My marriage to [Carole] has been the greatest blessing in my life. Our relationship inspires me to work harder to prepare for the obstacles I must overcome once my prison term ends.”

    Because marriage benefits individuals in quantifiable ways, it seems rational to conclude that it benefits society as a whole.

  3. Michael Bauman says

    George, yes but to me that is a distinction without a difference. It has progressed from destroying images made with hands to the image of God Himself but it is the same demonic spirit.

  4. M. Stankovich says

    There is something terribly ironic in lawyers being offered as a resolution to what I believe put us into this post-fact futility in the first place: ceding these “arguments,” definitions, and parameters of the social context & culture to elections, lawyers and ultimately judges. What they are in effect are offering by way of a solution is “winning the legal battle against redefinition is only [by] a condition of winning the political one.” More suits, more briefs, more arguments, more lawyers, and more of us at the periphery awaiting decisions of which we are not a party.

    It is important that Fr. Florovsky points out – interestingly enough – a lay movement in Russia, founded in the vision of V. Solovyev, AS Khomyakov (best known as the author of The Church is One), and N. Berdyaev that focused on what Florovsky describes as an understanding that “the faith of the church provides a solid ground for social action, and only in the Christian spirit can one expect to build afresh a new order in which both human personality and social order would be secured”:

    The church is indeed “not of this world,” but it has nevertheless an obvious and important mission “in this world” precisely because it lies “in the evil.” In any case, one cannot avoid at least a diagnosis. It was commonly believed for centuries that the main Christian vocation was precisely an administration of charity and justice. The church was, both in the East and in the West, a supreme teacher of all ethical values. All ethical values of our present civilization can be traced back to Christian sources, and above all back to the gospel of Christ. Again, the church is a society which claims the whole man for God’s service and offers cure and healing to the whole man, and not only to his “soul.” If the church, as an institution, cannot adopt the way of an open social action, Christians cannot dispense with their civic duties, for theirs is an enormous contribution to make “in the material sphere,” exactly as Christians.

    I sincerely believe that these are the internal strengths of the Church we must again awaken and utilize – the lost Scriptural, Patristic, and Liturgical weapons we possess – and end this reliance on the political and social tactics of the heterodox.

  5. Michael Bauman says

    MS: I agree. I doubt you’d find many here to disagree. The question is what that looks like; its shape and form. Any suggestions?

  6. Michael Bauman says

    Michael S. Fr. Chad Hatfield was visiting today and gave the homily. He began by reading from the Introduction Fr. Schemmann wrote 30 years ago shortly before his repose to his book, “The Eucharist”
    The jist of the homily was the living in, celebrating and proclaiming the Eucharist (and all that flows from it) was the only way to bear witness to the world. Fr. Chad said, much like you, that relying on Caesar for our “rights” was foolish.

    As an example he told the story of the young bishop he met in Kiev. The was a church that the government had not yet restored to the Church and was not anxious to. The bishop mobilized the young and led them to the church, kicked the doors down and occupied it. They go every night to pray.

    Would that we had such bishops and such young.

    • Rostislav says

      I think that quoting Fr. Schmemann and then saying that “standing up to Caesar is foolish” is not fully appreciating the man and his vision for the Orthodox Church in North America. To wit, he participated in the Civil Rights Movement and allied himself with the Moral Majority in support of President Reagan. He regularly gave theological talks on Radio America to the Soviet Bloc as well. His participation in dialogue was to promote religious freedom and combat repression and militant atheism as well.

      The Eucharist is the culmination in our assembly as the Church, but each of us is called to a life of living Scripture, iconography, Tradition, and witnessing a loving CHRIST, crucified, resurrected, ascended in the outpouring of the HOLY SPIRIT, transfiguring the world around us in grace. The Christian bears the responsibility of introducing to the fallen world personhood, enhypostasis, in CHRIST JESUS. That is the point of Fr. Schmemann’s theology. His insistence on Eucharistic ecclesiology was to simply put a face and method to Fr. Florovsky’s idea of renewal in the “Neo-Patristic Synthesis”. When we partake of the BODY and BLOOD of CHRIST, we become the BODY and BLOOD of CHRIST and remain such in the Church if we struggle against sin and participate in deifying grace freely given.

      Eucharist without podvig is simply a miscarriage of Fr. Schmemann’s theology. It is nominalization of Fr. Alexander’s emphasis and defeats his purpose.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      Michael, I weep for us American Orthodox in that we have neither the will nor the inclination to act so boldly. We are fat and happy. Lord have mercy.

  7. Michael Bauman says

    Rostislav, You miss read. Fr. Chad said we must stand up to Caesar for righteousness sake and Stop looking to government to define morality, etc.

    Fr. Chad was calling us to take our faith more seriously than we take the world. Urging us to not let it be defined by the world. To be conformed by the sacramental life of the Church so that we can witness to the truth. That always takes podvig.

    He was calling us to a deeper appreciation of what it means to be in the world, not of it.

    But I’m sure you know better especially since you weren’t there. I’m also sure that Fr Chad knows the greater implications of Fr. Schemmann’s work at least as well as you. He used the introduction to one work which was patently applicable to the insanity of government we are now under.

    • Rostislav says

      The point I was making is that Fr. Schmemann never conceded the possibility for change of secular government and our active role as Orthodox Christians in making that happen. An abdication of our role as Orthodox citizens with open presence and practice in civil society and politics something which reinforces a “nominalist” conception of our role as Orthodox Christians. This is something Fr. Alexander devoted his life as a theologian and Priest in combatting.

      I think tuning out because “we are in the end times” is what is known as “Catacomb Orthodoxy”. Fr. Schmemann encouraged us to greet the eschaton as the fulfillment of our Faith. He held we should celebrate the Eighth Day as the completion of our time. For him, the Eucharist was the consummation of the age, and every time we communed properly we participated in grace upon grace in the Kingdom. He held that a life centered in the Eucharist would shed grace on all of creation and transfigure it in holiness.

      For him an exaggerated emphasis on the “end times” and the accompanying “escapism” surrounding that was an abdication of Orthodoxy and a “retreat into nominalism”.

      Thank you for your consideration.

      • Michael Bauman says

        Again, you are mistaken, he was pointing out that we could not expect the secular world/government to change on its own and that we must assert ourselves as Christians from a Christian perspective and foundation while not expecting the secular government to do our work for us.

        Again, you weren’t there (I don’t believe), you pre-supposed what he said and fit it to your preconceived mold.

        • Rostislav says

          I am not at all interested in critiquing what he said. I don’t seem to think that has hit the mark yet. I am sharing with you an independent perspective of how Fr. Schmemann’s work doesn’t seem to reconcile with your presentation of Fr. Chad Hatfield’s treatment of it.

          Thank you very much for your time.

  8. M. Stankovich says


    I do not know quite what to make of your comments. I was a student of Fr. Alexander, who was for a time my confessor, and I was a “parishioner” at SVS from 1973 until Fr. Alexander’s untimely death, and I never heard him advocate in any form or fashion any social or political action that would, as a necessary consequence, influence or provoke change in secular government or society. I am quite astonished to read your commentary to the contrary.

    Alexander Schmemann “allied himself with the Moral Majority in support of President Reagan?” WAT! He told us if we did not appear in class with a copy of Prof. Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism directly from the NY Times Bestseller List as prophetic of the problem of Orthodoxy in America, he would not forgive us! And if you were to read that book, you would see that Alexander Schmemann would no more ally himself with the secular government to promote anything about us as Orthodox Christians in society:

    It is, first, the personal destiny and the daily life of each one of us; it is my job, the people whom I meet, the papers I read, the innumerable decisions I have to take. It is my “personal” America and it is exactly what I make of it. America, in fact, requires nothing for me except that I be myself and to be myself for me, as Orthodox, is to live by my faith and to live by it as fully as possible. All “problems” are reduced to this one: do I want to be myself? And if I invent all kinds of major and minor obstacles, all sorts of “idols” and call them the “American way of life” the guilt is mine, not America’s. For I was told: “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free”—free from all idols, free to make decisions, free to please God and not men. This problem thus is fully mine and only I can solve it by a daily effort and dedication, prayer and effort, a constant effort to “stand fast” in the freedom in which Christ has set me (Gal. 5: 1).

    The “problem,” as Fr. Father Alexander saw it – assisted by Prof. Lasch – is that even the patriotism of the “rugged individualist” ethos of American founders had an intuition for a “diverse community” and responsibility for others, but the narcissistic personality of our time seeks conformity and lack of distinction at heart. Even when government intends – in the name of “civil rights,” for example – to “make everyone equal” (“Orthodoxy: the 4th Major Faith”), Fr. Schmemann noted:

    freedom means the possibility, even the duty, of choice and critique, of dissent and search. Superficial conformity, so strong on the surface of American life, may make the essentially American value, the possibility given everyone to be himself, and thus Orthodoxy to be Orthodox look “un-American”; this possibility nevertheless remains fundamentally American. Therefore, if one moves from the personal level to a corporate one there is nothing in the American culture which could prevent the Church from being fully the Church, a parish truly a parish, and it is only by being fully Orthodox that American Orthodoxy becomes fully American.

    And finally, to address your point regarding what it is to be Orthodox – or as I noted above in the words of Fr. Florovsky, what “contribution to make “in the material sphere,” exactly as Christians – both (and it seems, Fr. Chad) answer along similar lines: America seriously needs Orthodoxy. Fr. Alexander sadly notes: “It is our betrayal of Orthodoxy, our reduction of it to our own petty and selfish “national identities,” “cultural values,” “parochial interests” that make it look like another “denomination” with limited scope and doubtful relevance. It is looking at us, Orthodox, that America cannot see Orthodoxy and discern any Truth and Redemption.”

    What is the answer? In one form or another, it seems to begin, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Mat. 5:16) Fr. Schmemann states: “it is clear to every one who wants to see that there are today around us thousands of ears ready to listen, thousands of hearts ready to open themselves-not to us, not to our human words and human explanations, not to the “splendors” of Byzantium or Russia, but to that alone which makes Orthodoxy, which transcends all cultures, all ages, all societies, and which makes us sing at the end of each Liturgy: “We have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true Faith…” And if only we could understand this and take it to our hearts and our will, day after day, there would be no problem of Orthodoxy, but only a mission of Orthodoxy in America.” I believe we should be carrying our message, led by our hierarchs, with bright faces following this defeat, awakening ourselves slowly but surely. We must change.

    Quotations from “Problems of Orthodoxy in America, III. The Spiritual Problem” Fr. Alexander Schmemann. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1965, Vol. 9 , #4, pp. 171-193.

    • Rostislav says

      I would like to thank you for your time and input. Fr. Alexander Schmemann was a difficult figure, sometimes for many of his spiritual children.

      Let us dispel the notion right off the bat that Fr. Alexander was someone who did not engage in secular politics and “change”. 1). He did indeed participate in the Civil Rights movement. 2). He did indeed offer lectures and talks on Radio America which were broadcast into the Soviet Bloc advocating religious freedom and engaging/opposing secular atheism. AND 3). He was involved with the Moral Majority in support of President Reagan. 4), He was involved in anti Communist politics. The very milieu in Paris from which he emerged was anti Communist. (His family was quite “conservative” and allied to even ROCOR circles in Paris: this is why as a boy, he attended a cadet school. While St. Sergius politically either from the Archimandrite Kiprian (Kern) or Professor Kartashev or Bulgakovite perspective was definitely motivated with a Russian messianism to oppose Bolshevism and to promote active Orthodox witness and influence upon the West so that it rise to meet the challenge of atheist Bolshevism). 5). In dialogue, he continually engaged the moral order in the West and secularism as well as advocating religious freedom: even at St. Vladimir’s he was quite apt to make social commentary on the degenerate currents of the late 1960s, something he was not very reserved about in lectures.

      I understand that as a spiritual son, you had a very specific experience with your father confessor, but as we all know good spiritual fathers do not necessarily create carbon copies of themselves, but, rather, nurture their spiritual children from where they are in life, leading them on paths to a spiritual wholeness their condition can cultivate. That is why Fr. Alexander’s spiritual children have such distinct and diverse personalities and even orientations. Consider Archbishop Kirill of San Francisco (ROCOR) vs. David Anderson and their theological (and political) points of view, almost diametric opposites. Yet these two were Fr. Alexander’s “favorites” at St. Vladimir’s.

      I don’t doubt that he would read works on the NY Times bestseller list (especially in the 1970s and early 1980s before this paper turned into an echo chamber by/of/for limousine liberals and their lackeys) and try to find something good for a moment in any of them, but to base yourself off of quotes from one book and then state that that was Fr. Schmemann’s political orientation while ignoring the rest of his life’s work is rather insular, at best.

      And I would be the first to validate the notion that Fr. Alexander condemned “habitual conservatism” which was rife with ideologically “obscurantist” ideological presuppositions, lazy and uncritical thinking which only promoted stagnation and “nominalism” in Fr. Schmemann’s mind. I greet this position of Fr. Alexander’s as motivational.

      As I have presented Fr. Alexander’s theology in contradistinction with the notions of “Catacomb Christianity” (something which he termed “ESCAPISM”), I can state that by what Fr. Schmemann wrote he never advocated anything but an active Orthodox Christian presence and witness in society. While he was very clear to denounce the “escapism” which is implied in your response and in the relation of Fr. Hatfield’s presentation. Yes, I would be of the party which would say that Metropolitan Jonah’s political activism was consistent with what Fr. Alexander advocated and the St. Vladimir’s of that era.

      Thank you for your time and consideration. I feel indulged that one of Fr. Alexander’s spiritual children would provide me with good, structured criticism.

      • Rostislav says

        While the “Culture of Narcissism” was precisely the “ME GENERATION” of the 1970s and its accompanying left of center social posturing and politics. The Moral Majority and President Reagan did not stand for “narcissism” but for American prosperity, excellence, moral rearmament, opposing Leftist situational ethics with Absolutes based social transformation. The Reagan Revolution was (is) about a strong and prosperous America and American citizenry “taking it to Washington” and in a reinforced moral and social order restating a GOD fearing, strong America which stands as a beacon of hope and liberty to all of humanity.

        The culprits of the “narcissist” mentality are the ones who are precisely dividing the country with fringe social policy and foodstamps for all cradle to the grave fiscal policy with a let’s appease the destabilizing forces of Armageddon in the world with an atheism of politically correct – multi culturalist – liberal paternalist foreign policy, people we know well in Orthodox North America.

        They have blogs these days advocating a return to the Berlin Wall and Vladimir Lenin for all. Mind you, these were the same people whose “Me first” attitude began the process of decline in the OCA, the culprits who now fault the workmen rebuilding the churches their divisiveness tossed into ruin. Yes, many did what they did for THEMSELVES in Fr. Alexander’s or Fr. John’s or Fr. Thomas’ name, altar calls to gay rights. Yeah, that culture of “narcissism”.

        Let’s be sure to eschew revisionism and keep things in their proper context.

  9. M. Stankovich says


    Perhaps I was not clear in my initial comment that I was a student of Fr. Alexander as both an undergraduate (in fact, the last undergraduate class before the program was terminated) and graduate student at SVS. You seem intent on “schooling” me on your personal interpretation of my first-hand experience of Fr. Alexander Schmemann in time and context.

    Let me repeat that I never once heard him speak, lecture, or preach – and he frequently had the propensity to “blend” thoughts into the concurrent “domains” of classroom, chapel, confession, and conversation – regarding any social or political action that would, as a necessary consequence, influence or provoke change in secular government or society. It did not happen. Certainly he “was quite apt to make social commentary on the degenerate currents of the late 1960s,” and like Fr. Florovsky spoke of the Church “in the world but not of the world,” “in the evil, but for the world and its salvation.” As I noted previously, Fr. Alexander truly believed “America needs Orthodoxy,” not the “partnership” of Orthodoxy, or the “positive qualities” of Orthodoxy, not the Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along for the children?” Orthodoxy. It is nonsensical to suggest Alexander Schmemann would see any benefit to be derived from becoming an ally of the Moral Majority & Ronald Regan – he was a priest, for heaven’s sake – albeit an influential priest – but he was not an Archbishop Iakovos. And by your insistence, you, in fact, concur with his worst critics that he and those with him were selling out the Church to Western “modernism,” betraying & trivializing our Tradition by the heresy of “ecumenism” :

    Personally, I trust people like Fr. Florovsky, Prof. Verhovskoy, Fr. Meyendorff, Archbishop Basil Krivoscheine, Fr. Livery Voronov and many others who are not likely to “sell out” Orthodoxy, but must be rather credited for making Orthodoxy known in the whole Western world, whose ignorance of it was truly abysmal. No one of them is happy about Uppsala, about the present trend of the ecumenical movement and no one has concealed orally or in writing, his opposition to it. But there are many Westerners also who oppose the same trends and who fight alongside our Orthodox delegates. The unity of “Ecumenism” is a myth which makes it impossible to use this term as the name of a “heresy.” There is good “ecumenism” and bad “ecumenism.” And as long as the Orthodox are permitted to fight for the “good” one against the “bad” one, as long as their voice is heard, as long as their consensus (with a few possible exceptions) remains obvious and in fact increases, the question of the usefulness of our participation in events like Uppsala may be debated as well as that of our tactics, greater unity, better preparation, etc., but there should be no room for accusations of betrayal and innuendos of all kinds.

    “On The ‘Sorrowful Epistle’ of Metropolitan Philaret,” The Orthodox Church , November 1969, pp. 5, 8

    Each of us, depending upon the intimacy and complexity of a given relationship, will certainly “reveal” ourselves as the intimacy & complexity of the relationship demands and is appropriate [and I quickly divert to say that students were frequently astounded by the “favorites” of Fr. Schmemann, notoriously a very poor judge of persons – the two you mention in specific (with all sincere respect to the Archbishop) were very odd individuals, the latter no longer in the Orthodox Church]. However, Alexander Schmemann was no chameleon, revealing such profound aspects of his theology such as alliance with major political movements only to some is absolutely ridiculous. And seriously, you need to read The Culture of Narcissism and contemplate its appearance in 1978 as an indictment of the generation – not psychobabble of the “ME generation” – to appreciate its impact. In effect, you are asking me to accept something I neither saw, nor heard, nor makes any logical sense pursuant to Fr. Alexander’s published writings, his private journals, his lectures, his sermons, and in private conversations simply at your word. In my opinion, this is neither convincing nor compelling.

    • Rostislav says

      I thank you for your further words and their kindness, but facts are facts. Fr. Alexander Schmemann DID participate in the Civil Rights Movement. Fr. Alexander Schmemann was an Anti Communist and did broadcast into the Soviet Bloc advocating religious freedom and combatting secular atheism. He DID indeed use dialogue to promote Christian values and combat secularization. He DID work with the Moral Majority and President Reagan. Facts are facts, whether you are convinced of them or like them or not. He DID, even during your era, make comments about draft dodging, dope smoking “hanging out”, criticizing it at St. Vladimir’s.

      All of these things, even if one were to absent his cooperation with the Moral Majority, WOULD PLACE Father Alexander Schmemann on the political RIGHT. Considering where we stand today, he would be ESTRANGED from the LEFT or the Center.

      You seriously don’t expect us to believe that Fr. Alexander Schmemann would endorse gay marriage and social democratic impoverishment of the United of America, do you?!

      Nor is any of this “evidence of modernism”. But rather of a churchman who believed the Orthodox Church in America was not a matter of nominalist escapism and sunday only pietism or Christmas and Easter observance. Fr. Alexander believed in a total, holistic Orthodoxy evangelizing the nation and emerging as one of its major faiths. That was the point of 1970.

      So, no, his “opponents” would not have criticized him for that (Although, they did criticize his “Parisian sensibilities” in pursuing it). The Russian milieu from which he emerged was thoroughly consumed with political concerns and relevance of politics to Russian Orthodox mission, where groups split apart on the basis of which political orientation one followed. It is astounding to read that having a political orientation which espoused Orthodox witness would merit the “condemnation of the opposition” as they themselves would have said that they had a similar view (albeit with a different political emphasis). Indeed, one is forced to wonder whether or not you were acquainted with the literature from St. Sergius Institute, with people like Professor Kartashev, the life of Russian emigres in Europe (or with the political orientation of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s own family).

      While I never presumed to school anyone, but, rather, to indicate how misconceptions still abound and serve sundry agendas, oftentimes the result of misinterpretations and misunderstood biases of others. Your position is not consistent with the man’s theology. Fr. Alexander Schmemann condemned “escapism”: he never espoused it. He never felt we should place Orthodoxy under a bucket while he devoted a sizeable amount of his energy to keeping North American Orthodoxy from dying in nominalist ethnic subcultures: that is the point of Fr. Schmemann and his Eucharistic theology/ecclesiology.

      Your personal or political orientation is not the final word in the appraisal of the man or his theology. Nor is any personal approach. It is by definition subjective and not objective.

      Indeed, even your allusion to Fr. Alexander’s use of the word “schizophrenia” seems to miss the mark. Fr. Alexander precisely used this word to indict nominalism in Orthodox observance where people would come to church occasionally but go on living secular lives afterwards, He critiqued this practice unmercifully, indicating a need for a total Orthodox emphasis in ones life, both privately and publicly, within the Church and within the culture.

      Whether or not you were a student of Fr. Alexander, you seem quick to dismiss any view of him at variance with you own. And as I have indicated, there are people who indeed have different views of what the man wrote and taught, who were both his spiritual children and pupils. Metropolitan Jonah, Archbishop Kirill of ROCOR and David Anderson were mentioned, all men with differing views and takes on Fr. Schmemann’s lectures and theology. In my instance, both my study of theology and my contact with Fr. Schmemann’s pupils leads me to hold to the positions I do. Moreover, I have not posited anything original here. There was a Metropolitan Jonah and he did assume a very public face for the Orthodox Church in America. Fr. Alexander was a man who indeed did advocate a public and activist Orthodoxy in conjunction with sacramental witness. That was part of his emphasis in witnessing Orthodoxy to America.

      1978 was a year where the “Me Generation” so very well let it all hang out so it isn’t “pop psychology” to speak of the history and trends of the era in order to properly speak of its literature. The Reagan Revolution had not yet begun transforming the nation into a better place.

      In the OCA, we will have to allow new thinking and new approaches moving forward. Appreciation of ones heritage and the Orthodox Tradition is something to celebrate, not suppress. The past is in ruins precisely because of the attitudes and approaches it took. Enforcing a liberal pseudodoxy and message discipline will not do, will nail the coffin shut and will be severely judged by history. We have had enough of the travesty of the recent past and its prevailing exclusionary attitudes. The OCA I stand for and with is about rebuilding the ruins and putting things back together for a future without doubt, but in Orthodox fidelity, uniting the faithful as the Church in the Eucharist and witnessing to the world, publicly and privately, the Truth of Orthodoxy. This OCA is not isolated from America, but witnesses the Truth for its conversion, does not cower from taking the right moral stands, but marches with the Cross that the Righteousness of CHRIST be witnessed by North America.

      I do thank you for your continued attention and affection. I do hold to what I have written without reservation.

    • Rostislav says

      …This means also that the “pastoral” revitalization of theology must begin with a deep evaluation and critique of the culture in which the Orthodox man is immersed today and which indeed makes Christianity irrelevant. It is not accidental, of course, that patristic theology is rooted in a healthy apologetical purpose, in the defense of the faith against its external and internal enemies. As for us, we fight with great wit the battles the Fathers have already won, but politely smile at the truly demonic implications of some of the modern philosophies and theories. We are unaware of the obvious fact that under the influences of these philosophies even some of the basic Christian terms are used in a meaning almost opposite to the ones they had in the past. Salvation means self-fulfillment, faith — security, sin — a personal problem of adjustment, etc. Our culture, which has been recently described as a “triumph of therapeutics,” has deeply changed the quest of even a religious man, which makes it almost impossible for him to hear and to understand the true teaching of the Church. And finally we do not seem to notice that this metamorphosis of religion takes place not in some mythical Western man, but in our own parishes, in the preaching of our priests. We must begin, therefore, with what patristic theology performed in its own time: an exorcism of culture, a liberating reconstruction of the words, concepts and symbols, of the theological language itself. And we must do it in order not to make our theology more “acceptable” to the modern man and his culture, but, on the contrary, to make him again aware of the ultimately serious, truly soteriological nature and demands of his faith. …

      …Today this prophetic function of theology is needed again more than ever. For, whether we want it or not, the entire Orthodox Church is going through a deep crisis. Its causes are many. On the one hand, the world which for centuries framed and shaped her historical existence is crumbling and has all but vanished. The ancient and traditional centers of authority are threatened in their very existence and most of them deprived of even elementary freedom of action. An overwhelming majority of Orthodox people live under the pressures and persecution of openly and militantly atheistic regimes, in situations where mere survival and not progress is the only preoccupation. A minority living surrounded by an alien sea seems to have become the rule rather than the exception for Orthodoxy almost everywhere. Everywhere, and not only in the West, it is challenged by a secularistic, technological, and spiritually antagonistic culture which virtually swallows its younger generations. On the other hand, a large Orthodox diaspora has appeared, putting an end to the multi-secular isolation of Orthodoxy in the East, challenging Orthodoxy with problems of ecclesiastical organization and spiritual “adjustments” unprecedented in the whole history of the Church. Only the blind would deny the existence of the crisis, yet not too many seem to realize its depth and scope, least of all (let us face it) the bishops who continue in their routine work as “if nothing happened.” At no time in the past has there existed such an abyss between the hierarchy and the “real” Church, never before has the power-structure so little corresponded to the crying spiritual needs of the faithful. And here the American Orthodox “microcosm” seems an excellent example. How long are we to live in a multiplicity of jurisdictions either quarreling with each other or simply ignoring each other? How long shall we leave unnoticed the quick decay in liturgy, spirituality, and monasticism — the traditional sources of Orthodox piety and continuity? How long, in short, shall we accept and respectfully endorse as normal and almost traditional a situation which, if we are honest, must be described as a scandal and a tragedy?

      In spite of what too many Orthodox people think today, this is the hour of theology. Only a deep, fearless, and constructive evaluation of this situation in the light of the genuine Tradition of the Church, only a creative return to the very springs of our dogma, canons and worship, only a total commitment to the Truth of the Church can help us overcome the crisis and transform it into a revival of Orthodoxy. I know that this task is difficult and that a long tradition has taught theologians to avoid hot issues and not to “get involved.” I know also that a certain traditionalism which has nothing to do with Tradition has made self-criticism and spiritual freedom a crime against the Church in the eyes of many. I know that too many “power-structures” have a vested interest in not allowing any question, any search, any encounter with Truth. The forces of inertia, pseudo-conservatism, and plain cynicism are formidable. But the same was true of the time of St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Chrysostom and St. Maximus the Confessor. As for the issues we face today, they are not lesser than those they had to deal with. And it depends on us to choose between the pleasant prestige attached to mere academic scholarship and the responses to the Will of God. …

      Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

      The Task of Orthodox Theology in America Today

      (Paper read at the first Conference of Orthodox Theologians in America, Sept. 26-27, 1966)

    • Rostislav says


      The best proof that the Paris meeting “hit” its target is that the French Communist daily L’Humanité deemed it necessary to react. But, the tragical irony of that reaction is that, to help smooth the deep impression made by the meeting of solidarity, the Communists chose no one else but the official spokesman of the Moscow Patriarchate itself — Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad. On March 14, the Communist paper carried an interview with him in which Metropolitan Nikodim flatly denied the fact of persecutions and this, in spite of Ilyichev’s article in Kommunist and the anti-religious instructions in Pravda. “There is no religious repression in our country,” said the Metropolitan. “I know that recently there were rumors about the trial of two bishops. . . . It is unpleasant for me to speak of this, but I must say that these bishops were indicted for actual crimes having nothing to do with their ecclesiastical activity. . . .” This interview took place at a moment when, according to the most reliable information, the number of open churches decreased almost by one-half, five out of eight seminaries were closed and administrative measures against churches are being intensified. Not only the Church is persecuted, but its hierarchs are forced to deny the persecution! In view of this truly demoniac situation, the systematic silence of organisms such as the World Council of Churches or the National Council of Churches appears, to say the least, ambiguous. — ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN

      St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1964, pp. 48-49 ….

      Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

      Religious Persecutions in Russia

    • Rostislav says

      …The gift of apostleship is bestowed upon each member of the Church on the day of his Baptism and Chrismation. If we call our Church “apostolic” it is because She is sent, “apostle” meaning “sent by God.” It is because She is sent in Her totality, and this means in all Her members, into the world to preach the Gospel of Christ, to manifest His presence, to fulfill the salvation which He accomplished. In this sense, we all are apostolic and apostles. We all carry the responsibility for the apostolicity of the Church.

      Today we need more than ever to be reminded of this apostolic nature and function of the Church, and of the apostolic vocation of each of us as members of the Church. For we are living in an increasingly dechristianized, if not already openly antichristian world. Our culture is permeated with ideas alien to the Gospel of Christ; with rejection of His Kingdom, of its truth, light and joy. Truly it is the time for an apostolic renewal. And in this renewal, the place and the role of the laity is unique. If the first duty of the clergy is to serve the Church, the first and essential duty of the laity is to bring into the world — and this means into its culture, daily life, professions, family, etc. — the Christian witness, the image of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed deeply significant that St. Innocent’s canonization took place at a time of a crisis, a tragic crisis, encompassing all the aspects of human existence. It is as if, by revealing to us the Apostle to America, God was reminding us of our own vocation to be fully Orthodox in America, not for ourselves, but for the sake of America. …

      Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

      Apostleship and America

    • Rostislav says

      …For Fr Alexander, as for all of us, there is no need for theology outside the services – it is all in the services (Pp. 29, 273). There is his dislike of all ideologies, left and right (Pp.191-2, 263, 265). There are his attitudes to the spiritually dead West with its deathly modernism (Pp. 147, 171, 409, 440, 477, 508-9, 519, 528, 591), which he rightly understood as a spiritual disease. The West, as he said, is contaminated by the fantasy of egalitarianism, with its absurd and blasphemous attitudes to “woman priests” (= priestesses) and homosexuality, which are so disconcertingly alien to all Orthodox.

      As a Russian, he rightly saw the Western obsession with “rights,” “socialism” and “democracy” as decadent idolatry and dehumanising pride. He understood that when the soul leaves the body, the body dies and that the West was dead because it had lost its soul. His analysis of the spiritual and moral bankruptcy of the West because it has rejected Christ, on Whom it was founded, is compelling (P. 447). But he also rightly understood that Western Christianity had to die first before Christ could rise from its death (P. 451). …

      Comparing Notes: The Diaries (Дневники) of Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Russian Church Unity in the Diaspora

    • Rostislav says

      …And finally, the third affirmation: The world is redeemed. But it is redeemed not in order to guarantee success, even of the excellent fiscal policy of Dr. Stockman. It is redeemed not in order to assure that we will have “tomorrows that sing.” The redemption occurs now, right now. This is Christian eschatology. It is not only an eschatology of the future. Yes, every day, many times a day, we say: “Thy Kingdom come.” And it comes now. That famous French formula, Metro, boulot, dodo, is exactly what is being redeemed. Redemption does not mean the replacement of all those inevitable mundane things with meaningful jobs. What job is meaningful, by the way? Every job, which has had three Mondays in its history, already becomes meaningless, or at least to some extent oppressive. Redemption means exactly that of which St. John writes in his epistle: “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the eternal life which was made manifest to us.” And this is the paradox, the antinomy, the message, which Christians could not endure because it was too much for them. It is much easier to have a little religion of the past, present and future, of commandments and prescriptions. Of saying that God did not love the world; He loved the good things in the world. He loved people who did go to church. He loved people who contributed (although it is tax-deductible, but still it is good that they contribute), and so on and so forth. Redemption means that the Kingdom which is to come has already come, it is in the midst of us.

      The great drama of redemption takes place all the time. And this point of view, this eschatology, this doctrine, this faith in the ultimate is what the early church held together. The church was persecuted. She was denied. The Roman Empire said to Christians: “You cannot exist.” But read the early Christian prayers, and you will see that they are cosmic, they are historic. Nero! My goodness, what a horrible guy he was! And at that time Paul writes to Timothy and says, “Pray first of all . . . for kings and for all that are in authority.” (1 Tim. 2:2) He does not say, “Picket!” He does not say, “Go to—!” He says, “Pray for them.” Why? Because the church is not a little forum for social reforms. It introduces, it reiterates the single fact that the history of the world’s redemption, for which we are responsible, takes place in our hearts, and that Kingdom, that light, which comes to us, is the only power left with us — the realized, inaugurated eschatology of the Kingdom and, at the same time, the real knowledge of the Kingdom. The knowledge that nothing is solved by recipes and therapies, but, when a man decides to know the truth of all things, he, like Saint Anthony of the Desert, the great father of monasticism, turns to God. Anthony went to the desert and asked God for the ability to see the devil always. Because the devil always takes the form of an angel of light. The devil is always one who says something sentimental, nice, good. And finally God gave Anthony the ability to see the devil. And then, while still within the dimensions of human existence, for the saint this world became the Kingdom.

      This ultimate experience of the Kingdom holds together that, which I call the “triune intuition”— created, fallen, redeemed. Created: it means good. It means that the foundation of everything, which we question in our utopianism and our escapism, is good. However, everything can also be bad. Systems? Metro, boulot, dodo? But perhaps all systems are merely caricatures of that which truly is the fate of man? Someone would come to me and say: “I can’t take a meaningless life. The subways, the beds, the breakfasts, the venison, and so on and so forth…” And I would reply: Christ couldn’t take it either. He died on the cross. And Paul said: “Whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) The other day, I was preaching in Montreal, and one man came up to me and said: “Thank you for teaching me that I can read even the Wall Street Journal to the glory of God.” Yes, of course you can. The glory of God is not only in Mr. Ralph Nader’s office, believe me. It is wherever a man wants it to be.

      There is this intuition of the created, and then — of the fallen world. Let’s be realistic. Let us not subscribe to the idea that just one more institute, one more think tank, one more discovery, one more therapy and finally evil will be taken care of. Evil is here, all around us. But, we don’t have to panic. We do not have to immediately go overboard and escape, no! I recall that little 16-year-old French boy who was playing ball, and some Jesuit came up and said: “You are playing ball! Suppose Christ were to come back today. What would you do?” And the boy answered: “Play ball.” He did not think there was anything wrong with playing ball.

      Sometimes, I feel like I joined a kind of metaphysical Peace Corps made out of Christianity. Very often in Geneva, when I used to go to ecumenical meetings, I heard the expression “churches, synagogues, and other agencies.” I was not baptized into an agency. And I think that everyone is free not to be part of an agency. Keep me out of it.

      And so, there is this vision of the created, fallen, and redeemed world. Until this triune vision broke apart, there was no way for our culture, which is rooted in the Gospel, to either go all the way into utopianism or all the way into escapism. And today, the real intellectual and spiritual work that we, Christians, face is not simply to choose either Utopia or Escape. It is not to sell religion as a little Valium, a holy Valium pill. Our real challenge is to recover that, which I call the fundamental Christian eschatology. Whatever the Other World is (and we know nothing about it) this Other World is first of all revealed to us here and now. Nowhere else, but here. If we do not know it today, we will never discover it. If we cannot find the Kingdom of God, I repeat again, in Chicago, Wilmington, Times square, and so on, we will never find it anywhere else. If you think we can find it somewhere in Transvaal, and you are rich enough, go there. And you will find that it is no different there from what it is here.

      When my friend, the sociologist Peter Berger, recently criticized the modern idea that Paradise is always somewhere very far from Manhattan, from factories, but somehow it is always found in a commune in northern Vermont, where we bake our own bread and have children in common, — he said: “Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, when God speaks of the symbol for His Kingdom, that Kingdom is a city, not a little farm in Vermont.” And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, descending from heaven. (Rev.21:2) And Jerusalem is of course a city.

      The fundamental Christian eschatology has been destroyed by either the optimism leading to the Utopia, or by the pessimism leading to the Escape. If there are two heretical words in the Christian vocabulary, they would be “optimism” and “pessimism.” These two things are utterly anti-biblical and anti-Christian.

      It is for us, Christians, to reconstruct this unique faith, in which there are no illusions, no illusions at all, about the evil. We simply cannot afford a cheap faith that just requires from us to give up smoking and drinking, a small religion that promises that you just quit drinking coffee and tomorrow will start singing. Our faith is not based on anything except on these two fundamental revelations: God so loved the world, and: The fallen world has been secretly, mysteriously redeemed.

      We are people of a certain tradition, of a certain culture. I do not speak about a specific religious heritage of our culture, the cathedrals of Chartres, of Notre Dame, or about great religious poetry. I am speaking about the unique culture, about the reality, and about the faith that produced people like Dante and Shakespeare and Dostoevsky, the faith in which all that I am trying to say is perfectly expressed: there is real evil, and there is real good. There is the world, which is loveable, and there is the world, which is hateful. There are vertical and horizontal dimensions of human life. Nothing is betrayed. Nothing is mutilated. When there is joy, that joy is full. When there is sadness, that sadness if full. Life cannot be reduced to those psychological gravies and all kinds of similar things. I really feel that the only true kind of religion is the religion, which is cosmic, religion, which does not deny the Fall. Religion, which bears witness to not only the belief in, but also the experience of the redemption that takes place here and now. And this belief and experience will condemn, as two heresies, both utopianism and escapism.

      “When the Son of Man comes back, will He find faith on earth?”(Lk. 18:8) Maybe we are headed for a catastrophe. It is not for the Christian church to guarantee that everything will be bigger and better. This is utopianism. On the other hand, we have to also exclude escapism as a betrayal of God, who so loved the world. These two realities — the fallen world that was created good — must be kept together, antinomically. This is the conditio sine qua non, which the Christians always were able to find in the very acts by which the Church was defined. One was the proclamation of the Good News — evangelion. And the other one was the Sacrament of Thanksgiving. That great eucharistia, thanksgiving, which teaches us: You want to understand what something is? Of course, you can buy a dictionary, or you can buy an encyclopedia. You want to know what the human body is? Buy, of course, a book of anatomy, etc. But if you really want to know what anything in this world is, start by thanking God for it. Then you will not fall into the heresy of reducing: man — to economy and to sex, nature — to determinism. Then you will know that man became man, not because he invented the wheel, — important as it may have been. Not because he is the Homo Sapiens, or because he discovered the logic of Aristotle. But, he became man when he became Homo Adoratus, the man who gives thanks. The man who is not saying to God, I am entitled to it, it is my constitutional right to always have this or that. It is the man who, by thanking God, all of a sudden, exclaims: “Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory.” If only we will return — from our lapse, from our confession, from our morbidity, or from our cheap optimism — to the spiritual oxygen of that cosmical thanksgiving, which provides for us the terms of reference, the context of our existence, which transforms that famous Metro, boulot, dodo! If only we could recover that — and, my goodness, no resources are missing, — we would be not passive followers of that growing polarization: either Utopia or Escape (and by “we” I mean believers, for whom God is still a Reality). We would be active participants in the constant process of saving the world, the world, which God has created, the world, which has fallen, the world, which is being redeemed — by those who believe in redemption. …

      Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

      Lecture delivered in Greenville, Delaware on March 22, 1981

      Transcribed from the tape by Martha Ruth Hoffmaster

      Prepared for publication by Barbara W. Sokolov


      Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

      Between Utopia and Escape

    • Rostislav says

      None of the obituaries I saw mentioned Bill Coffin’s part in the 1975 Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation. That was a project that Peter Berger—then at Rutgers, now at Boston University—and I initiated in order to counter the then fashionable “secular Christianity” and “death of God” thinkers. As Bill always insisted that he was a patriot, so also he was uneasy with the casual jettisoning of Christian orthodoxy by so many of the brightest and best of the time. He was at heart, he assured me on many occasions, a Calvinist, convinced of human depravity and the indispensability of the blood-bought atonement of the cross, along with the hope of glory. (To the consternation of many allies, he was also not a pacifist.) Bill, it must be admitted, was neither a theologian nor an intellectual, but he readily accepted my invitation to be part of the Hartford project.

      It was an impressive group that hammered out the appeal in several days of intense discussion in Connecticut. The final signatories included Fr. Avery Dulles, George Forell, Stanley Hauerwas, Fr. Thomas Hopko, George Lindbeck, Ralph McInerny, Kilmer Myers, then Episcopal Bishop of California, Richard Mouw, Fr. Carl Peter, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. Gerard Sloyan, Lewis Smedes, Fr. George Tavard, and Robert Louis Wilken.

      The Hartford Appeal caused quite a stir at the time. …

      The book contains the appeal and eight explanatory essays by participants. “The renewal of Christian witness and mission,” the appeal began, “requires constant examination of the assumptions shaping the Church’s life. Today an apparent loss of the sense of the transcendent is undermining the Church’s ability to address with clarity and courage the urgent tasks to which God calls it in the world. This loss is manifest in a number of pervasive themes. Many are superficially attractive, but upon closer examination we find these themes false and debilitating to the Church’s life and work.” The signers then set out thirteen pervasive, false, and debilitating themes, following each with a statement of the truth that it undermines. …

      …thirty-one years ago, and I recognize that it is just possible that some readers are not familiar with the Hartford Appeal. So here are the themes. How many, do you suppose, are not relevant to our current religious situation?

      (1) Modern thought is superior to all past forms of understanding reality, and is therefore normative for Christian faith and life.

      (2) Religious statements are totally independent of reasonable discourse.

      (3) Religious language refers to human experience and nothing else, God being humanity’s noblest creation.

      (4) Jesus can only be understood in terms of contemporary models of humanity.

      (5) All religions are equally valid; the choice among them is not a matter of conviction about truth but only of personal preference or lifestyle.

      (6) To realize one’s potential and to be true to oneself is the whole meaning of salvation.

      (7) Since what is human is good, evil can adequately be understood as failure to realize human potential.

      (8) The sole purpose of worship is to promote individual self-realization and human community.

      (9) Institutions and historical traditions are oppressive and inimical to our being truly human; liberation from them is required for authentic existence and authentic religion.

      (10) The world must set the agenda for the Church. Social, political, and economic programs to improve the quality of life are ultimately normative for the Church’s mission in the world.

      (11) An emphasis upon God’s transcendence is at least a hindrance to, and perhaps incompatible with, Christian social concern and action.

      (12) The struggle for a better humanity will bring about the Kingdom of God.

      (13) The question of hope beyond death is irrelevant or at best marginal to the Christian understanding of human fulfillment.

      As I say, the Hartford Appeal caused a ruckus in oldline Protestant and some Catholic circles, and was widely discussed also in the general media. At least Schmemann and Hopko believed the themes were pertinent also to developments in Orthodoxy. Those attacking the appeal claimed that their positions were caricatured, and it is true that we provocatively stated the themes in an unvarnished form. Protests to the contrary, they were themes explicit and implicit in much Christian thought of the time, and are still with us today. …

      Dechristianizing America

      Richard John Neuhaus

  10. M. Stankovich says


    Congratulations on discovering the treasure that is the collection of documents held at Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco. A Link would have been sufficient. I had the great blessing to hear him discuss many of these issues in person, and he was a gifted speaker, passionate, entertaining, charming, humorous & delightful, and like all faculty of that period, respectful and indebted to those from whom he had learned. As he said of Archimandrite Kyprian (Kern). I can say about him: he literally spoke of things I had never imagined.

    And this is my point: everything you have posted I have either personally heard him speak, or I have personally read and attributed to him as they are congruent with what I knew of him over the years I was exposed to him. What you have said about his political and civil interests and “devotions” are contrary and incongruent to my experience of him. I fully expected you to post something that demonstrates those were his views. motivations, and actions, and you have not. I say again, in my opinion, your words are neither convincing nor compelling.

    • Rostislav says

      Well, I don’t think you wish to be compelled or convinced. You have your own conception of the man which neither coincides with his theology, nor his history, nor even his record in dialogue.

      For you Fr. Alexander was not involved in the civil rights movement, did not broadcast into the Soviet Bloc on Radio Liberty, did not make statements about religious persecution and the assault of atheist secularism, was not involved with the Conservative Christian political movement as is indicated in his endorsement of the Hartford Appeal (movements which also included the Moral Majority who worked hand in hand to bring about the Reagan victory of 1980) to engage the culture war.

      But I have provided a record of otherwise.

      All this cannot be true for your “uncompelled and unconvinced, firsthand” perspective to be reality. Yet it is. The above quotes substantiate it.

      Everyone is entitled to their own take on reality, their own agenda, but not their own truth. No one can be compelled or convinced to accept the truth. You have free will. I respect your free choice to reject the truth. But I choose truth and will continue to relate it. Nor did I specifically present it to someone who cannot be “compelled or convinced”. I presented it for those interested in it.

      It seems you feel Fr. Alexander advanced the very escapism he so derided with its accompanying nominalism and felt it wasn’t (rather isn’t) the business of the Orthodox Church to make statements about abortion, gay marriage or any other such thing which you seem to not have a problem with. You are arguing that he would agree with Patriarch Bartholomew and his moral abdication of the role of Orthodoxy vis a vis the state and the culture. I believe that that is the unspoken truth of your agenda.

      But that is not Fr. Alexander Schmemann. That is all you. A simple read of what I have quoted contradicts your presentation of him, whether you heard him or not.

      But thank you for admitting this, at least by ommission.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

        Rostislav, thanks so much for the defense of Fr. Alexander Schmemann. I must admit, I began to see Fr. Schmemann as an escapist mostly because those who claim his “legacy” (their term) as their own are exclusively preoccupied with moving nominalist ideas (homosexual rights, accommodation with abortion, alignment with organizations like the National Council of Churches and so forth) to the center of church life.

        I was mistaken as you clearly showed. Thank you for the correction.

        • Rostislav says

          You are quite welcome, Father. I must admit that in my early 20s, I choose a path which led me away from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s vision. At that time, I was influenced by “Catacomb Christianity” (escapism) and its apocalypticism. I came to know it well and know the pitfalls of its detachment to the culture and spiritual paralysis. I just didn’t like being made to feel depressed and paranoid all the time, “waiting for antichrist”.

          When I read Fr. Schmemann in seminary, works like Eucharist and For the Life of the World, an optimistic and eschatological Orthodoxy “turned on the sun” and presented a very positive Orthodoxy. The eschatology of the Eighth Day as a celebration was a wonderful rebuttal to the “escapism” I was being fed. I became a devotee of his liturgical theology and ecclesiology. In many ways, I am a “schmemannite” today as a result.

          Later when I met people like Metropolitan Jonah and David Anderson (with the words of Archbishop Kirill of ROCOR related to me), they all with one accord said that Fr. Alexander was a “traditional Russian Orthodox Priest” and a “wonderful man” until the end. I can’t say I agree with everything Fr. Alexander wrote and find some things problematic, but I can say that his diagnosis of “secularism and nominalism as the heresies of our day” hits the mark. His Eucharistic theology is the best example of Fr. Georges Florovsky’s Neo Patristic Synthesis put into practice to date.

          We are richer today in our understanding and love of Orthodoxy because of Fr. Alexander. May his memory be eternal!

          • M. Stankovich says

            So let me see if I have this correctly: I literally spent my formative years in Fr. Schmemann’s presence [ironically, the entire period covered in his published journals] as a student and spiritual son, reading his writings, listening to his lectures & sermons, privy to his thoughts, his plans, his misgivings, his mistakes, his hopes, his dreams, his anger, at times his rage, his spontaneous comments, his apologies, and his “examination of conscience” in the chapel during meditations. You, Rostislav, would insult me to my face by claiming my “own conception of the man neither coincides with his theology, nor his history, nor even his record in dialogue,” justifying this by offering me articles that, if I have read them once, I have read them ten times; references to his books – The Eucharist, for example – the manuscript for which he used in a special course he taught while refining the final version; and apparently speaking with other former students. Did you even read The Hartford Appeal and how are you able, in your wildest imagination, able to connect it to the Moral Majority & Reagan nearly 6 years before the election? This is how you have determined “the unspoken truth of [my] agenda?” And Fr. Hans is thanking you for “defending” Fr. Alexander the fable of your imagination! Bravo to you both.

            Alexander Schmemann was an extraordinary man and a father of our generation, but he was a father because of Georges Florovsky, John Meyendorff, SS Verhovskoy, N. Arseniev, AA Bogolepov, and the rest. It was their vision you read – and while Fr. Alexander was perhaps the most widely known and most articulate – it was their vision of an American Orthodox Church, and their return to the Scriptural, Patristic, and Liturgical Tradition of the Church that is so profound. And in turn, they were the inspiration for Met. Philip (Saliba) to direct the Evangelicals he received as a group into the Church: “Bring America to the Church.” Fr. Alexander and these “architects” and visionaries of the Church in America understood that, first & foremost, the Orthodox Church must be itself – which he fully articulated in his series on Problems of Orthodoxy in America – and this had nothing to do with aligning with the government or authorities or politicians or any groups or the heterodox to assert or obtain moral power or authority for the Church.

            He railed against secularism, not nominalsim:

            [Generally] secularism is a way of life in which the basic aspects of human existence such as family, education, science, pro-lesson, art, etc., not only are not rooted in or related to, religious faith, but the very necessity or possibility of such connection is denied. The secular sphere of life is thought of as autonomous, i.e. governed by its own values, principles and motivations—different by nature from the religious ones. Secularism is more or less common to the whole West, but the particularity of its American brand the one which concerns us in this article that here secularism not only is not anti-religious or atheistic, but on the contrary implies as its almost necessary element a definite view of religion, is in fact “religious”… No other word indeed is used more often by secularism in reference to religion than the word “help.” “It helps” to pray, to go to church, to belong to a religious group, and since religion helps, since it is such a useful factor in life, it must in turn be helped. Hence the tremendous success of religion in America, attested by all statistics. Secularism accepts religion, but on its own, secularistic terms, assigns religion a function, and provided religion accepts this function, it covers it with wealth, honor and prestige… It is this American secularism which an overwhelming majority of Orthodox wrongly and naively identify with the American way of life that is, in my opinion, the root of the deep spiritual crisis of Orthodoxy in America.

            And what was his solution? He said: “Let us begin with the parish.”

            The spiritual restoration consists therefore in an absolute and total priority of religion in the parish. Its secularistic reduction must be counteracted by a real religious reduction and it is here that the priest must recover his unique place and function. He must literally stop playing the game of the parish, he must cease to be the “servant” and the “organization man” of secular interests and become again what he was when people considered it bad luck to meet him, what he eternally is: the man of faith, the witness of the Absolute, the representative of the Living God. “It is his (the priest’s) faith that the world needs”—wrote Francois Mauriac—”a faith which does not wink at the idols. From all other men we expect charity, from the priest alone we require faith and not faith born out of a reasoning, but a faith born from the daily contact and a kind of familiarity with God. Charity, love we can receive from all beings; that kind of faith only from the priest.”

            As society and culture is ultimately the source of this sanctioned secularism, how, exactly, was the Moral Majority & Ronald Regan planning to intervene here?

            Ultimately, nowhere in his vision is there aligning the church with the heterodox. I asked you to demonstrate evidence that this is and was his position, Rostislav, and you cannot. I believe you cannot because it was not his position. Certainly he broadcast on Voice of America – we recorded as a choir many times with him for his broadcasts (and it is well-know that Solzhenitsyn told the NY Times that the first person he wanted to meet in the West was “Fr. Alexander” whose sermons he listed to regularly, not knowing it was Alexander Schmemann) – and small groups of us heard him speak at colleges on matters of religious persecution and atheism in the Soviet Union. But none of these were “political” speeches; he was always identified as the dean of SVS and an Orthodox priests, and his perspective was always that of an Orthodox priest, not a political commentator. He did not advocate “aligning” with government & society for rights and power:

            Christianity has always meant an opposition to and a fight with this world—a fight, let me stress it again, which is primarily, if not exclusively, a personal fight, i.e., an internal one—with the “old man” in myself, with my own “reduction” of myself to “this world.” There is no Christian life without martyria and without asceticism, this latter term meaning nothing else, fundamentally, but a life of concentrated effort and fight. In very simple terms all this means that in order to overcome the creeping secularism of American Orthodoxy we must, while there is still time, turn from our constant preoccupations with the “American man” and the “American way of life” to Christian persons who constitute American Orthodoxy.

            And finally, this vision of the fathers of our generation attempted as best it could to encourage this “parish-level” fight against secularism, warning priests of the difficulties and dangers to come, but predicting the ultimate rewards to follow – and if you happen to read this, Fr. John Peck, it is as if it were written for you!

            The priest must free himself from the obsession with numbers and success, must learn to value the only real success: That which is hidden in God and cannot be reported in statistics and credited to him at parish affairs. He must himself rediscover the eternal truth about “a little leaven which leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6)—for this is the very essence of Christian faith. For these few will—whether they want it or not—become witnesses and sooner or later their testimony will bear its fruit. The parish may be improved but only a person can be saved. Yet his salvation has a tremendous meaning for all and thus for the parish itself. Once more—what is, indeed, impossible for a parish, is being constantly revealed as possible for a person and, in the last analysis the whole meaning of Christianity is the victory, made possible for man by Christ, over the impossibilities imposed on man by the “world.”

            You need to take a step back, Rostislav, and reconsider you indictment of my understanding of Alexander Schmemann. For whatever reason, God happened to place me at the feet of some very great men – something for which simple gratitude is insufficient – and I am a good listener.

            • Rostislav says

              I think your presentation is about you, and that’s OK, but I have substantiated my position. It is wonderful that you were a pupil of Fr. Schmeman, but you weren’t and aren’t Fr. Schmemann.

              And your views are not his.

              The Hartford Appeal. Fr. Schmemann characterizes your point of view as “schizophrenia”, “nominalism” and escapism”. Both Frs. Schmemann and Meyendorff condemned your position as part of the “ghettoization” of Orthodoxy.

              You are entitled to be wrong and remain convinced of your views, but I have illustrated they are not the truth.

              I have nothing further to offer you.

              Our conversation is over. Please be well.

            • M. Stankovich says

              So apparently you were a bit “loose” in your fact checking. I did, after all, ask you if you had actually read The Hartford Appeal and how you had managed to connect Fr. Alexander to the Moral Majority & the Reagan election, but you chose rather to dismiss me. Did I forget to tell you I work in forensic psychiatry and do not appreciate the tactic? Hmm… One of the Co-organizers of the Hartford Initiative had know Fr. Alexander for several years, and after “begging” him to participate, he finally agreed. But years later, with the release of The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann (which, apparently, you didn’t read very closely as well), Richard John Neuhaus wrote an article for First Things Magazine to express his surprise & disappointment:

              When Peter Berger and I organized the Hartford initiative, we very much wanted Fr. Alexander to be part of it, and his participation was vital to its success. He contributed an essay to the book that came out of that effort, Against the World for the World. It was titled “East and West May Yet Meet: Hartford and the Future of Orthodoxy.” Now I discover from the journals that he was not as fully participant in Hartford as I had assumed. Right after the meeting, on September 7, 1975, he wrote, “In spite of a friendly atmosphere, I strongly felt my Orthodox alienation from all the debates, from their very spirit. Orthodoxy is often imprisoned by evil and sin. The Christian West is imprisoned by heresies—not one of them, in the long run, goes unpunished.” (The Hartford Appeal criticized ideas in American Christianity that were “pervasive, false, and debilitating.”) I was surprised by that entry, for in later conversations he indicated such strong support for Hartford. Maybe he later changed his mind. Maybe not. The journals do not say.

              Of the nineteen participants, he was the only Orthodox theologian at Hartford, and the problems of Protestants and Catholics were not, for him, first-order concerns. He had his head and heart filled enough with the evils, sins, and glories of Orthodoxy. “I firmly believe,” he writes, “that Orthodoxy is Truth and Salvation and I shudder when I see what is being offered under the guise of Orthodoxy, what people seem to like in it, what they live for, what the most orthodox, the best people among them, see in Orthodoxy.” The Russian émigrés, who did not share his vision of Orthodoxy’s universal mission, were the cause of endless frustration. As were the émigrés, so to speak, from Protestantism and Catholicism who sought out Orthodoxy as an escape from history. Fr. Alexander wrote, “Since the Orthodox world was and is inevitably and even radically changing, we have to recognize, as the first symptom of the crisis, a deep schizophrenia which has slowly penetrated the Orthodox mentality: life in an unreal, nonexisting world, firmly affirmed as real and existing. Orthodox consciousness did not notice the fall of Byzantium, Peter the Great’s reforms, the Revolution; it did not notice the revolution of the mind, of science, of lifestyles, forms of life… In brief, it did not notice history.”

              It is precisely that escape from history that many think is the glory of Orthodoxy. But the escape is delusory. Years later, this entry: “Once more, I am convinced that I am quite alienated from Byzantium, and even hostile to it. In the Bible, there is space and air; in Byzantium the air is always stuffy. All is heavy, static, petrified. . . . Byzantium’s complete indifference to the world is astounding. The drama of Orthodoxy: we did not have a Renaissance, sinful but liberating from the sacred. So we live in nonexistent worlds: in Byzantium, in Russia, wherever, but not in our own time.” (Here and elsewhere, “the sacred” refers to the artificial world of religiosity, churchiness, and clericalism separated from history and everyday experience.) May 24, 1977: “Orthodoxy refuses to recognize the fact of the collapse and the breakup of the Orthodox world; it has decided to live in its illusion; it has turned the Church into that illusion (yesterday we heard again and again about the ‘Patriarch of the great city of Antioch and of all the East’); it made the Church into a nonexistent world. I feel more and more strongly that I must devote the rest of my life to trying to dispel this illusion.”

              Our conversation was over, but the truth only begins…

              • Rostislav says

                I think the FACT Fr. Meyendorff underscores “participation in Conservative Christian” initiatives in his obituary of Fr. Alexander and that Fr. Hopko was involved in the Hartford document while none of them recanted their participation shows that you keep on inserting YOUR AGENDA in the name of Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

                At this point, I don’t know whether to cry or simply ignore this revisionism.

                Please, accept the fact that Fr. Alexander WOULD NOT HAVE SUPPORTED GAY MARRIAGE and the Left’s IMMORAL SOCIAL AGENDA and would have spoken out against it.

                It is as if you simply want to claim him for Obama or Patriarch Bartholomew. This is so contrived it is banal. I am sorry. You are wrong.

                Please stop casting yourself as Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Stop.

              • Rostislav says


                …While committed to the cause of an Orthodox Church which would be united and American, Fr. Schmemann always remained concerned with the fate of believers in the Soviet Union. For 30 years, his sermons were broadcast in Russian on “Radio Liberty” and gained Fr. Schmemann a broad following across the Soviet Union. Alexander Solzhenitzyn, who while still in the Soviet Union was one of his auditors, remained his friend after emigrating to the West. …


              • Rostislav says


                …Schmemann was a friend and spiritual counselor to author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was expelled from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. …

                …Committed to the rights of believers in the Soviet Union, Schmemann for more than 30 years had broadcast sermons in Russian to the Soviet Union over Radio Liberty.

                Associated Press

                San Francisco Chronicle, Wed., December 14, 1983 p. 49 …


              • Rostislav says


                …Committed to the rights of believers in the Soviet Union, Schmemann for more than 30 years had broadcast sermons in Russian to the Soviet Union over Radio Liberty. He had a broad following there. …


              • Rostislav says


                …Father Schmemann’s Russian language sermons were broadcast into the Soviet Union by Radio Liberty for more than 30 years. The sermons gained a loyal following among Orthodox listeners, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Shortly after Mr. Solzhenitsyn was deported from the Soviet Union, he sought out Father Schmemann. …


                …He believed that churches had a responsibility to express their faith through social action. “Christ came to say the whole man and not part of him,” he told 3,000 students in Athens, Ohio, several years ago, stressing the impossibility of drawing a line between secular life and church life. …


                …The contemporary world in all its complexities requires answers as well as good theories, he said in an interview, adding that true ecumenism depended not only on the unity of the church but also on the unity of all people. The churches, he continued, must constantly review and revalue their relations with a changing world order and only in so doing can the churches function as creative organisms. …


              • Rostislav says


                …Father Aleksandr Schmemann never saw Russia. He was born in 1921 in Estonia to a Russian emigre family that eventually settled in France. Yet he did not neglect the land of his fathers. After coming to the United States in 1951, he taped a weekly Russian-language sermon for Radio Liberty for thirty years. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, while still in the USSR, of these sermons:

                For a long time, with spiritual delight, I have been listening on Sunday evening, whenever possible, to the sermons of Father Aleksandr . . . over Radio Liberty. And I was amazed how genuine, how truly contemporary, and of what high order is his art of preaching . . . Never a note of falsehood, not an iota of rhetoric, without empty recourse to obligatory form and ritual which causes a listener discomfort . . . Always a deep thought and profound feeling. …


              • Rostislav says


                …In his beautiful book “For the Life of the World” Father Alexander speaks about the “sacramental structure of the world”, and in doing so he responds from within the Orthodox tradition to the cultural and spiritual problem of our time: secularisation, for him the “heresy of these days.” …


              • Rostislav says


                …Fr Alexander was possessed with an extraordinarily clear direct perception of the answer to this most fundamental of all questions, and this was based on his vision of the sacramental nature of the world.

                All that exists is God’s gift to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love, made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and the means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation. ‘O taste and see how good the Lord is’. [. . .] The only natural reaction of man is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it – and in this act of gratitude and adoration – to know, name and possess the world. …

                …Fr Alexander was born in Revel, Estonia, into a Russian émigré family in 1921. When he was seven years old the family moved to Paris, to share in the life of the large Russian community there. Never having been to Russia himself, and refusing on principle ever to go there under the communist regime, Fr Alexander nonetheless always felt himself first and foremost a Russian, with a deep and sincere love for his country, an unreserved detestation of the communist regime, and an unquenchable optimism about its spiritual regeneration. The emergence of Solzhenitsyn ‘from under the rubble’ was for him a moment of great joy, for he saw in him the confirmation of Russia’s rebirth. For many years he wrote and broadcast weekly sermons on Radio Liberty to the Soviet Union. …


              • Rostislav says


                …John Meyendorff…

                … He became a pupil of A.V. Kartashev, whose brilliant lectures and skeptical mind matched Schmemann’s own tendency to critical analysis of reality around him. The result was a “candidate’s thesis” (equivalent to an MDiv) on Byzantine theocracy. …

                …Actually, the Church itself always stood at the center of Fr Alexander’s spiritual and intellectual interests and commitments. His discussion of Byzantine theocracy, and his readings in Church History in general – as well as his initial dissertation topic – come from his concern with the survival of the Church, as Church, during the centuries of an ambiguous alliance with the State, and the survival of Orthodoxy in its medieval confrontation with Rome. But, perhaps, he lacked the necessary patience for remaining concentrated on the Church’s past: the existential today was that which really mattered. …

                …Fr Schmemann became fascinated by the brightness of Florovsky’s theological mind, by his vision of the Orthodox mission to the West, by his criticism of accepted nationalistic stereotypes, …

                …In the midst of his work as teacher and his involvement in the life of the Church – with lectures, articles, addresses and meetings all over the country – Fr Schmemann never lost another concern which he held since his youth: the fate of Orthodoxy in Russia. The opportunity he had for years to address a weekly sermon in Russian on “Radio Liberty” made his name known to many among the ghettoized and repressed Christians in Russia. One of them was Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, whose writings, smuggled abroad, were for Fr Alexander – as for many others – a breath of fresh air from the depressing flatness of Soviet reality, a witness to the spirit of “true” Russia and an authentic miracle of spiritual survival. About Solzhenitsyn’s attitude to Russia, Fr Alexander coined a great word: the author of the “Gulag Archipelago” and of “August 14” had a “seeing” or “lucid” love of Russia, as opposed to the “blind” nationalism of so many. Fr Schmemann was particularly indignant at those – Russian and Western – critics of Solzhenitsyn, who saw in him precisely that “blind” nationalism, which the criticism of pre-Revolutionary Russia in “August 14” refutes so obviously. …


                …A full biography could mention other aspects of Fr Schmemann’s career: his involvement, still in France, as Vice-Chairman of the Youth Department of the World Council of Churches, and his brief passage in the “Faith and Order Commission,” his lecturing as Adjunct-Professor at Union, at General and at Columbia; his later involvement with more conservative Christian circles (the “Hartford Appeal”). …



              • Rostislav says


                …Fr Alexander also taught us – by his life and by his death – that this world is fallen. Evil is real. There is wickedness. There is the Devil. In fact, this year at the orientation for the new students, Father spoke about this. Father always came to speak at orientation and this year too he came. Of course he was very weak, but he came and said to the new students: “I came over to tell you just one important thing. You will learn many things here about God, and the Seminary, and life and prayer . . . But I came over tonight to tell you just one very important thing.” And he said to the students: “Remember always that the Devil exists.” The Devil exists to destroy what God in Christ has given, and the Devil will use every trick to divide, to conquer, to separate, to produce that “unholy trinity” of pride, fear, envy, with competition and enslavement; and the “ego” will always be ready to cooperate with the evil “Voice” that speaks. The world is fallen, and it is fallen because we all, like Adam our father, have refused to lift up our heart and to give thanks to the Lord.

                Fr Alexander also taught us – by his life and by his death – that this world is redeemed, that this world is saved, that God has sent His Only-Begotten Son to give Himself for the life of the world, for the life not only of every human soul of which the whole world is not worthy, but for the life of all things: the whole creation, the plants, the animals, his beloved hippopotamus! All that God has made will be saved, resurrected, restored, renewed in Christ Who has risen from the dead, for death itself, in that restoration, becomes the instrument of victory. How many times he said, ” . . . through the Cross – and only through the Cross – has joy come into the world.” The world is good, the world is fallen, and the world is redeemed. …

                …The first “no” was to what Father called secularism – any kind of explanation of this world as having its meaning in itself. He loved to quote the French poet, Julien Green, who said, “all is elsewhere.” All is elsewhere, and this world has its meaning from “elsewhere.” And any attempt to dare to explain this world except as from God must be rejected. The world has no meaning in itself. None at all. …

                …But what is the one “yes”? Everyone in this Church knows what the one “yes” is. “Yes” to the fact that in the Church the fallen world which is redeemed in Christ and is going to come at the end as the Kingdom of God – eschatology – is here and now with us. “Yes” to what Father would call the “sacramental vision” – that the good world which is fallen has been redeemed and glorified, and whenever people gather and lift up their hearts and give thanks to the Lord, they experience this, and they know the Truth, and that Truth makes them free. “Yes” to the Church – the Church which, in Father’s own words, is:

                . . . the entrance into the risen life of Christ; it (the Church) is communion in life eternal, ‘joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.’ And it is the expectation of the ‘day without evening’ of the Kingdom . . . the fulfillment of all things and all life in Christ.

                And it is here that Father spoke about death, indeed, his very own death.

                In Him (Christ) death itself has become an act of life, for He (Christ) has filled it with Himself, with His love and His light. In Him (as the apostle Paul has written) all things are yours; whether . . . the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s’ (1 Cor. 3:21-23). And if I make this new life mine, mine this hunger and thirst for the Kingdom, mine this expectation of Christ, mine the certitude that Christ is Life, then my very death will be an act of communion with Life. For neither life nor death can separate us from the love of Christ. I do not know when and how the fulfillment will come. I do not know when all things will be consummated in Christ. I know nothing about the ‘whens’ and ‘hows.’ But I know that in Christ this great Passage, the Pascha of the world has begun, that the light of the ‘world to come’ comes to us in the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit, for Christ is risen and Life reigns.

                “Finally,” he said, “finally, I know that it is this faith and this certitude that fill with a joyful meaning the words of St Paul, which we read each time we celebrate the passage, the pascha of a brother, his falling asleep in Christ:

                For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). …


  11. M. Stankovich says

    From The Journals of Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

    January, 1975: “The rapport with Solzhenitsyn made obvious for me our essential difference. For him there is only Russia. For me, Russia could disappear, die, and nothing would change in my fundamental vision of the world. ‘The image of the world is passing.’ This tonality of Christianity is quite foreign to him.” “I know that S. himself does not hesitate to offend people right and left in the rudest manner. I personally think that to defend him would be to tell him the truth. I really do not want to take part in that struggle. . . . As for Solzhenitsyn, I will defend what I heard through his creative art, but I remain free of his ideology, which for me is quite foreign.”

    “May, 1975: His treasure is Russia and only Russia; mine is the Church. He is devoted to his treasure in a way that none of us is devoted to ours. His faith, I think, will move mountains, while ours—mine in any case—will not. . . . A great man! In the obsession with his vocation, his mission, in the total identification with it—without doubt a great man. Truly, out of him flows strength!” Then this insight on the chemistry, so to speak, between them: “In these days spent with him, I had the feeling that I was the older brother dealing with a child, capricious and even spoiled, who will not ‘understand’—so better for me to give in (‘you are older, so give in!’) for the sake of peace, agreement, and in the hope that ‘he might grow up and understand.’ I am a student from a higher grade dealing with a younger one for whom one needs to simplify, with whom one has to speak ‘at his level.’”

    While you seem to have garnered an audience here through your “boisterous” stance and your willingness to throw “buzzwords” and chum the waters with triggers like “gay marriage” & Patriarch Bartholomew – even comfortable insulting the other posters – I will not be intimidated by “bravado.” Attempting to tag me with some “agenda” is ignorant, immature, and foolish. You would have me casting myself as Fr. Alexander Schmemannn? Take a seat, son. Your bravado has gone to your head.

    • Rostislav says

      First off, I am not your son. I would be offended by your tone if it weren’t so hurt and alienated. I am sorry, truly sorry, that you are going through what you are going through.

      Secondly, you have been proven to be wrong in your representation. The readers can refer to the links and quotes I have presented. I have precisely used internet only sources so that they could verify my presentation for themselves.

      Thirdly, I have no reason for “bravado”. That very insinuation shows that you are projecting me as an enemy and treating me with contempt instead of trying to advance a dialogue.

      Fourthly, your unspoken agenda is pretty clear: you are promoting the Orthodox Church “shutting up” so that the Left can most easily transform all ideas of traditional morality and culture. That is the pathetic truth of why you continue in this. Because if what you say is established or accepted, that is the end result.

      Fifthly, we all miserably learned with Al Gore that you can’t cherry pick outcomes. Likewise, redacted quotes, misrepresentations, decontextualizations, obfuscations contradicted by the actions and words and colleagues of Fr. Alexander Schmemann and his very outlook do not constitute truth. They constitute propaganda, half truths, YOUR “truth”. You are entitled to your point of view, but you are not entitled to call a mockery of reality truth.

      This exchange is at an irrational impasse. There is no balance, no respect, no civility in your discourse. It is only personal, subjective, agendized, and dogmatic. It is harsh and disrespectful. You aren’t engaged in a dialogue. You are pounding your fist on a table and insisting you are channeling Fr. Alexander Schmemann. If you weren’t serious, this would be nothing short of ridiculous. I pray that you realize how disturbing your presentation has become.

      Please go to Confession and seek some guidance from a Priest.

      It doesn’t seem as if you are reading the material. But what you are illustrating is that you are desparately trying to preserve your outlook which has been discredited.

      No, Fr. Schmemann would not endorse gay marriage. No, he does not believe in tuning out so that the atheist Left can turn the culture and civilization into an amoral cesspool. He fought ghettoization, the nominalism and schizophrenia YOU espouse.

      I have proven that: the readers can READ what Father Schmemann wrote in my quotes, what his colleagues and friends wrote about his views, how my presentation is the truth, reality. You can have your revisionism and even say it is inspired by Fr. Schmemann, but your views are not his, and your presentation is precisely part of the problems he fought.

      Whether you choose to realize this or not is immaterial, it is clear for all to read that you are wrong.

  12. M. Stankovich says


    Personally, I do not need your quotes. I knew Fr. Alexander Schmemann personally. I sat in the front row in class and listened to Fr. Alexander Schmemann lecture. I was in the ridiculously small old chapel at SVS and listened to him preach, practically standing next to him. I confessed to Fr. Alexander Schmemann. We prostrated before one another on Forgiveness Sunday. Who do you imagine you are speaking to, quoting “articles” and an apostate former Orthodox priest, making accusations of supporting “gay marriage,” and recommending I go to confession? Yours is the “point of view.” I was there and I knew the man! Who taught you such disrespect and belligerence? You should be asking me what it was like to actually learn from and experience such fathers of our generation as Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff, SS Verhovskoy, Thomas Hopko, Blessed Vladyka Basil (Rodzianko), Archbishop Basil (Krivoshein), Archbishop Dmitri (Royster), and many others you can only read about. Where did you go to seminary? And why is it you will not not provide your name? It seems to me Mr. Banescu has “anointed” you a “defender of Orthodoxy” without even investigating if you are Orthodox! I will be convinced by evidence, not by your attempts at bullying.

    • Rostislav says

      We have read all of this, and thus you feel you are rightly channeling Fr. Alexander Schmemann…

      Again, you are wrong. What you have provided is nothing but your axe to grind. It is not Fr. Alexander. No amount of namedropping can undo the Truth.

      I am moving forward. I don’t think you are offering anything more here, and it would be absurd to keep entertaining your false premises and objections.

      Since this topic is the Supreme Court and the consequences of its ruling on the DOMA and since you offer no original material which isn’t contradicted by the quotes I have provided, I can only point out that at this juncture you are doing nothing but offering an irrational argument and doing so poorly.

      May you be well.

      • M. Stankovich says

        Are you an Orthodox Christian? What seminary did you attend? What is your name?

        • Rostislav says

          Please stop embarrassing yourself. Trying to turn this topic into a slew of personal attacks? Really? Enough.

          Step back, take a minute and ask yourself if being disruptive and insulting is what you really intend. I forgive you and GOD forgives.

          Please talk to a Priest and work it out. Thank you.

          • M. Stankovich says


            If I was “embarrassing myself,” I would expect to feel embarrassed. I do not. I have been an active, primary discussant in this forum for two years, and while it is frequently a “heated” exchange, it is, generally speaking, a place to be heard. You appear here as the “Voice of Orthodoxy,” gangbusters, judgmental, ascribing to individuals labels and “agendas” as you see fit, outright offensive in my estimation, and insulting because of a typing error of your name! You are the one who stated “when I went to seminary…” You are the one who stated you learned of Fr. Alexander Schmemann from David Anderson, an apostate priest who left the Orthodox Church because of his own arrogance and pride. You are the one who gladly accepted Mr. Banescu’s offer to “publish” your rantings and fawned at his likening of you to a modern-day Mark of Ephesus without even asking who you might actually be. And it was you who insisted that your “insightful” comments should be published from simply “Rostislav,” – Suggesting what? The “humble? The meek?

            My questions are neither insulting, inappropriate, nor attacking. Are you, in fact, an Orthodox Christian? Where did you attend seminary? What is your name?

            • Rostislav says

              You are out of control, and I am ashamed for you. I believe Fr. Alexander Schmemann would be ashamed of your behavior and walk away: he never suffered obscurantists and he certainly had no time for people who insisted on their own persons and their propaganda at the expense of truth and Orthodoxy. GOD forgive you and have mercy on you. The Cross you must bear. You need to reread what you have written and understand that that is not how people communicate in civilized discourse.

              Personally attacking me doesn’t elevate you or your erroneous position. You are wrong, and by your demeanor, you aren’t someone who is interested in anything but taking this discussion into the gutter.

              Why, pray tell, would I want to discuss my personal life with you when you are already chomping at the bit and attacking me personally? Why would I do this and further hijack a topic dedicated to the Supreme Court ruling on the DOMA? Why would I further your cult of your own personality and your “bona fides” in slamming your shoe on the table while you scream “I KNEW FATHER ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN!!! I SPEAK FOR HIM!!! I T DOESN’T MATTER WHAT HE WROTE!!! HIS LIFE AND RECORD AND COLLEAGUES DON’T MATTER!!! YOU DON’T MATTER AND AREN’T ORTHODOX OR LEFTIST ENOUGH TO EVEN DISCUSS FATHER SCHMEMANN!!!” So, no, I won’t indulge your attempt at my character assassination.

              You aren’t interested in dialogue. You are interested in establishing an echo chamber where life serenades you with your ideas and your platitudes. You are free to seek that out, but not at my expense. Be free. But not with me.

              If there were a nation of people who were the last I would allow into my personal space, you would be its god emperor.

              As a matter of fact, please stop addressing me: I want nothing further to do with you. Your behavior and presentation are disturbing and unhinged.

              The very fact you can’t respect another point of view and attack people you ideologically disagree with like some Chekist tells the world that you have nothing to offer but Leftist indoctrination and half truths. Fr. Schmemann called your type “Orthodox Bolsheviks”. Leave me out of your ideological crisis. Celebrate your straw men and your agenda without accosting me or others (people respecting truth) who don’t and WON’T think like you. Thank you.

              Please stop. Seek the counsel of an experienced priest.

            • Rostislav says

              Today’s Homily from the Prologue of St. Nikolai of Zhicha:


              About the joy of faith in Christ

              “Although you have never seen Him, you love Him, and without seeing you now believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

              These are the words of the Holy Apostle Peter. He saw the Lord and loved Him. He looked at the Lord and believed in Him. Precisely because of that, he praises the love of those who have not seen the Lord and the faith of those who have not seen Him with their eyes. Our Lord Himself said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (St. John 20:29). Blessed are they who have not seen the Lord as the apostle saw Him, but, nevertheless, they love Him with apostolic love. Blessed are they who have not seen the Lord as the apostle saw Him but, nevertheless, they believe in Him with apostolic faith!

              O my brethren, even if we do not see the Lord, we see His works which have enlightened the entire history of mankind from one end to the other and have illumined every created thing under the heavens with a spiritual significance. Even if we do not see the Lord, we see His Holy Church built upon His All-holy and Pure Blood, from countless saints, righteous ones and numerous souls baptized in His Name throughout the ages of ages. Even if we do not see the Lord face to face as the apostles saw Him, we believe that He is among us in the Body and Blood by which we, according to His commandment, communicate and, in communicating, we rejoice with unspeakable joy.

              Brethren, the Lord is alive and the Lord is near! That is our unwavering faith and that is the spark of fire which stirs our hearts in a flame of love for the Lord, living and near.

              To know that our Lord the Creator, out of love, descended into the earth and appeared as a man for our sake and further know that He was dead and that He appeared alive what stronger foundation does our faith need and what stronger justification for our love?

              Brethren, the Lord is alive and near. And even in our day, He is appearing to many righteous souls who serve Him with patience.

              O Living Lord, You were dead and are alive enliven in us faith and love until our last breath on earth, that with faith and love, we may be worthy to see You face to face as did Your holy apostles.


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