Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Somewhat Bittersweet Post

At approximately 9pm this evening, I turned in my last research paper as a graduate student. Needless to say, I have a far way to go before I am done with my degree (oral, written, and Spanish comps, and thesis), but this is a milestone nonetheless. The focus of my paper was Father Alexander Schmemann's Eucharistic theology in the Catholic Church in the modern world.

If anyone knows who Father Schmemann was, the topic of my paper may seem a little strange. Father Schmemann was a Russian Orthodox liturgical theologian who was born in Estonia in 1921. When he was seven years old, he emigrated to Paris with his parents where he stayed to study for the Orthodox priesthood and pursued further studies in Church History. Father Schmemann and his theology overall was based in the Catholic Church's Liturgical Movement, a movement stressing the inherent meaning of the Church's prayer (the liturgy) in the life of the everyday faithful.

The Liturgical Movement coined a term, the ressourcement. A French word meaning "going back to the sources." The Movement was primarily interested in seeing the Church, all of her members both clerical and lay, see the centrality of the liturgy in the life of the Church as it once was in the early Church. While this was one part of the Liturgical Movement's mission, it summed up the reason why the Church was seeking this idea all over again. The faithful merely went to Mass and, the closest thing to participation was the laity praying a rosary while the priest said all of the prayers of the Mass.

Schmemann, though writing for a primarily Orthodox audience, saw what the Catholic Church was doing and took it upon himself to revitalize the Orthodox Church's liturgical life. He once wrote in For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, that "The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world." Catholicism, as well as Orthodoxy, became merely a religion that was practiced. Schmemann, as a Church historian, went "back to the sources" and saw that the early Church did not merely practice their belief, they lived it. With this thought in mind, he wrote that Christianity is not a religion in the strict sense of the word, rather, it is a way of life that must be lived. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. To be a Christian, one has to live the life that Christ lived, one of continual self-sacrifice back to the Father in heaven.

This may seem like an extremely foreign concept in the twenty-first century, but it is one that cannot "go out of style." The Church is impelled by God to come to the liturgy where we learn how to be a Christian. In this sense, the liturgy is the classroom of life. I must admit, this is a concept that even I have trouble grasping. The secular world has much to offer that is fun, exciting, and, dare I say, dangerous. Whether man wants to admit it or not, even the atheist is grasping for God, though he does it in the darkness of sin. To be fair, even Christians do this. The trick is, and it is not a trick at all, is to be a person who sacrifices himself for the life of the world.

In the movie "Bruce Almighty," Morgan Freeman's character, God, tells Jim Carrey's character to "be the miracle." Carrey's character then goes out into the world and helps people in ways that may not have been extraordinary to him, but made all the difference to the person he was helping. This is the answer - self-sacrifice. When we help our fellow man and do things for him, that is what God wants of us. When we help anyone, we are helping God.

Now before you say that all is required to get to heaven is be helpful, there is caveat. How are we to know how to help our fellow man? We come to know this in the classroom of the liturgy. God speaks to man through the scriptures and shows Himself in the breaking of the Bread. We come to the Heavenly Banquet and are taught how to act. The liturgy teaches us how to act in the world and be those miracles to those around us. We cannot know, though, how to be of service if we do not know the one who is service Himself, Jesus Christ.

The liturgy is where God acts through us and we respond to God's call in our lives with faith. It is here we will learn how to live a Eucharistic life in a noneucharistic world and transform it.
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann