Sunday, November 30, 2014

Homily of Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Dear Parish Faithful,

As is our tradition, at the Thanksgiving Day Liturgy I always read to the parish the final homily of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, given on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. This was the last time that Fr. Alexander served the Liturgy before his death a few weeks later on December 13 (the day of the repose of Fr. Herman of Alaska).  It is a short, concise, but extraordinary "last testament" from a man who knew he was dying. It is a perfect expression of all that Fr. Alexander believed in and committed himself to as an Orthodox Christian priest, theologian, teacher and writer.  That homily is accessible from the link below:

Fr. Alexander Schmemann was the dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary for many years and up until the time of his death in 1983. (I graduated from the seminary in 1981 and Fr. Alexander became sick with the cancer that would take his life the following year) He was the most charismatic person that I ever knew personally, and it was a great privilege and joy to be a seminarian when he was still a vigorous and illuminating presence. The atmosphere in a room was always transfigured the moment that Fr. Schmemann entered it, and his presence was almost magnetic in how he attracted immediate attention.  And he almost always had something memorable to say. Some people are naturally charismatic, and I think that this was true in the case of Fr. Schmemann.  However, I also believe that his charisma was derived from the fact that he was imbued with a profound sense of gratitude for the gift of life and for the gift of salvation in Christ.  Fr. Alexander had an extraordinary sense of the gift of life in all of its variety and richness.  There was hardly anything about "life" that he did not enjoy; and for him this all came together in the Liturgy when we offer the world back to God in adoration with the words: "Thine own of thine own, we offer unto Thee of all and for all."

When Fr. Schmemann died in 1983, a brief tribute to him was filmed by CBS News.  Reminding me of this, Mother Paula (Vicki Bellas) sent me the following note and link.  I would like to share it with anyone who may be interested.  Fr. Alexander appears briefly at the beginning, so there is a brief glimpse of him and his style. The rest is a series of tributes to him from various bishops, scholars, friends, etc. including the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko, who was his son-in-law.  The video ends with Fr. Alexander's funeral, an extraordinary event that I returned to New York for.  I recall approaching Matushka Anne Hopko (Fr. Alexander's daughter) and making a comment about the unique atmosphere of the funeral. She smiled, and then replied:  "Yes, just like Pascha!"  That response caught the essence of Fr. Schmemann's life - and his death.

Bless Father, perhaps you have seen this.

Interview by Fr Tom Hopko

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