September 26th, 2006


Neuhaus on Schmemann


Father Alexander Schmemann (1921–1983) is one of the very important people in my life. It is not simply that he helped form some of my ideas, especially about liturgy, or gave me a feel for realities about which I knew little, such as Orthodoxy. He was a great spirit; he lived robustly; he had a confident but not corrosive disdain for the banalities of fashionable thought. He was older and more cosmopolitan than I. He was fun to be with, and one left every meeting with the sense that life could be more, and the resolve to let it be so.

As a young man I first encountered Fr. Schmemann through his books, especially For the Life of the World, Of Water and the Spirit, and The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (all published by St. Vladimir’s Press). Later we would occasionally share the platform at ecumenical conferences, but I did not get to know him well until the days in Connecticut that produced “The Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation” of 1975. After that, I cherished Fr. Alexander as a friend and we would occasionally get together for lunch when he had business in the city, although not often enough, at least in my view. At our last lunch, on Lexington near 60th, not long before his final illness, he noted with disapproval the anorexic waitresses and expatiated engagingly on why the fashions of androgyny are part and parcel of the propensity for abstraction that is the fatal flaw of Western culture. I found the argument entirely convincing. There was for Fr. Alexander no divide between the sacred and secular, between the subjects of, for instance, unisex fashions and baptismal grace. Reality was all of a piece, and all charged with the presence and promise of Christ. In his case Tom Wolfe’s phrase applies: he was a man in full. Or so he seemed, and so he seems, to me....

He goes on to speak of Fr. Schmemann's journals, which is interesting if you've read them and know something of Fr. Nehaus as well.