Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology

By Flynn, Kevin | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology


Flynn, Kevin, Anglican Theological Review


Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemanns Pastoral Theology. By William C. Mills. Chicago, 111.: Liturgy Training Publications, 2012. xiii + 125 pp. $18.00 (paper).

Despite their frequently expressed admiration for their liturgy or the "incomparable" prose of Thomas Cranmer, Anglicans in fact often express more than a little ambivalence about the liturgists who study, criticize, or reform their rites. This ambivalence may range from Dean Inge's response to the question of whether he was interested in liturgy: "No," he said, "neither do I collect postage stamps," to the oft-repeated joke about the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist ("you can negotiate with a terrorist"). Can the study of liturgy, then, offer more than a dry antiquarian commentary or a disapproving insistence on rubrical exactitude? William C. Mills, a priest in the Orthodox Church in America, offers a study of the late Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann as an emphatic "yes."

For many students of liturgical theology, the work of Alexander Schmemann is familiar despite his untimely death some thirty years ago. More than a few of his emphases, not least the idea of liturgical theology itself-liturgy as the primary encounter by the faithful with the living God and therefore theology before all further reflection upon such experience-have been shared and used by theologians of various churches, such as Aidan Kavanagh, Gordon Lathrop, Frank Senn, and David Fagerberg, to name but a few. Many of his works remain in print. His efforts within his own church to restore frequent reception of the eucharist continue to bear fruit among the Orthodox and are paralleled among other Christians. It is principally Schmemann's work on the eucharist and the ecclesiology arising therefrom that Mills proposes as a guide and corrective to contemporary theologians and pastors-Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant. For Mills, Schmemann s theology can continue to inform the formation of future priests and pastors.

Mills begins his study with a sketch of what he takes to be a crisis in the churches today, especially at the level of formation for ordained ministry. He describes some familiar antipathies: the divorce between the study of theology by speculative theologians and the practical theology of pastors; the continuing debilitating influence of clericalism; the dominance of technique, psychological approaches, and secular management paradigms in the life of the churches. Though he acknowledges some value in the psychotherapeutic and the managerial, Mills calls for a rediscovery of Schmemann s insistence on a more theological and Christocentric foundation for pastoral care, that is a pastoral care founded in the eucharist.

Before developing this theme at length, Mills helpfully locates Schmemann within the Paris school of the 1920s through early 1950s. His biographical sketch shows the influence on Schmemann of such Orthodox theologians as Nicholas Afanasiev, Kyprian Kern, John Meyendorff, Paul Evdokimov, Lev Gillet, and Sergius Bulgakov. He notes as well the importance of great Roman Catholic liturgical theologians on Schmemann, especially Louis Bouyer and Jean Daniélou. Common to all of these theologians is the desire to help the church be more genuinely itself through the renewal of its liturgy. For Schmemann, the eucharist is inherently missional. In Schmemann's words: "The Eucharist reveals the Church as community-love for Christ, love in Christ-as a mission to turn each and all to Christ. …

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