Russian Orthodox theologian, protopresbyter, ecumenist, and defender of religious freedom; b. Revel, Estonia, Sept. 13, 1921; d. Yonkers, USA, Dec. 13, 1983. Son of a Russian émigré family with Baltic German ancestry on his paternal side, Schmemann moved to Paris at the age of seven. In France, he attended a Russian military school in Versailles, and transferred to the Lycée (high school). From 1940 to 1945, he studied at the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, completing a candidate's (MDiv) thesis on Byzantine theocracy. After graduating from St. Sergius, Schmemann taught there as an instructor in church history. In 1946 he was ordained to the priesthood.
In 1951, Schmemann emigrated to the United States with his wife, Juliana, and joined the faculty of St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary, where he taught liturgical theology. At St. Vladimir's Seminary, he collaborated closely with his colleague, George florovsky, who had directed the faculty since 1949.
In 1959 Schmemann obtained his doctorate from St. Sergius. In 1962, when St. Vladimir's Seminary moved to its present campus at Crestwood, N.Y., he assumed the post of dean, which he held until his death. In addition to teaching at St. Vladimir's, he held adjunct professorships at Columbia University, New York University, Union Theological Seminary, and General Theological Seminary in New York. From the latter he received an honorary of Doctor of Sacred Theology degree. He was similarly honored by Butler University, Lafayette College, Iona College, and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
Schmemann's ecumenical involvement began in France, when he became vice-chairman of the Youth Department of the World Council of Churches (WCC). He served as an Orthodox observer for the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church from 1962 to 1965. He also served as a member of the WCC's influential Commission on Faith and Order. In 1970, he played an important role in the establishment of the autocephalous orthodox church in america (oca), which he believed would unify the various ethnic jurisdictions representing Eastern Orthodoxy in America. A supporter of Christian unity, he was also a fervent preacher for religious freedom. For 30 years He delivered sermons which were broadcast in Russian on "Radio Liberty" and which gained him a wide following across the former Soviet Union.
Schmemann wrote on a variety of subjects, but the Church itself was always the primary focus of his intellectual interests and commitments. Influenced by his teachers A. V. Kartashev, Cyprian Kern, and N. Afanassieff, he strove to bring the intellectual and cultural traditions of Russian emigrant theology to the New World. Although the "eucharistic ecclesiology" developed by Afanasieff provided the direction for Schmemann's further development as atheologian, his theological worldview, as distinguished by its "eucharistic" approach, was shaped during his Paris years under the influence of the Liturgical Movement. The seminal ideas of the key thinkers of the Liturgical Movement, notably Odo casel, Lambert beauduin, Jean daniÉlou, Louis bouyer, Josef jungmann, and Romano guardini, contributed to shaping Schmemann's mind and propelling his quest for rediscovering the deeper meaning of the Paschal Mystery.
Schmemann's theology focused on the meaning of worship and the sacramental life of the Church by stressing the eschatological dimension of the Church and its Liturgy. He saw the Church as the mystery of the Kingdom and as its primary point of reference. The image of the Trinity as an embodiment of divine love is essential for a comprehensive understanding of Schmemann's teachings about the Eucharist. Christ, whose life is a sacrifice of love to God, is mysteriously present in the Eucharist through the priestly proclamation. By contrasting the Orthodox doctrine of the epiclesis from the Western doctrine of anamnesis, he emphasized that the priestly word of the Church is transformed and sacramentally identified with the word of Christ. The Christ who is proclaimed and made present by the Eucharist is the Jesus who died, the resurrected Christ who yet lives as the Lord who will return in glory. Schmemann published numerous books and articles which enjoyed wide circulation. His principal area of interest was liturgical theology, although his first publication (1954) in the United States, which introduced his name as a scholar, was historical. Entitled Historical Path of Eastern Orthodoxy, this work originated in Paris under Kartashev's influence and offered thereader a general outline of the historical Orthodoxy. Other significant studies include Sacraments and Orthodoxy (1965, its revised and expanded edition, titled For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, was republished in 1973 and 1982, and translated into eleven languages); Ultimate Questions: An Anthology of Modern Russian Religious Thought (1965); Introduction to Liturgical Theology (1966); Of Water and The Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism (1974); Church, World, Mission: Reflections on Orthodoxy in the West (1979); Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom (1988); Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann (1990).
Bibliography: The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973–1983, tr. j. schmemann, (Crestwood, New York 2000). j. meyendorff, "A Life Worth Living." St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 28, no. 1, (1984) 3–10. p. scorer, "Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann," Sobornost 6, no. 2) 1984 (64–68.)