Review: For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Fr. Alexander Schmemann delves deeply into the sacramental nature of reality in this book. Arguing against the modern distinction between “sacred” things on the one hand and “secular” on the other, Schmemann returns to an earlier Christian conception of the world as sacrament, as the presence of God waiting to be revealed and communed with.

His constant emphasis is on the priesthood of each human being. It is the work of each to take up the things of this world and offer them to God to be redeemed, sanctified, and deified. In this, the book serves as an extended meditation on a restoration of the proper Christian worldview.

Where Fr. Schmemann fails, I think, is in his attempts to discern the roots of the distinction between sacred and secular, between sacrament and reality. He attempts to pinpoint the starting point of this distinction in an 11th century synod held at St. John Lateran, yet the text of the actual oath signed there does not bear out this thesis as it affirms, along with him, the simultaneous symbolic and real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Discerning the real roots of this dichotomy is a task that is necessary but still awaiting completion.

In the mean time, however, Schememann offers some sound advice on how to heal the wounds in our worldview caused by this dichotomy. I recommend this book for anyone interested in understanding and/or cultivating a traditional and authentically Christian worldview — namely a sacramental worldview.

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