Book Review: The Eucharist by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

The culminating work of Fr. Schmemann’s career is this work on the center of the Christian faith, the Eucharist. Schmemann takes here a wide view of the Eucharist, exploring the whole of the liturgy in all of its aspects. In a breath of fresh air, Schmemann casts aside the worn out and rather misdirected attempts to explain every action and element of the liturgy as a massive play in symbolism. He instead returns to an earlier conception of the coexistence of the symbolic and the real, insisting upon a properly sacramental interpretation.

With this sacramental view in mind, Schmemann explores each aspect of the liturgy as a sacrament, as a conduit of the grace of God and the fellowship of Christians. His approach demonstrates the cohesiveness of the liturgy and the importance of each part of it for the whole Christian experience. The culmination, of course, is in the final and ultimate experience of communion.

While the insights to be gleaned from this work are innumerable, it is not without its fault. The greatest problem with the book is Schmemann’s constant fall back to the myth of a “Latin captivity” of the Church and his use of the Scholastic theology of the Catholics as his whipping boy. Every time Schmemann encounters a historical error, he traces it, often rather tenuously, to Western theology. This approach is unfortunate as it limits his perspective. A study like this one which includes the witness of the Western Church would be of great value.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in the Christian life, particularly as it pertains to the liturgy and the sacraments.

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