I had no idea what I was getting into by reading this book. It was recommended by my mentor, several times actually. Since my dad loves buying books, I included it on the list of suggested items for Christmas gifts for me. I must confess I opened it before Christmas to start reading it.
So, here I am about six weeks after starting it and I finished it up a few minutes ago. The word that comes to mind is holistic:
- PHILOSOPHY: characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
Throughout the book Schmemann is disdainful of consecratory formulas. The idea that some particular words or appeals are “the point at which” the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus.
Nothing perceptible happens – the bread remains bread, and the wine remains wine. For if it occurred “palpably,” then Christianity would be a magical cult and not a religion of faith, hope and love.
Thus, any attempt to explain the conversion, to locate it in formulas and causes, is not only unnecessary but truly harmful. Chapter 11, section 6
To sum up a much longer argument, the sacrifice of Christ has been accomplished both here on earth and in Heavenly Places, in the true Holy of Holies. This is a rebuke of the (to my understanding) Roman Catholic theology of the ongoing sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist. As an aside: to me the finished work of Christ is essential theology. My only hope of salvation is in the firm assurance that it is already accomplished in and through Christ Jesus.
Schmemann’s main point, in my reading of the book, is this: The Eucharist is the entire service, the whole of the Liturgy. From the entrance, to the reading of the Word, to the preaching/teaching, to the gifts, to the declaration of belief (creeds), to the prayers of the people, to the table, to the prayers said over the gifts of bread and wine, to the distribution, and finally consumption by the body of believers: the church. That all are gifts of God to His people for their growth in the Spirit. That without a church, there is no Eucharist. The Eucharist then, rightly understood, is something the gathered body of believers do.
The conclusion is also carefully calibrated. The final chapter is on communion, the final act of consumption, the eating and drinking of the bread and wine. The Eucharist is, in a way, consummated in the consumption: it is made complete (whole) in the eating.
The Trinity, the Godhead, is in a state of perfect communion within the Godhead. The theological term is Perichoresis. A divine inter-dwelling, the Father knows the Son, who knows the Father, who knows the Holy Spirit, who knows the Father, and the Son knows the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit knows the Son. In the consuming of the elements we enter into communion with GOD because the Son joined himself to sinful flesh, redeemed it and joined it to the Godhead. Because western thought has traveled so far down the road of individualism, we miss another larger and powerful truth. By being in communion with GOD, we are also in communion with any and all who have ever been in, are in, or will ever be in communion with GOD. It is a physical symbol of the divine truth of He in us and we in Him.
I loved the book. It was consistently challenging and always interesting. Each section reads as a carefully chewed over thought from a devote man concerned about the health of the church, the body of believers. He had criticisms of modern developments in Eastern Orthodoxy along with the expected ones towards Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. He really didn’t delve too deeply, if at all, into any of the Eastern Mysticism that so typically unnerves westerners. I highly recommend it.