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Alexander Schmemann

Father Alexander Schmemann holding a chalice during Divine Liturgy

Alexander Dmitrievich Schmemann (Russian: Александр Дмитриевич Шмеман, Aleksandr Šmeman; 13 September 1921 in Tallinn, Estonia – 13 December 1983 in Crestwood, New York)[1] was an influential Orthodox Christian priest, teacher, and writer. From 1946 to 1951 he taught in Paris, and afterwards in New York. In his teachings and writings he sought to establish the close links between Christian theology and Christian liturgy. At the time of his death, he was the dean of the Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary.

Early life and studiesEdit

Alexander Schmemann was born in 1921 in Tallinn, Estonia, into a family of Russian émigrés.[1] His grandfather had been a senator and a member of the State Council and his father an officer of the Imperial Life-Guards. When he was a child his family moved to France, where he was educated in Russian schools and at a French lycee before becoming a student at the University of Paris (1940–1945), where he wrote a thesis on theocracy and the Eastern Roman Empire. In 1943 he married Juliana Osorguine (1923–2017), before completing his theological studies in 1945 at the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris (where he studied with the noted Russian theologian, Father Sergei Bulgakov, amongst others).


In 22 October 1946 Schmemann was ordained to the presbyterate of the Orthodox Church by Vladimir (Tikhonicky). From 1946–51 he taught church history at St. Sergius Institute.[1]

He was invited to join the faculty of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, then in New York City, where he taught from 1951 onwards.[1] When the seminary moved to its present campus in Crestwood, New York in 1962, Father Alexander assumed the post of dean, which he would hold until his death. He also served as adjunct professor at Columbia University, New York University, Union Theological Seminary and General Theological Seminary in New York. Much of his focus at St Vladimir's was on liturgical theology, which emphasizes the liturgical tradition of the Church as a major sign and expression of the Christian faith.

Fr Schmemann was accorded the title of protopresbyter, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a married Orthodox priest.[1] He held honorary degrees from Butler University, General Theological Seminary, Lafayette College, Iona College, and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

He was an Orthodox observer for the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church from 1962 to 1965.[1]

He was active in the establishment of the Orthodox Church in America and in its being granted autocephaly by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1970.

His Russian-language sermons were broadcast into the Soviet Union on Radio Liberty for 30 years.[1] He gained a broad following of listeners across the Soviet Union, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who became his friend after emigrating to the West.[1]

At the time of his death, he was the dean of the Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, a position he had held since 1962.[1] Schmemann died of cancer in 1983 in Crestwood, New York.[1]


Fr Schmemann published many books and articles. For the Life of the World, a popular volume on Christian faith as reflected in liturgy, has been translated into eleven languages. Originally prepared as study guide for the National Student Christian Federation in 1963, it even had an anonymous version published by the underground samizdat in the Soviet Union. The Eucharist was finished just before his death. This and several collections of his writings were published posthumously.

  • Introduction to Liturgical Theology (1961)
  • The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (1963)
  • Great Lent: Journey to Pascha (1969; revised ed. 1974)
  • For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (1970)
  • Liturgy and Life: Christian Development Through Liturgical Experience (1974)
  • Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism (1974)
  • Ultimate Questions: An Anthology of Modern Russian Religious Thought (1977)
  • Church, World, Mission: Reflections on Orthodoxy in the West (1979)
  • The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom (1988)
  • Celebration of Faith: I Believe... (1991)
  • Celebration of Faith: The Church Year (1994)
  • Celebration of Faith: The Virgin Mary (1995)
  • The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973–1983 (2000)
  • Our Father Translated by Alexis Vinogradov (2001)
  • Liturgy and Tradition Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann Edited by Thomas Fisch (2003)
  • O Death, Where Is Thy Sting Translated by Alexis Vinogradov (2003)
  • The Liturgy of Death Edited by Alexis Vinogradov (2017)

Schmemann's work, including entire courses, are taught at theology schools. In 2018 the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at St. Michael's College offered a course The Liturgical theology of Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983).

Further readingEdit

  • Paul Garrett, 'Fr Alexander Schmemann: A Chronological Bibliography', in SVTQ; 28 (1984), p. 11-26
  • John Meyendorff, 'Postscript A Life Worth Living', in Liturgy and Tradition Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann (2003), p. 145-154
  • Brian A. Butcher, Andrew Louth, Liturgical Theology after Schmemann: An Orthodox Reading of Paul Ricoeur (New York, Fordham, 2018)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "REV. ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN, DEAN OF ORTHODOX SEMINARY". The New York Times. 14 December 1983. Retrieved 27 December 2015.

External linksEdit