Remembering Fr. Alexander Schmeman

SVOTS – 15/12/2019

A Remembrance of Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann by Protodeacon Peter Danilchik, Seminary Trustee Emeritus

My first interaction with Fr Alexander Schmemann occurred fifty-two years ago in September 1966 when I was an engineering graduate student at Syracuse University. A parishioner at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Syracuse gave me several back copies of St Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly. Among them were the issues (1964-65) which contained Father’s famous three articles on Problems of Orthodoxy in America: Canonical, Liturgical, and Spiritual. I’d never met Fr Alexander and previously knew very little about him. But being a very brash twenty-three-year-old, I nevertheless proceeded to write a letter to this esteemed theologian giving my immature critique of his articles. I didn’t think that I’d ever heard back from him.

A week later, I received a letter whose envelope had the seminary return address with two little initials above it “A.S.” When I opened it, I fully expected to hear some words like: “Who do you think you are? Don’t you know who I am? Let me show you how wrong you are!” Well, that would be the furthest thing from the truth.

Father started out with “Dear Mr. Danilchick, thank you for your most inspiring letter.” He then went on to say how letters like mine and other Orthodox laymen were a “breath of fresh air.” He said that they show that “a common interest, anxiety, and language do exist”, and that the “abyss between ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’ that we hear so much about is a myth.”

Father Alexander then went on with great humility and kindness to comment on my critique, beginning with a most gracious “I must say that in fact I agree with everything you say.” He then proceeded to explain to me, simply, succinctly and – above all – gently, his thoughts on my comments regarding “Church” versus Christ, the experience of God, the radical nature of the Eucharist, and activism in the Church.

In conclusion, he said that he would be “extremely happy to meet me and to continue the discussion.” He finished with the words: “Once more you can’t imagine how important reactions like yours are for me.”

This was the first of many such conversations and correspondences. How inspiring it was to see from a highly-learned individual, with enormous responsibility, such humility, and openness to face and discuss the many issues facing the Church. I’d never met someone like that before. He has continued to inspire me to this day. May Fr. Alexander’s memory be eternal!

(Reprinted from St. Nicholas Cathedral, Washington, D.C., with permission of Protodn. Peter Danilchik)