By Prof. Dr. Archimandrite Job Getcha,
former Dean of the St. Sergius Theological Institute,
Professor and lecturer in Ukraine - he is of Ukranian Canadian descent.
Fr. Job Getcha will also participate in the Lenten Lectures delivered at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2009.
The notion of ‘Liturgical Theology’, used frequently by modern liturgiologists and sometimes criticised, appeared in the XXth century. Until then, the study of liturgy was often restrained to the practical field, to the study of ritual in the process of forming future clergy, and did not find its place in the purely theological field. The Orthodox world is greatly indebted to Father Kiprian Kern who has promoted the theological aspect of liturgical studies by defending the notion of ‘Liturgical Theology’. His disciple, Father Alexander Schmemann, followed the steps of his master, and this explains why he dedicated his doctoral thesis, “Introduction to Liturgical Theology”, to Kern’s memory. The aim of this present paper is to show the contribution made by both of them to the definition and elaboration of a method of Liturgical Theology. Taking into account their respective sources of inspiration, we would like to focus on how their contribution illustrates in an admirable way a relationship of a master to disciple.
The Status of Liturgical Studies at the Beginning of the XXth century
If the notion of ‘Liturgical Theology’ is obvious at the beginning of the XXIth century, this was certainly not the case at the beginning of the XXth. In most textbooks of liturgy, the liturgical science was defined as “the study of the ordo of divine services of the Orthodox Church” . It had a ritualistic or rubrical approach and was developed as the study of the liturgical system as it then existed in the Church. This approach is in fact rather interested in the Typikon (ordo) in its actual redaction and is neither preoccupied by the ordo’s origins, its historical development, nor by its different types or families. The aim of this discipline was to educate celebrants (clergy and cantors) and make them capable of performing the services according to established rules. This approach generally went hand in hand with a purely ritualistic approach to the services. The services were often celebrated without any intelligence or knowledge, for the theological sense of them had been lost. At the same time, iconography and liturgical music had lost their clean specificity as they blended with purely humanist art.
Prior to this, in the XIXth century, the Russian liturgical school was primarily interested in the historical aspect. The school developed around the Professor A.A. Dmitrievsky, nicknamed the “Russian Goar”, and earned many adherents (among whom are M. Skaballanovitch, I. Lisicyn, K. Kekelidze, I. Karabinov). Professors Katansky and I.D. Mansvetov were its forerunners. This school was interested in the historico-archaeological approach . Here, the study of liturgy evolved from simple training in the ordo towards a true science, but this science remained more attached to “ecclesiastical archaeology” than to theology . The historian N. Gloubokovsky notes that Professor I. Mansvetov was, “the main reformer of liturgical studies and became practically its founder as a true science” . The purpose of this approach was to present the historical development and changes that occurred to the liturgy, and it was particularly interested in the appearance and transformations of its specific elements. The study of manuscripts and of different historical witnesses of course proved to be necessary. This historico-archaeological study marks the start of a liturgical renewal which manifested itself, in the case of the Russian Church, during the Council of Moscow of 1917-18 .
The Notion of Liturgical Theology in Father Kiprian Kern
To these two approaches, Father Kiprian added a third one, a theological approach, to his own course of liturgical theology at Saint Sergius Institute. He defines it in the following way:
“The third approach, theological, considers liturgical science not only to be a historical subject or an archaeological study, and not only as a series of rules for the celebration of service according to the mind and letter of the ecclesiastical Typikon (ordo), but mainly as a theological discipline, as a source of the knowledge of God and as a means that can help in the development of an Orthodox theological system” .
Father Kiprian maintained that ‘liturgical theology’ as an independent discipline had the right to exist besides other subjects of systematic and historical theology, and that it was closely linked with patrology. According to him, “patrology, the history of Christian dogma, interested in the study of the development of Christian theological thought in different writers and doctors of the Church at different epochs, should not be isolated from liturgical theology. The study of liturgical hymns, of their appearance, their development and content, fulfils the study of the theological writings of the Church Fathers” . As he reminds us, several Church Fathers are not only the authors of theological treaties, but are also the source of the hymnographical material, whose wealth had been already underlined by Cardinal Pitra. The study of hymnography completes our knowledge of history and of the system of Byzantine theology. So, he adds “you should not limit the study of patristic writings only to theological treaties written in prose, but it is necessary to turn yourself also to ecclesiastical poetry, iconography, symbolism, and more generally, to liturgy” .
Father Kiprian drew the attention of the public to the notion of ‘liturgical theology’ as early as 1924, while he was still a 25-year-old student in Belgrade, in an article called “Lily of Prayers”. The article was published in the journal of theological students at the University of Belgrade , and was then taken into a collection of articles published under the same name in 1928, with the crucial subtitle: “Collection of Articles of Liturgical Theology” . Later in his life, the distinguished scholar was very critical of the writings of his youth, which he thought reflected his aestheticism and his Romanticism; nevertheless, these writings had the merit to put down the principles of his deep thought, at least when he youthfully asserted: “They are right, our theologians, who assert the need to develop our ‘liturgical theology’, that is to say, the systematisation of the theological ideas within our liturgy” .
The Sources of ‘Liturgical Theology’ of Father Kiprian Kern
The early writings of Father Kiprian were mainly inspired by Bishop Gabriel (Tchepour) who, with Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovistky), exercised an indisputable influence on the young theologian . Bishop Gabriel, who wrote his final dissertation on the Typikon of the Great Church of Constantinople, established a link between Father Kiprian and the Russian liturgical school, and more particularly with M. Skaballanovitch. Both Bishop Gabriel and M. Skaballanovitch were disciples of Professor A. Dmitrievsky at the Theological Academy of Kiev.
As a young student of theology, Father Kiprian acquainted himself with Bishop Gabriel in Belgrade. The Bishop was a fine expert of the Typikon and marked his students with his deep knowledge and understanding of hymnographical texts, texts which Fr. Kiprian would later quote by heart in his own remarkable preaching. “It is Bishop Gabriel”, confesses Father Kiprian in his memoir, “who was our master of liturgics, but not in an academic sense: he provoked in me an interest for the historical analysis of our liturgy, for comparison of our way of celebrating with the way of the Greeks and the Slavs of the south. Thanks to him, I threw myself with greed on Dmitrievsky, who with all his descriptions of manuscripts of Typika and of Euchologia proved to be annoying and not very comprehensible for non-specialists and beginners, on Mansvetov, on Skaballanovitch, on the study of liturgical texts, on the comparison of translations and variants, etc.”
Contray to I. Orphanitsky, who did not conceive at the beginning of the XXth century that it was possible to refer to and quote liturgical texts in scientific research, and contrary to Archbishop Anastasiy (Gribanovsky), who was not in favour of a ‘Liturgical Theology’, Father Kiprian said that he had been inspired to develop liturgical theology by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), Bishop Gabriel (Tchepour), Father Pavel Florensky, and Father Serge Bulgakov. Father Kiprian, however, considered M. Skaballanovitch to be the pioneer of the subject . To these great figures of Russian theological thought during the XXth century, we can also add Western scholars, such Dom Prosper Guéranger of Solesmes, and the studies of the monasteries of Grottaferrata or Maredsous, and, certainly, the Liturgical Movement from which Father Kiprian gained knowledge after his arrival in Paris .
The Double Task of Liturgical Theology according to Kiprian Kern
In the opinion of Father Kiprian, liturgical theology has a double challenge. First of all, it must help the faithful to understand worship. Indeed, Father Kiprian wanted to underline the didactic and pedagogic aspect of the liturgical services of the Byzantine rite. He wanted to remind theologians, too, that the religious and theological education of ancient Byzantium or of ancient Russia was first of all transmitted by the liturgy. As he writes,
“There were no seminaries, academies or faculties of theology, but God-loving monks and pious Christian drank the living water of the knowledge of God from stichera, canons, kathismata, prologues and synaxaria. The choir and the ambo of the church thus replaced the professorial pulpit” .
Unfortunately, as Father Kiprian himself emphasizes, these services, with all their wealth of hymnography, often prove to be incomprehensible to modern man. This incomprehension is sometimes linked with the use of ancient liturgical languages, such as Slavonic or ancient Greek, unknown to the majority of the faithful . But the difficulty also comes from a lack of culture, or rather, from the fact that we live in another culture. He continues by stating:
“Used to the realism of ‘peredvizhnechestvo’ and of academic painting, we do not understand anymore the true beauty of the non-earthly faces of our icons and of the divine revelations coming from another world; educated by a contemporary poetry in decline, we do not understand anymore the ecclesiastical poetry and the depth of its meaning. We cannot even understand anymore the vital, real sense of our divine services. We do not understand anymore the inner contents of our liturgical theology. Worship has ceased to be for us a source of our knowledge of God. Coming back to the church, we do not understand what is sung. It is therefore necessary to give explanations, to make commentaries” .
That is why, he said, “the need for a systematic commentary on our divine services has been felt for a long time” . In Belgrade, during the 1920s, Father Kiprian realised this when working with students’ brotherhoods, and when teaching at the theological seminary of Bitola in Macedonia . His articles written during this period form the origin to his book “Lily of Prayers”, and they were meant to be first of all a commentary on the weekly cycle of topics contained in the services of the Octoekhos. They therefore intended to reach a very broad public. The articles suggest a popular approach rather than liturgical theology as a science, properly speaking, and their style has a more literary than academic character.
To achieve his goal in these writings, Father Kiprian took as a model the incomplete work on Christian feast days by Professor M. Skaballanovitch, which was in turn inspired by “The Liturgical Year” of Dom Prosper Guéranger. Prof. Skaballanovitch’s work introduced the biblical foundations to the feasts, their historical aspects, doctrinal meaning, patristic interpretations, and it also gave translations of the texts of liturgical service along with archaeological and philological commentaries in the footnotes. Father Kiprian thought that this work, as well as the “Typikon with Commentary” by Prof. Skaballanovitch, were, in this direction, a perfect example .
But liturgical theology, in the view of Father Kiprian, had not only to deal with popular explanation. It had to be a true science, having its place next to other subjects of systematic and historical theology. As a science, the challenge of liturgical theology according to him was to systematise the teaching contained in the liturgical books: the hymnography and the euchology. To this end, amidst the whole range of liturgical material, the study and analysis of the hymnography contained in the Horologion, Octoekhos, Meneia, Triodion and Pentecostarion, are of major interest to the liturgist . But analysis of the content and theological topics developed in the different prayers of the Euchologion are also necessary. As he says, “The Euchologion (or ‘Trebnik’), this book of our liturgical and theological [heritage] whose wealth is not yet revealed, can teach many things to the theologian concerning the questions of anthropology, demonology, cosmology, etc.”
Here, perhaps, resided the biggest challenge for liturgical theology because such a task had not yet been undertaken. In 1924, Father Kiprian writes: “as a systematic science, liturgical theology remains, at least for us Orthodox, a discipline relatively young and not much developed” . He thought that the development of liturgical theology would allow a properly Orthodox theological system to be established which would distance itself from all systems established up to that point, be they Protestant or Latin . Liturgy appeared therefore to his eyes as one of the main sources of Byzantine theology.
Thus he thought that ‘liturgical theology’ surpassed other subjects, since it transcends the very concept of discipline by becoming a true theological method. In his memoirs, Father Kiprian writes: “Liturgical theology became for me a way of thinking. I would say this: Bishop Gabriel, my own life, and the progression of my thought defined liturgical [theology] for me as a method rather than as a discipline. I started to consider everything from a liturgical point of view, or more precisely, from a eucharistic point of view. And I think that for us Orthodox, this is how our approach to liturgical [theology] must be defined” .
Principles of Method in the Liturgical Theology of Father Kiprian Kern
If, in the view of Father Kiprian, the purpose of liturgical theology is to systematise theological ideas contained in the divine services, hymnography, iconographic compositions, church holidays, sacraments, and in a more general way, all the liturgical material of the Church , liturgical theology, as a discipline, has to have its own method in order to do so.
According to him, liturgical theology must be studied with a historical perspective, by paying particular attention to constant developments and transformations of this or that rite, and of this or that feast . Here, we can see the influence the Russian liturgical school and its liturgico-archaeological studies had on him. “If we are poor until now with regards to systematic textbooks”, he confessed, “we are however rich in the field of great liturgical studies” . We could also here identify the influence of the method used in the “Dictionary of Christian Archaeology and Liturgy” with its editors and main collaborators: Duchesne, Cabrol, Leclerc, Salaville and others, all of whom Father Kiprian held in high esteem .
But liturgical theology must also take into account comparative liturgy, that is to say the comparative study of the Byzantine rite with other rites: Roman, Armenian, Coptic, Nestorian, etc . First developed by the German liturgiologist A. Baumstark , this method had already been used by the Russian liturgiologist M. Skaballanovitch in his booklets on Christian feast days. Useful for the historico-archaeological studies, comparative liturgy could also assist with regards to theological interpretation. According Father Kiprian, the study of the liturgical material contained in the Horologion, Octoechos, Meneia, Triodion, Pentecostarion and other liturgical books must be compared and interpreted with the aid of patristic writings, texts of the ancient liturgies, hagiographic texts, and ancient iconography . The interpretation of liturgical texts can only be made with the aid of other ecclesiastical texts, and conversely, the liturgical texts can be of use for the interpretation of the sacred texts. So, hymnographical texts can be enlightened by patristic homilies or hagiographical stories, as they were indeed sources for hymnographers, and they are sometimes prescribed by the ordo to be read as edifying readings at services. This close relation between liturgical theology and patrology, underlined by Father Kiprian , allows us to add apocryphal texts to the list, for they ought also to be considered. They played an indisputable role in the creation of hymnography and of iconography. In turn, iconographic compositions are in symbiosis with liturgical compositions, and therefore one can become clearer with the help of the other.
Finally, liturgical theology cannot dispense with philological study. By working with translations or versions of the liturgical texts, the liturgiologist has, at all times, to compare them with the original Greek in order to prove the accuracy of the translation . Such methods were in fact used by Russian liturgiologists such as A. Dmitrievsky, who wanted to compare liturgical manuscripts, and M. Skaballanovitch, who in the footnotes of his booklets on Christian holy days drew the reader’s attention to the sense of various Greek words. Such philological study can prove to be decisive for theological interpretation, especially in cases where a translation introduces an interpretation – or a reduction – of the original meaning, as well as in cases where the translation inopportunely alters the original sense. Already in the articles of his youth and which were later taken into the collection “Lily of Prayer”, Father Kiprian drew the attention of his readers to the original sense of Greek terms whose translation was not always accurate in the Slavonic books. As a matter of fact, Father Kiprian knew Greek perfectly and loved comparing the Slavonic liturgical texts with their Greek originals. Moreover, for the celebration of liturgical services, he always enjoyed using a Greek Hieratikon .
The Idea of Liturgical Theology in Father Alexander Schmemann
Father Alexander Schmemann, disciple and spiritual son of Father Kiprian, was unquestionably the one who contributed most to spreading the concept of ‘Liturgical Theology’. As a matter of fact, he dedicated his doctoral thesis to Father Kiprian, a thesis he defended at Saint-Sergius Institute on July 2nd, 1959, and which he consecrated to “the history of Byzantine liturgical synthesis”. This study, first published in Russian in Paris in 1961 under title: “Introduction to Liturgical Theology”, and then in English in London in 1966 , was meant to develop a method of liturgical theology and spread the concept of ‘liturgical theology’ beyond the Orthodox world. Schmemann remained particularly tied to the didactic aspect of liturgy. He was certainly the biggest popularizer of liturgical theology in the XXth century. But he also contributed to working out the concept and to forging its method.
Following the steps of his master, Alexander Schmemann sketched the milestones of the liturgical theology of the Orthodox Church. In his book Introduction to Liturgical Theology, he gives the following definition of liturgical theology: “Liturgical theology is the elucidation of the meaning of worship” . This meaning is much deeper than the superficial and arbitrary symbolic explanation that Byzantine liturgy knew, especially after the XVth century, and which was often criticised by Father Alexander.
For him, as he says, “the task of liturgical theology consists in giving a theological basis to the explanation of worship and the whole liturgical tradition of the Church” . This implies three things from his point of view. Firstly, liturgical theology must find and define concepts and categories that can express the essential nature of the liturgical experience of the Church. Secondly, it must link up these notions with concepts used in theology to express the faith and the doctrine of the Church. Finally, thirdly, it must introduce the information transmitted by liturgical experience as a whole: the rule of prayer (lex orandi) which determines the rule of faith (lex credendi) of the Church.
The ultimate purpose of liturgical theology for Schmemann is therefore to clarify and to explain the link which joins liturgy and Church, and to show how the Church expresses itself and is even realized in liturgical action . Here, we can say that the disciple takes a step beyond his master: if the master conceived liturgical theology as a systematic presentation of the dogma contained in the euchology and the hymnography, the disciple had the deep conviction that liturgical theology has to explain the link which exists between the Church, as mystical Body of Christ, and liturgical celebration.
The starting point of Father Alexander Schmemann is the famous patristic saying to which he always refers: “Lex orandi lex credendi”. For him, just as for Kiprian Kern, theology in general cannot work without a liturgical science. Schmemann compares the place of liturgical theology among different theological disciplines with the one that occupies biblical theology: just as biblical theology tends to connect the text of Scriptures and dogmatic theology, liturgical theology has to study the data of the liturgical texts and its use by dogmatic theology . Schmemann implies therefore, just as Kern, a work of exegesis as well as interpretation.
Twenty-two years after the defence of his doctoral thesis, Father Alexander Schmemann came back to the Saint-Sergius Institute to speak about liturgical theology and its method at the 28th Congress of Liturgical Studies in June, 1981. In his presentation, he distinguished “liturgical theology” from the “theology of liturgy”, where defined the latter as “any study of Church worship in which this worship is analysed, included, and defined in its essence and in its forms with the help and in function of theological categories and concepts, external to worship and its liturgical specificity”, where, according to him, “liturgy is subordinated, if not subjected, to theology” .
Unlike “theology of liturgy”, “liturgical theology” is founded “on the recognition of liturgy, in its entirety, as being not only an object for theology, but first of all its source, and this by virtue of its essential ecclesial function : to reveal the faith of the Church by the means which are peculiar to it and belong only to it; to be this lex orandi in which lex credendi finds its main criterion” .
Just as for Kiprian Kern, the concept of liturgical theology for Schmemann distances itself from a simple historical study of the liturgy as it was conceived by the generation of Dom Cabrol in the West (or by the Russian historical school of Dmitrievsky). In them, “the study of liturgy reduced to history was fundamentally an auxiliary science, without ties to theology, and which governed liturgy without being concerned about history”. He admitted however that, “this historical school [...] prepared the advent of the Liturgical Movement and therefore of liturgical theology to which this movement could only lead. [...] To put it briefly, it is the historians of liturgy that without searching for it, helped us to find this specificity of liturgy, which makes it the source of a theology sui generis, a theology of which liturgy is the only source and the only revelation” .
If he showed himself a worthy disciple of his master, the merit of Schmemann is to have identified clearly the eschatological character of Christian worship and made it the specific focus of liturgical theology. Two years before his death, he asserted with boldness: “it can be said that liturgical theology has as its own field, as its object, eschatology, which is revealed in fullness in the liturgy” . If this seemed possible in his opinion, it was due to the fact that liturgy not only fulfils the Church but also reveals the Kingdom of God. It is what allowed him to speak in his writings of the “sacrament of the Church” and of the “sacrament of the Kingdom”. As he says it himself, “it is the Eucharist which, obviously, constitutes the heart, the centre of this eschatological experience: in it and by it the Church is fulfilled in its ascent to the table of the Lord, to His Kingdom, in order to be able to testify of His Kingdom in this world” .
The Method of Liturgical Theology of Father Alexander Schmemann
Just like his master, Father Alexander thought that as an independent theological discipline, liturgical theology needed its own method .
He considered that historico-critical research was necessary in order to evaluate the liturgical tradition. Conscious of the fact that the liturgy knew a very long and complex evolution, he wonders in his Introduction to Liturgical Theology if everything that was transmitted in the Church by the liturgy has an equal value or equal importance . Schmemann underlines therefore, just like his master, the necessity of historical study of the liturgy. However, he underlines that the study of the history of liturgy should not be an end in itself, as it was often the case in the XIXth century. “After historical analysis, there must come a theological synthesis”, he writes, one that he defines as “the elucidation of the rule of prayer as the rule of faith” and “as the theological interpretation of the rule of prayer”. This constitutes in the view of Father Alexander the second aspect of liturgical theology that he considers to be most important . Thus, if the role of the study of the history of liturgy is to show its structure and its development, the role of liturgical theology is to discover, decipher, or unveil its sense .
In his Introduction to Liturgical Theology, Schmemann offers a plan of study for the science. According to him, it should begin with an evaluation, in a historico-critical way, of the ordo of the Church so as to reveal its theological sense. Indeed, it seemed to him necessary to study the ordo by wondering what links unite today’s ordo with the primitive ordo: what is the norm of origin, what is the theological sense, and what represents or expresses our true liturgical tradition?
Just like his teacher, Schmemann found theological interest in studying euchology and hymnography, admitting, however, that some of these texts have, “a rhetoric and artificial character” ; he also considers that the historico-critical study of the ordo is necessary for liturgical theology. In his Introduction to liturgical theology, he tries to sketch four strata of its evolution. The first one corresponds to the pre-Constantinian period, with the origin of the daily, weekly, and annual cycles, the origin of the practice of fasting, and the predominance of psalmody. The second stratum is revealed in the secular (or cathedral) ordo, with the importance of the Constantinopolitan liturgy, the development of singing, of liturgical music, and of dramatic elements, as well as the multiplication of liturgical feast days. The third one is constituted by the monastic ordo and its influence on the evolution of liturgy. Finally, the fourth stratum represents the synthesis of the secular ordo and the monastic ordo with what he conceived as the triumph of monastic piety, and which he qualified rightly as the “Byzantine synthesis” .
According to him, the first chapter of liturgical theology should be dedicated to the sacraments of baptism and chrismation as the entrance rites of the Church, followed by a second chapter on the Eucharist and all that is linked to it. Schmemann warns us here against a scholastic approach which tends to privatise sacraments with regards to the whole life of the Church or to separate one sacrament from the others . On this point, he refers explicitly to his teacher who also maintained that if the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church, a theology which does not have the Eucharist as its foundation would be by definition defective . Schmemann here also warns us against a tendency, linked with the eucharistic renewal of the time, which made the Eucharist not the source, the centre, or the summit of the life of the Church, but reduced it only to its content, by focusing on it alone and forgetting the other aspects of the liturgical experience of the Church .
The plan of liturgical theology worked out by Father Alexander in his Introduction to Liturgical Theology ends with a third chapter on the sanctification of time, whose aim is the study of the prayer of the hours and of the feast days of the liturgical year. A fourth chapter on the sanctification of life follows, having as its object the study of sacraments such as marriage, confession, unction of the sick, etc.
Twenty-two years later, he went on to sketch in his paper at the 28th Congress of Liturgical Studies at St. Sergius three stages which seemed to him unavoidable for the method of liturgical theology. The first one determines the “liturgical fact”, in other words, it makes a historical study of the liturgical document itself. The second stage is the theological analysis of this liturgical fact: it demands to understand it, to locate it in the theological context which is peculiar to it, and not to apply to it theological categories or problems which are foreign to it. Finally, the third stage is the synthesis which consists in showing from the liturgical evidence what Schmemann calls the “liturgical epiphany”, that is to say, the theological meaning . This method, which seems simple but is still seldom put into practice, agrees entirely with the vision which both Schmemann and Kern had of a liturgical theology. Such a vision does not limit itself to the ritual or to the history of texts, but wants the liturgy, its rituals and its texts, to reveal the sources for theology. But both of them were conscious of being pioneers. Schmemman said two years before his death: “If we know what we expect from liturgical theology, it remains to be done” .
The Sources of Father Alexander Schmemann
We can notice how much the concept of liturgical theology and its method elaborated by Father Alexander Schmemann depends on that of his master, Father Kiprian Kern. However, the context of the middle of the XXth century in which Schmemann began thinking about this differs from that of the beginning of the XXth century in which Kiprian Kern wrote. If Kern proved to be a pioneer in the context of émigré community by introducing a theological vision to the liturgical domain which was until then approached in a more practical and historical perspective, Schmemann benefited from being in the West. He did so not only from the studies of his master, but also from the research which was made by the Liturgical Movement, whose golden age he himself locates between 1940 and 1950 and to which he always refers . There was also the atmosphere of preparation for the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Admitting that the Liturgical Movement was an event and a key movement which both revealed the necessity and the possibility of a “liturgical theology”, Schmemann regretted at the end of his life that the Liturgical Movement was not followed by a theological realisation, and this led unfortunately to “a huge confusion, a real liturgical crisis” .
Besides the influence of his master, it is possible to see the influence of Father Nicolas Afanassieff, who was one of the co-founders, with Father Kiprian Kern, of the Congress of Liturgical Studies at Saint-Serge. One sees this influence particularly in Schmenann’s perception of the dichotomy which exists between the sacred and the secular. According to Schmemann, such a dichotomy had corrupted the liturgy of the Church since the end of the fourth century . Afanassieff was, as we know, a pioneer, within Orthodox theology, in Eucharistic ecclesiology, and in this direction, greatly emphasised the unity and the “concelebration” of the entire liturgical assembly . He influenced Schmemann’s vision of the intimate unity which exists between the Church as an event and the liturgical celebration. Of course, this conviction had also been communicated to him by his teacher, Fr. Kiprian, about whom Schmemann writes: “The only thing which will remain forever, as the principle of all principles, as an eternal and decisive form of life: the love for service, the liturgical experience and the knowledge of the Church as real, deep and sincere ‘Eucharisticity’. I am persuaded, having served with Father Kiprian in front of the same altar for five years, that the only joy of his life was serving, celebrating the Eucharist, the mystical depths of the Great Week, of Pascha and of the holidays of the Church” . Therefore it is not by chance that the master and the disciple both wrote a book entitled “The Eucharist” .
We have to be conscious, however, that the concept of “liturgical theology” was not absent from the Roman Catholic liturgiologists, whose writings were known to Father Alexander Schmemann undoubtedly through the influence of his teacher. As recalls his fellow student at Saint Sergius Institute, Father John Meyendorff: “although the influence of some of his teachers at St. Sergius was decisive, he always lived in a wider spiritual world. The forties and the fifties were a period of extraordinary theological revival within French Roman Catholicism, years of a ‘return to sources’ and of ‘liturgical movement’. It is from that existent milieu that Father Schmemann really learned ‘liturgical theology’, ‘philosophy of time’ and the true meaning of the ‘paschal mystery’. The names and ideas of Jean Daniélou, Louis Bouyer and several others are inseparable from the shaping of Fr Schmemann’s mind” .
Indeed, in this milieu, Fathers B. Botte and Irénée Dalmais themselves honoured the theological dimension of liturgy . But when Schmemann develops the concept of liturgy as “sanctification”, he takes his main inspiration from the work of Odon Casel. Casel was a distinguished representative of the liturgical movement of the 1940s, a Benedictine of Maria Lach, and was at the origin of a “theology of the mysteries”, from which Schmemann’s own “liturgical theology” could perhaps be considered a culmination . Indeed, Father Alexander follows Casel when he says that the experience and understanding of Christian worship is, at heart, mysteriological. He follows Casel, too, when he regrets that slowly, in the course of the centuries, the experience of the Church as a liturgical assembly was transformed into an individualistic vision of the sanctification of the faithful by the clergy. This mistaken vision, to Schmemann’s mind, contributes to the cleavage between the sacred and the profane .
In his analysis of the Jewish origins of Christian liturgy and of its liturgical year, and more particularly of the Eucharist, Schmemann is naturally indebted to the studies of Gregory Dix . Louis Bouyer also influenced him with his vision of the centrality of the paschal mystery in Christian worship, as well as of the intimate link which unites the Bible and the liturgy . This notion of the centrality of the paschal mystery in all Christian liturgy, and of the link between baptism and the paschal celebration was developed not only by Father Alexander, but also proved to be central in the liturgical reform of Vatican II which was worked out in the same epoch.
Moreover, the concepts of the “sanctification of time” and of the “liturgy of time” depend partly on the studies of O. Cullman . Schmemann developed these concepts by stressing the eschatological dimension of worship as a manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Schmemann was furthermore one of the first liturgiologists to speak about “the historicisation” of worship. By this he meant the change that occurred in Christian worship from the IVth century onwards where it acquired a symbolic and historical interpretation rather than its original eschatological orientation . He depends for this point on G. Dix , on B. Botte , and more generally on the studies of liturgical origins by Cabrol . On the other hand, he is also indebted to the studies of J. Daniélou on the importance on Sunday, the “eighth day” of the week . It is necessary to remind ourselves that the rediscovery of the importance of Sunday and of its centrality in the weekly liturgical cycle is one of the achievements, in the Roman Catholic Church, of the liturgical reform of Vatican II.
As heirs of the Russian liturgical school of the XIXth century, Fathers Kiprian Kern and Alexander Schmemann were not only related by the links of spiritual fatherhood but also by a true relationship of master to disciple. It appears clearly in the concept of “liturgical theology” which they forged in the XXth century.
From the historical school and the historico-critical method, they kept the need to study the history of the liturgy, for it is necessary as an adequate hermeneutic of the liturgical tradition. But the knowledge of the history of liturgy is not an end in itself. Liturgical theology must help to emphasise the theology which is contained and transmitted by the liturgical texts, as well as the experience of the mystery of salvation lived by the Church in the celebration of its liturgy. It must lead towards the knowledge of the liturgical epiphany of the Kingdom of God.
If one speaks, as Father Kiprian Kern did, of a systematic presentation of the dogma contained in the euchology and the hymnography, or if one wants to show, following Father Alexander Schmemann, the link which exists between the Kingdom of God, the Church as mystical Body of Christ, and the liturgical celebration, then liturgical theology reminds us continuously that liturgy was always one of the major sources of Byzantine theology. Liturgical theology cannot be reduced to a discipline nor to a method. It should become a way of thinking. This is what Father Kiprian Kern transmitted to his disciple, Father Alexander Schmemann. This is the legacy which he, in his turn, transmitted to us.
Archimandrite Prof. Dr. Job Getcha