Alexander Schmemann

Father Alexander Schmemann holding a chalice during Divine Liturgy

Alexander Schmemann (Russian: Александр Дмитриевич Шмеман; 13 September 1921, 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 studies

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, 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 1946 Schmemann was ordained to the presbyterate of the Orthodox Church. 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.

Further reading


See also

External links

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