“Christianity has simply lost the world.” Adopting the Western dualism of sacred vs. secular, the instituted church abandons the “mysterious treasure” that is the Good News of the Gospel.
Imagine how different the church might be if not operating from the duality of sacred vs. secular. Alexander Schmemann presents a compelling case that modern Christian theology has “lost much of the true understanding of the sacramental reality” (p. 68). We are a people meant for sacramental living. We are invited to consider the world as sacrament and move beyond the theological disputations about the nature of the symbolic elements of communion.
This is a treatise that questions the fundamental relevance of instituted religion. For the Life of the World calls us back to the mysterious treasure of life lived in Divine Presence. “We know that we were created as celebrants of the sacrament of life, of its transformation into life in God” (p. 34).
Deeper than theological disputations is the real Eucharist life. This is the “movement of love and adoration toward God” (p. 34). The cup from which we drink is that of “wisdom and joy” (p. 35). What we take into our hands and onto our lips is more than bread and water. It is the life of the whole world.
Schmemann moves profoundly beyond the dualism of sacred vs. secular. He calls forward a faith that is “all-embracing and all-transforming” (p. 34). The duality of sacred vs. secular crumbles. The choice between religion and secularism is a false dilemma. The Eucharist becomes the “sacrament of cosmic remembrance”. Here is the place where we discover the “restoration of love as the very life of the world” (p. 36).
For the Life of the World disposes of theological certitude that grows from making tidy distinctions between the sacred and the profane. Schmemann sees religiosity and secularism as paradoxical allies in the false division of live into the sacred vs. secular.
Holiness is all around us. The world itself is a manifestation of the holiness of God. The instituted church has simply ‘lost the world’ by dividing life into the sacred and the secular. The original title of this treatise–The World as Sacrament–captures a vision of faith-life lived without duality.
Originally written as a study guide, Schmemann’s treatise has been published and republished in several languages. Schmemann writes as an Orthodox priest with a compelling challenge to the Christian church to live a sacramental life rather than a dead theology. There is no theological recipe that will satisfy our yearning.
The age of secularism is shaped by the division of the world into the natural and the supernatural. Schmemann suggests that we make the world ‘grace-proof’ when we deny the world its natural ‘sacramentality’. This work cogently challenges both religiosity and secularism.
Schmemann suggests that real faith has been taken into captivity by Western dualism. For the Life of the World invites us to step back into the mystery of Divine Presence. Dualism destroys all sense of the mystery. We are invited to be celebrants of the sacrament of life. In this place, we experience holiness (wholeness) as a central facet of ‘ordinary’ life.
It is difficult to shake off the lens of duality–of sacred vs. secular, natural vs. supernatural. For the Life of the World compels us to do just that. Beyond a life of pietism, we are called to find Christ (Divine Presence) wherever we look and to rejoice in that finding. Beyond theological recipes is the possibility of life lived in the transforming joy of mysterious Presence.
This treatise powerfully calls into question both vacant religiosity and reactive secularism. We are invited to move beyond duality. The world itself is our sacrament. This place on which we are standing is indeed holy ground.
For the Life of the World (2004), by Alexander Schmemann (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: Crestwood: NY) is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.