Keeping the Rules, Keeping out of the Kingdom

February.  Maybe it is the weather that puts us into a bad mood.  Certainly not enough sun shine.  But maybe we gain insights into other things.  Looking at THE JOURNALS OF FATHER ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN 1973-1983 , I am reminded why I love his writing and thinking so much.  He inspires me and tells me what the Church is to be and also tells me when the Church is not being what it is to be.  His words remind me of what it was that I saw in the Church which attracted me to it.  I also am reminded why I became a priest in the first place and what I believed I was to work for in the Church.   Fr. Alexander writes:

Monday, February 1, 1982

Journals SchmemannIt suddenly became clear to me that ultimately, deeply, there is a demonic fight in our Church with the Eucharist – and it is not by chance!  Without putting the Eucharist at the very center  the church is a ‘religious phenomenon,’ but not the Church of Christ, the pillar and bulwark of the Truth (1 Timothy 3:15).  The whole history of the Church has been marked by pious attempts to reduce the Eucharist, to make it ‘safe,’ to dilute it in piety, to reduce it to fasting and preparation, to tear it away from the church (ecclesiology), from the world (cosmology, history), from the Kingdom (eschatology).  And it became clear to me that if I have a vocation, it is here, in the fight for the Eucharist, against this reduction, against the de-churching of the Church – which happened through clericalization on one hand, and through worldliness on the other.  

Tuesday, February 2, 1982

Bishop VestedClericalism suffocates; it makes part of itself into the whole sacred character of the Church; it makes its power a sacred power to control, to lead, to administer; a power to perform sacraments, and, in general, it makes any power a ‘power given to me’!  Clericalism separates all ‘sacredness’ from the lay people: the iconostasis, communion (only by permission), theology.  In short,  clericalism is de facto denial of the Church as the Body of Christ, for in the body, all organs are related and different only in their functions, but not in their essence.  And the more clericalism ‘clericalizes’ (the traditional image of the bishop or the priest – emphasized by his clothes, hair, e.g., the bishop in full regalia!), the more the Church itself becomes more worldly; spiritually submits itself to this world.  In the New Testament, the priest is presented as an ideal layman.  But almost immediately there begins his increasingly radical separation form the lay people; and not only separation, but opposition to lay people, to contrast them.

Again, the most obvious form of this separation is the exclusion of lay people from communion as the fulfillment of their membership in the body of Christ.  Instead of ‘a faithful image’ (1 Timothy 4:12) there appears the image of a ‘master of all sacrality’ separated from the faithful, dispensing grace as he sees fit.”

Under the guise of piety or ‘traditionalism’ clericalism is always knocking at the door of the Church, and some clergy love to invite it in!  But clericalism does destroy the Church as the Body of Christ by attempting to reduce the Church to the clergy and what they do.  Clericalism tries to prevent the work of the Holy Spirit in all the members of the Body of Christ by saying only what the clergy is sacred and important.   Fr. Schmemann continued his journal entry:

“This fight is so clearly becoming stronger now under the influence of some clergy possessed by their power, their ‘sacredness.’  Nothing is as threatening to their authority as the return of the Eucharist to the Church, its revival as the ‘Sacrament of the Church,’ and not as ‘one of the means of sanctification…’

The tragedy of theological education lies in the fact that young people who seek priesthood are – consciously or unconsciously – seeking this separation, power, this rising above the laity.  Their thirst is strengthened and generated by the whole system of theological education, of clericalism.  How can they be made to understand, not only with their minds, but their whole being, that one must run away from power, any power, that it is always as temptation, always from the devil?  Christ freed us from that power – ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…’ (Matthew 28:18) – by revealing the Light of power as power of love, of sacrificial self-offering.  Christ gave the Church not ‘power,’ but the Holy Spirit: ‘receive the Holy Spirit…’  In Christ, power returned to God, and man was cured from ruling and commanding.

In the sixty-first year of my life, I suddenly ask myself: How has it all become so perverted?  And I become afraid!”  ( THE JOURNALS OF FATHER ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN 1973-1983, pp 310-311)

I find his words so prophetic and I too feel that fear he expressed.  Would that the battle he waged would be fought once and for all, but it is the constant struggle of the Church to maintain its fullness and not accept a reduction to clericalism.   Fr. Alexander’s words call to my mind the words of St. Paul to the Colossians:

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath.  These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.  Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,  and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.  If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations,  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  (Colossians 2:16-3:4)

The temptation to reduce the church to being the keeper of the rules is something not new in history as biblical scholar Richard Hays points out:

“Paul is reluctant to treat Scripture as a rule book. Indeed, he explicitly argues that various requirements of the Torah are not binding for his Gentile churches: circumcision (1 Cor 7:17-20; Gal 5:2-6), food laws (Rom 14:1-4, 14, 20), and probably the Sabbath (Rom 14:5; Gal 4:9-11). […]Thus, when he is confronted with various problems of conduct in his churches (e.g. divorce, eating idol meat), he does not settle them in a rabbinic fashion by seeking to apply Torah caustically.[…]There is no evidence which indicates that the apostle regarded (the Old Testament) as in any sense a source book for detailed moral instruction of even a manual of ethical norms.[…]Instead, Paul seeks to commend his normative moral teachings on the basis of the gospel itself: right behavior is understood as ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal 5:22-23), the natural outflow of the new life in Christ. Moral judgment becomes a matter not of obeying a written law but of discerning God’s will in the new apocalyptic situation: ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Rom 12:1). ” (The Conversion of the Imagination, pgs. 144-145)

The same renewal that St. Paul called Christians to is the renewal which Fr. Schmemann also argued for the Church.  We are to be the Body of Christ   Not just keepers of Torah nor of rubrics, but being the Body of Christ in the world which requires all of us to be united to one another and actively serving the Lord.

And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!”  (Matthew 16:8-11)


6 thoughts on “Keeping the Rules, Keeping out of the Kingdom

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  3. Stephanie Jill Rudd

    Very very good post, well written, deeply heartfelt and profound. Thankyou for your ongoing effort reaching out to so many of us around the world.

  4. Marc

    Partaking of our Lord’s body and blood is an important therapy for the healing of soul and body. I could never understand why in some Churches this therapy is withheld from those who did not avail themselves of the therapy of confession in the same week by clerics who partake of the Eucharist, but did not go to confession themselves. This practice diminishes the efficacy of the Mysteries of Eucharist and Penance.

    1. Fr. Ted

      Obviously I do agree with you. Fr. Schmemann’s point I believe goes way beyond rules about taking or not taking Communion. We are the Body of Christ. We don’t just receive it in Communion, we become it. The participation in the Body at Communion is a sign of the reality we have become. Thus to create more and more rules designed to prevent various people from receiving Communion is to deny the Body of Christ itself.

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