by David Pence
A surprising but very clear teacher of Liturgical Theology is an evangelical Pentecostal whose book on Asian theologies we have reviewed here. Dr. Simon Chan, who teaches in Singapore, begins his explanation with a startling definition of church. He writes to the evangelical who seeks to be saved by a faith act. He starts, not suggesting the individual needs to join a church, but that the Church PRECEDES the world.
"The church precedes creation in that it is what God has in view from all eternity, and creation is the means by which God fulfills his eternal purpose in time. The church does not exist in order to fix a broken creation, rather creation exists to realize the church."
"What marks Christians as God's people is that they have become a community that worships God in spirit and in truth. This is what the church must aim at in mission. Mission does not seek to turn sinners into saved individuals; it seeks, rather, to turn disparate individuals into a worshipping community."
- Liturgical Theology, pg. 45.
"... truth is not part of living worship but is almost exclusively confined to the sermon... The operating assumption is that teaching people the right things will lead to right living... Right belief and right practice (orthopraxis) can only come from right worship (orthodoxia), and vice versa."
- Liturgical Theology, pg. 52.
"Sunday points to the transformation of time. It is one of the days of the week, the first day, yet it points beyond present time to the new creation, the kingdom 'not of this world,' the eighth day.
"By remaining one of the ordinary days, and yet by revealing itself through the Eucharist as the eighth and first day, it gave all days their true meaning. It made the time of this world a time of the end, and it made it also the time of the beginning."
- Liturgical Theology, pg. 81.
Reverend Chan is one of the most integrative scholars and preachers in all of global Christianity. His presence in this discussion reminds us that East and West as Orthodox and Latin may no longer be the relevant distinctions.
We close this reflection by returning to Fr Schmemann. (Our tribute here.) When Schmemann watched Pope John Paul II say Mass on his visit to New York in 1979, he recorded that his first impression is how liturgically impoverished the Catholic Church has become. He continues to write:
"In 1965, I watched the service performed by Pope Paul VI in the same Yankee Stadium, and despite everything it was the presence, the appearance on earth of the eternal, the super-earthly, whereas yesterday I had the feeling that the main thing was the message. And the message is again and again: peace and justice, human family, social work. An opportunity was given, a fantastic chance to tell millions of millions people about God, to reveal to them that more than anything else they need God, but here, on the contrary, the whole goal it seemed consisted in proving that the Church can also speak the jargon of the United Nations.
"The West either loses the eschatological nature of the Church in becoming worldly-wise, or else it ceases to be the life of the world as it becomes heavenly minded and of no earthly good."
Fr. Schmemann was not a blanket critic of "western error." It was in France that he found a lasting instance of liturgical theology.
"During my school years in Paris on my way to class I would stop by the Church of St. Charles of Monceau for two or three minutes, and always in this huge dark Church at one of the altars a silent Mass was being said. Sometimes I think of the contrast: a noisy proletarian street and this never-changing Mass. One step, and one is in a totally different world. This contrast somehow determined in my religious experience an intuition that has never left me. The coexistence of two heterogeneous worlds, the presence in this world of something absolutely and totally Other. This Other illumines everything in one way or another, everything is related to it.
The Church is the Kingdom of God among us and inside us. For me the streets never became unnecessary or hostile or non-existent, and hence my aversion to pure spiritualism. On the contrary, the street as it was acquired a new charm that was understandable and obvious only to me who knew at that moment the presence, the feast revealed in the Mass nearby. Everything became alive, intriguing: every storefront window, the face of every person I met, the concrete tangible feeling of that moment, the relationship between the street, the weather, the houses, the people.
This experience remains with me forever, a very strong sense of life in its physical bodily reality. At the same time, this interest has always been rooted solely in the correlation of all this with what that silent Mass was a witness to and reminder of. What is that correlation? It seems to me that I’m quite unable to explain and determine it, though it is actually the only thing I talk and write about liturgical theology."
Fr. Alexander Schmemann was born (1921) in Estonia to Russian émigrés. His family moved to France, where he received his university education. He married Juliana Osorguine in 1943, before completing his theological studies at the Orthodox Theological Institute of St. Sergius in Paris and was ordained a priest in 1946 by Archbishop Vladimir (Tikhonitsky).
From 1946 to 1951, Fr. Alexander taught Church History at St. Sergius Orthodox Institute, founded in Paris in 1925 as the theological center of expatriate Russian orthodox after the Bolshevik revolution. He taught at St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York from 1951, and was dean from 1962 until he died in 1983.
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