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For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  2,516 ratings  ·  204 reviews
An approach to the world and to life that stems from the liturgical experience of the Orthodox Church. Deals with the issues of "secularism" and Christian culture, viewing them from the perspective of the Church as revealed and communicated in its worship and liturgy.
Paperback, 151 pages
Published January 1st 1973 by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press
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Jacob Aitken
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book on worldview I have ever read. Hands down. I come from a protestant background but most protestants argue for worldview in gnostic categories. Even the most creational of them merely reduce the Christian faith to the intellectual. This is the oldest heresy the church faced: gnosticism.

Fr. Schmemann, on the other hand, demonstrates how the Christian worldview cannot be separated from the more "earthly" elements of the faith: the sacraments. For him, the world is sacramental
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Simply put, this is one of the greatest books of any genre I have ever read.

I am not sure how even to begin describing this incredible book. Ultimately it is about living all of life liturgically and understanding the world as sacrament. We come to know the world through the lived liturgy of the Church.

In this book, Schmemann rejects the false dichotomies between secular and religious, nature and grace, supernatural and natural. He orients the reader to living life liturgically.

I feel as if I
Brad Davis
Nov 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all who are becoming disastisfied with evangelicalism.
The final sentence says it all..."A Christian is the one who, wherever s/he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy tranforms all his/her human plans and programs, desicisons and actions, making all his/her mission the sacrament of the world's return to Him who is the life of the world."
Scriptor Ignotus
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
“'But what do I care about heaven,’ says St. John Chrysostom, ‘when I myself have become heaven…?’”

This reviewer always found it strange that the most rarefied height of Christian liturgical worship—the profoundest moment of mystical conjunction between the everlasting Christ and His Church—involves an act so seemingly mundane as the eating of bread and drinking of wine.

The digestion of food, when considered at all, is typically classified among the basest and most distasteful elements of our h
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: orthodoxy
The "main point" of Schmemann's sacramental theology outlined in this book is that the sacraments should not be understood as the objective reality of Christ's continued and physical presence here on earth but rather as a liturgical "ascension" out of this world and into the Kingdom where alone we can confess the body of Christ to exist.

"But throughout our study the main point has been that the whole liturgy is sacramental, that is, one transforming act and one ascending movement. And the very g
Chris Wood
Jul 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology
There are few books that I can point to as paradigm shifters. Perhaps Ridderbos' Paul, Van Til's Christian Apologetics, John Frame's Doctrine of God, and Mouw's He Shines In All That's Fair are the few that exploded my understanding of God's work in the world, both in terms of His work in creation and redemption. Schmemann's "For the Life of the World" has done just that for me.

For all of the material available on the subject of the sacraments, to my knowledge Schmemann's work alone analyzes the
Steven Wedgeworth
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Great spiritual-devotional read. And the secret is that it's Evangelical!
Julie Davis
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world's return to him who is the life of the world.
This book was literally pressed into my hands by my spiritual director and I read it slowly it over several months. The author was an Eastern Orthodox priest but any Christian can get a great deal of insight and inspiration from this wonderful
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Outside of Scripture, the first 10 or so pages of this book are the most important words I've ever read.

I'd join the Orthodox Church, but that would be so Protestant of me that it seems wise to stay put.

Samantha (AK)
If you've ever wondered what the big deal is about sacraments, look no further. Slim but impactful. I can't say it's easy reading, but that's less because of the prose and more because Fr. Schmemann's paradigm rejects so many prevailing cultural assumptions.

I think part of what makes this such a hard volume to review is that it’s so short to begin with; the main text is only 144 pages long. It’s not a long, drawn-out theological argument, and it was never intended to be. Schmemann originally pub
Aaron Rice
Nov 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is not as much a review of the book as it is my thoughts and what I gained from it:

This book expanded my understanding of the meaning of sacrament. The western understanding has been poisoned by a dichotomy between symbol and that which is signified as well as by a removal of the "sacrament itself" from its proper liturgical context. The symbol (i.e. Bread and Wine) do not point to an invisible grace that is not really present. Rather, being a sacrament (mysterion), it is a revelation (epip
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Among books that should be required reading for priests entering sacramental ministry, this short book by Fr. Alexander Schmemann should be at the top of the list. To read Schemann is to discover a true sacramental vision of the world and Life in Christ. Seeing as Schmemann sees, one cannot but encounter the effects of secularism and harmful dualisms in one's own vision and thought. In that sense, reading Schmemann is akin to attending the sacrament of confession: to confess one's blindness in t ...more
Matthew Colvin
Dec 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Like Zizioulas and other theologians of the Eastern churches, Alexander Schmemann writes with a philosophical viewpoint, not an exegetical one.

Sometimes he says penetrating and acute things, as for instance (p. 27-28) that the Christ whom we preach is, after his resurrection, no longer recognizable to his own disciples until they have had their own consciousness changed by entering into the new reality which is the resurrection. This is both a claim about reality – that the resurrected Christ i
Fr. Marty
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A brief summary of the “why” of Christianity

I can not recommend this book enough. For me, more than any other, this book is life-altering, helping me to see the truth and value in Christianity and specifically the Orthodox tradition of Christianity.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2019
An excellent view of sacramental life as being all-encompassing and much to ponder. It was a good morning read and one that I will re-read, I am sure.
Ian Caveny
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: masterworks, theology
Long understood as one of the decisive texts for both late-modern sacramental theology as well as one of the foundational texts for the current antisecular Charles Taylor-inspired theological movement (see, for instance, Hauerwas, Wells, Smith, et al.), Alexander Schmemann's For the Life of the World is a masterful, albeit all-too-brief, monograph thoroughly mapping the contours of both the ontology of the sacraments alongside the history of secularism that result from the Church's misunderstand ...more
Michael Philliber
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In many ways, this little 151 page paperback is too big to rightly review. In a nutshell Fr. Alexander Schmemann, and Eastern Orthodox priest, writer and teacher, was gunning for secularism, which is both a Christian heresy - Christian truths that went mad (111) - and a negation of worship (118). Secularism has birthed a deep polarization, even spawning a disincarnate and dualistic spirituality (7-8). Schmemann has much to say and much to give that will help correct our myopic perspective, from ...more
Becky Pliego
The parts I loved in this book are simply amazing (it reminded me of R. Farrar Capon's style). But I had a hard time with some sections that pertain more to the Orthodox way of doing life.

It is important not to forget that Schmemann's book is like a guided walk through the Orthodox liturgy specifically; meaning that you will encounter things that belong to this particular trail (like marriage being a sacrament, or the view of Mary).

I read this book because my children read it in college and sug
May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is my first contact with Alexander Schmemann. I am quite sure that I'll make some time to explore him further, for I found this little book to be both gloriously illuminating and but also a bit scary.

As to the illumination, Schmemann proposes a view of the world that is enormously compelling. He sees the world "sacramentally." I think what he means by that is that the world is God's creation and is both to manifest his presence and also to be fellowship with us. Sin, of course, destroys th
Jeff Rickel
Oct 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Why is the world the way it is? Why does heartache, destruction, and death exist? Is there a remedy?

In Western Christianity there is a simplistic answer that is focused on a misreading of Augustinian theology. Catholics and Protestants alike came from the same tree, both embracing the West's scholasticism and, in so doing, spawning the Christian heresy known as secularism. Truthfully, they also both embrace another heresy known as "religion".

Yet both have left the teachings of the Apostles, espe
Timothy Lumsdaine
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Honestly, it felt like a good bit of this went over my head. His writing has a very mysterious and far-offish tone that I found hard to stay focused on. There we some interesting ideas, but overall, it was hard to keep everything straight.
Rebekah Morgan
Jul 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
You know that feeling when you read a book and you like it but you don't understand it and you know you will have to reread it someday during a different time of your life?

This little classic dives deep into what a truly Christian view of the world looks like. A Christian worldview is not a mere rational construction, but instead is a whole way of being in the world. The Christian worldview is a sacramental worldview, that of the church Fathers and the earliest Christians.

This book, and Schmemann's formulation speaks powerfully against the rising secularism of the West, and against much of Western Christianity. We have bought into the contradiction between symbol
Jason Leonard
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic exploration of liturgy and a keen insight on our false choice between religion and secularity

This is a fantastic exploration of liturgy and an invitation to deconstruct some of our neat, little categories and replace them with some more mystery and robust truth.

The thrust of the book surprised me because I often forgot this was something other than an orthodox meditation of the liturgies of the Eucharist, baptism, etc. Those meditations served their purpose - transcended their purpo
I recently re-read this classic treasure and was amazed at how much of it has impacted me over the years. I first discovered it in the late 90s and it was a healing balm for my soul. Schmemann draws our eyes to the wonder of the world created to reveal the glory of God. He explores the human tendency to take instead of receiving gifts of grace. Worship is not an other-worldly experience but the grace of God shining out in the very stuff of this world. Blessing and using water, bread, and wine in ...more
Fr. Ted
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is said in every person there is only one book, and in some ways that is very true of Fr. Schmemann's liturgical theology. Who took his idea and then viewed things through that same lens - whether the Church, the Liturgy, the Sacraments, death, the Theotokos. He saw creation as a gift from God to reveal Himself to us, so that we could know God and enter into communion with God. Secularism has it that we can study the world in itself apart from God - the sciences, history, even the arts. Schme ...more
Isaiah the Ox
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I want to reread.
Alex Stroshine
Aug 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book on Eastern Orthodoxy and that tradition's understanding of the sacraments. Fr. Alexander Schmemann presents a holistic understanding of the world as sacrament and of Man's original role to be a priest of Creation and to bless God through recognizing God's Creation as a gift and offering it back to Him in praise. Schmemann discusses the Orthodox sacraments, such as the Eucharist, baptism and chrismation, marriage, penance, etc...and also explains how the Orthodox view th ...more
Matthew Hudson
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is, in the simplest phrase, breathtaking.

Many reviewers have said that this is a book on worldview, and this is true, but do not mistake this for an average or bland take, a "biblical view of X" type of book. This is not a collection of verses applied to how we go about our day to day lives, but a fundamental shift in what those lives are about, what they mean.

There are few books in my life that have majorly reshaped how I view the world. The most significant was G. K. Chesterton’s O
Sarah Myers
Feb 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology
Great stuff here, in this short little book on sacramental theology, treating of Christian life and worship within a holistic liturgical framework! Schmemann writes from an Orthodox perspective, but much of what he says is instructive for all Christians, especially those of us not in the habit of thinking with a truly sacramental vision. And though Schmemann's characterizations of "Western" theological attitudes and categories tend to be oversimplified (i.e., he seems to include all of non-Ortho ...more
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Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann was a prominent Eastern Orthodox theologian and priest of the Orthodox Church in America.

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“The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom. We use the word 'dimension' because it seems the best way to indicate the manner of our sacramental entrance into the risen life of Christ. Color transparencies 'come alive' when viewed in three dimensions instead of two. The presence of the added dimension allows us to see much better the actual reality of what has been photographed. In very much the same way, though of course any analogy is condemned to fail, our entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.” 24 likes
“Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence...To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that 'something more' is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life.” 21 likes
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