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For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  2,687 ratings  ·  231 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. ...more
Paperback, 151 pages
Published January 1st 1973 by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press
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Average rating 4.38  · 
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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." ...more
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
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
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.

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
Mar 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book surprised me by how poetic and beautiful it was. I knew it would be important to read; I didn't know it would be so refreshing and moving. It feels like Fr. Schmemann is simply bursting at the seams to help us see Jesus, the light and life of the world - and the Church, the sign of the kingdom of heaven. Such a clear and powerful read. ...more
David Goetz
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
A few particular points I disagree with, but on the whole this is a beautiful, trustworthy, and life-giving work on Christ as the life of the world and his Church as the sacrament of the Kingdom.

"The Christian is the one who, wherever she looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all her human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all her mission the sacrament of the world's return to Him who is the life of the world" (113).

Highly recommended.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Nate Wood
Aug 30, 2020 rated it did not like it
I actually think the book is 4 stars. I just wanted to give my theological friends a heart attack. I love you, Jackson. I hope you’re having a good vacation.
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.
Dec 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
Read this with an orthodox book club. This had some real gems in it but this is not an easy read. Glad I had people to discuss it with while reading.
Ian Caveny
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology, masterworks
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
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Read in 1994, 2012 and now in 2014 amd it just gets better.

Alexandr Schmemann: “The cross of Christ signified an end of all “natural” rejoicing; it made it, indeed, impossible. From this point of view the sad “seriousness” of modern man is certainly of Christian origin even if this has been forgotten by the man himself. Since the gospel was preached in this world, all attempts to go back to a pure “pagan joy”, all “renaissances”, all “healthy optimisms” were bound to fail”…. And it is this
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?

Nick Bersin
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Still processing this one and definitely going to reread it. Profound.
K.J. Ramsey
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A stunning, revitalizing read.
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
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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.” 27 likes
“A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not ‘die to itself’ that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage today is not adultery or lack of ‘adjustment’ or ‘mental cruelty.’ It is the idolization of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed toward the Kingdom of God. This is expressed in the sentiment that one would ‘do anything’ for his family, even steal. The family has here ceased to be for the glory of God; it has ceased to be a sacramental entrance into his presence. It is not the lack of respect for the family, it is the idolization of the family that breaks the modern family so easily, making divorce its almost natural shadow. It is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it. In a Christian marriage, in fact, three are married; and the united loyalty of the two toward the third, who is God, keeps the two in an active unity with each other as well as with God. Yet it is the presence of God which is the death of the marriage as something only ‘natural.’ It is the cross of Christ that brings the self-sufficiency of nature to its end. But ‘by the cross, joy entered the whole world.’ Its presence is thus the real joy of marriage. It is the joyful certitude that the marriage vow, in the perspective of the eternal Kingdom, is not taken ‘until death parts,’ but until death unites us completely.” 22 likes
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