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Mary, Unity, and the Pathos for Equality: Alexander Schmemann's "Scandalous" Embrace of Difference.

ON FEBRUARY 11, 1976, Alexander Schmemann (1) wrote the following question in his journal: "Why can't a woman be a priest?" (2) What inspired the journal entry was the backlash Thomas Hopko, Schmemann's son-in-law, had received in response to an article he wrote titled "On The Male Character of Christian Priesthood." In the article Hopko argues that only men can be priests and concludes that "it is not weakness, inferiority or sin that prevents women from holding the episcopal and presbyteral sacramental offices of the Christian Church, but rather their unique mode of human being and action which is incompatible with exercising these positions in the community." (3) He is clear that women are not the lesser sex; in fact, "feminine humanity is absolutely necessary for the perfection and fulness of human life, without which the human community cannot reflect the being and life of God, the uncreated Trinity." (4) And he does not purport that women should be relegated to limited roles, but rather there are "as many forms of realization as there are women created by God." (5) In short, we could call the position that Hopko defends complementarianism. Presenting the traditional view held by the Church, it was surprising that Hopko's article stirred up so much controversy within the Orthodox community. Schmemann's opening question marks the beginning of a two-and-a-half-page theological reflection concerning the underlying assumptions of those who so adamantly disagree with Hopko. In these unedited reflections--bear in mind that this is from his personal journal--Schmemann exposes what he argues is one of the foundational vices of the modern Western world, that is, equality.

There are two aspects to this claim that make it exceptionally interesting. First, rather than moral theology, in large, theologians have turned to Schmemann's work to explore sacramental and liturgical theology, and rightfully so. (6) Thus, there is something novel about looking at Schmemann's moral theology. Second, equality is the flagship of the Western world as seen in our art, politics, and legal constitutions. There are numerous issues, related and unrelated, that fall under the "equality debate," not all of equal concern: male-only priesthood; domestic roles; same-sex marriage; gender; LGBTQ discourse; employment opportunities and salary equity in regard to race, color, religion, and sex (Affirmative Action); and the list goes on. Equality is part and parcel of rights discourse based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In short, equality is essential to the very framework of secular Western life. Hence, there is something audacious, if not courageous, to Schmemann's claim that equality springs from the principle of comparison which, he argues, is the logic of the devil.

Schmemann's bold argument against modern secular equality is not a free-standing notion, a unique foray into the world of moral theology and theological anthropology, but naturally follows from his relational view of the world--relational ontology--which is grounded in the mystery of the Trinity. In the journal entry Schmemann alludes to four key problems that exist at the heart of the modern secular notion of equality: (1) equality is based on a flawed conception of freedom, (2) equality is an abstraction, (3) equality destroys persons, and (4) equality is inimical to love.Yet Schmemann does not simply tear down the edifice of secular equality; he offers a counter vision and a new definition of equality grounded in thanks-giving and in a Trinitarian conception of personhood. In light of Schmemann's relational ontology, this article explores and expands upon the four problems of equality and provides a theological alternative to the modern notion of equality that incarnationally stands before us in the person of the Virgin Mary.

Equality is Based on a Flawed Conception of Freedom

In the journal entry Schmemann posits that for contemporary culture "the whole concept of liberation is totally negative. The idea 'all people are equal' is one of the most erroneous roots a priori. Then follows: 'all people are free.'" (7) Here the term "negative" denotes absence, specifically absence of opposition. Freedom is understood in opposition to external impediments: one is free when not constricted by an external authority. The strange predicament of the situation is that because freedom and authority are "two necessary poles of an essential dichotomy" (8) freedom needs opposition.Yet, because of this, freedom can never be achieved. The "inescapable logic of the whole 'freedom-authority' dichotomy is that when freedom, in order to fulfil itself, annihilates authority, it also annihilates itself. For not only does it become meaningless, an empty form, without its opposition to and its revolt against authority but also, in fact, it is not fulfilled as long as the last 'authority' remains, which is death." (9) As the final and ultimate impediment to freedom, death must be overcome. In a strange yet consistent twist of logic, suicide is the ultimate free act.

The problem with the Western contemporary conception of liberty is that the framework that underpins it is a monadic Leibnizian view in which reality is composed of disconnected parts. It is a vision of humans as individuals, islands in an archipelago whose shores never meet and should never meet. Relationships are quick excursions where the I-Thou never form a "we," where the other is an absolute other. The other is always a threat to freedom, a possible impediment. (10) Whereas the Christian vision of reality is founded on the primary mystery of the Holy Trinity--treis hypostases, homoousios (three persons, one being). Accordingly, at its very core, being, and all that flows from being, is relational. God is not perfectly free because he is omnipotent and therefore is impeded by nothing. Rather he is perfectly free because he is love. Thus, it is in relationships, the true encounter where two shores unite, that freedom is to be had.

To return to more grounded language, as the second person of the Trinity the Son has a freedom found in perfect obedience. Obedience for Christ is not a surrender to an external authority but the expression "precisely of His total unity with His Father, of His divinity itself! For not only is His obedience free (for any freedom can freely surrender itself), but it is the very manifestation, the very essence of His freedom." (11) This type of freedom is ontological, for freedom is to be had when one fully enters into the ground of his being--Christ is himself in obedience; freedom is internal. Through the work of the Spirit and in love we enter into Christ's obedience and thereby become obedient, become little Christs who delight in the work of the Father and therein find our freedom.

Grounded in a nonrelational view of reality, secular freedom is in opposition to authority; furthermore, it is opposed to otherness itself. With a Christian relational ontology external impediments and absolute otherness disappears, for those who are hid with Christ enter into the life of God who is all in all and thereby become inheritors of the "all in all"--external impediments are overcome by love and form a unity. (12)

Equality is an Abstraction

According to Schmemann, "If we start the discussion [female ordination] with an abstract, unreal, unnatural 'equality' between men and women, no argument is possible. We have to start by exposing, unmasking this principle as false because it is an abstract invention." (13) The key term is "abstract," and for Schmemann "abstract," "unreal," and "unnatural" are synonyms. He maintains that "the idea, 'all people are equal,' is one of the most erroneous roots [of Western society] a priori." (14) But the same can be said a posteriori; (15) equality is an abstraction, an unreality as seen a priori and a posteriori. Schmemann does not expand upon this claim but following his reasoning in the journals and from his general theological approach we can fill in the blanks. Before this can happen, however, the word "equality" should be defined. Oxford English Dictionary defines equality as "the quality or condition of being equal" and equal is defined as "possessing a like degree of a (specified or implied) quality or attribute; on the same level in rank, dignity, power, ability, achievement, or excellence; having the same rights or privileges." (16) The latter part of the definition concerning rights and privileges, upheld by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is arguably what is at the fore of the contemporary mind. In contrast, Schmemann would draw the reader's attention toward the first part of the definition and argue that rights and privileges are connected with "possessing a like degree" of something, whether a quality or attribute. To put it differently, equality involves a real quality or attribute of sameness/likeness between two or more persons. But a priori--independent of any experience--we know that all people are different, and that is why we speak of individuals or personalities. Mozart is not Beethoven. We do not refer to Schmemann and Socrates as being equals nor St. Maximus and Justin Trudeau. In fact, equality understood in this light equally highlights difference as it does sameness. St. Maximus and St. Augustine are equally saints, and their shared saintliness underscores Trudeau's worldliness. (17) Furthermore, the shared saintliness of Maximus and Augustine is common and yet manifests uniquely in both men: "How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints." (18) Equality based on shared, real attributes does not erode difference.

As known through experience (a posteriori), equality as sameness/likeness is encountered and recognized at a base level but almost disappears at the higher level: Einstein and Hitler both have heads but their minds drastically differ. One must simply look around to recognize that beyond the lowest common denominator difference abounds. The great tyrants are monotonously alike because they are driven by base passions. The saints are gloriously different because they have moved beyond the base passions to spheres of holiness tapping into the infinite reality of God. The modern pathos for equality, which Schmemann sees manifested in the denial of the male-only priesthood, overlooks the obvious distinctions that exist, and here the distinction is even seen at the most base level--the physical level.

If equality is abstract, unreal, and unnatural--adjectives that Schmemann applies to the contemporary use of the term--then why the drive, the passion for such equality? And what is the source, the basis, for equality so defined? Schmemann argues that what underlies equality is the demonic principle of comparison. He writes, "One never achieves anything by comparison--the source of envy (why he, not I?), protest (we must be equal), then anger, rebellion and division. Actually, it is the genealogy of the devil." (19) Lucifer fell because he compared himself to God and in so doing became envious, protested in desire to be like God, grew angry, rebelled, and finally was expelled from Heaven. Comparison is always problematic because it leads to the experience and recognition of inequality, which then leads to protest. Schmemann points out that "equality is based on the denial of any distinctions, but since they exist, the wish for equality calls to fight them, to force equalization on people, and, what is even worse, to refuse these distinctions, which are the essence of life." (20) Again, this reiterates Schmemann's point that equality is a false abstraction. When false abstractions meet reality a battle ensues.

Equality Destroys Persons

For Schmemann the human person is one who is in relation. Individualism is the antithesis of personhood: there is no such thing as a radically independent person. (21) The Church is "that new reality which precisely overcomes and transcends all 'individualism,' transforms individuals into persons, and in which men are persons only because inasmuch as they are united to God and, in Him, to one another and to the whole of life." (22) We are persons insomuch as we are united to God because through him we become uber-relational. (23) Those who are hid with Christ in God (Col 3:3) shall enter into the all and all (1 Cor 15:28). In Christ we are united with God; we do not become God but sons and daughters of God (deification). In God the human person is not swallowed up and dissolved. The Christological formulations of Chalcedon (451) and the Third Council of Constantinople (681) make this clear. While Chalcedon clarifies that Christ is fully man and fully God with two wills, human and divine, the Third Council of Constantinople sufficiently expresses the unity of Christ. That is, the Third Council of Constantinople makes sense of how Christ spoke of himself in the singular "I." Schmemann does not turn to the councils to explain this, but it fits within his purview and helps clarify his view of personhood. Joseph Ratzinger, a major Catholic proponent of relational ontology, turns to the councils in this regard, and his reading of the Third Council helpfully highlights the type of unity Schmemann maintains. Ratzinger writes:
On the one hand, it [Third Council of Constantinople] teaches that the
unity of God and man in Christ involves no amputation or reduction in
any way of human nature. In conjoining himself to man, his creature,
God does not violate or diminish him; in doing so, he brings him for
the first time to his real fullness. On the other hand (and this is no
less important), it abolishes all dualism or parallelism of the two
natures, such as had always seemed necessary to safeguard Jesus' human
freedom. (24)

Jesus Christ is the perfect unity of God and man, a personal unity, not a natural unity. That is, it is a unity formed freely and cemented in love. It is a unity of difference. Man is not, so to speak, naturally equal to God, and yet the second person of the Trinity does not abolish the human Jesus. Looking to Jesus Christ, the true man (and true God), the true person, it is clear that personhood at its fundamental level is grounded in relational difference, a unity of difference. Following a similar rationale, "persons" implies distinction/difference in that your personality is different from mine. Although we are relationally connected we are not the same (personal unity). Hence Schmemann writes, "The person--man or woman--who hungers for equality is already emptied and impersonal because a personality is made of what distinguishes it from others and not submitted to the absurd law of equality." (25)

Equality is Inimical to Love

"The essence of love is the total absence of 'comparison.' Equality cannot exist in this world because the world was created by love and not by principles.... Nothing--and we know it--kills love, replaces it with hate, as much as the equality forced upon the world as a goal and a value." (26) In this passage we once again bump against Schmemann's rejection of abstraction--"the world was created by love and not by principles"--but what needs to be enucleated is his description of love as "the total absence of 'comparison'" and the final phrase concerning the destructive force of equality "as a goal and a value." By turning to Schmemann's conception of thanksgiving, the leitmotif of all his work, both of these phrases become clear.

Schmemann proposes that the human person is to be homo adorans, "the one for whom worship is the essential act which both 'posits' his humanity and fulfills it." (27) As revealed in the Eucharist, worship is both an act of thanksgiving and love, and both of these are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. Christ is thanksgiving and love; Christ is Eucharist: "Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God's creation, redemption, and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ." (28) In For the Life of the World Schmemann takes up Feuerbach's famous line "Man is what he eats" (29) and inverts its meaning. By consuming the Eucharist we become eucharistic beings; literally we become thanks-giving. "Eucharist--thanksgiving, adoration, worship--is truly the ultimate and total expression of his [man's] whole being. Man was created for Eucharist.... Eucharist is the Divine element, the Image of God in us." (30) The goal and value of human existence is thanksgiving, to become eucharistic persons. This goal absolutely opposes and overcomes comparison. (31)

Comparison is wed to pride. Schmemann is unclear about what comes first: does pride motivate comparison or does comparison ignite pride? Regardless, according to Schmemann both are primal evils and function together. The Church recognizes the "'vital essence' of evil, the source of sin as unthankfulness... Not giving thanks is the root and the driving force of that pride in which all teachers of the spiritual life, that 'art of arts,' without exception see the sin that tore man away from God." (32) Thus, the response of the Church is thanksgiving. The interesting thing about pride is that it arose out of the same source as thanksgiving: "you will be like gods." God's gift to man, his divine image (imago Dei), makes man king of creation. In imaging God, man is called to love himself, "to be conscious of his divine gift and the miracle of his I." (33) The proper response to this gift, how one should respond to all good gifts, is thanksgiving. True love of self is always in relation to the other, as there is no self without the Other. We are beings in relation, and the fundamental relation is with God who gives and sustains our being. He merits our gratitude. However, the temptation, the twisting of love of self, is to disconnect from the Thou who giveth an I. Pride is a type of love; it is a love of self without gratitude. Love that ceases to be thanksgiving becomes demonic.

Equality, based on the principle of comparison in which one seeks to reduce the other to one's own level, is void of gratitude. In seeking to equalize, one fails to give thanks for the different qualities found in the other. In addition, the pathos for equality is driven by pride, an ungrateful love. Thus, the goal of equality is inimical to true love, for true love is always eucharistic.

Lastly, equality opposes love, for by its nature it is hostile to unity. We have already seen in the previous section the import of personal unity, the coming together of difference in freedom and love. Here we will explicate this in a different way. According to Schmemann, the duality of man as female and male is rooted in love. That is, love enables difference to exist. In fact, love brings one into the way of self-sacrifice (e.g., the Eucharist) in which "the death of self-affirmation of the man as man, and the woman as woman, and so on" occurs. Rather than seeking to make woman the same as himself man dies to himself and recognizes woman as woman (and the inverse). (34) Schmemann claims that this "means that there is no equality but an ontological distinction making love possible, i.e., unity, not equality. Equality presupposes many equals, never turning into unity because the essence of equality consists of its careful safeguarding. In unity, distinctions do not disappear but become unity, life, creativity." (35) If there is no difference, then one can only love without thanksgiving. After all I do not thank myself! Real love needs difference and while allowing difference to exist it unites. The male and female difference is natural--not abstract--but it is love that unites: "Only a human being transforms them [male and female] into the unity of the family. The aversion of our culture to family is based on the fact that the family is the last bastion to expose the evil of equality." (36) Love not only makes difference possible but difference makes love possible.

Making the Unequal Equal

In the journal it appears that Schmemann completely rejects equality, and yet, as seen in The Eucharist, this is not the case:
The one born of God, knowing him, gives thanks, and in giving thanks he
is free, and the power and miracle of thanksgiving, as freedom and
liberation, lies in the fact that it makes the unequal equal: God and
man, creature and Creator, servant and Master. And it is not the
"equality" inspired in man by the devil, whose secret impulse is in
envy, in hatred for everything that is above, holy and lofty, in a
plebeian repudiation of thanksgiving and worship, and therefore in a
striving to make everything equal at the lowest point. Rather, it makes
equal in that it knows man's dependence on God, objectively
indisputable and ontologically absolute, to be freedom.... And if the
itch for equality is, out of ignorance, the itch of the slave, then
thanksgiving and worship come out of knowledge and vision, out of
meeting with the holy and exalted one, out of entry into the freedom of
being sons of God. (37)

In this quotation we can see a similar critique of equality as found in his journal, yet there is not an outright rejection of equality but an inversion: thanksgiving "makes the unequal equal" Schmemann's transformed view of equality rests on his understanding of the ordering of freedom. He maintains that thanksgiving precedes freedom. The freedom that grows out of thanksgiving is a freedom that only occurs in communion, in relationship. As previously explicated, relationship implies otherness and, as seen here, even hierarchy. Thanksgiving precedes freedom, and equality follows from freedom--the exact opposite of the modern conception in which equality must precede freedom. The logic of Schmemann's ordering is that freedom is found in absolute dependence, and equality is based on this dependence. Equality is not based on the bare minimum, a natural base equality (e.g., Einstein and Hitler both have heads) but on the highest, namely, God. Equality is found in relation, being sons and daughters of God--shared deification. With this conception equality is at the level of personhood, anthropological maximalism. In other words, we are equally grateful for, equally relational through, and equally dependent on the Divine Other; differences are maintained and therefore unity is real.

Mary: The Icon of Christian Anthropology

The notion of equality is closely tied to how we conceive of person-hood, and, according to Schmemann, our modern conception of the person is so broken that it is "the source of all our tragedies and dead ends." It is this tragedy "that Christians ought to seek to heal today. And it is in Mariology, I am convinced, that they can discover the vision and the power necessary for that healing." (38) The anthropological expression found in Mary is the fruit of Christology; Mary never stands alone. (39) Yet, what is of particular interest here is that Mary is the icon of the human person in her very femininity. To put it differently, Mary reveals and expresses Christian anthropology not in her generic humanness, but in the fact that she is woman. (40) Furthermore, she embodies the Christian counter to secular equality. In both cases she is different and particular, not a mere abstraction.

In Luke's gospel, Mary's song of praise highlights her own lowliness: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant." (41) Clearly Mary's relationship with God does not begin with equality but the opposite--"What is man that thou art mindful of him?" (42) Mary's freedom, her personal and "free acceptance of 'the Divine challenge,'" (43) is where true equality takes shape. Her fiat raises her to the highest of relational levels as she is not only the Mother of the Church but of New Creation. In Mary freedom and dependence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, we see that "'freedom' becomes the very content of 'dependence,' the one eternally fulfilling itself in the other as life, joy, knowledge, communion and fullness." (44) Dependence on God is not restrictive. Whereas, with the contemporary view of freedom any sort of dependence implies control, and as a result of such logic relational reliance forfeits freedom. (45)

Schmemann points out that dependence on God opens Mary to all that is good. Her perfect "yes" takes up God's "yes" for us, and Mary is elevated from a lowly servant to one whom the Church venerates: "She is the Temple, the Door, the Candlestick, the Censer, the Holy of Holies." (46) The list goes on: "the ultimate 'doxa' of creation, its response to God," "the first icon," "the new Eve," "the femininity of creation itself," "the heart of the new creation," "the icon of Christ," "the icon of creation," "the icon of the Church," "the dawn of the mysterious day." (47)

Mary is the intersection where Infinity and finitude meet, where infinite difference unites. This beautiful unity is the mark of love, and it expands outward. In the Holy Family difference meets in the familial unit of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus: male and female, divine and human. It is no wonder that Schmemann concludes his journal entry ofWednesday, February 11, 1976, with the following sentence: "The aversion of our culture to family is based on the fact that the family is the last bastion to expose the evil of equality." (48)


"Why can't a woman be a priest?" Since Schmemann recorded this question in his journal the debate around the issue of female ordination has intensified. In 2013 the Church of England's ruling body voted in favor of women bishops. In response to the vote, David Cameron, the Prime Minister at the time, said, "I strongly support women bishops, and I hope the Church of England takes this key step to ensure its place as a modern church, in touch with our society." (49) Similar sentiments were echoed throughout the UK. For example, several months prior to the aforementioned vote, Labour MP Diana Johnson was so agitated that the Church had not yet voted in favor of female bishops that she sought to have Parliament intervene. According to her, the issue concerns discrimination and thereby validates governmental interference. In words similar to Cameron's, she states, "It appears opponents of women bishops will never compromise. The rest of society has moved on and the Church now just looks very odd by this decision." (50) The statements by both politicians argue that the Church must "get with the times," that the Church should be, in Cameron's terms, modern--the term "modern" simply being used as a synonym for "good" rather than being used properly as a term denoting chronology. As one would suspect, neither politician provides theological let alone rational argumentation. (51) In Schmemann's journal entry we find an insightful reason why no good rationale is given. He posits that there are no decisively convincing arguments for or against ordination of women for "each side is right for itself, i.e., inside its own perspectives, the logic of its own arguments." (52) If we apply Schmemann's insight to the comments given by Cameron and Johnson, it is reasonable to assume that both of them think that it is unnecessary to defend female bishops because the logic is obvious. Hence, the "moving on of society" and the need for the Church to "get on with the times" is as straightforward and obvious as updating one's computer operating system.

According to Schmemann, the underlying perspective, the "deep choice," (53) that motivates those such as Cameron and Johnson is that all people are free and equal. He argues that from that perspective equality precedes liberty: all people are equal as are their choices ipso facto they are free--"any limitation is oppressive." (54) If Christians accept the modern notion of equality, arguments about the impossibility of female ordination will fall flat. With that in mind, rather than engage with the particular problems of female ordination, Schme-mann goes to the heart of the matter and enucleates the inherent problem with equality, the deep choice, and provides an underlying perspective that is theologically grounded in the living reality of the Church. As he makes clear in the preface to Women and the Priesthood, "The Church simply cannot be reduced to these categories [human rights and power structures]. As long as we try to measure the ineffable mystery of her life by concepts and ideas a priori alien to her very essence, we mutilate her and her real power, glory and beauty. Her real life simply escapes us." (55) To put it simply, the logic of the Church differs from the logic of the world, and therefore, as Schme-mann makes clear, a Christian conception of equality is not that of the world's.

Utilizing the Trinitarian logic, so to speak, of the Church, Schme-mann deftly reveals that the contemporary notion of equality is a deeply flawed view that blots out difference and therefore rails against love. The contemporary secular approach places equality before freedom. Accordingly, if equality is established, all boundaries and impeding differences are abolished, and thus one is free--external freedom. On this view, equality is reduced to sameness, and otherness treated as a threat, an external impediment to my own desires. Or it is a vision of human interaction in which one remains an absolute other so distant from the self that the other, practically speaking, does not exist. Simply put, such a vision destroys otherness, and as a result it ironically erases equality--there must be real and recognizable otherness in order for there to be equality.

In response, Schmemann reorders the relationship, and, unlike the secular view in which equality precedes freedom and thereby blots out difference, he argues that the ordering begins with thanksgiving and therein lies our freedom. Freedom involves the thankful recognition of our contingent existence. First and foremost is the recognition that I am because of Thou. By living in accord with this recognition I am in accord with reality and therefore free. From this relational freedom comes an equality of difference, for relationship implies difference and dependence, and the differences do not dissolve but rather are united in love. No person embodies this more fully than the Blessed Mother. In her, Love Himself was united with our flesh, and thereby we are raised up into the divine life in which we equally praise God as we sing with a polyphony of grateful voices. (56)


(1.) Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) served as dean at Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary from 1962-1983. Although Orthodox, he extensively engaged with scholars who identified with the ressourcement movement, especially Henri de Lubac, Jean Danielou,Yves Congar, and Louis Bouyer. He is best known for his book on sacramental theology titled For the Life of the World. For more biographical information see Michael Plekon, "The Liturgy of Life: Alexander Schmemann," Religions, 7, no. 11 (2016): I-12.

(2.) Alexander Schmemann, The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983, trans. Juliana Schmemann (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2002), 107.

(3.) Thomas Hopko, "On the Male Character of Christian Priesthood," St Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly 19, no. 3 (1975): 171.

(4.) Ibid.

(5.) Ibid.

(6.) For example, David W. Fagerberg, "The Cost of Understanding Schmemann in the West," St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 53, no. 2-3 (2009): 179-207.

(7.) Schmemann, Journals, 106.

(8.) Alexander Schmemann, "Freedom in the Church," in Church, World, Mission: Reflections on Orthodoxy in the West (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1979), 180.

(9.) Ibid., 181-82.

(10.) William Cavanaugh argues that the state mythos, which arguably is our secular Lebenswelt, is based on an anthropology
that precludes any truly social process. The recognition of our
participation in one another through our creation in the image of God
is replaced by the recognition of the other as the bearer of individual
rights, which may or may not be given by God, but which serve only to
separate what is mine from what is thine. Participation in God and in
one another is a threat to the formal mechanism of contract, which
assumes that we are essentially individuals who enter into relationship
with one another only when it is to one's individual advantage to do
so. (William T. Cavanaugh, TheopoliticalImagination [NewYork: T&T Clark
LTD, 2002], 44.)

(11.) Ibid., 190.

(12.) For a more in-depth look at Schmemann's notion of freedom see Andrew T. J. Kaethler, "Freedom in Relationship: Joseph Ratzinger and Alexander Schmemann in Dialogue," New Blackfriars 95, no. 1058 (July 2014): 397-411.

(13.) Schmemann, Journals, 107.

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) Although Schmemann does not mention a posteriori, it fits with his overall argument.

(16.) Oxford English Dictionary Online,Oxford University Press, September 2017.

(17.) St. Augustine's reception in the Orthodox Church is varied, but his place of prominence in the West is akin to St. Maximus in the East. Regardless of his reception, St. Augustine is listed as a saint at the Fifth Ecumenical Council: "We further declare that we hold fast to the decrees of the four Councils, and in every way follow the holy Fathers, Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory theTheologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Theophilus, John (Chrysostom) of Constantinople, Cyril, Augustine, Proclus, Leo and their writings on the true faith." Christian Classics Ethereal Library, September 10, 2017, via

(18.) C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (NewYork: HarperCollins, 2001), 226.

(19.) Schmemann, Journals, 107.

(20.) Ibid.

(21.) For a more detailed account of Schmemann's theological anthropology, see Andrew T. J. Kaethler, "Eucharistic Anthropology," in The Resounding Soul: Reflections on the Metaphysics and Vivacity of the Human Person, ed. Eric Austin Lee and Samuel Kimbriel (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015), 60-77; Andrew T. J. Kaethler, "The (Un)Bounded Peculiarity of Death: The Relational Implication of Temporality in the Theology of Alexander Schmemann and Joseph Ratzinger," Modern Theology 32, no. 1 (September, 2015): 84-99.

(22.) Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism (Crest-wood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974), 143.

(23.) This relational understanding is expressed with great clarity in German: Sein-mitanderen and Sein-fur-die-Anderen. See Joseph Ratzinger, "Was ist der Mensch?" (1966/1969), Mitteilungen des Institut Papst Benedikt XVI, (Regensburg: Schnell und Steiner, 2008).

(24.) Joseph Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1986), 38.

(25.) Schmemann, Journals, 107.

(26.) Ibid.

(27.) Alexander Schmemann, "Worship In a Secular Age," St Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly 16, no. 1 (1972): 4.

(28.) Schmemann, Of Water, 139.

(29.) Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, 2nd ed. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1973), II.

(30.) Alexander Schmemann, Liturgy and Life: Christian Development through Liturgical Experience (New York, NY: Department of Religious Education, Orthodox Church in America, 1993), 53.

(31.) Is John 14:28 in which Jesus says "the Father is greater than I" a comparative that undoes Schmemann's argument? Putting the passage in context makes clear the relational aspect:
You heard me say to you, "I go away, and I will come to you." If you
loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the
Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes
place, so that when it does take place, you may believe. I will no
longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He
has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that
the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go hence (John

We see the relational aspect with Christ's words: "I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father." Christ's obedience is familial, an obedience of love, not of mere servitude. This is particularly clear in an earlier passage in John's gospel where Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd:
I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father
knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them
also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one
shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my
life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it
down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to
take it again; this charge I have received from my Father (John

Here we see the fundamental relationality of Christ--Christ is Eucharist. In addition, it highlights familial unity: one flock and one shepherd. Further on in chapter 10 Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:27-29). The Father is greater than all and yet Christ and the Father are one; as Schmemann would argue, this is familial love in which difference is not eroded but in which there is perfect unity. These passages highlight familial unity rather than the logic of comparison in which equality only exists with the erasing of difference.

(32.) Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom, trans. Paul Kachur (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1987), 187.

(33.) Ibid., 188.

(34.) Schmemann clearly delineates the difference between men and women, making both strong and, for modern ears, abrasive statements, such as that a woman should not be the president of the United States (Schmemann, Journals, 106), and poetic and beautiful assertions. For example, "The woman is life and not about life so that her mission is to return man from the form to the content of life. Her categories, which a priori do not belong to the 'male' reductions of life, are beauty, purity, depth, faith, intuition" (Schmemann, Journals, 271).

(35.) Alexander Schmemann, "Worship In a Secular Age," 107.

(36.) Ibid., 107-108.

(37.) Schmemann, Eucharist, 180-81.

(38.) Alexander Schmemann, The Virgin Mary, Celebration of Faith, vol. 3, trans. John A. Jillions (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995), 48-49.

(39.) Why, in her own words, shall "all generations call me blessed"? Because in her love and obedience, in her faith and humility, she accepted to be what from all eternity all creation was meant and created to be: the temple of the Holy Spirit, the humanity of God. She accepted to give her body and blood--that is, her whole life--to be the body and blood of the Son of God, to be mother in the fullest and deepest sense of this world, giving her life to the Other and fulfilling her life in Him. She accepted the only true nature of each creature and all creation: to place the meaning and, therefore, the fulfillment of her life in God" (Schmemann, For the Life, 83).

(40.) See Schmemann, Virgin Mary, 65-67, 90.

(41.) Luke 1 :46-48, New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition.

(42.) Psalm 8 : 4, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition.

(44.) Ibid., 54.

(45.) A perfect example of freedom so construed is seen with the protagonist Mathieu in Jean-Paul Sartre's The Age of Reason.

(46.) Ibid., 89.

(47.) All of these titles are found in Schmemann, Virgin Mary.

(48.) Schmemann, Journals, 108.

(49.) Found at

(50.) Found at

(51.) More recently, the Irish journalist Colette Browne, following on the heels of ex-President Mary McAleese's polemic Roman address on women in the Church, passionately railed against Fr. Vincent Twomey, SVD (professor emeritus of moral theology) in regard to the male-only priesthood. As FatherTwomey made clear, Browne did not rationally engage with the question at hand but demonized and shouted insults. See Vincent Twomey, SVD, "Rationalists find it hard to understand the role of symbolism in welcome debate of women in the Church," Irish Independent, March 28, 2018.

(52.) Schmemann, Journals, 106.

(53.) Ibid.

(54.) Ibid., 107.

(55.) Alexander Schmemann, Women and the Priesthood, 2nd ed., ed. Thomas Hopko (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1999), 4.

(56.) In order to put this article in context and to highlight its relevance, it is worth noting that initially this piece was written as a chapter for an edited volume. However, it was requested that all the quotations, references, and allusions to the male-only priesthood be removed, as they could potentially be off-putting to the reader; ironically, the request confirms Schmemann's concerns about the modern conception of equality. Somewhat disheartened and seriously disappointed at the state of academic freedom in this age of ideological equality, I removed the piece from the volume. In regard to this discouraging situation, I am grateful for the encouragement that I received from Norm Klassen and Jens Zimmerman, who both validated its worth and encouraged me to seek another publisher. I would also like to thank Gerald Boersma and Michael Dauphinais for giving me the opportunity to present a version of this article to students and faculty at Ave Maria University.
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Author:Kaethler, Andrew T.J.
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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