35 years ago departed to the Lord Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann was an Orthodox priest, a prominent theologian and missionary. Modern Christians he is familiar primarily due to its heritage – a huge series of talks, which for more than 30 years – since 1953, nearly until his death in 1983, father Alexander Schmemann spoke weekly broadcast “Radio Freedom”. His talk was dedicated to the main, Central in the Christian faith – the relationship of God and man, world and Church, faith and culture, freedom and responsibility. How were born these conversations, says the priest’s son, Sergei Schmemann.
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One of my most vivid memories of my father have to do with how I, as a boy, accompanied him to the radio station “Freedom”. Then, in 1950е, it was called “Radio Liberation” and was broadcast on “the American Committee for the liberation of the peoples of Russia”. Russian new Yorkers called it simply “the Committee”, so my father continued to call her that all the thirty years that led to her transfer. We lived not far from “Freedom”, but it was a very different new York. Radio Studio housed on the last floor of an old office building in the heart of Manhattan in a noisy, busy area where Hasidic Jews were engaged in the diamond business.
Even a simple trip there was for me an adventure. We lived in the “upper town”, in the academic “ghetto” around Columbia University, where Protestant and Jewish seminaries, the famous music school “Julliard” and Riverside Church with its magnificent bell tower is not only the highest in the USA, but also has the world’s largest bell. In the constellation of these outstanding institutions is poor and little St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary was barely noticeable. There were about fifteen students, three of whom initially lived with us in our apartment; another apartment was occupied by the chapel and library.
Our family moved there from France in 1951 when dad — father Alexander Schmemann, who was then only twenty-nine years, was invited to teach at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Soon after, 1 March 1953 (the same day, when Stalin suffered a fatal blow), opened its broadcasting of Radio “Liberty”, and my father was among the first of his freelance employees. Worked with him Boris Shub, one of the organizers of the broadcasts, the son of a prominent Menshevik activist, David’s Coat, and Roman Gul, who was the editor on “Freedom” and at the same time thick headed “New journal”.
The adventure began as soon as we emerged from the underground and dived into the deep gorges of the “average city” with its jostling on the sidewalks, the eternal traffic jams, bustling street conversations and the aroma from stalls selling hot dogs. It was all so unlike our academic oasis in the “upper town” and Virginia! Run through the urban centre frequently included eating hot dogs on the street and visit one or two bookstores.
The dad always wore a black shirt with white insert at the collar — the uniform of all the American clergy, which caused special respect for him in a country that was then, and remains to this day a country of believers. “Hi, dad!”, “Good morning, father!”, “How you doing, father?” — could suddenly utter the first counter, and dad it was like. He loved the streets, the life pressure, the music, the lights, the rhythms of new York. An annual tradition was a walk in the Rockefeller center, where we admired the huge Christmas tree, and a weekly ritual that is inseparable from a campaign on Radio “Freedom”, — the purchase of French books and magazines in the “Librairie de France” nearby.
Dad loved new York and America with all the fervor of a new convert — just as he loved the wilderness of Northern Quebec, where we spent summers, and where instead of skyscrapers was birch and pine, and is saprogenic rivers of new York-Labelscar clear waters of the lake. It was a love for life that spreads to everyone around, so a simple walk or food in the diner was an event. The main celebration was, of course, the Church. I often wondered what our father was a priest, meant to have a duty to go to Church? I answered no, but we have had such a father, as the father of Alexander, and we ourselves would like to go there.
Cramped and crowded offices of radio station “Freedom” was a completely separate world: voices that broadcast in different languages — languages of the vast Soviet Empire was mixed, it seemed, with thick cigarette smoke and was hovering over the chaos of papers, phones, films, recordings and crowded ashtrays. “Hello, father Alexander!” — in Russian sounded greetings.
Soon he was in a soundproof Studio with a huge MIC, and I expected that from a speaker in the control room, will hear his thick Russian baritone is not a voice in which he always spoke English, but much more native. In his speeches there were elements and lectures, and sermons, but most of all, as noted by gene Sosin, longtime chief editor of Radio “Freedom”, it was like a conversation with a close friend, although he had then no idea of their listeners.
His conversations were more than just friendly — it was a conversation with Russian counterparts. Dad constantly talked about having to go to Russia, but to do this he failed. And, despite this, he remained a Russian to the core — as it could very slightly from the extensive and brilliant emigre environment.
He was born in 1921 in Estonia, where his parents came after the Civil war. Father’s grandfather, Nicholas E. Schmemann, was a Senator and a member of the Council of State, and his father, Dmitry N. Schmemann, fought in the First world war and in the Civil as an officer of the Semenov regiment leibgarde. Later the family moved to Belgrade, and then, when daddy was still young, to Paris. After training in the Cadet corps, created by Russian emigration, and the French high school he enrolled at the Paris St. Sergius theological Institute (1940), where his teachers were the greatest theologians of the era — A. V. Kartashev, V. V. Zenkovsky, Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern), father Nicholas Afanasiev, Sergius Bulgakov.
For many immigrants in Russia, and Russian has existed as a projection of our own, the exile world. We prayed for the “long-suffering and God-protected country of the Russian” hated Stalin and the godless Bolsheviks sympathized with the people, who fancied like us in everything, though living in fear and deprivation. When in the 1960s there, from behind the iron curtain began to break through the first signs of life, we eagerly tracked them. Remember how the “New Russian word” — the daily newspaper published in new York in Russian, announces new records from Soviet Russia and we gathered to listen to squeaky 78оборотном drive the famous war songs: “Dark night”, “roads”, “rivers, mountains and valleys”, “Man — man”. Then came the terrific war films — “the Ballad of a soldier”, “the cranes are Flying”, “Ivanovo the childhood”; thanks to them we learned how much the Russians suffered, and saw real Russian “from there”.
Dad was part of this world and shared all his joy and sorrow. When in Russia came the “thaw” of the 1960s, he wrote a series of scripts (as he called blanks for their radiobased), United by a common idea that Russian culture and the Orthodox faith is not crushed, despite all the efforts of the Bolsheviks. While in new York, father Alexander was an active member of the Russian Christian students movement in Paris and the magazine “Herald rshd”, which was published there his longtime friend Nikita Struve. He always maintained close relations with the Russian intelligentsia, in particular, with the “New log”, which in those days was published by M. Karpovich and Roman Gul.
While Alexander’s father himself gave testimony about the truth and joy of their faith in a New Light. Over time, he became the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, after which she moved into a wonderful modern campus outside of new York. The load he was huge. Besides the administration of the Seminary and teaching at her, he day by day was busy with work for the establishment of the Orthodox Church in America, constantly traveled with lectures and sermons across the continent and beyond. But the preparation and printing of the scripts from day to day, from year to year remained the same axis of all of my father’s life and his missionary efforts in America.
Mother, Ulyana S. Osorgin, recalled that the texts for Radio “Freedom” had often made them late the night before recording. And somewhere around midnight, they jump into the car to take handwritten text to the typist in a nearby town. The next morning we had to pick up the printed results and to go by train on the Radio “Liberation” (in 1959 renamed “Radio Liberty” and moved into more solid premises).
“These scripts were written by blood, — says father Thomas Hopko, son of Alexander’s father, former Dean of the Seminary Svyatovladimirsky, who often stayed at our house in those years. — It was a constant part of his life. He was mulling over how to present the concept of “faith”, “Lord’s prayer”, “Russian literature”, constantly asking, “How can I make it clear in the Soviet context? How to pass the vision, not just a doctrine?”” Preparation of the interviews was, in fact, an internal dialogue between two worlds of father Alexander — the Russian and the new American world he so warmly accepted. The radio gave him the opportunity to rise above both worlds and to testify about them.
His transfer was never, and could not be “propaganda”. It was literally a conversation with a Russian man, hungry for spiritual food, and at the same time conversations with himself. He talked about the eternal questions and the great truths about literature and culture, of hope, but above all, of course, about the beauty and truth of the Orthodox faith. Spoke the words, understood by all, because he believed in what he said.
As said by C. S. Lewis, who in the years of the Second world war, he has broadcast on the BBC, “writing is a scientist and everyone can fool. Language is here a touchstone. Who cannot Express him in his faith, or he does not understand her or did not believe.” Alexander’s father, and understood and believed.
He writes in his wonderful memories of working on Radio “Freedom” “Glimpses of freedom” by gene Sosin, “the Sunday conversation was secretly addressed not only to believers but also to those who did not meet the Marxist-Leninist atheistic worldview, those who were looking for spiritual support, to fill the emptiness of life. Father Alexander is equally avoided, and loud pathos and deliberate detachment. He calmly discussed the ethical and religious issues, addressing the faithful and “sympathetic” in the USSR.” According to D. Sosin, “the Sunday conversation” from the beginning they have become one of the most popular programs and people secretly tuned into the voice, despite increased jamming, and all the insecurity of this class.
I constantly ask myself: what would would have thought, father, if I was in Russia. We talked a lot about it since my appointment as correspondent of the “new York times” in Moscow (in 1980). And when I showed him pictures of or talked to him about his work, his reaction never was exactly like I expected. It was always a question, start a new discussion.
Fortunately, dad had lived to see the day when I learned that Russia, with whom he led these discussions all my life, heard him and answered. Can’t count how many people from Russia told me how important was for them the conversation. In the 1970s, Corvette Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Moscow told journalists that “Sunday conversation” is “the Church where I pray.” It was not a unilateral recognition: remember the immense joy of the father when “thaw” in literature and especially Solzhenitsyn’s “Ivan Denisovich” he found that a great culture and great faith of Russia did not die in the fire of the Gulag and the war.
His famous last work, “the Eucharist”, father Alexander has devoted Russia. In the introduction, written a month before his death, he says about this book:
“I wrote it with Duma of Russia, with pain and at the same time happy about it. We are here at large, can talk and think. Russia lives through confession and suffering. And this pain, this faithfulness is a gift of God, grace-filled help.
And if even part of what I want to say, I will go to Russia and if it will be useful, I will take it, with gratitude to God, my work’s done.”
I have no doubt that listening to these recordings, people will say, truly fulfilled.
From collected conversations of Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann “I believe.” What does it mean? About the main thing in Christianity,” reprinted by the publishing house pstgu conjunction with the publishing house EKSMO.
The conversation of father Alexander Schmemann, you can read and listen to “Pravmir”