OrthodoxNet.com | Fr. Alexander Schmemann | September 26, 1966
WHAT DO WE MEAN when we speak of the Orthodox theological task in America today? It is proper to begin with this question because the title of my paper may seem to suggest a theological orientation of which Orthodoxy is suspicious, but which seems to predominate in the West today. It is the reduction of theology to a given “situation” or “age,” a stress on “relevance” understood almost exclusively as a dependence of theology, its task, method and language on the “modern man” and his specifically modern “needs.”
From the beginning, therefore, we must emphasize that Orthodoxy rejects such a reduction of theology, whose first and eternal tasks is to search for Truth, not for relevance, for words “adequate to God” (theoprepeis logoi), not to man. Theology is truly relevant because it is truly Christian when it remains a scandal for the Jews, foolishness for the Greeks and is at odds with this world and its passing “cultures” and “modernities.”
This does not mean, however, that theology operates in a cultural vacuum. For it is one thing to depend on the world and quite another to be related to it. If the first attitude, the acceptance of the world as the only criterion of theology, is to be rejected, the second (which, in the last analysis, is but the basic Christian concern for the world and its salvation), is the very raison d’etre of theology. In this sense, all genuine theology has always been pastoral, missionary and prophetic, and whenever it lost these dimensions, it became a mere intellectual game justly ignored by the “real” Church.
The task of theology at any given moment is necessarily determined by the needs of the Church, and the first task of the theologian is always to discern and to accept these needs, to become aware of what the Chuch expects from him.
As a small group of Orthodox theologians living and working in the West, far from the ancient and “organically” Orthodox worlds and cultures, we are justified therefore in asking this preliminary question: what are the needs of the Church to which we must respond and around which we are to organize and plan our theological work? How are we to obey here, in America, the eternal demands, pastoral, missionary and prophetic, of Orthodox theology? This paper is a brief attempt to inaugurate a common search for a common answer.
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