Incarnational Ministry Needs Ascensional Ministry

Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann

J. Todd Billings recently wrote about “The Problem with Incarnational Ministry.”  I just finished Alexander Schmemann’s wonderful collection of essays on liturgical theology, and true to form, Schmemann refused to keep his comments within proper bounds.  What I love about Schmemann is that he knows that liturgy affects all of life, and so his writings abound with practical applications of his theology.  The end of the essay, “Sacrifice and Worship” nicely complements what Billings was getting at:

“I have never considered the secular view simply atheistic, but a denial of the sacrifice:  of the holy and the whole, or the priesthood as a way of life.  The secular idea is that everybody needs religion because it helps to keep law and order, comforts us, and so on; it is that point of view which denies levels.  But the whole terminology of the early Church is of ascension to another level:  “He ascended into Heaven.”  Since He is man, we ascend in Him.  Christianity begins to fall down as soon as the idea of our going up in Christ’s ascension–the movement of sacrifice–begins to be replaced by His going down.  And this is exactly where we are today:  it is always a bringing Him down into ordinary life, and this we say will solve our social problems.  The Church must go down to the ghettos, into the world in all its reality.  But to save the world from social injustices, the need first of all is not so much to go down to its miseries, as to have a few witnesses in this world to the possible ascension” (pg. 135).

For more on the theology of ascension, and the key role it played in Calvin’s theology, check out Julie Canlis’s Calvin’s Ladder:  A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension.  It’s a fantastic study!

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