Centenary of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

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Andrei Schmemann

Andrei Schmemann

© famille Schmemann

Andrei Dmitrievich Schmemann was born on September 13, 1921 in exile in Revel, present-day Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

He was a Russian patriot in the classic sense of the word: He loved Russia and knew its history and culture well. He held the achievements of the Russian emigration in high esteem; he had a keen interest in Russian military tradition; he cherished the values and traditions passed down by émigré Russians and took an active part in the many organizations dedicated to their preservation.

Brought up in a pious family, he began serving as an altar boy at an early age, first in the Church of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, 10 Boulevard Montparnasse, and then in Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky on rue Daru. At the age of 14, Metropolitan Eulogy ordained him to the surplice, and at the age of 20, to the rank of sub-deacon. Andrei Schmemann remained attached to the Cathedral all his life. He loved the festive services, the liturgical order, the church choir under the direction of Nikolai Afonsky. Everything that was close and dear to him as a youth stayed with him for life, and he remained a member of the Cathedral fellowship of sub-deacons to his end.

Andrei Schmemann was an active member of the Church. His surviving correspondence with members of the diocesan administration makes clear that he sought in every way to be useful in the life of the Church and to remain true to his beliefs. He cherished tradition, but dutifully and conscientiously worked for the development of the Orthodox Church outside Russia.

His greatest achievement in Church affairs was the consolidation of the parish of the Sign of the Theotokos in Paris, which he started to attend regularly in the late 1940s. After a difficult transition of the parish from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe and the relocation of the church to a new site, he succeeded with the help of the priests, parish council and parishioners to give the church a firm foundation, on which it still thrives and grows. He was always ready to help personally, whether by serving in the altar, reading or singing in the week-day choirs, but likewise sought to preserve the tradition of festive services by maintaining a good choir and a beautiful church. He remained the starosta of the parish for 50 years.

In the 1950s, he expressed a desire to become a deacon , believing that he could serve the church more effectively, but he did not receive a blessing for this duty because he was married to a widow. As always in the Church, not everything was easy, but by his organizational talent and ability to work with people he won the respect not only among the priests and parishioners, but also in the Archdiocese.

When he retired and had more time, he accepted the position of treasurer of the Archdiocese and remained in the post until 1994. He was considerate to all who came to him and tried to help them by word and all the more by deed. A major milestone of this period was the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia in 1988. Together with his friend Prince Sergei S. Obolensky, the secretary of the Archdiocese, Andrei Schmemann worked for several years to prepare the celebration of this important event. As treasurer, he also revived the work of the Metropolitan Evlogy Foundation, which assisted needy priests and the St. Sergius Theological Institute.

Andrei Schmemann never imposed anything on anyone; he did not teach, but inspired others through his example as a worthy and dedicated Christian. He died quietly on November 8, 2008, twenty-five years after his twin brother, the Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann.