On Christian Leadership: The Letters of Alexander Schmemann and Georges Florovsky (1947-1955)

Paul Gavrilyuk
Paul Gavrilyuk
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Fr Georges Florovsky (1893–1979) and Fr Alexander Schmemann (1921–1983) profoundly shaped twentieth-century Orthodox theology. Their correspondence, edited and translated into English for the first time, provides a unique window into their theological visions, leadership styles, and interactions with their contemporaries. Most of the letters were written when Florovsky had recently moved to the US to lead and organize the fledgling St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, while Schmemann was still teaching at the St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. 

The correspondence also reveals the circumstances of Schmemann’s move to the US at the request of Florovsky, and offers glimpses into their subsequent collaboration at St Vladimir’s Seminary until their tragic rift in 1955. Reminiscent of the style of Schmemann’s journals, the letters lay out the challenges of leadership with brutal honesty and good humor, bearing an eloquent testimony to their authors’ dedication to launching a new era of theological education.


About the Author:  Paul L. Gavrilyuk is an Orthodox historian and theologian, and the Aquinas Chair in Theology and Philosophy at the University of St Thomas (St Paul, MN). His publications include Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance (Oxford, 2013), and the present correspondence in Russian (Moscow, 2019).


4 Reviews

  • 5
    On Christian Leadership

    Posted by The Very Rev Dr Chad Hatfield, President, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY on 8th May 2020

    Paul Gavrilyuk knows how to tell a story. With the publication of On Christian Leadership: The Letters of Alexander Schmemann and Georges Florovsky (1947-1955) this church historian has not only given us the long- awaited publication of the letters between two of the most influential Orthodox Christian leaders of the last century but he tells the story in a captivating manner, through translation and editorial background, that elevates this book to a place of high standing. Through these pages the reader will gain fresh insights and corrections that shed new light onto a story that is worth telling and revisiting anew.

  • 5
    On Christian Leadership

    Posted by Alexis Klimoff - Vassar College (Emeritus) on 7th May 2020

    The letters exchanged by Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Fr. Georges Florovsky provide insights into the relationship of the two men that have been obscured by the well-known conflict that eventually erupted between them. We now have hard textual evidence of the young Schmemann’s genuine admiration of Florovsky’s principal views, of the continued cordial relations despite Schmemann’s explicit break with a Byzantine-centric vision of Orthodoxy, and of the vital but essentially non-theological issues that underlay their tragic clash. The last point is tacitly acknowledged in Schmemann’s heartfelt – but unanswered – 1968 attempt at reconciliation.
    Paul Gavrilyuk’s edition of these documents is exemplary in every scholarly sense. It includes a wonderfully balanced introduction that places the letters in the biographical and historical context in which they arose, copious and accurate notes, and helpful additional information (a chronology and a biographical index).

  • 5
    On Christian Leadership

    Posted by Ted Bazil on 28th Apr 2020

    This book is a marvelous collection of the translated letters--with the authors extensive notes and annotations-- between Alexander Schememann and Georges Florovosky . It provides extensive and insightful information about their early life, church experience, and academic formation and personal life. When Florovosky entered the US he was a universally recognized theologian. His extensive ecumenical and theological experience and writing brought early academic credibility to St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He established the foundation and vision behind the seminary. We read about his impatience and frustrations and need to recruit a brilliant young energetic theologian in the person of Alexander Schememann to help him achieve his mission. Schememann successfully built upon Florovosky’s model that today still provides generations of Orthodox Christian educated priests and leaders fully trained and formed to serve the faith and engage society. This book reveals to the reader so much more depth and meaning to their association than the standard apocryphal stories we hear about why these two exceptional men parted ways. We owe a great debt of thanks to Dr. Gavrilyuk for setting history straight with this remarkable book.

  • 5
    On Christian Leadership

    Posted by Amal Morcos on 24th Apr 2020

    Frs Georges Florovsky and Alexander Schmemann were the par excellence Orthodox theologians of their generation. This highly anticipated book, which translates their correspondence into English for the first time, reveals a profound friendship between two men struggling to establish theological education for the Orthodox in North America. Stirring and at times emotional, it reveals their thoughts on Christian leadership and their theological visions.