The Insights of Father Alexander Men
When Father Men was brutally murdered in September 1990, he left behind
a rich legacy of pastoral counsel and Biblical preaching, and a cadre
of young Orthodox priests and intellectuals who committed themselves to
carrying on his ministry. Last months "Reflections" described
Father Mens background and his work as a dynamic parish priest,
constantly under surveillance by the KGB. While his physical presence
could be monitored and even constrained, the ideas he preached about were
hard to control.
The Uniqueness of Christianity
Father Men was a brilliant scholar with a broad grasp of the history of
ideas and world religions. One of his major works is a seven volume exploration
of religion from pre-history through the Greeks, the Hebrews, ancient
Asian religions and Christianity. This series, entitled The History of
Religion: In Search of the Way, the Truth and the Life, ends with the
volume "The Son of Man."
This topic was a favorite of Father Mens and he was often questioned
about his beliefs about Christianity and how Christianity differed from
other world religions. In an interview published in 1992, Father Men discussed
". . . it seems to me that nothing proves the uniqueness of Christianity,
nothing except one thing alone, namely Jesus Christ. For Im convinced
that each of the founders of the world religions speaks truth to us
. . . But alone among all these teachers [Buddha, Greek philosophers,
Mohammed] is one who speaks in his own person as if for God himself:
"But I say to you," or as John has it: "I and the Father
are one." Not one of the great teachers of the worlds religions
ever said anything like that. That then is the only occasion in history
when God revealed himself through a real person in some absolute fulness"
He continued his argument by criticizing the view that Jesus was essentially
a preacher of morals. He would not have been crucified for discussing
morality, Men argued. In his judgment, Christianity was distinctly different
from other world religions. Here is how he summarized the difference:
"Every religion is a path towards God, a conjecture about God,
a human approach to God. It is a vector pointing upwards from below.
But the coming of Christ is the answer, a vector coming from heaven
above towards us. On the one hand, an event situated in history, on
the other hand, something quite outside history. Thats why Christianity
is unique, because Christ is unique" (p. 32).
The Answer to the Crisis in Russia
When analyzing the difficulties that Russian society faced following the
collapse of Communism, Father Men brought the same profound spiritual
insights to bear. Unlike others who blamed the atheists for destroying
Russias churches during the Soviet period, Father Men argued that
"the real guilty ones were the false Christians" who refused
to live in obedience to Gods commandments. The persecution of the
churches under Communism was Gods judgment. "Nothing happens
by chance in history," Men noted, "What we sow, we reap"(p.
In an interview that was not published until 1992, two years after his
death, Father Men explained his views on the current crisis in Russia:
"A crisis of culture comes about when people lose their spiritual
markers, when the moral ground slips away from under their feet, when
they break with eternal values and hanker only for the latest trend.
There are symptoms of this today in all the developed countries. And
the symptoms are especially acute in Russia . . . Contemporary civilization
may have no future at all unless it looks truth in the eye, unless it
finds a firm foundation for moral principles . . . Our worst disaster
is the erosion of moral values . . . Moral regeneration has always been
based on spiritual and religious foundations" (pp. 140-3).
For Father Men, faith in Jesus Christ was the answer Russia needed. At
his last public lecture, given the night before he was murdered, Father
Men shared this insight:
"Anyone of you knows perfectly well how confused people are, how
weak, how many complications and sins have taken root in us. But there
is a power which Christ left on earth, which is given to us for free:
it is called grace . . . You dont have to work for it, its
a gift" (p. 190).
He concluded his last address with these remarks:
"Christianity is the sanctification of the world, the victory
over evil, over darkness, over sin. But it is the victory of God. It
began on the night of the resurrection, and it will continue as long
as the world exists" (p. 192).
NOTE: The quotes from Father Alexander Men were taken from a new book
that has translations of some of his writings and speeches in English.
I highly recommend the book Christianity for the Twenty-First Century:
The Life and Work of Alexander Men, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Ann
Shukman, and published in 1996 by SCM Press Ltd. in London.
Dr. John A. Bernbaum
Russian-American Christian University/US Office, P. O. Box 2007, Wheaton,