Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fr Alexander Men - an apostle of unity

Father Alexander Men (1935-1990) was an influential parish priest in Russia who wrote, lectured widely, and eventually appeared on radio and television, becoming a nationally known figure. He started the first Russian Sunday-school as soon as the communist persecution ceased, established a university, made a film, and started volunteer work at a children's hospital. He personally baptized thousands, and though he had a huge following of ordinary people he was called “the apostle to the intellectuals.”

He was assassinated in 1990.

You can go to a website dedicated to him HERE. Of particular note is the article by Irina Yaziova We are Moving into an Age of Love summarising his life and work.

I share with you Father Men’s responses to three questions regarding Christian unity, in an interview translated by Steve Griffin from "Kultura i dukhovnoe voskhozhdenie (Moscow 1992)” Go HERE for the complete article.

As an Orthodox believer what is your attitude towards other confessions?
My attitude was not formed immediately. After considerable thought, interaction and research I've come to be convinced that the Church is in essence one and that divisions have come about through the sin and narrow-mindedness of Christians. This sad fact is one of the greatest reasons for crises in Christianity. Only through brotherly unity and respect for diverse forms of church life can we hope to find strength, peace and God's blessing once again.

Can divisions in the Christian Church be overcome?
Over the centuries of division many differences have accumulated in the areas of doctrine, canon and worship. But I'm convinced that the schism between East and West is bound up with political, cultural and national conflicts. Today only a miracle could bring about real unity. Bur it is still possible to overcome misunderstanding and aggressive attitudes towards one another. If the members of different communities got to know one another better, in time this will bear good fruit.

In your view does Russia have a specific vocation?
The Bible teaches that nations which play an important role in history have a vocation given to them from above. I think that this applies to Russia. Chaadaev thought that Russia's vocation was to synthesize the depth and contemplative way of the East with the dynamism of the West. This thought is very close to my heart.

And here is a challenging section of the last interview Fr Alexander Men gave on 5th September 1990, just four days before he was killed:

“. . . the open model is acceptable to those who are sure of their own ground. Those who stand on shaky ground prefer a closed model because it is easier for them.

“Around fifteen years ago, a young man at my church started making occasional visits to the Baptist Church. I told him, you are Orthodox, of course you can go there because the church is everywhere, Christ is everywhere, the gospel is everywhere. Do both: go to the Baptist Church and don't forget your own spiritual roots. And when I explained the open model to him, he said, Oh dear, how uncomfortable! He ended up by becoming a Baptist.

“That person could only be either a Baptist who did not recognize Orthodoxy, or an Orthodox who cursed the Baptists. He wanted to have a little hole to hide himself away in. Apparently Peter the Great also suffered from a psychological disorder - the fear of open spaces. He built himself tiny little rooms and so on. There is an illness like that - the fear of open spaces. In the history of religion, there is also this fear of open spaces.”

I also share with you a series of extracts from a paper given in 1998 by Maureen Klassen. Go HERE for the paper in its entirety.

“When they passed near the Temple, Jesus stopped. In the morning a worship service would be performed and thousands of people would bring Paschal lambs to the altar. But the sleeping city did not suspect that that night, at the walls of God's house, surrounded by eleven shy Galileans, the High Priest and Saviour of the world was praying. He asked the Father to maintain his small flock among a world hostile to it. I do not pray for these only - but for those who believe in me through their word; that they may be one even as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me (Jn17).

“The Coming Temple of Christ's church was illuminated by the light of the Divine Trinity.” (Son of Man, p.178)

Father Alexander Men shared this prayer poured out from the heart of his Master on his way to the Cross. And like his Master, the life that he lived among us, the death that he died, and the legacy he left in the lives of his followers all illuminate the profound meaning of that prayer . . .

Alexander Men inspired a large circle of followers and admirers drawn from a wide spectrum of different traditions, from Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic to Baptist and Pentecostals. His legacy in Russia and beyond is the continuance of his many converts in their devotion to his God, their study of his writings and the Word of God and their openness to one another and those beyond their tradition in the wider Body of Christ. Throughout his life, Alexander Men has been introducing people from all walks of life and religious persuasions to the person of Jesus Christ.

Like his Master, his tireless dedication led him to devote himself to a faithful impartation of God's truth in the lives of those who came to him. His teaching ministry reached far beyond the narrow confines of his local parish church at Novaya Derevnaya. For throughout his life from the time of his earliest writings in the sixties until the widespread posthumous popularity we see today, Alexander Men has been introducing people from all walks of life and religious persuasions to the person of Jesus Christ. He, perhaps more than any other person, was a light in a dark place though all the years of Communist oppression . . .

During his life and ministry Alexander Men was uniquely ecumenical, swimming often against the tide of prejudice and suspicion characterizing many of the parts of Christ's Body in Russia. This prevailing spirit of unifying love is evidenced in the nature of the gatherings in his memory which draw people from very diverse faith backgrounds. His witness and influence have truly transcended the walls that divide us. As we celebrate his life among us we are reminded of other lives of the early fathers, the saints of many traditions, martyrs, Protestant and Catholic and those of more recent eras . . .

At the deepest level the life of Alexander Men inspires us in its similarity to that of his Master in the quality of its discipleship. For the servant must be as his Lord . . .

May our fidelity to that spirit hasten the day when "all the different fruits [of our diversity] will flow together in one stream in which will be preserved all the best in the spiritual culture of humanity and of each person who is made in the image and likeness of God.” (Christianity for the Twenty-First Century, p. 163)


శ్రీ సాయిలక్ష్మణ said...

O, yes.. I believe Father Men was one of best-best christian priests of past century's Russia. Just now I inserted Men's photo (one above) into my website's page. My site is dedicated to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I collect and present few materials about smaller persons who too contributed in re-establishing spiritual Unity of men on Earth.

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