Magazine article Russian Life

Father Alexander Men: An Unorthodox Priest

Magazine article Russian Life

Father Alexander Men: An Unorthodox Priest

Article excerpt

"Christianity today cannot be understood without understanding the life
and work of Fr. Alexander"
Orthodox Bishop Seraphim (Sigrist)

From the beginning, Fr. Alexander was no ordinary priest. He did not fit the standards set by the authorities and knew the spiritual needs of some believers, especially Moscow intellectuals and students, better than more conventional Russian Orthodox priests. Prominent literary scholar Sergei Averintsev, in his article about Alexander Men, even called him "a missionary for the intelligentsia tribe."


In the church in Novaya Derevnya (30 miles north of Moscow), where Fr. Alexander served for 20 years, there was an odd mix of urban intellectuals (mathematicians, biologists, doctors, writers etc.), youth, pious elderly women, blue-collar workers, and peasants from nearby villages. Men was a beloved pastor to thousands and had the ability to win people's trust, from highly-educated intelligentsia like Andrei Sakharov, to the simplest of believers. He also brought many people to the Church, including Alexander Galich and Alexander Solzhenitsin.

And yet today, even though Fr. Alexander has been dead for 14 years, many still revile his memory. Anti-Men pamphlets are still sometimes distributed in churches and it is difficult to publish anything in his defense in official Orthodox magazines and newspapers.

The Russian Orthodox community is divided on Alexander Men's role. For some, including his former friends and parishioners, Fr. Alexander became a symbol of a free-minded, ecumenically open, intellectual Russian Orthodoxy. Men's opponents are conservative Russian Orthodox priests and laymen who consider Men the symbol of Jewish (sometimes "Judaic-Masonic") efforts to destroy Russian Orthodoxy from the inside, with the help of Biblical criticism. Men's opponents often misrepresent his views and deliberately forget that he was a brilliant apologist who could explain Christian truths in a simple, lively manner.

Alexander Men was born on January 22, 1935, in Moscow. Later that year, he was baptized alongside his mother, Yelena Men, a Jew and a non-believer. Men's mother became a member of "the catacomb church" in Russia during the years of Soviet repression. They were baptized by Fr. Seraphim Batyukov, who lived a clandestine life so that he could avoid being coopted by Soviet authorities. Batyukov, together with a few other priests who had not been put in prisons or concentration camps, founded this "catacomb church."

From childhood, Alexander Men wanted to be a priest, but resolved to first get a secular education. He entered college in order to study biology (at the time, one of the most atheistic sciences), but was expelled before he could graduate, when it was found out that he had been attending church. Nevertheless, his love for biology remained with him the rest of his life. "God has given us two books," Men said, "the Bible and Nature."

When, in 1958, at the age of 23, Fr. Alexander decided to be a priest, it was an extraordinary event. Much stood in his way: he was a biologist by education, a young intellectual by inclination and a Jew by birth. But these were overcome by the fact that the Church faced a new wave of persecution under Khrushchev: Church authorities needed all the priests they could get.

Men received his formal training at the Leningrad and Moscow Theological Academies, was ordained as a deacon in 1958 and as a priest in 1960.

Fr. Alexander was a happy and extremely gifted man of many talents. …

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