Fr Aleksandr Men (1935-90). He was murdered, that’s without doubt. He thought very highly of his own intellectual abilities (overly much, I would say), and his pseudo-intellectual admirers inflated him into a saint. He was nothing but a run-of-the-mill scholar, nothing special; he wasn’t saintly, he wan’t demonic, just ordinary.
Fr Aleksandr Men was killed on 9 September 1990; this late victim of the Soviet era is still unrecognised by the Church as a martyr. That’s because the Church has a particular understanding of martyrdom. The Slavonic word “мученик” isn’t a literal translation of the Greek word “martyr”; rather it’s a free and idiomatic rendering of its meaning. Literally, “martyr” means “witness”. However, evidence suggests that the addressee is involved as well. A martyr is one who witnesses their faith in Christ even in the face of the executioner. Martyrdom implies that such a witness inexorably led the executioner to inflict death upon the martyr. The executioner noted the Christian faith of his victim, so much so that he is willing to kill them merely for the sake of their confession of faith. It’s precisely for this confession of faith that the executioner puts the Christian to the sword. If the motive of the killing was ethnic hatred or secular politics, if the cause of the conflict laid not in faith, but in everyday life, the victim didn’t offer the killer a “religious” choice. In that case, they couldn’t stay the executioner’s hand by abandoning their faith. Then, we must examine the “evidence”. To declare someone a “martyr”, it’s imperative that both sides realise equally the high stakes involved, that both have values concerning life and faith. Martyrdom exists where the choice is “renunciation [of the faith] or death”, but not where it’s “your money or your life”.
That’s why the Church examines the motives of the killers before it announces the glorification of a martyr. In December 2009, a Podolsk priest, Fr Aleksandr Filippov, upbraided some drunks who defecated on his doorstep, so, they killed him. I think that if anyone had tried to reason with these bastards, even a mullah or an atheist, the reaction would’ve been the same. However, in a contemporaneous case, a religious motive was so obvious in the killing of Fr Daniil Sysoev that it had to be noted, even in politically correct reports and commentaries. Regarding the murder of Aleksandr Men, we don’t have enough contextual evidence. Who was culprit? What were the motives for their actions? What was their exact reason for disliking Fr Aleksandr? The most popular version is that it was a KGB operation. However, if the motive of the murder was political, we can’t glorify the deceased as one who suffered for Christ’s sake. A no less popular version is that Russian neo-fascists “killed a Jewish intellectual”. On the other hand, this version doesn’t allow us to number Fr Aleksandr amongst the ranks of the Christian martyrs, for victims of ethnic strife can’t be glorified as sufferers for Christ. Was there a chance that, at the moment of his death, Fr Aleksandr had a chance to express his life’s direction, of Christ? Only the killer could tell us about that. Therefore, the final judgement of the Church depends on the working of secular effects.
Nevertheless, quite apart from the outcome of the investigation, the writings of Fr Aleksandr live on. People read them, they are inspired by them, and they argue over them. Yet, even 20 years later, the following HASN’T happened in regards Fr Aleksandr’s writings:
- They’re not particularly popular in church bookstores and parish shops
- No Church publishing house prints them (although the major obstacle here is consent from the deceased’s widow)
- They didn’t become sources for academic experts in the history of religions, church history, philosophy, or theology, which means that the missionary writings of Fr Aleksandr never became part of the academic œuvre
- These books haven’t become a standard aid for parish clergy, meaning that they’re not proper spiritual literature, strictly speaking
Fr Aleksandr’s writings remain in a well-defined niche… popular missionary publications. That’s how he wrote them, and there is still a great need for this kind of literature. Over the years, with the publication of new texts by Fr Aleksandr, the number of perplexing questions for Orthodox about the author has steadily grown. If his overly trusting attitude towards Catholicism didn’t startle you, then, later, for example, one found that he spoke highly of astrology. On the day of his death, Patriarch Aleksei said, “Fr Aleksandr sometimes expressed opinions that, even if one stretched things to the fullest extent, cannot be described as absolutely shared by all the fullness of the Church”. Over the last 20 years, “all the fullness of the Church” failed to accept the “full” position of Fr Aleksandr. Yet, I’d really like to see one of his favourite techniques become generally accepted. That is, his ability to refrain from the excesses of full acceptance and total rejection. Fr Aleksandr was able in a variety of texts (both religious and literary) to find a spark of goodness, to be thankful for them to their authors, whilst keeping his distance with respect to their other views. Perhaps, we should take same attitude to Fr Aleksandr’s writings. We should judge them with mundane human standards, with gratitude for what’s stated, forgiving all his errors, seeing it in the light of his complete work. In general, his writings are like an ordinary conversation with an intelligent person, it’s worthy of neither canonisation nor anathema.
9 September 2010
Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev
Pseudo-intellectual poseurs such as the SVS crowd greatly overrate Aleksandr Men… along with the anathematised Bulgakov and Vvedensky, the rather squiffy “Mother Maria” and Fr So-Phoney, and the openly heretical Florensky and Schmemann. It’s a rather strange and bloodless “paper and ink” Orthodoxy… J P Fathausen and Vanya Behr are perfect examples of it (the HOOMie crowd at Platina and the New Skete nutters also fit this description).
Unfortunately, it doesn’t’ jive with the “flesh n’ blood” (or, is it “blood n’ guts”) Orthodoxy of the ages. Real Orthodoxy doesn’t oppose the intellect; rather, it says that you can’t apprehend the Truth with it. You can pray your way to holiness (I, for one, am NOT there yet)… but you CAN’T read your way there, that’s for certain. The effete pseudo-intellectual snobs are so OBVIOUS… they are PITIFUL. They’re jackasses laden down with a cargo of books, they call one another “Reader”, and they’re always certain to put a cross before a bishop’s name (or, put it in all caps, or both).
Silly wabbits… they have to stop reading the Fathers… then, they might actually meet the Father… and an encounter with the Living God is a terrible thing (in the classical sense of “terrible”). THAT would scare ‘em onto the right road, but will they get their noses out of their books to do so? God only knows…