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10-Sep-2008

Michael Bourdeaux

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Father Aleksandr Men was brutally silenced in this life but now the churches built in his memory are spreading his message far and wide.

Aleksandr Men: his writings, some 20 volumes in all, have never been approved by the official church in Russia.

Early in the morning of September 9, 1990, Father Aleksandr Men set out, as usual, to walk through the birch woods to the station to catch a train to Novaya Derevnya, a distant suburb of Moscow where he served as a priest. A few steps down the path someone approached him and asked him to read something. A blow from behind with an axe struck him down, most probably from a second person. His reading glasses were out of their case beside the path. Father Aleksandr staggered back a few yards to his house, where he died at the garden gate.

As with so many other murders in Russia, no proper investigation ever took place. Why was this warm, charismatic — indeed brilliant — man struck down at 56, at the height of his powers? The police hinted at Jewish revenge against a convert from his family’s faith to Christianity. (Actually, his parents were the converts, he being brought up as a Christian.) Equally perniciously, another theory placed the murder with some fanatical Christian who wanted to rid the faith of its Jewish elements. No shred of evidence supports either theory. Almost certainly, this was the last act of revenge by a fanatic from a dying, atheist-dominated Communist Party. After all, the victim was undoing more than 70 years of anti-religious activity by the State.

The party maintained strict control over entry to the Moscow Theological Seminary, so the priesthood was barred to a young man urgently seeking to serve the Church. Father Aleksandr was too zealous, so instead he chose his second love, joining a forestry institute in Moscow, which soon transferred to Irkutsk in Siberia. There he met Gleb Yakunin, who would later become a thorn in the side of both the Soviet State and the Moscow Patriarchate. Both burnt to see justice for the faith and a breaking of the steel bonds that circumscribed it, but they chose different paths. A door opened to ordination for both, but Father Gleb became an active protester against the ongoing persecution of the Church, while Father Aleksandr chose the equally difficult task of trying to reform the Church from within. This, he envisaged, would be through education: by keeping within the law (just) and concentrating on reaching out to the younger generation deprived of even the most elementary Christian teaching.

Read the entire article on Times Online the website (new window will open).

Posted: 10-Sep-2008



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