Karelin, Feliks, Sergei Antiminsov, and Andrei Kuraev. O bogoslovii protoiereia Aleksandra Menia [On the Theology of Archpriest Aleksandr Men]. Zhitomir, Russia: Ni-Ka, 1999.
Reviewed by Olga Loukmanova
This 104-page booklet includes three essays on different aspects of the theology of Aleksandr Men, a well-known Russian Orthodox priest, historian, and theologian. All three recognize the personal holiness and kindness of Men and the historical significance of his spiritual contribution, but, nevertheless, level severe criticism of his theology and teaching. The authors refuse to call Father Aleksandr an outright heretic. At the same time, they do charge him with serious distortions of the Orthodox faith.
Was Father Men Orthodox?
The first essay by Feliks Karelin questions Men's views on the special calling of the Jewish nation, especially Father Aleksandr's teaching on the "double consciousness" of Jewish Christians. The concluding article, "Aleksandr Men: poteriavshiisia missioner [Aleksandr Men: The Lost Missionary]," written by Deacon Andrei Kuraev, expresses not so much accusation as bewilderment. The author tries to account for what he sees as Men's indiscriminate openness towards parapsychological phenomena, ESP, nontraditional healing, UFOs, and astrology. Kuraev explains Men's position as a result of a sincere missionary passion, a desire to be relevant (which Kuraev argues turned into liberal broad-mindedness) and, ultimately, a tolerant, progressive attitude toward new sciences, discoveries, and ideas. Deacon Kuraev does not call Orthodox believers to stop reading Men's books or to view them as completely useless. Rather, he opposes calling Father Men an Orthodox believer and tries to prove that Men was, in fact, an Eastern-Rite Catholic. He points out ways the Orthodox Church might use Men's works, and invites all readers to retain Men's missionary passion while avoiding what he considers Men's mistake--his loss of the distinctiveness of Christianity in his attempt to make its message relevant to modern culture.
Was Father Men a Heretic?
The essay written by Archbishop Sergei Antiminsov is the most critical and emotionally charged of the three. The attacks leveled against Father Aleksandr are weighty, bordering on an accusation of heresy. Men is said to lack academic integrity and is accused of failing to acknowledge the Bible as trustworthy and authoritative. The author argues that Men's works are influenced by Arianism, Manichaeism, Pelagianism, and Nestorianism. According to Antiminsov, Men arbitrarily changed the wording and meaning of Scripture, thus diminishing the divinity of Christ. Men's teaching is said to lack a biblical and moral understanding of human history, and his views on the fall and redemption are said to contain serious theological errors. Moreover, Father Aleksandr reportedly rejected everything miraculous in the Bible, as well as all biblical eschatology (the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment). As the way to holiness, Antiminsov charges that Men introduced a "spirit of demonic pride instead of a humble carrying of the cross." In conclusion, Men's theology is called "anti-Christian" and destructive. While the author acknowledges that Men might not have taught these doctrines openly and directly, he feels that Men led his followers to dangerous and heretical conclusions. These accusations are indeed serious, and to evaluate their fairness one needs to be thoroughly acquainted with Men's works and theology. This reviewer calls readers to prayerfully consider the arguments, to compare these statements with a firsthand reading of Men, and to make their own responsible conclusions.
Bishop Seraphim Sigrist
The Russian pamphlet, On the Theology of Archpriest Aleksandr Men, is one of many representing a genre once overtly produced by the KGB, the methodology of which is, in general, to throw up a lot of dirt, hoping that some will stick. A friend of mine was once called late at night by an irate Russian parishioner, who, looking for words to express his indignation, proclaimed, "You are a Yid-Mason!" While an oxymoron, the charge can be compared to the more gentrified epithets, "Nestorian-Manichaean-Pelagian-Arian," for none of which is there any evidence in Father Men's work, which, instead, evidences a very strong Christology.
While the temptation for some is impatiently to push this tract aside, let us more seriously consider the "problem" which Father Men presents to many in the Orthodox Church. First of all, reading the book, one is reminded of C.S. Lewis's "Preface to Paradise Lost," which begins with a list of theological complaints against Milton and ends by showing that the listed items are either not in Paradise Lost or are not heretical. Such is the case with Men. The alleged Christological heresies are not there.
The authors also claim that Father Men believed in evolution (a discussion with a Creationist pastor, very respectful on both sides, is included in Men's Christianity for the Twenty-First Century), and that he believed in moderate biblical criticism as a useful tool for opening out the Holy Scriptures. In truth here he is no different from the faculty of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary or Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Beyond this, people found that they could discuss many issues with him without fearing condemnation, so both simple and educated people by the thousands opened their hearts to him, and--much more important--to God. You will look in vain for flying saucers, for example, as a theme of his works or thought, but he would not tell someone who raised the question that 'they are demonic.' It was not his way.
In viewing Father Men as a Jew, a Catholic, or a Protestant, the authors simply are employing labels to express their reaction. May I suggest a deeper problem? I suspect it is the question: what is Orthodoxy? If Orthodoxy is or partakes of universality, it must by definition not be sectarian. It must be "mere Christianity," Christianity itself, a unique bearer historically of this simplicity of truth and universality. No Church or Christian can be universal and sectarian at the same time, yet many wish to claim universality, while exhibiting a completely sectarian psychology. I state this in the context of the Eastern Orthodox tradition; however, Father Men's life ought to represent a challenge as well to Christians comfortable with being members of a "denomination." How and why do they continue to accept not being universal? Yet the price of universality is to embrace your brother and sister, rather than remain separate and self-contained. The authors grope for words to describe Father Men, but the word they seek is right before them. Because of it, Father Men was in the truest sense Orthodox, because he was, in a word, simply Christian.
Bishop Seraphim Sigrist of the Orthodox Church in America served for nearly twenty years as missionary in Japan. Now residing in North America, Bishop Seraphim works closely with the Hosanna Community in Moscow. His recent book, Theology of Wonder (Torrance, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1999), is available for $9.95. For an on-line review, consult http://praiseofglory.alabanza.com/seraphimwonder.htm.
Editor's Note: For a more complete bibliography, see Yakov Krotov's website, http://members.xoom.com/_XOOM/krotov/menn/bibl_menn.html. Portions of annotations by Sam Brown used with permission.
Works About Aleksandr Men
Hamant, Yves. Alexander Men: A Witness for Contemporary Russia. Torrance, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1995. The official biography written by a close friend and admirer. Originally in French: Alexandre Men: un témoin pour la Russie de ce temps. Paris: Mame, 1993. Russian translation: Otets Aleksandr Men: Khristov svidetel v nashe vremia. Moscow: Rudomino, 1996.
Lilienfeld, Fairy von. "Erzpriester Aleksandr Men (1935-1990)" in Kirchen im Kontext unterschiedlicher Kulturen: Auf dem Weg ins dritte Jahrtausend; Alexander Men in Memoriam (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1991).
Maslenikova, Zoia. Zhizn ottsa Aleksandra Menia. Moscow: Russlit, 1995. According to Yakov Krotov, "the best biography of Men."
Talley, Sue. "Alexander Menn." The First Hour (1994): 47-48.
Woiwode, Larry. "The Life and Death of Aleksandr Menn."
New Horizons 19 (no. 2, 1998), 3-6.
Works by Aleksandr Men
About Christ and the Church. Torrance, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1996.
Aequinox. Sbornik pamiati o. Aleksandra Menia [Aequinox: A Collection in Memory of Fr. Aleksandr Men]. Moscow: Carte Blanche, 1991. Includes a full bibliography of Men.
Apokalipsis: Otkrovenie Ioanna Bogoslova: kommentarii [The Apocalypse: Revelation of St. John: Commentary]. Riga: Fond im. Aleksandra Menia, 1992.
Byt khristianinom: interviu i posledniaia lektsiia [To Be a Christian: Interview and Final Lecture]. Moscow: Protestant, 1992. Contains an interesting interview given a month before Men's death and the Russian text of Khristianstvo.
Roberts, Elizabeth and Ann Shukman, eds. Christianity for the Twenty-First Century: The Prophetic Writings of Alexander Men. New York: Continuum, 1996. A special compilation of Men's sermons in English.
Istoria religii: v semi tomakh: v poiskakh puti, istiny, zhizni [The History of Religion: In Seven Volumes: In Search of the Way, the Truth, and the Life]. Moscow: Slovo, 1991, 1992. Men's six-volume exploration of religion from pre-history to the sophisticated Greeks, to the Hebrews, Asian religions, and finally, home to Christianity. Includes Syn chelovecheskii in the set, making it seven volumes. For full titles of all volumes, see Sam Brown's Web site below.
Kultura i dukhovnoe voskhozhdenie [Culture and the Ascent of Spirituality]. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1992. Another collection of sermons and essays.
Magiia, okkultizm, khristianstvo: iz knig, lektsii i besed [Magic, Occultism, and Christianity: From Books, Lectures, and Discussions]. Moscow: Fond imeni Aleksandra Menia, 1996. Published in Lithuanian as: Magija, okultizmas ir krik?cionybe : zmonijos dvasines raidos gaires. Vilnius: Spauda, 1995.
Prakticheskoe rukovodstvo k molitve; Otvety [A Practical Handbook on Prayer; Answers]. Moscow: Fond im. Aleksandra Menia, 1995.
Pravoslavnoe bogosluzhenie: tainstvo, slovo i obraz [Orthodox Worship: Mystery, Word, and Image]. Moscow: Slovo, 1991. One of the few places Men is exclusively Orthodox. Well known and respected among Orthodox. The Slovo edition (1991) is enlarged and revised.
Propovedi protoiereia Aleksandra Menia: Paskhalnyi tsikl [Sermons of Archpriest Aleksandr Men: Paschal Cycle]. Moscow: RPTS Vneshtorgizdat, 1991. English translation: Awake to Life!: Sermons from the Paschal (Easter) Cycle. Torrance, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1996.
Smertiu smert poprav [Having Conquered Death with Death]. Minsk: Eridan, 1990.
Svet vo tme svetit [The Light Shineth in the Darkness]. Moscow: Vita-Tsentr, 1991. Translated into Ukrainian as Svitlo v pitmi siaie. Lviv: Svichado, 1995. A collection of sermons, tied to the sacred year, made shortly after Men's death.
Syn chelovecheskii. [Son of Man]. Moscow: Fond imeni Aleksandra Menia, 1997. Entire text available online at http://members.xoom.com/_XOOM/krotov/library/menn/ind_menn.html. English edition: Son of Man. Translated by Sam Brown. Torrance, CA: Oakwood Publications, 1998. Published in Italian as Gesù maestro di Nazareth: la storia che sfida il tempo. Roma: Città nuova, 1996. Also available in Portuguese, French, Czech, Armenian, and Bulgarian. Men's biography of Christ.
Trudnii put k dialogu [The Difficult Path to Dialogue]. Moscow: Raduga, 1992. A collection of essays and articles, including some fascinating musings on culture, politics, and religion.
Sam Brown's Alexander Men Home Page
http://www.bigfoot.com/~sambrown/amenpage.html (in English)
Contains photos, a short bibliography, and links to articles on or by Men.
Aleksandr Men Foundation
http://www.amen.org.ru/index.html (in English, Russian, French, and German)
Contains complete Russian texts of many of Men's sermons and books, as well as an annotated bibliography and detailed biography of Men's life. Regularly updated.
St. Michael Russian Catholic Church (New York, NY) Alexander Men Web site
http://praiseofglory.alabanza.com/stmichael.htm/framen.htm (in English)
Contains English-language excerpts from Son of Man and other works of Men.
Yakov Krotov's Aleksandr Men Web site
http://members.xoom.com/_XOOM/krotov/menn/ind_menn.html (in Russian and English)
Contains complete Russian texts of letters and sermons, the entire text of Syn chelovecheskii, and a Bulgarian translation of an excerpt from Pravoslavnoe bogosluzhenie: tainstvo, slovo i obraz. Also contains the most complete bibliography of Men's works available, with references to over 200 works by Men arranged chronologically.
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