I am Russian Orthodox priest. In March of 2007 I was received as a priest into the jurisdiction of Archbishop Igor' Isichenko. He lives in Ukraine in Kharkiv, he is the bishop of the diocese of Kharkiv and Poltava.
The church situation in Ukraine is very complicated, Ukrainians are eager to have an independent national Church and Moscow opposes the idea. Bishop Igor' thinks that the case must be solved by the Patriarch of Constantinople, because Ukraine canonically never left jurisdiction of Constantinople. He recognize Metropolit Constantine Bagan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA as the spiritual leader, and Metropolit Bagan is under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople (http://www.uocofusa.org).
Patriarch of Moscow several years ago made an official protest to the Patriarch of Constantinople: he asked to repudiate Bishop Igor'. Constantinople answered in the best Byzantine traditions: writing "yes" and doing "no."
So during the liturgy I pray for the Patriarch Varfolomey of Constantinopole and for the Archbishop Igor'.
I was born on May 31, 1957. My mother (1920-1993) Musya was a teacher and a Jew, as well as my father Gavriil. The family was completely atheistic, Communist (sincerely Communist). Russian antisemitism is alive, but Russian Jews have been completely assimilated and became just "Soviet people."
I've been married in 1976. My wife Irina is definitely the most beautiful woman in the world (as far as I know, but I've saw a lot of women.) You can check - have a glance at the pictures. I have two sons, Mark (1977) and Mathew (1980).
I've graduated Moscow State University in 1982, I worked in the library, and the archive, in the museum. In 1991-2000 I've wrote a lot in mass-media about Christianity, democracy etc. These articles were dedicated mostly to the problems on tolerance
and freedom of conscience, struggle with antidemocratic politics
of the government and nomenclature. Now it's all over, because Kremlin has supressed independent media.
I am very prolific author. Hundreds of articles, dozens of books. But I still haven't found an editor for the books.
I am a good preacher, and from 1991 I lecture a lot on Church history, Christian ethics etc.
From 1997 onwards I work for Radio Free Europe,
making one-hour broadcast per week under the title "From
the Christian point of view." This is a live talk-show.
MY AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
I've been in the United States once: October, 1-30, 1994, as a Bradley Visiting
Scholar of The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
(lecturing on the Russian Orthodoxy, religious freedom in Russia,
in colleges in Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, Grand Rapids,
Chicago, Wheaton (Billy Graham Center), New York, Washington.
I like people of the U.S. I felt myself more comfortable in London (may be because in London we've been together with my wife as tourists, and in States I've been alone as a lecturer.) I have no friends in Great Britain (and some enemies), and I've a lot of friends in America.
LIBERTY WITHOUT BORDERS
I am very radical person -- at least from the point of view of many secular and religious leaders. Anarchist? Libertarian? Anyway, this explains why I didn't succeed in integrating in the academical or religious mileau of the West.
Among my heroes are John XXIII, not John-Paul II and Pope Ratzinger. Call me racist, but I cannot forget that he was in Hitler Jugend, and I see too much stilistical affinities between Hitler Yugend and Ratzinger Vatican. When I see Ratzinger, I immediatly remember that my mother was a Jew. He've spoken to rabbies? Well, but he haven't answered my own letter. He prefers to be a friend of big bosses in Kremlin, not of a small chap like myself. Well, render Rutzinger unto Caesar...
I'll better list those modern intellectuals who are close to my heart (alphabetical order): John Allen Jr., Timothy Ash, Todd Gitlin, Andre Glucksmann, Paul Greenberg, Garry Wills, Philip Yancey,
I think that to live means to look for truth,
to experience the truth, to be human, honest and alive. Sin for me is the everyday
failure of myself to be really alive, to be most open to the new turns of life,
to deal mechanically with people and God. God is the most alive entity which I've
met in my life. I feel that He is more alive than myself, and that He wants me
to become as completely alive as He is.
I am Russian Orthodox. For me this means possibility and necessity to meet Christ not only
in the Eastern Orthodoxy, but in the Roman Catholic Church as well, and--with more efforts--among Protestans
or non-denominational Christians.
On November, 10, 2002 I was ordained a priest in the Apostolic Russian Orthodox Church , and
eventually I became the dean of community of the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
This is not a part of the established church (in Russia the Moscow Patriarchy is the state church.) The Church in which I've been ordained is looked upon as a "ckandestine," "catacomb Church." Fr. Gleb Yakunin is one of her leaders, and Fr Yakunin is a famous hero of faith from 1960-s. He dared to criticize Communists for their anti-Church politics and was imprisoned when official Christian leaders continued to enjoy freedom and power.
Still, I was obliged to leave this Church in 2007 when there was a decision to introduce married bishops. I objected and left peacefully.
Actually, I am not against married bishops or woman-priests. I am against any reforms when they replace the real life or, better to say, when the lack of the real church life is "compensated" with reforms. What the sense to serve the liturgy in vernacular of there are no parishioners? First things first, and marriage of the bishop is not the firstiest thing at all. (I understand that "firstiest" is a neologism, but I don't understand whether it is suitable or felt like a mystake only; tell me, please.)
One of the funniest things I've ever met is the commercial on the web-site http://www.prosphora.org/ saying "Get Canonical!" It seems that Christianity or Eastern Orthodoxy became for some people secondary, and Canonicity became primary: "I believe in One Canonical God..."
As far as I know in States there is a term "bogus Church," and our church can be blamed like this. But there are several reasons why I don't bother to be "bogus Church." First was mentioned to me by one of my senior Greek Catholics friends, who said: "Bogus--this is wonderful! Christ was bogus, and apostle Paul was bogus!" Christ was crucified as "uncanonical" Saviour.
ALL YOU NEED IS GOD
Nearly everything we say about God is a comparison. "Father," "Shepherd," "Lord"... Human idea applied to God. There is one exception: love. Human "love" is only a comparison: God's love is applied to human relations. This is why it is impossible "to love God" as it is impossible "to be God." What is possible is to see God's love around us. God's love shines in everyday's events, in small pleasures, big tragedies, petty nonsenses. We cannot "answer" to this love. We can only let this love penetrate deeper into our relations.
Christians are not waiting for God. God is not unjust, Soviet-type despot, who wants everybody to be ready for His feast, to wear "wedding clothes" although the wedding can be years ahead. The wedding has begun! Wedding clothes must be the everyday clothes for the follower of Jesus. Good worker wears white coverall, even if he tacks streets. And I am tacking my own soul.
Some science-fiction story contained the idea of people who every day invented new language. Completely new: with different thesaurus, grammar, even phonetics. THis saved this people from the Earth domination.
Communication with God is based on the opposite principle. Every day human must invent new language to overcome human tendency to hypocrisy. It is possible.
Today I shall describe salvation in terms of parent-child relations. What can be worse than a parent turning away from a child, using boycott as a pedagogical tool? A child turning away from parents is much worse! When father is silent, this is a drama. When a child is silent, this is a tragedy.
Salvation is a new world order, established by Lord Jesus. God in this world is instantly speaking with people, not like a father who is not angry at last, but like a child who ask us to notice Him, to respond to Him. He is the Minor.
This is why our religiosity is different. You can collectively, with the help of the state and society adore God the Father, the King, etc. But to answer God the Child, You must speak alone, not loudly, without trumpets.
ALL YOU NEED IS BLOOD
Some people are for Israel's right to wage a war against Arabs, some people are against it. Christians (Western Christians) has been divided. But is not Christian faith which influence Christians in this division, and it is not humanity which influence humans on their attitude towards this war and any war. "Justice," "reason," "common sense," etc. influence people. They are "homo sapience."
For non-believers this is normal. (Although even non-believers can be more rational in their attitude towards a war. Most people are inspired by the same logic as contemporaries of Abraham or Nero: kill in order to save the life of your wife, of your children, your compatriots; kill to improve justice, liberty and life. Certainly, this logic inspires both sides. Bin Laden and Bush, Putin and Chechens, Blair and Iraqi. Shed alien blood to save native blood!
I think Christian cannot participate in this. I don't want, I can't to prove to non-believers that Blood of Lord Jesus Christ means anything. I can only wonder why Christians who defend the bloodshed by this or that side dare to go to the Communion. I know that most Western Christians don't receive the precious Blood of Lord Jesus Christ during the Communion, but I hope that they still believe that Jesus shed His Blood not by chance. Pacifism and anti-militarism can be firmly based only on the faith into Saving Blood of Jesus. His Blood prohibits any bloodshed. Any attempt to reach anything through bloodshed is doomed because the only bloodshed which has saving force has been accomplished. Christian can only follow Jesus and let his own blood to be shed, but he cannot judge whose blood can be shed, however clear and simple the case can seem.
BE FRUITFUL, AND MULTIPLY, AND THINK
Thoughts ought to provoke as gooses ought to cackle. Golden gooses don't cackle, because golden goose is a dead goose. Many thoughts are dead, although they are really made from pure gold of love and wisdom. People are in need of bread of love and wine of provocation, and preachers give to them gold of intellectual consolation.
BETWEEN LIBERALISM AND CONSERVATISM
I live in Russia, I am Russian Orthodox, I am enthusiastic about Church unity and first of all about reconciliation
of Russian Orthodox with the Catholic Church.
I mention these three features to let Western people know what makes me different from them and from some
of my compatriots. I am also human. I am human first of all! I am obliged to mention this because all too
often the words “Russian,” “Russian Orthodox” are understood by Western people as: “Something exotic, someone
archaic, traditionalist, fundamentalist.” Some Western people hate this, some enjoy this.
Those who enjoy traditionalism, fundamentalism etc. are very far from my idea of humanity. Many people
are fond of Russia and Russian Orthodoxy because they can find in Russia what is lost in the West: medieval
religious psychology, faith oriented towards hierarchy, power, putting obiedence higher than creativity
and truth. Such Westerns can be Roman catholics, Greek Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant. They love
Russia and come to Russia just like another Westerns go to East for sex-tourism. They look abroad what they
lack at home—domination.
My faith is dogmatic. Dorma is a sort of fence for my faith. But very different types of fences surrounds us! For many people dogma is a wall, brick wall, stone wall. I think that dogma is a sort of a green hedge. But plants in this hedge can be artificial or dead.
I am not medieval Christian. For me Lord Jesus Christ is the source of human in my life, the source of
freedom and liberty. I hope that my fundamentalist co-believers will admit that we are pupils of one Teacher,
although I am closer to those who usually condemned as “liberals,” “traitors,” or even bearers of the “heresy
I think fundamentalists (traditionalists, conservatives) are the part of the Church as well as liberals.
The problem is that fundamentalists don’t have a symmetrical view: they think that they are the Church,
and liberals are not. I will not duscuss the problem here, I only want to point out that the problem exist
in order to save time. All too often Western reactionaries were glad to be aquainted with “Greek Catholic
from Moscow,” but very soon we departed because it came out that I do not share a fundamentalistic set typical
for some “Greek Catholics.”
Erasmus of Rotterdam, Michele de Montaigne, Alexis de Toqueville and Nikolay Berdyaev are among my favorite authors. All of them were Christians and Erasmus was the priest. All of them are great defenders of freedom. All of them were in conflict with the Church mainstream. Alexis de Tequeville explained this in 1840:
“The religionists are the enemies of liberty, and the friends of liberty attack religion.”
This is true for our times.
I have my own Code of Krotovs. It icludes overscrupulousness: criticism must be first of all applied to one's
on friends, not to the enemies. I am against corruption in the Church? Then I am obliged to cricize corruption
in my own Church, not in my enemy's.
There are two obstacles to be consistent with this principles. First, I don't think anyone is my enemy. Second,
many people want to read my analyses of the situation in the Moscow Patriarchy, which certainly the worst oppressor
of my own Church and in this sense my enemy.
It is very hard to be academic and objective while making analyses when You are engaged in the situation.
Still, the very idea of objectivity was invented to solve this problem. I notify in advance about the peculiarity
The enemies of liberty don't notify anyone that they can be subjective. They are the enemies of liberty and
freedom because they are sure that what they think and believe completely coincides with the objective reality.
The rigid regulations of fasts were created in Middle Ages strictly for monks and nuns, not for laics. Religious renewal of modernity was based mostly on books, not on alive tradition, and this is why many regulations for monasteries have being read as refulations for lay persons. In modern Russia there is still no peanut butter, and olive oil is for wealthy minority, but many new Russian Orthodox do not use sunflower-seed oil during fasts. This oil appeared only 200 years ago, so it is not mentioned in ancient sources. Pedantry in fasts is all too often sign of decadance, we "strain out a gnat and swallow a camel". Fasting is first of all giving to another what I haven't ate. For Christians at least it's first of all problem of human-human relations, not human to God. Because our God became human.
"Contemporary culture does not give proper weight to questions of meaning." - Bishop Murray of Limerick, quoted by Zenit.org, Nov. 7, 2007.
I began my way to God searching "sense of life." I guess, "meaning of life" is the same as "sense." When I found God, I thought He is the sense of life. Now I see that He is the Life and the source of my life. The sense of life is still absent, and this is fine. Question about sense of life is another form of the questioning "What was before God."
I enjoy limericks and I've wrote a few (in Russian.) But this speech of Limerick's bishop seems to me senseless and meaningless. The bishop didn't say what he really wanted to say. He wanted to say that "secularism" rejects the sense and meaning compulsory for all. Anyone is free to have his own vision of meaning, sense, values. Fundamentalism (anti-humanism) is very nervous with such situation. God isn't.
CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM VS. CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS
Very typical question:
"I have been styding the Koran and Hadiths and found very disturbing calls to violence against infidels ( Christians and Jews ). How do I treat Muslims? It clearly states that in Shaira law Christians either have to convert, pay the Jizya tax, or die. How can we live in peace with people that seem intent on our distruction?"
I'll suggest to make the problem in a more personal way. I know about a dozen of Muslims. May be they are bad Muslims, or non-typical Muslims, but they don't want to conquer Russia and they don't (I am sure) ever ask me to convert or die. So--there is no problem at all. When I'll be aquainted with other Muslims, I will think. But alive person is more important than written texts.
My ancestors lived under Muslims for centuries (XIV-XV). My father spend his youth in Kazahstan, Muslim country. His Russian compatriots made much more evil to him than Muslims!
I prefer to think about this problem from the position of a weak creation. Just like Lord Jesus Christ compared a man not with the healthy Samaritan, but with a dying Jew. I don't have strength to think about answer with sword. As a priest I am invalid for violence. Certainy, should I be asked to become Muslim or die, I die. THis is very simple choice.
LIFE WITHOUT FATHER
I was eleven or twelve when my mother-said,'You know, your father's alive, but he stays
at the hospital.'
I was thirteen when mother said that father was in prison. I don't remember what else she said,
but I don't think there were many details. Under the weight of the truth, my world collapsed. I came to understand
that everuthing except the family was made of lies. For me, a teenager in the 1970s, 'everything' stood for
the surrounding Soviet environment. Three years had passed since the punishment of Czechoslovakia, and three
more years were yet to pass until the punishment of Solzhenitsyn. My anti-Sovietism was ignorant at the moment
- only later it was nourished by facts. But for me the world in which my guiltless father was in prison was
a twisted one.
In August 1972, my mother took me to meet father for the first time. We were due only one visit
a year, but another one was almost always granted as a sort of bonus. (We also had the right to send him two
1.5 kilogram parcels each year and receive a monthly letter from the camp.)
My father was kept in a 'political' camp where the worst criminals in Bolshevik terms were collected.
It was camp 19 somewhere in Mordovia, a famous place now.
I'm impatient and excitable by nature, but there I learned to wait in the eastern manner - not
reading, contemplating or thinking, just waiting. We waited for the train to come and then for a hand car;
we waited for an officer to let us in; we waited to be searched. We waited without the faintest idea when
all these things would be done. And we were lucky - in all we waited only about 24 hours.
We stayed three days. I remember my father: a short stooping old man, who sat squatting and
smoking, speaking with a passion which later would keep burning in my heart and mind and demand that I start
bringing his ideas into life.
My father was born in 1908. He said that he remembered the Civil War in which his father, a
Bolshevik, actively participated. He asserted that once during Kolchaks occupation, the local Bolsheviks had
a clandestine meeting and he, a teenager, was put on guard, and eventually killed a man. He heard somebody
by the window, screamed, and lashed out with his bay-onet. The man fell on top of him, and for several mi-nutes
my father was trapped under the writhing corpse.
I desperately tried to separate fancy from truth in father's stories, and thus my professional
historical outlook was forged. I felt helpless in the face of not lies, but the vast energy with which a person
transforms not only the future, but also the past. Like an astrologer, a historian doesn't describe events
and facts, but rather tries to guess them. In a similar way I tried to guess my own father.
The functionaries of any government would have been unable to achieve harmony with my father.
He worked in theater, he was on a newspaper staff, he was a teacher, first of a secondary school and then
of a children's home. He was driven out of all these places -he was too honest and did not let people steal
and cheat. He was a truthseeker.
In 1937, he was nearly arrested as a Trotskyite, but he was warned by his grandfather's friends
and escaped to the Ukraine. But my father wasn't frightened to live in this country. He was a Soviet man,
more Soviet than anyone else. He was a devoted builder of communism. And those who proclaimed communism were
falsifiers. But my father was driven by a genuinely benevolent and reasonable idea - to improve man and his
He was called a romantic. In a certain sense he was a romantic indeed - a protagonist in a love
story. Throughout the war he served in an infantry division attached to a tank regiment. In May 1945, he was
removed from Koenigsberg to the eastern front. From the Stalingrad battle area he wrote a letter  Uchitelskaya
Gazeta (The Teacher s Gazette) addressing school teachers. Dozens of women teachers responded, including my
future mother. They married after the war. Their love survived when father's first wife with her child found
them. Their love survived when, in 1958, a year after my birth, my father was arrested on a false report.
The KGB charged him with the seduction of under-age children and staged a trial. Their love did not die through
the 18 years of father's imprisonment. And this love still keeps on after father died. It's not a romance,
it's true love.
However, father was considered a romantic for the reason that he tried to change the world not
for his own sake, but he wasn't a romantic in the literary sense, for the genuine romantics honor human spirit
and personality, nd my father was convenced that these qualities were determined by the environment.
The middle of the 20 centiry didn't fit him. He was in the idiotic situation of being alien
to everybody. He criticized Khrushchev and found himself in the adversary camp to Stalin's adversaries. His
role was that of a pawn. And the pawn was given up when opposition was defeated: high-ranking stalinists retired
and were appointed special pensions, while my father was arrested and sentenced to 15 years.
He actually served an 18-year term.'.He didn't calm down, and in 1961 was given three
more years. This time the trial was directly organized by the KGB, and father was accused of 'anti-Soviet
propaganda' (in the prison camp!), including the propaganda of the 'ideas of the writer Ilya Ehrenburg'. When
the sentence was announced, father said, 'Now that you can't do anything else to me...' And he poured forth
his views of the judge, the dictatorship and the then CPSU General Secretary. 'You're mistaken,' the interest
about my father and my spiritual director (the judge pronounced, 'one can always do something else.)
And my father was sent to a hard-labor camp which was to become that notorious 'political' camp.
He took part in its construction - he fixed concrete blocks and barbed wire under the supervision of guards.
He was released in 1976, a month before my wedding. It was a man out of whom the last ounce of effort had
been squeezed. But he never gave up. It was a miracle that he managed to live six more years.
I came to know all these facts about my father one by one. The truth didn't turn me into an
active dissident, but I've hated Bolshevism and the KGB since my first visit to the camp, since the search
during our parting,since the moment when the guard hid a pack of tea we brought for father and promised to
give it back to him 'in the zone' and father start crying because 'the man was afraid of doing good', as he
put it. I'm afraid of them, but I'm still ready to pull down all KGB buildings brick by brick. I don't dream
of avenging my father. I'm a coward and devoid of a revenge mentality. But through my fathers fate I feel
the satanic elements tearing apart this country and its people.
Before his release my father was taken to the KGBs Lefortovo prison in Moscow. They tried to
persuade him to make a speech for the West and disclose the mores of the anti-Soviet-minded prisoners. He
They didn't let him live in Moscow. A militiaman appeared amidst my wedding party and said that
father could not stay the night at my place.
We bought a house for him in a distant village - five hours away by commuter train. Father lived
there until his death. Once KGB officers paid him a visit - they came in a helicopter. Father once more refused
to work with them. He said he'd lost any interest in life and had no more strength.
It was only after his death that I learned from my elder brother that during all those years, father wrote.
These were memoirs writ-ten without fear of censorship. He stuffed sheets of paper into slits in the hen-house,
cellar and attic.
Father never mentioned these things. After 1974 we were not on speaking terms. I got christened,
and my father kept on as a die-hard and unselfish atheist, the last of the League of Militant Atheists. All
my attempts to discuss the subject with him ran up against his childish memory: A priest walking the streets
of a town freshly occupied by the White Guards prodding the dead Bolsheviks with his umbrella to see if they
were really dead, and if not, asking the soldiers to finish them off. Compared to him the KGB was unbiased
- they questioned me with equal interest about my father and my spiritual director (the late Father Alexander
'Who am I? What am I?' These questions, which I started asking myself in my youth, destroyed
my materialism. I consistently got rid of the 'heritage' of my parents and society: It did not belong to me.
Only God and spirit are mine.
In 1972 I first met my father, in 1974 we stopped speaking to each other. With every year I
detect in myself the traits I once repudiated as alien. Like my father I'm quick-tempered, uncompromising,
unresponsive, inclined to fantasies, hostile to formalities.
I'm ready to recognize all this as mine, if only I were not all by myself in this world, if only I were my
LIFE WITH FR. ALEXANDER MEN
Father Alexander Men (1935-1990) is a name that very quickly becomes
known to every Westerner who comes to Russia with some interest
in religion. The problem is that the name is now highly mythologized
on the basis of the specific Russian experience. Above all, the
myth of Men means different things and is differently evaluated
in different circles of Russian society.
The factual basis of the myth
The name itself is of German origin: the ancestors of Fr. Alexander
Men came to Russia in the 18th century from the West, together with
hundreds of thousands of their compatriots (ethnic Germans and Jews),
seeking wider lands and a better life. Their grandsons, as intelligentsia,
together with descendants of Russian clergy and Russian peasants,
created the Kafkaesque world of the USSR.
Wolf Men, Fr. Alexander's father, was an average representative
of the Soviet intelligentsia - which after 1917 took the place
of the pre-Revolutionary intellectuals. He was an honest-working
engineer but produced very low results due to the idiocy of the
Communist system. He found rest in moderate pleasures; spiritual
starvation was satisfied by reading 19th century Russian and Western
Helena Men - Fr. Alexander's mother - also a Jew by origin and
an unbeliever from the cradle (as most of the Soviet people) -
was the first whose hunger towards the Spirit went beyond the
limits of available culture to the heart of true religion. In
1935 she and her new-born son Alexander were baptized by Fr. Seraphim
Batyukov. Batyukov spent his life in clandestine conditions in
order to preclude collaboration with Bolshevistic authorities;
he lived in an isolated room, going out for fresh air only at
night. Due to the honesty and cleverness of his spiritual children
he managed to escape the GPU (security police) for many years.
Priests such as Fr. Batyukov comprised a "catacomb church" -
a church outside the law, whose bishops were in prisons and concentration
camps. The untitled head of this movement was Bishop Andrey Saharoff:
20 years in prison with rare letters to the flock.
In 1941 Russia entered World War II. Stalin stopped the persecution
of religion in order to counterbalance the policies of the Nazis,
which were favorable to the Russian Church in occupied territories.
In 1943 Stalin allowed the Church to elect a patriarch (after
18 years of living without a head) - then Bishop Andrey decided
to reunite with the "registered" Church. To him political misunderstandings
were less important than canonical discipline. Due to this the
childhood of Alexander Men was spent in the atmosphere of a regular
church life connected with a genuine spiritual tradition. Political
opposition to the Empire of Evil was subordinate to positive spiritual
life and therefore practically unmentioned.
Men from his childhood was as blessed a soul as Joseph the patriarch
or many mediaeval saints: he had the inborn gifts of attracting
people, and of common sense, healthy mindedness, and spiritual
balance. All these natural qualities were preserved to the last
days of his life by his constantly deepening faith in Christ the
From childhood Men wanted to be a priest but first he decided
to get a secular education. He was greatly fond of biology and
studied it in an institute; but he was expelled before graduating
exams when it was discovered that he took part in the Divine Service
as a minister. Meanwhile, Men's Jewish origin and intellectual
level were quite uncommon and could serve as obstacles to his
desire to become a priest. But these were overcome by the new
wave of persecution that was organized against the Church by Khrushchev.
In a state of constant risk of being exterminated, Church authorities
became more tolerant to such "extravagances" as unusual blood
and mind. In 1958 Men was ordained a deacon, and in 1960 a priest.
His friends Gleb Yakunin (whom Men had helped to come to Christ)
and Dmitrii Dudko were ordained in 1970s -- both became famous
The pastoral work of Fr. Alexander (in different churches of
Moscow region, from 1968 - in the temple of Novaya Derevnya near
Pushkino) did not cause such a loud echo in the West as the political
struggle of Yakunin and Dudko. Men preached orally and in a written
form: he created more than ten books, beginning with a biography
of Jesus, a six-volume history of mankind before Christ, and a
book on church rites. They were addressed to unbelievers and struggled
first of all against the atheistic myths of Soviet propaganda.
In contrast to some Western editions of his books, in Russian
they are written with a nice Russian language, with a profound
knowledge of the psychology of the "Soviet" human type and its
main superstitions. He had also written a multi-volume dictionary
on the Bible (still unpublished) and organized translations of
a great amount of Catholic and Protestant books and their circulation
in samizdat (clandestine publishing).
From his ordination to his death Fr. Alexander had a clear idea
of his aim, hierarchy of values and methods. Foremost was the
creation of a parish, of a flock, of a church society. That's
why he preferred not to risk political activities: he created
human persons while others struggled for human rights. He didn't
publicly criticize church authorities for their policy of compromise,
suggesting that it was of no practical purpose: church authorities
couldn't do anything if there were no active church people, whom
he tried to establish. The head is weak without a body.
In order to create such a body of church people Fr. Alexander
took from the West a tradition of catechizing (previously absent
in Russia) and of Bible-reading-and-praying seminars. He recommended
reading the books of great Russian Christian thinkers - Solovyov,
Berdiaev, Bulgakov - the last step of cultural tradition broken
in 1917. His parishioners actively reprinted both Russian and
Western theological literature by clandestine methods. Less fruitful
were the efforts of Fr. Alexander to make a parish active in charitable
deeds. For many years this field of life was prevented by official
government policy towards Christians. After the reforms began
in 1985, Protestant denominations were always ahead, perhaps due
to a less percentage of people of intellectual, contemplative
professions in their ranks.
Beginning in 1988 Fr. Alexander had the opportunity to preach
to large masses of people - as much as any other person speaking
on religious matters in a country long spiritually-starved. The
difference between Fr. Alexander and other preachers was that
people came to hear him a second time! He was not dull, he was
distinctively "Russian" - more in line with tradition than foreign
preachers, and even Russian ones - in a sense that he represented
not only old Russian and church tradition, but he was of the flesh
and blood of modern Russian life. Fr. Alexander knew better than
other Russian Orthodox priests the spiritual needs of his compatriots,
especially of Moscow intellectuals and their specific ways of
communicating and understanding. His audience consisted mostly
of teachers, engineers, and students. He not only "converted"
many to Christ but helped them to begin a full-scale life in the
The word "help" is of a great importance. There are a few active
priests in Russia and in Moscow particularly who are similar to
Fr. Men in their energy (although his was the greatest) but different
in pastoral style. They prefer to have strict and constant control
of the spiritual life of believers, leading them by the hand to
the eve of the tomb. Many people enjoy this sort of church slavery:
seeking not spiritual guidance to Christ but a kind of spiritual
slavery to a priest. Moslems leave their boots upon entering a
mosque - Christians often tend to leave their will and brains
upon entering the Church. This all-human tendency is a special
temptation in Russia, with its long tradition of ideological dictatorship.
The method of Fr. Men was to help a person to find freedom in
Christ and to teach him to stand on his own feet. It's a pity
that it is possible to check whether he was of any success.
On Saturday, September 8, 1990 Fr. Alexander went to Moscow after
the Divine Service and read a lecture entitled "Christianity."
More than 600 people gathered in a so-called "club" in the center
of Moscow to listen to him. This lecture was the last in a series
on the history of religions that Fr. Alexander read in the spring
of 1990. Besides lecturing himself, some of his parishioners assisted
him by lecturing on religious philosophy, church history, etc.
The next morning, as on every Sunday, Fr. Alexander departed his
house at 6:30 for the temple. Somebody was waiting for him on
the wooded path. Fr. Alexander was killed by a blow of an ax to
His death became a political event. Practically everybody was
sure it was a deed of the KGB and compared this murder with that
of the Polish Catholic priest Jerzy Popeliushko. Some suggested
that Fr. Alexander was killed not by the officers of the KGB themselves
but by some pro-fascist people whom the Communists had inspired
and supported for a time. The killers have never been found, but
significantly the KGB declared that most probably Fr. Alexander
was killed by his opponents within the Church - monks with anti-Semitic
views. Later it was declared that the murder was committed by
some relative or parishioner, yet no concrete persons were accused.
Thus, by any possible means the organs of the Bolshevistic state
wanted to incriminate the Church.
After the death of Fr. Alexander some of his parishioners left
Russia under the pretext that they could not live in such an evil
country. During the 1990s most priests who called themselves friends
of Fr. Men experienced pressure from the leadership of the Moscow
Patriarchy, and now only Fr. Borisov (Church of SS. Cosma and
Damian in the center of Moscow) continues to support the Foundation
of Men. Still, many former parishioners of Men actively preach
* Nadezhda Dmitrieva is the head of a radio program.
* Vladimir Erokhin is the head of the society "Laterna Magica."
* Andrey Zorin is the poet and author of memoirs about Men.
* Vladimir Ilushenko is the head of the society for Christian enlightenment.
* Zoya Maslennikova is the author of several books on Christianity
and of the best biography of Fr. Men.
* Andrey Suzdaltsev is a radio journalist
* Yury Tabak, Evgenoy Rashkovskiy, and Valentina Kuznetsova work
as Bible interpreters and researchers.
* Vladimir Eryomin, Vladimir Lichachev, Andrey Chernyak, et al.
continue preaching in "small groups," modeled by Men after Bible-study
groups of the West.
There are several organizations that pretend to be founded by
Fr. Alexander or to continue his "deed." Some of these (like Alexey
Bodrov's Bible Institute) don't have anything in common with Men
and only use his name as a sort of advertisement. In my opinion,
all these organizations are less effective in Russian conditions
than in the West. Often they work not so much for the mission
as for the well-being of the staff. For Westerners it is practically
impossible to control the real range of activity of Russian organizations.
Western sympathizers must be aware of the possibility of counterfeits.
The books of Fr. Alexander continue to be published, in Russian
and in other languages. The most prominent of these - "The Son
of a Man" has been published in more than 500,000 copies. First
published in 1968, it was for many Russian readers their first
introduction to Jesus Christ.
The meaning of the facts
There are two circles of people (each comprising several thousands)
who know the details of Fr. Alexander's biography and have studied
his books closely - but have opposite opinions of him.
First is the circle of his former parishioners and friends. For
them Fr. Alexander is the symbol of a free-minded, ecumenically
open, intellectual Russian Orthodoxy, where intellectuals can
find a proper place for their creative abilities.
The opposite circle consists of conservative Russian Orthodox
priests and laymen. For them Men is the symbol of the Jewish (sometimes
Judaistic, or Judaistic-Masonic) efforts to destroy Russian Orthodoxy
from the inside - with the help of Biblical criticism. There are
some inside this circle who once belonged to the intelligentsia,
but who think that conversion to Christianity means departure
from their intellectual past and subservience to rigid Church
discipline. This circle tends to equate religion with worship
and the prohibition of any free thought. Many representatives
of this Russian Orthodox version of fundamentalism are very influential
on their parishioners and neophytes, but they are practically
unknown to the broad public outside the Church. This circle often
lies about the views of Fr. Alexander Men, depicting him as a
destroyer of Russian Orthodox tradition. But even without a lie
the incompatibility of Men with fundamentalism is obvious. Not
unobvious in Russia is the incompatibility of fundamentalism with
For those who read his books Fr. Alexander Men means the same
as C.S. Lewis for the Americans: a brilliant apologist who managed
to explain the truth of Christianity in living, simple, and clear
language. His apologetics countered the average intellectual baggage
of prejudices leveled against Christianity. It is not by chance
that the translations of Lewis in Russia were made by a parishioner
of Fr. Alexander, Natalya Trauberg, because of his initiative.
Men is even more successful than Lewis in Russia, because Men's
style is oriented towards the Russian audience with its specific
tastes and habits.
The real meaning of Fr. Alexander is his symbolical position
in the mass media. Many of his parishioners, acquaintances, and
readers still work as journalists. When they need to name someone
as an exemplar of "good Christianity," they name Men. Who else?
Yakunin is too politicized a figure and he is still alive; so
he is not as good for a myth. The majority of the intelligentsia
is peacefully minded, and Men carries quite a peaceful name: he
didn't struggle with the Patriarchy and didn't collaborate with
the KGB either. So his name symbolizes for the audience of mass
media (including those who had never read Fr. Alexander's books,
hadn't heard his sermons, and didn't know anything about the different
trends in Christianity) the non-aggressive, non-politicized, non-silly,
non-ghetto, non-fundamentalist Russian Orthodoxy.
WHO KILLED FR. MEN'?
Fr Alexander Men' was killed on September 9, 1990. By then he had
rare symbol of creative and positive thought in Russian Orthodoxy.
tenth anniversary of his death in 2000, the police declared that
investigation of Fr Men's murder was officially closed--unsolved.
Yeltsin and all ministers of home affairs had given assurance these
years that the murderer(s) would be found. This is but one more
as to what the word of the Communist is worth.
The investigation was ideologized from the very first. I was interrogated three
times--the last time in 1999. In 1992 I managed to persuade the investigators
(there have been three of them, two from the police and one from the KGB; they
came to my house) that it would be more suitable for me to type my testimony
on my personal computer (PC) than to write it by hand. The investigators agreed.
In this way I've kept not only my answers but also their questionnaire (complete
text of the document in Russian is available on my site)
Police investigators never found the axe (or any other device)
used to make the deadly blow upon Fr Men'. And they did not even
briefcase he was carrying. The investigators confiscated several
houses of suspected persons (mostly neighbors of the priest)--but
even this evidence. They also stated that substantial losses of
documentation took place during the relocation of the police office
building in the mid-1990s.
Two people were officially accused by investigators--one immediately
the murder and one in the mid-1990s. The first was an alcoholic
Fr Men', the second a person of a neighboring village who was known
impulsive character. The court rejected the allegations against
The main theory of the investigators was that Fr Men' was killed
because he had baptized many Jews. Their other idea was that Fr
killed by the Russian Orthodox because he with Fr John Meyendorff
wanted to create in Russia a clandestine community of Russian Orthodox
modernists, who would be within the jurisdiction the Orthodox Church
America (OCA). The investigators put forward several more ludicrous
Sometimes I remind myself and other people that Fr Men' could have
killed by some mentally ill person, or just by chance. Being a priest
risky profession, and being a good priest is especially risky. I
not because of his death but because of his life. Still, I am sure
such a case, the murder could have been easily solved.
From the beginning most people in Russia were convinced that Fr.
killed by the KGB. (This belief is still held by the general public
There are multiple considerations supporting this view. In September
Russia was still under the rigid control of the KGB. In order to
public suspicion from itself, the KGB could have found the murderer--if
was some private person--with ease.
In addition, the KGB could have made known to the investigators
the history of it's surveillance of Fr Men'. The KGB first searched
Fr Men' in 1965 looking for Solzhenitsyn's manuscripts. During 1975-1988
Fr Men' was interrogated by the KGB very often. Fr Men' knew that
there were KGB informers among his parishioners. Instead, the KGB
declared that all materials concerning it's shadowing of Fr Men'
had been destroyed. Even Bakatin, the most "liberal" head
of the KGB denied in 1991 that the KGB could help the investigation.
The guilt of the KGB can be verified by more indirect evidence.
after the death of Fr. Men' two more Russian Orthodox priests were
among them the secretary of Metropolitan Yuvenaliy (Juvenal), Fr
bishop. This secretary--Lazar' Solnyshko--had the reputation of
homosexual. Another priest was killed in Moscow. A former parishioner
Men's church, Andrey Bessmertniy, who is now in the USA, has theorized
these additional murders were also organized by the KGB in order
death of Fr Men' appear to be one in a series of dubious criminal
The KGB through several journalists even spread the theory that
a homosexual killed by his lover--or that he possessed some family
and was robbed.
I think the KGB also promoted the additional theory that an
nationalist killed Fr. Men - simply because Fr Men' was Jewish.
mentioned one reason why this "theory" is improbable:
in 1990 the KGB
powerful enough to find any murderer except one of its own. But
reason is more interesting.
Russian nationalism is a state-oriented nationalism: thinking that
the State has a monopoly on using weapons. Russian nationalism doesn't
include private initiative in the extermination of enemies. (Praise
be to God!) For instance, there have been several Jewish pogroms
in 1990s (the last in January 2001 in Ryazan') but no one has been
killed, only beaten. Russian Nazi's are very cautious. I suppose
this is because in Russia the State has always exerted strong control
over private life.
Still, I think that the KGB provoked some nationalists to write
Fr. Men' some letters in order to frighten him (or it is possible
they did this of their own will.) Many people verify that during
the last weeks of Fr Men's life he mentioned his possible death
very often. For example, when my wife visited him on August 28,
1990--in Russia the feast of Assumption of Mother of God--he mildly
rebuked her for being absent for a long time and said: "Next
time you'll come to my funeral."
Why did the KGB kill Fr. Alexander Men'? The murder of Fr Men'
has often been compared to the murder of Fr Ezhy Popelyushko in
Poland in 1984--in which the guilt of the secret police was demonstrated.
Sometimes the motivation for a crime proves unfounded. Fr Men's
murderers thought that by killing a politically active* and very popular priest they could prevent the downfall of Communism.
The KGB was mistaken: Communism was destroyed anyway. I think that
someone in the KGB was so deep in the power of dark fantasies and
"calculations" that he decided to murder Fr. Men'. I think
it is only proper to repeat "Lord, forgive them for they do
not know what they do."
* Not that Fr. Men' participated in the dissident
movement (for which he received criticism from some dissidents;
still, most engaged in this movement Fr Gleb Yakunin never rebuked
Fr Menn' and think him to be the saint), but that Fr.Men' in his
private conversation, in the very style and atmosphere of his behavior
expressed his rejection of Bolshevism and of any authoritarianism,
both in political and ecclesiastical spheres. In Russia to make
known such a position is "political activity."
Great thanks to Alan Carmack for editing!
MEN' IS A VICTIM OF IDOLATRY
Father Alexander Men' became a victim of idolatry. First, in Russia, second, in the West. His name became a ñommodity, just like Russian vodka, or matrioshka, or balalaika. Big box with small content. It is written on the box: "Russian Church consists not only from antisemitism and nationalism, there are heroes, broad-minded open priests, genuine Christianity." There is a set of people who sell such image of Men' and Russia to Westerners. The truth is that "followers of Men'" lack some essential features of Men'. He was oriented first towards compatriots, second towards Westerners. They oriented first towards Westerners, second towards compatriots. Men' was interested in politics, science, art, "modern civilization." They are reduce life to "kerigma," they create a typical parochial Christianity. Men' was not a coward, he was an open non-conformist, They pretend to rise higher than politics and become simply conformists, deaf to any unjustice, corruption and suffering. Men' was definitely liberal theologian, they reduced Christianity to a non-intellectual boyscout summer camp, one of the pillars of modern Christian fundamentalism.
EVERYBODY IS MURDERING THEIR OWN WAY
Obshchaia gazeta, 10 September 1998
Translated by Paul Stevens
The murder of Father Alexander Men is the
premier monstrous unsolved murder of the nineties. Every summer
there is a wave of publications trying to represent the murder as
purely by chance, ordinary. All these publications have a number
of traits in common: they are anonymous, aggressive, and unattributed.
In 1998 those "to whom it may concern" were especially distinctive.
Komsomolskaia pravda printed an interview with a "superinvestigator
who had solved more than 600 especially dangerous crimes" (KP, 22
July 1998). He arrogantly claimed that Fr Men was killed by a chance
drunk who was under the influence.
This fabrication is refuted by a simple reference to known facts
regarding the murder of Alexander Men. It is possible to kill a
passerby while under the influence, but it is impossible afterward
to hide the murder weapon and the briefcase of the victim, which
have not been found in eight years. The fabrication also contains
a direct slander: that a lawyer received an automobile from the
accused because he knowingly defended a guilty person. But try to
take it to court and the reporter, the author of the article, declares
that she was simply relaying "information."
Murderers that cover their tracks try to deflect suspicion from
themselves, showing that they deserve sympathy rather than condemnation.
And they fear with all their might that they must give account;
that the evidence is "incomplete" or that all possible witnesses
have not been "found." Men was their enemy: they were communists
and he a Christian.
But even Fr Alexander's brethren in faith have tried to murder
him in their own way. Here is what was said in the Radonezh newspaper
by that warrior against "misled" believers, Alexander
Dvorkin, who is dependent upon the Moscow patriarchate and who
has tried to represent Alexander Men as not only physically but
also spiritually dead: "Father Alexander Men was a splendid orator
and a broadly erudite man, but he was not a theologian in the strict
sense of the word. Thus he made many mistakes. . . . But even if
one considers his mistakes extremely seriously, still the burning
of his books was at least an irrational act; at the present moment
they are hopelessly outdated and seldom read." (A. Dvorkin, "'Auto-da-fe,'
Kochekovites have occasion to rub their hands," Radonezh, 26 June
1998) If Men's books are outdated, then why are they being published
and read far more vigorously than the works of the new inquisitor?
However, even though he works for the patriarchate, Dvorkin is
not a man of the cloth. Here's the work of one who is: in May 1998
Bishop Nikon of Ekaterinburg ordered four of Men's books burned.
And they were burned. This was a ritual murder, committed by a member
of the hierarchy. From ancient times people have burned what they
hoped to send to oblivion.
Patriarch Alexis has declared that Bishop Nikon did not burn any
books, but only extra journals were burned. It is not the first
time that the patriarch has used his authority to protect bishops.
The patriarch did not travel to Ekaterinburg while the bonfire was
blazing. He simply repeated the words of others. But while one could
dispute an "ordinary" bishop, nobody would dare object to the patriarchate.
So when the patriarch defends sinners by an excess of mercy, perhaps
it is better to keep silent. But in defending Bishop Nikon, the
patriarch has contributed to the ritual murder of Fr Alexander Men
by declaring: "In his theological audacity Fr Alexander sometimes
expressed judgments which cannot, apart from careful study, be considered
as fully shared by the whole plenitude of the church." (Vestnik
of the Russian Christian movement, 177, p. 287)
These very words were written by the patriarch in a letter that
was read over the grave of Fr Alexander on the day of his funeral,
11 September 1990. Even then these words were blatant; when ever
have such qualifications been made in obituaries?
The statement which was inappropriate for the funeral is simply
indecent after eight years. In those eight years it has been possible
to conduct "careful study." It is clear why it has not been conducted;
there is nothing to examine in Men's books because there simply
are no theological errors in them. This is not surprising since
Men did not write theological treatises but sermons. What is surprising
is something else. The patriarch's statements ought to have finally
discredited Christianity, because in Russia it has been identified
with the Moscow patriarchate. If the head of any institution continues
to call white black, and to cover up the filth and evil of its subordinates,
he discredits both himself and the institution. Of course, in the
eyes of many the church has been discredited, but not by commerce
in tobacco and not by persecuting its best sons. This can be forgiven
easily and quickly forgotten because all this affects others and
The debate with Christianity proceeds on a broader scale. Father
Alexander wanted just such a debate and so he conducted it. And
what kind of patriarchate or matriarchate we have has little to
do with humanity and truth, which offends the church hierarchy.
It doesn't matter if a waiter challenges you to a duel. Go to another
restaurant or try to make restaurant food at home, which is even
more reasonable than refusing to eat at all, until the waiters become
better behaved in the American fashion. (tr. by Paul Stevens).
Will in Eastern and Western spirituality
Eastern and Western liturgucal traditions have much in common.
Actually, common is so large (both traditions are very conservative
and keep their common core, formed in the late antiquity) that
it is very interesting to find out slight differences.
For example, for Russian Orthodox Christian it is strange to
hear about "dedication" of Liturgy to some saint or
some personal need. Actually, in the rite of the Russian Liturgy
there are numerous words pointing to such "dedication".
"Logikon latreya", "oral adoration" during
the Litrugy is dedicated to all saints, the Our Lady etc. Betrothal
and Wedding are done immideatly after the Liturgy. There are special
hymns, prayers and Gospel text for the prayers about the dead
(not all liturgies have such commemoration.)
Still, it is not by chance that while in the West this tradition
received broad development, and people can think about "funeral
mass" or "wedding mass," in the East, can "dedicate"
the mass to this or that saint "specially", it is absolutely
alien to modern Russian Orthodox. I don't dare to say about Eastern
Orthodoxy in general, but strongly suspect that the situation
is the same as in Russia.
It is not by chance that wedding or baptism separated from the
Litrugy in the East. I can only share personal experience, according
to which the difference lies in the perseption of human will.
For me my will and my emotions must be suppressed during the Litrugy,
or better to say they must be concentrated on the Eucharist as
such. All other needs and ideas must be peripheral.
I think this can explain why in Eastern Litrugy there are such
a long prayers about personal needs ("great ektenia".)
They are long, but they are very automatic, they don't change
according to the personal needs of people, they are always the
same (or nearly the same.) So litrugies cannot be sorted according
to our personal devotions. Personal needs are expressed after
the liturgy, although this is strongly uncanonical. In every Russian
Orthodox Church after the liturgy special funeral, commemorative
rites are held, and special and long rites with sanctification
of water. You cannot order the liturgy, but You can pay and order
such personal rite when you and the priest will pray according
to Your personal wish and will.