This, with thanks to Fr Michael Plekon is the chapter on Fr Men from his study of central Orthodox spiritual figures of the last century “Living Icons”.
Fire and Freedom
Christ calls people to bring the divine ideal to reality. Only shortsighted people imagine that Christianity has already happened, that it took place, say, in the thirteenth century, or the fourth, or some other time. I would say that it has only made the first hesitant steps in the history of the human race. Many words of Christ are incomprehensible to us even now, because we are still Neanderthals in spirit and morals; because the arrow of the Gospels is aimed at eternity; because the history of Christianity is only beginning. What has happened already, what we now call the history of Christianity, are the first half-clumsy, unsuccessful attempts to make it a reality…
Not all of the connections among the figures profiled here are direct ones. In some cases, such as the relationship of Fr. Alexander Men to others, it was one of reading, and then citation and most importantly alignment with their perspectives. On May 5, 1998, according to local newspaper and television reporting, the burning of books written by a number of significant contemporary Orthodox theologians took place with the approval and quite possibly in the presence of Bishop Nikon of Ekaterinburg, (now resigned at the urging of the Russian synod of bishops). The books were burned, their reading by seminary students, clergy and laity banned and a recently ordained priest, Fr. Oleg Vokhmianin, was suspended from priestly duties (an action since reversed, it appears, through direct intervention of Patriarch Alexis of Moscow, primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.) The books were committed to the flames because, though written by the Orthodox priest-theologians Nicolas Afanasiev, Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff and Alexander Men, they were felt to contain “Western contaminated” ideas, even “heresy.” A friend and follower of Fr. Men, Fr. George Kochtekov, formerly rector of Sts. Cosmas and Damian parish in Moscow and a leader in liturgical and catechetical renewal, was suspended on baseless charges and only reinstated, though not in a parish, in spring of 2000.
Since these are figures of some repute, the outcry and protest was considerable. There were letters to the Patriarch of Moscow from Fr. Schmemann’s widow and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist son, Serge, letters from Metropolitan Theodosius, primate of the Orthodox Church in America and from other concerned clergy and laity here and abroad. An extremely critical assessment of the situation appeared in Le Monde on June 10 by the eminent French Orthodox lay theologian, Olivier Clément, “Difficulties and indispositions of the Russian Church.” Likewise, Professor Nicholas Lossky of the University of Paris and son of theologian Vladimir Lossky, expressed sharp reaction in the summer number of Service Orthodoxe du Presse (SOP). Lossky himself was the target of harassment and charges of heresy from an audience of monastics and clergy while lecturing at Moscow Theological Academy in February along with Dr. Konrad Raiser, secretary and other officials of the World Council of Churches.
It is becoming clear that internationally, across the Orthodox churches and not solely in Russia, there is a growing conflict between two perspectives and those who adhere to these. Although some decry the use of such descriptions, it is not inaccurate to call the first of these perspectives, as several in France have, integristes, traditionalists who oppose any development in liturgy or theology as “innovation,” and who are against participation in ecumenical activity, particularly membership in the World Council of Churches. It is not clear what the other perspective should be labeled. Their opponents call them “liberals,” “innovators,” “Western-contaminated,” “Protestants,” “ecumenists,” and generally “heretics.” These are Orthodox clergy and laity convinced of the enormous freedom within the Great Tradition of the Church, the scriptures, Fathers, councils, the liturgical services and the whole heritage of the faith in various places and times. These Orthodox are open to, even fraternally disposed to other Christian confessions, committed to the goal of healing the schisms which divide Christianity. They point back to the undivided Church of the first millennium, and to the great litany’s petition for the “union of all,” and to even more recent actions such as the embrace of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I and the mutual lifting of anathemas as signs that then and now that Christ and the Holy Spirit are “present everywhere, filling all things,” as the liturgical prayer to the Spirit and the New Testament say. In a recent book, lay theologian Olivier Clément admits that this cleavage is characteristic of many places, not only Russia. He also recognizes that these characterizations do not fully capture the complexity, either of the circumstances or the experiences of the Orthodox Christians in these locations. That believers often manifest extremes of both inclusivity and exclusivity is not so rare. Tendencies toward rigid conformity to tradition are often met with more moderate leanings toward adaptation and openness.
As we saw, Fr. John Meyendorff confronted this very issue throughout his life and in his writing. Consistently he argued that authentic tradition is living, always changing, while in its truth, remaining the same. Fr. Alexander Men himself understood this tension, especially in the history of his own Russian Church, reflecting upon them through the figures of the monks Ferapont and Zossima from Dostoievski’s The Brothers Karamazov. Both tendencies are present, and Fr. Men goes so far as to say, are necessary checks or better, complements to each other. In many ways, this tension exists as a backdrop to virtually every one of the “living icons,” the persons of faith we are examining here.
Fr. Alexander Men, still dismissed today, a decade after his death, as too ecumenical, too liberal, not traditionally Orthodox enough, was in fact, very much devoted to the tradition of the Church, the scriptures especially, the liturgy and the Eucharist in particular, but equally to the many smaller details of churchly piety. The primer he prepared on prayer and worship describes and explain the details of Orthodox liturgical practice, how to prepare for communion, how to observe Lent, how to follow a daily discipline of prayer, among many other things. Always the teacher, he explains the meaning and points out where a particular observance has been obscured or even undone in historical practice, as well as where and how it could be restored and renewed. The frequent reception of communion, the opening of the royal doors and praying aloud of various parts of the liturgy aloud would be examples of these. However, in his deep love for the tradition of the Church, Fr. Alexander, much like his conferees in this book, is driven by an equal love for the people who enact this tradition and make it living, also for those who have yet to discover it. From faithfulness to Christianity comes a rich and fearless openness to the the diversity of Christian churches, to other communities of faith and to the culture of our complex modern world. Fr. Men very much embodies the renewed and creative spirituality of the Eastern Church we have also traced in the other “living icons,” the persons of faith profiled here. In his life and teaching and ministry we will encounter a radical but faithful openness of Christ to the world. In him we see yet another example of holiness in our time, a living out of the Gospel in very difficult circumstances in Soviet Russia. Tragically, we will also see the conflict among Christians of the East colliding, perhaps even eventuating in his death. Yet we will also come to recognize that Fr. Men’s legacy is not only for those in the Church of the East but is one for all Christians.
A Modern Martyr
Frs. Afanasiev, Schmemann and Meyendorff were condemned, one might say, in absentia, after their deaths. The same was also true for one more author, whose books were committed to the flames in the courtyard of the Ekaterinburg seminary. He was a priest and educator who through reading the books of the other three had himself not only been educated but spurred on to the renewal of the life of the Church in his country, Russia. For the last of those whose books were burned however, the least known here in the West, condemnation took a more decisive form, the witness or martyria of death. In commenting on his roots in the faith and the Church in a letter once, Fr. Alexander Men was able to pinpoint his sources:
Fr. Seraphim (Batiukov) was a disciple of the startsy (elders) of Optina… He baptized my mother and me, and for many years undertook the spiritual direction of the whole family… my mother, who is now dead… had a great deal to do with determining my spiritual life and orientation. She lived an ascetic and prayerful life, completely free of hypocrisy, bigotry, and narrowness; traits often present in people in her state. She was always filled with paschal joy, a deep dedication to the will of God, and a feeling of closeness to the spiritual world, in a certain way, like St. Seraphim or St. Francis of Assisi…She had a trait similar to the character of the startsy of Optina, a trait so dear to them: openness to people, to their problems, and to their searching; openness to the world. It is precisely this quality that drew the best representatives of Russian culture to Optina. After a long rupture, Optina did in fact renew the dialogue between the Church and society. It was an undertaking of great, exceptional importance, despite the lack of confidence and opposition of the authorities… This idea of dialogue with the world has stuck with me all my life; it should never be interrupted. I have always felt I should participate in that conversation with whatever meager force I have.
Alexander Men was born in the midst of the Stalinist era, on January 22, 1935, in Moscow. His mother was from Kharkov, Elena Semenovna Zupersein, was a Jew. She married Vladimir Grigorevich Men, an engineer and also Jewish, in 1934, and they had two sons, Alexander and Pavel, born in 1938. Through her sister, Vera Yakovlevna Vasilevskaya, Elena came to know the underground or “catacomb” church, networks of clergy and laity who went underground not only because of the systematic persecution by the Bolshevik regime, but also because they refused to recognize the authority of the bishop who presided over the Russian Church since the death of Patriarch Tikhon in 1925, Metropolitan Sergius Stragodorsky. When several diocesan bishops broke with him, after his public declaration of loyalty to the Bolshevik government, the underground movement, which consisted of worshipping communities, clergy and even groupd of secret monastics, began to form. It would not be until Sergius’ death in 1945 and the election of Patriarch Alexis I, accepted as legitimate by them, that the underground church would surface and at the insistence of several of its bishops and many of its priest, would assimilate into the still embattled but public Church.
Especially important in the underground communties were gifted spiritual fathers such as Fr. Seraphim Batiukov, mentioned in the quote just above. He had been pastor of one of the most active parishes in Moscow before the Revolution, that of Sts Kir and John, a gathering place for many young intellectuals who had returned to Christian faith and life. Himself a disciple and spiritual child of one of the last great elder or startsi of the Optina monastery, the monk now canonized Nektary. Fr. Batiukov was a gifted confessor and counselor and he became the center of a catacomb web of monastics and laity, among whom was Vera, the aunt of Alexander Men, who had gotten to know him through a colleague. However, it was Elena Men and her firstborn “Alik,” who were first baptized by Fr. Seraphim in September of 1935, and Vera herself a bit later. Fr. Seraphim lived in a small house in Zagorsk, not far from the famous Holy Trinity-St. Sergius monastery founded by the great Russian saint of the same name in the 13th century. Several nuns of the monastery founded by St. Seraphim of Sarov himself, Diveyevo, lived with Fr. Batiukov and after his death Mother Maria would lead the community on a regular basis.
It was the spirit of the elders of Optino and of the priests of Moscow parishes like that of Fr. Batiukov and the famous Maroseika Street St. Nicholas parish, with the father and son priests Sergius and Alexis Metchev, that became the atmosphere in which Alexander Men grew up. In the same letter quoted above he cites the lack of hatred for others in the faith, something rare in those days, and a radical openness and compassion to people, to the world, that characterized their spirituality. The fathers of the monastery there at Optino in the 19th century, had made it a home for troubled and inquiring souls, in particular the intellectuals and professionals struggling to regain faith and to put Christ and the Gospel into contact with modern life. Dostoevski was but one of the notables who went to Optino for counsel and prayer.
Alexander lived with his family in a cramped Moscow apartment, excelled in his schoolwork and read voraciously at home. Encouraged in his own study by Mother Maria of Zagork, former catacomb priest Boris Vasilev, and by lay theologians Nicolas Pestov and Analoy Vedernikov, director of the reopened theological school at the Trinity-Sergoius monastery, he read widely, not only in the scriptures, Fathers, and Orthodox writers but in Western Christianity as well. He began a life-long attachment to the figures of the “Russian religious renaissance” of the 20th century as well as their 19th century predecessors such as Khomiakov, Soloviev, Bukharev and Fedorov. Barred from university studies because of his Jewish background, in the mid 1950s he took an alternative path in biological science at the Fur Institute, first in Moscow and then after its relocation in Irkutsk. There he became active in the cathedral parish in a number of capacities, involvment which later cost him his final exams and graduation from the institiute. He and Natalya Grigorenko had married in 1956, and upon leaving the institute his spiritual father, Fr. Nicolas Golubtsov and Professor Vedernikov convinced one of the vicar bishops of the Moscow diocese, Makary, to ordain Alexander a deacon. This was on Pentecost, June 1, 1958 and he was attached to a parish in Odintsovo. He served there for two years in great poverty and with a most difficult rector. On September 1, 1960 he was ordained priest by Bishop Stepan, another vicar in the Moscow diocese and assigned as assistant at the parish in Alabino. For a few years there he began a kind of ministry which would come into full bloom only years later, toward the end of his life, at Novaya Derevnia parish. He would not only restore the iconostasis and wall paintings, but begin to preach and teach the faith at every possible opportunity. He ingeniously asked the renewal of the then necessary permit to hold a funeral service for a civil servant over 200 times, thus preaching at many cemetary memorial service on anniversaries of deaths as well as services in peoples’ homes. He preached at every service in church, every celebration of a sacrament and of course the Sunday Liturgy. He used some space in an attached church building to have regular hours for visiting by any who wished to talk. The parish had a car, a rare thing at the time, and he was able himself to visit parishoners unable to come to church. In short, he revived a form of pastoral ministry that had flourished before the revolution in such places as the Moscow parishes and Optino monastery earlier mentioned, a ministry of openness to all and of teaching.
At Alabino, nicknamed “the abbey,” Fr. Alexander’s efforts resulted in the parish becoming a locus of renewed faith, not only among parishioners but also those who came from other places to listen, ask questions, learn.There Fr. Men had his first encounters with the Soviet regime, his home and library searched for allegedly stolen books from abroad, himself interrogated for suspicious activities, namely all the preaching and teaching so unusual for a priest of that era. Also during this time Fr.Men became part of a group of clergy who not only gathered for regular collegial conversation but who eventually became notorious for their efforts at protest in renewal in the then still harassed and subservient Moscow Patriarchate. There was Fr. Dmitri Dudko, who boldly held question-and-answer sessions, not allowed under punitive Soviet religion laws at this time. He was later arrested, imprisoned and eventually recanted his “errors” in a pathetic display of enforced loyalty. In the group as well were the two young priests Nicolas Eschlimann and Gleb Yakunin, whose open letter to the Patriarch protesting the Church’s passivity and the bishops’ lack of leadership earned them only reprimand, though it stimulated the beginning of more public criticism of the regime by intellectuals, a wave that would crest in the 70s and 80s and lead to the Glasnost policies of Gorbachav in the 90s. Others who came to know and rely upon Fr. Alexander in these Brezhnev years included Anatoly Levitin, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as well as other samizdat writers and dissidents. (Samizdat refers to the underground “self-publishing” dissident press.) It is of interest to note that throughout the decades in question, Fr. Men studiously avoided direct confrontation with either the Church or the regime. Not only did he begin to regularly publish articles in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, with assistance from his old supporter Professor Vednerikov, he also began a kind of tamizdat (“published over there,” i.e. abroad) career of his own. From the late 1960s on to Glasnost, through the instigation and connections of Assia Douroff, he published a series of his books with the Brussels Christian publishing house La vie avec Dieu. From his first book, The Son of Man to his catechetical handbook on liturgy, the church year, and prayer, Heaven on Earth to his series on the world’s religious traditions and biblical studies, In Search of the Way, the Truth and the Life all first appeared abroad under pseudonyms such as A. Bogolyubov (literally “Theophilus”: “lover of God”) and E. Svetlov (“light-bearer”) from the Brussels press.
Later in the 60s Fr. Men was transferred to the parish of Taraskova, just north of Moscow, again as assistant priest, and finally in 1970 he was sent to the parish of Novaya Derevnya. He would be assistant there until 1989, and the rector until his death in 1990. Throughout the last 20 years of his life, Fr. Alexander continued the pastoral ministry he had initiated in his earlier parishes. He very carefully sought to restore more frequent communion and to renew liturgical life along the lines Fr. Schmemann would be urging in America. Most especially his ministry was marked by the same emphasis on preaching and teaching the faith to Christians and nonbelivers alike, for in the Soviet era any kind of learning about religious, even the most basic of handbooks was unavailable. While the growth of dissident protest grew and multiplied in the 70s and 80s, Fr. Men was for the most part not directly involved. He was close to many of the voices of dissent because in these years intellectuals, young professionals, persons seriously inquiring about Christianity began to flock to his parish, to the room he had for pastoral meetings. More and more in these years Fr. Alexander was called to peoples’ homes for baptisms, conversations, blessings of civil marriages, memorial services. In the summertime, people would take vacations in the region around Novaya Derevnya to attend Liturgy and other services at the parish, to visit and be counseled by him. Gradually he encouraged the formation of small groups especially throughout Moscow, who would gather each week over tea and cake, for bible study, prayer and discussions. Tape recordings, transcriptions and now translations of these “house conversation” were made as well as video tapes of baptisms and other liturgical celebrations at the parish. These now serve as both records and witnesses to the dynamic personality and warmth of Fr. Alexander.
Even against the backdrop of the ever-growing dissent movement, Fr.Men’s highly unusual ministry could not help but evoke comment and criticism. He experienced regular KGB interrogations, house searches and surveillance for the rest of his life. Some fellow clergy denounced his approach as “not Orthodox,” his respect for other faith traditions, particularly his warmth for the Roman Catholic Church vilified. In print as well as in anonymous letters, his Jewish background was reviled. That he was Jewish also became the explanation for his heretical innovations in church work. As recently as spring of 1999, almost 10 years after his death, the very same pastoral activities of bible study, prayer and discussion in peoples’ home was denounced by an archpriest in the diocese of Alama-Alta and in spring of 2000 several clergy who were accused of engaging in such “innovations” were removed from ministry,their pectoral crosses ripped from their necks. One of Fr. Men’s followers, Fr. George Kochetkov, was suspended for over two years and his efforts at catechetical work, liturgical renewal and pastoral ministry in the footsteps of Fr. Men likewise denounced.
However, with the ascendancy of Gorbachev, a thaw or opening began to appear, and especially during the 1988 celebration of Russia’s millennium of Christianization. Beginning in spring of that year, Fr. Alexander went public in an unprecedented way for a Russian priest. Church school was openly held along with adult classes at his parish. Visits to hospitals, particularly the childrens’ hospital in Moscow started, before banned. From spring of 1988 until his death in Sptember, 1990, Fr. Men would present over 200 public talks, some on television, most in schools and other accessible locales. Many of these are available now in transcription and translation in the anthologies of his writings. He covered much of the material on which he had published abroad, the world religious traditions leading up to Christianity, liturgy, prayer, the creed and the teachings of the Fathers, the Bible and how to read it, also the religious and cultural heritage of Russia. Friends and parishioners alike often wondered whether he would give out under the amazing pace of parish services, counseling, meetings and public lectures. He claimed to have more energy in his 50s than he had in his 20s. Yet he also had some sense that time was rapidly passing for him. Some claim he even spoke with clairvoyance of imminent death. He was in good health, excellent spirits, never more joyful. This still is most apparent in the videotapes, not only his great sense of humor but something else, the same peace and light that others found in the faces of Fr. Bulgakov, Fr. Schmemann, Paul Evdokimov and the rest we have met here. There were no stereotypical elements that appear in hagiography, these only now emerging a decade after his passing. What people remembered was the feeling that he was completely present for them, totally at home with the saints as well as with the one in front of him.
There are several accounts of Fr. Men’s death, really at best hypothetical reconstructions of what must have happened, since there were no eye-witnesses to the event. On his way to celebrate Sunday Liturgy in his parish church early on the morning of September 9, 1990, he took the route to the nearby commuter rail station to get from Semkhoz where he and his family lived to Novaya Derevnya. On the path most likely turned to someone who called him. From behind his head was torn open by a sharp instrument, probably an axe. He managed to stumble, after rising and crawl back to the gate of his house. Several people did see him walking with great difficulty back home. His wife was the one to discover him. Hearing groans she saw a severely injured person by her gate, called the ambulance service and only upon their arrival and inability to save the man, was able to recognize that it was indeed her husband, so disfigured his appearance was by the attack. Fr. Men’s attackers have never been apprehended and brought to trial. Their identity and motivation remain matters of speculation. As with numerous other assassinations in the chaos of Yeltsin’s Russia, the logic would point to the political-cultural and religious extreme right-wing, partisans of the group Pamiat (“Remembrance”) and like traditionalist factions, for whom his writing and speaking was anathema, precisely the perspective of those who would eventually burn his books.
In the last few years, Fr. Men’s life and a selection of his preaching, teaching and writing has been translated and published. First came Yves Hamant’s biographical study. Then Oakwood issued a collection of Fr. Men’s sermons from Lent through Paschal time. Continuum issued Elizabeth Roberts and Ann Shukman’s excellent anthology of articles, selections from his books, interviews and transcriptions of lectures. Fr. Alexis Vinogradov has translated a selection of Fr. Men’s “house conversations,” again transcriptions of his extemporaneous responses to questions at home gatherings. And Oakwood has also published a translation of perhaps the best known of Fr. Men’s books, The Son of Man, first published over thirty years ago and revised before his death.
Christian communities are only beginning to become acquainted with this charismatic man and his work and the early reaction is telling. An unsigned, negative review of his “house conversations” in one diocesan periodical summarily dismisses him within the first three paragraphs as one who “wandered from the Orthodox Church’s teaching on several subjects.” Readers of this publication are informed that Fr. Men did not have the mind of the Fathers and was mistaken in his notion that the Apostle Paul would recognize something of the early Church’s dynamism in the contemporary liturgical assemblies of the non-Orthodox Christians. Fr. Men, it is claimed, succumbed to ecclesiological relativism, this last deficiency evidenced by his favorable mentioning of Savonarola, Hus, and Eckhardt among those “renewing the Church,” his criticism of ascetical exaggerations and Orthodox hostility toward those of other religious traditions, including other Christians. Fr. Men is revealed to be guilty of being an “ecumenist” for his appreciation of certain constructive aspects of the papal office and also is castigated for alleged, though improvable dismissal of monasticism as “out-dated,” “rooted in pagan cults” and as non-evangelical in its renunciation of the world. Those who would be interested in the topics Fr. Men treats, Christ, the Bible, Liturgy, prayer, the Church, among others, are advised to turn rather to the numerous publications of the Orthodox seminary presses for the truth. This judgment would appear to have been made without inspection of the rather traditional “primer” on liturgy, faith and prayer, Orthodox Worship: Sacrament, Word, Image, originally published in 1980. Another unfavorable review of the Men anthology, in an Orthodox periodical from the UK, similarly perceives Fr. Alexander as lacking balance in the Tradition, too Christological and not Trinitarian enough, and veering too far in criticizing the ecclesial past and too close in encountering the culture and society of our time.
Orthodoxy and Openness
It would be a fascinating endeavor to track those thinkers who have been and more recently are becoming the targets of conservative criticism from within the Orthodox churches. Fr. Alexander Men joins a select group, including, already noted, Frs. Bulgakov, Afanasiev, Schmemann and Meyendorff. To be thorough, those desiring to rid themselves of the “Western pollution” of Orthodox truth would have to add to their bonfire all of the figures profiled in this book and many others we have named, all of whom could be accused of one or another deficiency, exaggeration or deviation. Fr. Men explicitly acknowledges Bulgakov, Schmemann and Berdiaev, among others, as shapers of his thinking. Even before the recent book-burning, yet after Fr. Men’s death, there has been relatively little written or said positively about him by Orthodox scholars and clergy. One finds more critical commentary than anything else, although a recent (Summer, 1999) conference on him and his work at Drew University, Madison NJ attracted over a hundred participants. A group of translators continues to bring out Fr. Men’s writings, and a documentary film is in progress. On the tenth anniversary of his death, a number of articles appeared, raising again the lack of closure in the investigation of his murder, the question of his on-going legacy in Russia and the very basic issue of his stature there.
It is premature to attempt a thorough assessment of Fr. Men’s work. Though the publication of his writings continues, much is still not available. Thus we have but a partial version of his thought. It may also be the case that it is too soon to attempt a meticulous biographical study, with family, associates and disciples located in the present ecclesiastical, social and political turbulence in Russia. Efforts at examining him thus far better achieve an appreciation of the backdrop of the Church’s struggle under the Soviet regime and the sources of his spiritual development than a dispassionate biographical and intellectual study. Fr. Men’s situation is further complicated by the context and genre of his work. He was not part of the Russian academic theological establishment, never having held an advanced degree or faculty appointment. Yet he was a teacher of the faith in most direct and creative ways. It is said that he used every opprtunity, every medium to teach and preach. Beyond the bibliography provided in the anthology, consisting of his world religion series, several short books on prayer, liturgy, iconography and the Scriptures, it is not clear how much of his correspondence, notebooks and journals survives and might be published. Neither do we know how many transcriptions there are of the numerous talks, lectures and interviews of his last years. Even the transcriptions of his talks that we do have are distinctive, in the spontaneous, “live” style of his delivery and of his thinking. Some very basic bibliographic inventory and organization appears to be necessary, then editing, translating and publication. Given the dismal economic conditions for such in Russia as well as the open hostility of much of the Russian clergy and hierarchy to his person and work, it is hard to say when this work will be accomplished.
Much of Fr. Alexander’s writing, his preaching, lecturing and interviews as well, was very practical in motivation and in construction. He was attempting to provide what we in the West would consider elementary education in world religions, in the Scriptures and finally in the basics of Orthodoxy. For most of his life as a priest he functioned in a Soviet atmosphere explicitly hostile to any religious education except anti-religious propaganda. It was only in the last years of his life that he could publish under his own name, and not pseudonymously or anonymously from abroad, preach, lecture and teach openly, all this in the wake of the Gorbachev “thaw.”
What we have of his work spans several genres: transcribed lectures, interviews, discussions and sermons, many in a conversational, extemporaneous style. There are the books and essays he published for a general readership, not academic specialists, efforts at basic religious education rather than original scholarship. This is not to say, though, that nothing fresh or original is to be found in his work. Fr. Men contributed, not only to the rebuilding of faith in his own Russia, but to our deeper understanding of Christianity today. Finally a decade after his death, some more objective and probing assessments of his life and work are beginning to appear. He was fond of saying, in different ways, that Christianity, historically speaking, both in Russia and world-wide, was still in its infancy, still just beginning to live. The editors of the anthology cited above are not wrong in employing the title of his last lecture, the night before his murder September 8, 1990 as the title of the collection and a characterization of his thinking: “Christianity for the Twenty-First Century.” Does this imply that Fr. Alexander was a theological futurist, intent on streamlining sacred tradition for modern, post-modern and future consumption? Such a stereotype would grossly misinterpret his actual theological perspectives. Fr. Men’s vision of the Gospel and the Church is one of radical openness to the world, of an irenic but determined ecumenical outreach to the other Christian churches, one of commitment to the service of the poor and the suffering, and finally a way of life in which one’s faith is constantly enacted in one’s life. He explicitly credits this vision to a line of clergy and faithful who formed his own Christianity, a line stretching back to the remarkable monastery of Optino and the monks there, the startsi or elders who since the 19th century had welcomed all sorts of people, especially those estranged from the Church and troubled in their hearts. Fr. Men thus holds out a dynamic model of holiness for our time, a pattern all the more striking for its crafting in the repressive last decades of the Soviet era.
The Church and the World
The leading feature of his theological writing, and, as it turned out, of his pastoral work, was the legacy of Optina, further embodied in the witness of the Russian “renaissance,” particularly in the emigration in the West. Much of this book has focused on leading figures of at least two generations of this emigration Theirs was a vision of the Church at once catholic and missionary, a confidence in the fullness of the tradition within Orthodoxy with an openness to other Christians and to those outside the Church. Such an ecclesial consciousness was expressed in the passionate desire to bring the Church and the world into dialogue, to foster the encounter between the Church of the East and those of the West. It would be correct to say that intense awareness of the Incarnation, the “God-become-man” (Bogotchelovetchestve) led these Orthodox thinkers to be committed to the meeting of God and mankind in every context. This is an aim strikingly evangelical and evangelistic. Yet it is by no means idiosyncratic for Fr. Men. The desire to establish dialogue between the East and the West, to bring theology and modern society together, to live out “the liturgy after the liturgy” can be found in such disparate and disagreeing thinkers as those of the immigration we have already noted. Both Frs. Bulgakov and Georges Florovsky, the latter an important Orthodox figure here in the US after W.W.II, were theoretically most opposed, but both were integral to the beginning of the Russian Christian Students Association, in the foundation of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius and in the work of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. Mother Maria Skobtsova was intent on a form of monastic life for our time, in the world, for the service of the suffering. Paul Evdokimov spent the first half of his adult life directing ecumenically sponsored hostels for refugees and immigrants. “The Monk of the Eastern Church,” Fr. Lev Gillet, constantly moved across ecclesial lines in a ministry of writing, preaching, teaching and counseling, as we have seen. We already surveyed Fr. Nicolas Afanasiev’s contribution. He and Fr. Kiprian Kern, as we have seen, inspired the “liturgical theology” and renewal of the Eucharist in their student, Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Fr. Alexander Men then stands in a formidable and admirable procession of Orthodox whose “return to the sources” opened them to other Christian communities and the world. Though cut off from them in Soviet Russia, he came to share their larger vision of the Church as sacrament in and to the world, and their sense of the “churching” of all of life, hardly innovations but treasure of the tradition to shares.
If we follow Fr. Men’s thinking about the Church, we find a dynamic vision, open, and hopeful. This ecclesial view is catholic and classical, rooted in the Scriptures and the Fathers, centered in the Eucharist, framed by liturgical and personal prayer, fellowship and service to others. It also contains a perspective on holiness for our times, but exactly like the view of Paul Evdokimov the past is not frozen but constantly appropriated to our world, without abandoning the tradition. From the renaissance of Russian religious thought, Fr. Alexander inherited an incarnational and ecclesiological sense of the Church which extended beyond the religious realm to politics and history, to culture and society. Overall, the strongest impression his writing leaves is that of a challenging, I would say sacramental dialogue: between Christianity and the world, between liturgy and life. The imprint of a long line of Russian authors is most noticeable, and the most basic sense is that so powerfully expressed by the 14th century Byzantine lay theologian Nicolas Cabasilas, echoed recently by another remarkable lay theologian, Paul Evdokimov. Both have a vision rooted in St. Paul: God’s love for creation, particularly for humanity is so strong, so relentless yet so self-abasing as to be absurd, foolish. (erōs manikos) Such divine philanthropy is enacted in the Incarnation, ultimately in the emptying and humiliation of the suffering, crucified Christ (kenōsis). The image of a God of boundless love dramatically determines the rest of one’s theological outlook. And this vision of the great Lover of mankind, undeniably strong in the Fathers, also shapes one’s understanding of and response to the world.
Throughout Fr. Men’s work, I would argue, it is precisely this theology which impels his consistent effort to meet even the most difficult terrain of Soviet society with openness and compassion, without the judgment and harshness so understandable for a Church greatly oppressed. It is my opinion that such an attitude is precisely that most faithful to the tradition and most like the heart of God, called so often in the liturgy of the Eastern Church “the Lover of mankind.” (Philanthropos). Such an attitude is also an enormous challenge to contemporary Orthodoxy, so easily tempted to accentuate differences, condemns contemporary excess in our culture and pretend to have the perfect, complete way out. Over against such impulses, Fr. Men’s way is full of the Kingdom’s freedom and joy. Thus, it is threatening and liable to continue to evoke criticism and rejection more from conservative Orthodox than from any other quarter.
Both from biographical details and his work, it is difficult to describe Fr. Men as anything but an “ecclesial being,” in Paul Evdokimov’s words. Surely this is to be seen in the majority of his life, when being associated with the Church at all was costly. His attachment to the bishop and cathedral in Irkutsk, where he had studied at the Fur Institute led to his being denied the final exams which would have allowed him certification and professional work. From his ordination as deacon through his early years as a priest, he was bounced from parish to parish, often subject to the whims of the parish’s rector, usually in difficult financial situations overcome by his wife’s full-time work as an accountant. In his first full post as pastor at Alabino, he displayed some of the traits which would characterize the rest of his ministry. He restored the church interior, began preaching and teaching the basics of the faith, the Creed, the liturgy, the scriptures. He also actively visited parishioners, continued adding to his library and writing, mostly articles for the journal of the Moscow Patriarchate. And as throughout the rest of his ministry, he was reported, interrogated by the KGB and his home searched.
Both the accounts of friends and parishioners and Fr. Men’s own writings confirm his priestly ministry as singular in its rooting in essentials. Rather than merely go through the motions of the weekend and other services, he constantly catechized, urged full participation in the liturgical life, particularly frequent reception of holy communion, and actively reached out to his flock. Later such elements would draw numerous Moscow intellectuals to him for pastoral counsel, for instruction and Baptism, his parish in Novaya Derevnya becoming a center of worship and gatherings for teaching. As with Fr. Dimitri Dudko, also harassed and later detained, Fr. Alexander made preaching a standard part of each liturgical service, and the “house conversations,” his responses to questions by those at such gatherings, grew out of his passion for teaching and the hunger of so many deprived of even basic education concerning Christianity and other world religious traditions. Over time, Fr. Men’s ministry, while always anchored in the Divine Liturgy and other liturgical services at his parish, branched out to include many others: intellectuals unchurched and searching, dissidents, Christians of other confessions.
Much of Fr. Men’s writing and work can be characterized as what theologians of the Russian “renaissance” called “churching” (votserkovenlie). This is the cosmic plan of salvation history, begun in the Old Covenant and fulfilled by Christ in the New through the Incarnation, the Fathers’ vision of all things being gathered and restored in Christ. By extension, it came to also mean the building up and renewal of authentic ecclesial consciousness and existence, either among those who knew nothing of the faith or among those for whom it had become “reduced” to a few ritualistic observances. The vision was of all of life being incorporated in the ecclesial assembly and liturgically offered in the Eucharist. But it was not merely a theoretical view. “Churching,” above all meant the dynamic connection of ecclesial faith with one’s existence, the enactment, in St. John Chysostom’s words, of a “liturgy after the liturgy,” the living out of liturgy at work, at home. Evdokimov put it best: “It is not enough to say prayers, one must become, be prayer, prayer incarnate.” Until the time of his death, Fr. Men’s targeted audience was almost completely within then Soviet Russia. With Fr. Schmemann, it is interesting to see that his target audience expanded to the Orthodox and Western Christian communities in the US as well as those he addressed on Radio Liberty in the USSR. Fr. Men’s widow, Natalya, has credited these broadcasts by Fr. Schmemann and by Archbishop John (Shahavskoy) with giving her husband the courage to write and teach about the faith, despite the strictures and dangers in the USSR of the 1960s and 70s.
As with Fr. Schmemann, in returning to the sources, Fr. Men’s ecclesial vision proved refreshing and threatening in its radical simplicity. While not denying the Orthodox preservation of the Church’s Tradition, there is a clear rejection of triumphalism, in fact the humility and freedom of being in the truth is constantly displayed. Thus, Fr. Men can recognize sanctity after the Schism, outside the ecclesiastical boundaries of the Orthodox Church. In a couple of sentences, he brings together a sobor or assembly of saints startling in ecumenical breadth, reminiscent of the assemblies noted in Fr. Lev Gillet’s Orthodox Spirituality and those depicted by Sister Joanna Reitlinger in frescoes at St. Basil’s House chapel, London. Fr. Men brings together Ambrose of Milan and John Chrysostom, Pope Martin and Maximus the Confessor, the Byzantine defenders opf the icons and the Russian monastic proponents of povert, the “non-possessors”. He connects Fra Savonarola and Jan Hus with Maxim the Greek and Philip of Moscow. He sees the communion in the faith shared by Saints Francis of Assisi, Sergius of Radonezh and Andrew Rublev the iconographer, despite the schism. Further, while recognizing the importance of traditional forms of piety: the lighting of candles, the sign of the cross, prayers for the dead, fasting, he also is quick to observe that these can become “reductions” of the faith, as Fr. Schmemann termed them, substitutes for living out love, almost superstitious practices divorced from the spirit and meaning intrinsic to them in actual Church Tradition.
Paganism is a primitive religion…is born of the human psyche–the human drive to establish a bond with prevalent mystical powers. Each one of us is a pagan. At difficult times we are always ready to have our fortunes told, to forecast. The pagan lives within us because in each one of us there are forty thousand years of paganism and only two thousand years of Christianity. Paganism is always easier for us. Primitive religion is always easiest. It is natural to people, and often what passes for Orthodoxy or another Christian confession is simply natural religiosity which, in its own right, is a kind of opium of the people. It functions as a sort of spiritual anesthetic, it helps a person adjust to his surrounding world, over which he can hang the slogan, “Blessed is the one who believes that it is cozy in the world.”…This is all wrong! Even if I were a Muslim and came to you, having read your Christian books I would have to say to you: “Folks, it’s not this way. Your religion does not consist in this at all. Your God is a consuming fire and not a warm hearth, and he is calling you to a place where all sorts of cold wind are blowing, so that what you imagine does not exist. You adapted and developed a completely different teaching to suit your own human needs. You transformed Christianity into a mediocre, popular religion.”
Fr. Men repeatedly summarizes the basic elements of Christian faith and life, lest one conclude from such statements that he is but another iconoclast deconstructor of Church Tradition. Daily prayer, reading of the Scriptures, common liturgical worship, particularly the Eucharist, fellowship, love and service of others–these have always been the crucial ingredients of the life of the Christian community, the Church, East and West, before and after the schisms. Still today they are the ways in which we “encounter” the Risen Christ. All of these have but one goal, to bring to birth in us the freedom of the children of God, the openness to God and to all he has made. But “people crave a freedomless Christianity.”
It is both exhilarating and disturbing, to some, to hear Fr. Men speak of atheism as a gift, to acknowledge the diversity and development within Orthodoxy, the need for renewal and those like Saints Tikhon of Zadonsk and Seraphim of Sarov, later Alexander Bukharev, Soloviev, Berdyaev and Bulgakov, among others, who recovered the vitality and the radical freedom of theology and of the life of the Church. Fr. Men proceeded with this conviction, that openness to the world meant no abdication to secularism but rather a “churching” of culture and society, a discovery of all that is good in divine creation, in humanity, in all that is an icon of God. Over against this is the sectarian fear of those different, the isolation within Tradition, the abhorrence of anything but the Fathers, a profound suspicion, even loathing, quite at odds with the Fathers, for marriage, children, literature, art “secular” culture, in short, the world, all of which is God’s creation.
“Two Understandings of Christianity”
In the lecture of this title, Fr. Men eloquently reflects on these seemingly opposing tendencies not only within Russian Orthodoxy but beyond, within Christianity generally. Drawing upon Dostoyevsky’s two figures from The Brothers Karamazov, the luminous elder Fr. Zossima and his counterpart, the rigid, ascetical and judgmental Fr. Ferapont, Men surprisingly does not condemn the latter’s flight from the world and repulsion for it to celebrate the latter’s openness. The world-affirming and world-denying instincts were not always so opposed in either the history of Israel or the Church, as the Scriptures but also the sayings of the desert fathers and the writings of many other fathers attest. In time, however, the worst kinds of polarization have indeed developed out of both orientations. The Church has withdrawn form society to turn in upon itself in the quest for salvation through ascetic struggle and denial. In such a quest it is easy then for the world, and certainly all those who would appear to believe incorrectly, to be condemned. In more recent times exactly the opposite has occurred, with the Church embracing anything and everything around as holy and good. The folly of this we are still grappling with, particularly in the West. It is easiest to want to rejoice in the Optina elders’ openness to the world and castigate the narrowness of conservatives, yet Fr. Men asserts, “neither of the two understandings…is wrong, but each as it were takes one side and wrongly develops it. Fullness of life lies in the synthesis of the two.”
It is not difficult to hear the echoes of Soloviev and Berdiaev in Fr. Men’s respect for differences, even in his insistence that such differences cannot categorically be condemned since they may well lead to the truth. He boldly, like them, pushes this with regard to schism-torn Christianity. As a student of history, he knew that there had always been diversity in Christianity, different languages used in worship, preaching and teaching, various forms of hymnody and iconography, ways of celebrating feasts. Without espousing any “branch” theory of the Church he challenges the Orthodox with the continued role of a chief pastor in Roman Catholicism:
As concerns the question of Peter’s preeminence among the Apostles, this problem belongs to the area of faith. If the Catholics believe God acts through the Vicar of Peter, then let it be. This is impossible to prove historically or scientifically. And if in our polemics against the Catholic structures we begin to posit the notion that previously such a power did not exist, then the Protestants can rebound with our own argument and say: “Previously there was no sacrament of marriage, there were no icons, there was none of this. So what does this mean? Let’s get rid of them and much else!”
Far from seeing the divided confessions of Christianity as just signs of decay and breakdown, Fr. Men preferred to understand them as signs of the unity that once was and again could be, even citing Patriarch Sergius (Stradogorsky) on the constant progression from pluralism to unity in the Church’s history. For him, the extreme conservatism of the Russian Orthodox Church, virtually isolationist and sectarian in some expressions, was not defensible. Such alleged means of survival under the Soviet regime neither served the best interests of the faith and believers then or now, when one could speak and act freely. Fr. Men, along with Fr. Schmemann and others, suggest that there are ways in which the Church’s tradition can be a creative source for outreach and mission to a complex, secularized modern world.
Perhaps the most representative, revealing and for some, problematic aspects of Fr. Men’s ecclesial vision can be found in the selection entitled, “Credo for Today’s Christian,” in the Roberts-Shukman anthology. It should be noted that this collection was arranged from a number of his writings, interviews and lectures, and that he did not produce the integrated piece as such. In the Russian publication it was called, “Basic features of a Christian worldview: According to the teaching of the Bible and the tradition of the Church.” It constantly draws on the Scriptures for the very expression of faith. Hence Christianity is the “Good News,” not abstract doctrine, ideology, or system of rituals, a “Way” of life oriented toward the future coming of Christ and Kingdom of heaven.
In about fifty points, half a patristic “century” of comment, Fr. Men both affirms the content of the faith and denies its distortions. One will look in vain for arguments against divinity in Christology, or about inclusive language for the Trinity, or about the oppression and full recognition of particular interest groups, or to whom should ordination be extended, or the imperial absolutism of Christian doctrine. I think it was not just because Fr. Men was a Russian priest writing for Russian believers that the incendiary theological issues of the West are not to be found in his work. Rather he is so profoundly and unselfconsciously ecclesial, in the Fathers’ “mind,” that these controversies, of which he was well aware, do not enter his theological horizon.
But other matters do. He refuses to accept as normative a literalist interpretation which would, for example, find the scriptures’ or fathers’ statements about natural science valid for all time. Likewise he cautions against the desire for extraordinary happenings or miracles as the regular revelation and action of God. He sees no opposition between the God of the Old and New Covenants, no contradiction between the Bible as God’s word and the ability to learn about its history, archeology and anthropology.
Christ is confessed to be present and active everywhere in the Church, especially in the sacraments but in the simplest and more ordinary places too. Liturgical forms, rules, canon law, along with iconography and hymnody–all of these ecclesial elements are necessary and important, but always have been diverse, always have been changed and thus are not unalterable and should not be uniform everywhere. The mystery of the Incarnation and the work of the Holy Spirit in history are pointed to as the foundations for such a view, in addition to the undeniable historical record of diversity and modification.
As crucial as the sacraments and other rites and devotions are, these cannot be said to exhaust the life of the Church or of the individual Christian. Sanctification of the world, teaching, the loving service of the neighbor cannot be subordinated or neglected.
Despite the saving presence and power of God in the Church, there have always been sinful and inhuman excesses: authoritarianism, paternalism, fanaticism, mistreatment of those judged not to believe correctly, abusive mixing of political power seeking and maintenance with the sacred, misunderstanding of national character and culture for the faith. The Church and the Christian must constantly recognize these tendencies, confess and turn from them.
However, the overwhelming spirit of these commentaries is positive, constructive. All that is beautiful, creative and good belongs to God and is part of the secret activity of Christ’s grace. All of our life, all sectors of society, the economy, the government, work, our homes and families are places where the Gospel can be lived. In sum, the “last times,” have already begun, so too the judgment of God. The future does not blot out the present, for the Kingdom of God which is to come is also already within us, powerful and active.
Fr. Men and Christianity Today
In contrast to other traditions, Christianity is not simply based on a system of the views and legacies of its founder, but on the experience of a continuous living communion with him…The cornerstone of the Church is faith, which is revealed in love. Without this foundation, “churchliness (tserkovnost’) is dead and preserves only an outer shell, as once was the case with the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. The Church is not only an organization or union of people of like belief; it is a miracle, a many-sided incarnation of the spirit of Christ in humankind.
It would be a misunderstanding to write off Fr. Alexander as the captive of his own era, his own Russian context, even his own sources–the Optina elders and other Russian “renaissance” thinkers. As noted earlier, much of what he says, that which is simultaneously exhilarating to some and threatening to others, has been heard before. He is no mere recording though, for he makes distinct contributions of his own. As we have seen, his teaching on the Church and on the Christian life is traditional but provocative, “radical” in the best sense. What he says about prayer in his Lenten-Paschal sermons, in the “house conversations” and in his basic handbooks alone would be a rich subject for study.
Fr. Men’s emergence in translation and publication at this time is providential, for his mind and voice have much to say to not only to contemporary Orthodoxy, but to the entire Church. Inasmuch as he looks both at the core of the tradition and the various understandings and forms that have developed, he is able to shed light on the much of the turmoil and confusion within the churches today, in particular the conflicts between extreme perspectives appearing among Christians of both the East and the West. His meditation on the “two understandings of Christianity” is most relevant here. Insightful commentators have recognized the emergence of extremely conservative, even sectarian Orthodox tendencies in America and in Europe and the serious danger in these. It is no longer issues such as the retention of Greek, Arabic or Slavonic in the liturgy, not even just the “old” calendar versus the “new.” Any contact with other “heterodox” Christians is being branded as the so-called “heresy of ecumenism,” based on their reading of several ancient canons. The Orthodox churches of Georgia and Bulgaria have dropped out of the WCC and a pan-Orthodox consultation in Thessalonika has advocated only limited Orthodox participation in further WCC activities, including the recent general assembly. Very noticeably and significantly, Orthodox participants are by this consultation, not to attend any liturgical services at such gatherings. While particularly problematic services have marked recent WCC gatherings, this decision seems to echo the current conservative claim that to pray with any non-Orthodox Christians is to defy the canonical ban on praying with “heretics.”
Sadly, the list goes on: the claim that outside Orthodoxy Christ and the Holy Spirit are not present, that there is no Church and no grace, thus no sacraments, thereby requiring the rebaptizing of all who enter Orthodoxy; the outright rejection of the Balamand Statement of the international Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue and of the ideas of “sister churches” or of the churches as “two lungs” of the Body as contemporary expressions of the despised “branch theory” of ecclesiology; refusal to take Ut Unum Sint of John Paul II as authentic expression of a desire to heal the schism, and what can only be characterized as hostility, not only toward non-Orthodox Christians but especially towards Orthodox clergy and laity who demonstrate openness and a desire to work for unity with them. The burning of books in Ekaterinburg was a notorious public expression of these attitudes as was the public abuse of Nicolas Lossky and others in Moscow. Whether actions of “appeasement” or harassment, there have been others, those already described as well the suspension of the best-known Russian iconographer Fr. Zinon and the suppression of his monastery in Pskov, the persecution of Fr. Ignaty Krekshin and his monastic community, both for having maintained fraternal relationships with Roman Catholics, the harassment and suspension of Fr. George Kochetkov as earlier mentioned. In polemical attacks in print and on the internet, both the living — Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Arcdiocese in America, Bishops Kallistos and Athenagoras in the UK– and the deceased–Ecumenical Patriarchs Meleton, Athenagoras, Demetrius and Moscow Patriarch Nikodim- are accused of heresy and heretical actions.
However, the traditionalist Orthodox have no monopoly on extremism. More recently the teaching document from the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, has raised again the question of the position of all other churches with respect to Rome. The claim of this document that the “one, holy catholic and apostolic Church” inheres most fully, in fact perfectly, in the Roman Catholic Church and everywhere else imperfectly, defectively, if at all, this the the pre-Vatican II ecclesiology of supremacy, has raised much protest and debate. The conflict in the Orthodox churches I have described here and in other places in this book does not exist in a vacuum, and my concern here is not just with Christians of the Eastern Church. The lives and vision of Fr.Men and the others we have met here stand over against the hardening once again of positions, the ease with which condemnations flow, no matter the source.
There are however, other small signs of hope, of “springtime” as Pope John XXIII called the Taizé community, of thew kind of openness that Fr. Alexander preached. In Russia,against formidable odds, Karina and Andrei Chernyak, both spiritual children of Fr.Men, lead the Hosanna community, an association primarily of lay people linked by promises of prayer and faithfulness, in a variety of ministries, including work with young people. Yakov Krotov observes that others closely associated with Fr. Men continue in outreach work dear to his heart, the parish of Saints Cosma and Damian under Fr, Borisov and the St. Filaret Institute under Fr.Kochetkov both deeply committed to liturgical renewal and catechetical work, the Russian Children’s Hospital fund. Beyonf these directly linked to Fr.Men are other communities close in spirit, some that he knew, others that have emerged such as the communities of Taizé and the Beatitudes in France, of San Egidio in Italy, monastic communities such at that at Bose in Italy and New Skete in Cambridge NY.
Fr. Men did not opt for some abstract synthesis, an over-spiritualized compromise of these perspectives, the one of openness and freedom, the other of enclosure and rigor. With great discernment, he said, each vision needs the other. There will there always be a Fr. Zossima and a Fr. Ferapont, each with something to give to the Church. And this is precisely where his voice, itself silenced by extremism, still proves timely. His affirmation of culture and society as God’s creation and the arena for redemption and salvation ought to be juxtaposed with the shrill condemnations of all that is weak, sick, and sinful in our society. His unshakable faith in the Church makes Christianity for him not closed and isolated but open, out-going in mission to the world for the life of the world. His freedom and openness are manifestations of the boundless capacity that Fr. Michael Oleksa has described as Orthodoxy’s gift for incarnationally and sacramentally embracing a culture, a people, and building up, from what is already there, the Gospel and Kingdom of God in the life of the Church.