Thursday, January 12, 2017

January 12 - Alexander Men, Martyr, Priest, Author

Alexander Men was the child of a Jewish family that converted to Christianity when Alexander was less than one year old. In fact, Alexander was baptized on the same day that his mother was and his initiation into Christianity was completed. Yet, there was more in store for Alexander and his family as the Soviet empire continued to grow and flourish in Russia. With the growth of the Soviet ideals, there was an expectation that Christians--clergy and lay--would swear allegiance first to the State and second to the Church.Many in the Church bought their relative safety through this idolatry but Alexander's family--and by extension Alexander--were part of the movement that refused to do so. They were part of the Russian True Orthodox movement--specifically, they were part of a group called the "Catacomb Church." This group knew they must meet in secret if they were to meet at all because they had run afoul of the imperial powers simply by existing and refusing to bend their knee before a broken and corrupt State.

Of course, such allegiances have their cost even if they are a holy and Christian thing. In 1958, Alexander was expelled from college for the sake of his allegiances and commitments. The powerful did not approve of who Alexander approved of and, so, they refused to accommodate him. He had already committed to becoming a priest and this obstacle only spurred him onward. A few years later, he graduated from Leningrad Theological Seminary and was ordained as a priest in the Orthodox church. Alexander was known as a priest of the intellectuals and engaged in rigorous and exacting debates with Orthodox and atheists. He expressed a powerful commitment to ecumenical theology throughout his clerical life and called upon his students and spiritual children to have faith and courage in the face of both Soviet rule and denominationalism. Recognized as an intelligent man and good teacher, he routinely was invited to teach on religious topics in a variety of places but was hated by those in power because of their distrust for Christians. He was routinely arrested and questioned by the KGB in an attempt to coerce him into silence. Alexander was unchecked in his devotion.

When Soviet rule was coming to an end in Russia, many Christian missionaries were surprised to find a people thirsty for spiritual growth and Christian teaching instead of solely committed atheists. Surely, there were many who rejected the work of the missionaries but there were others who had found sustenance for their faith even from within the iron curtain--they had known men like Alexander and had found Jesus at a cost. Alexander's commitment to his faith persevered through the falling of the Soviet Empire but he was claimed as one of its victims in 1990. At the age of fifty-five, he left his home one morning bound for a teaching engagement. As he walked the path, he heard the patter of footsteps. Before he could turn around, an unknown assailant (or perhaps assailants) cleaved his skull with an axe. Alexander Men died because he refused to submit himself to the Empire or its powers. Instead, he remained committed to a Lord who was crucified and buried to conquer death. No walls fell or resolutions were passed with his death but his work continued long after his death and authentic Russian spirituality flourished because Alexander--and people like him--refused to give up on his faith even when confronted by adversity and death.

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