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Alexander Men: A Witness for Contemporary Russia (A Man for Our Times)
By Yves Hamant
Translated by Fr. Steven Bigham
231 pp.; $14.95
Christianity for the Twenty-First Century: The Prophetic Writings of Alexander Men
Edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Ann Shukman
226 pp.; $19.95, paper
At 6:00 a.m. on September 9, 1990, a martyr was born. Fr. Alexander Men, a Jew by birth and probably the most powerful voice for Christ in Russia, had his skull laid open by an axe in the hand of a murderer. Did the kgb do it? Or one of the anti-Semites who wrote all those threatening letters? Or (probably) both in tandem? In Tengiz Abuladze's 1986 film Repentance, which helped spark the religious revival in the dying Soviet Union, the closing scene had an old woman questioning what good is a road that doesn't lead to a church. Men was assassinated while on his Sunday-morning way to catch a train to go to church to preach. The ultimate answer to what good this road was depends on how one views time and eternity. But there is no gainsaying the enormous loss to a Russia trying to get its post-Communist bearings--a classic case of what Solzhenitsyn calls "counterselection."
Readers of Books & Culture know of Father Men from Larry Woiwode's rendition [March/April 1996] and can know more of him from these two books: a passably written but miserably proofread biography, dotted with pictures of churches and priests, and the first translated fruits of a writer's teeming mind. Hamant writes in the manner of hagiography, which need displease only cynics about saintliness. The women of Men's family--grandmother, mother, aunt--shaped the spiritual life of their precocious boy, who absorbed Kant at 13, learned many languages both ancient and modern, and read very widely in the arts and sciences. Although he went on to write many books, none of which was published in Russia during his lifetime, and became friends with such worthies as Solzhenitsyn and Fr. Gleb Yakunin, Men always ...