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Boris Rauschenbach on Father Men

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This is an interview conducted by Wallace Daniel of TCU with Russian physicist and space scientist Boris Rauschenbach concerning the work of Father Alexander Men

Q: The deceased Father Alexander Men has become a mythical figure to religious reformers, although conservatives in church leadership often belittle his influence. How do you view him and his activities?

A: I knew him very well. First, he was extremely successful in popularizing the Orthodox religion. He wrote a large number of important and widely read books on Christian religion; his writings were unique in their adoption of many methods practiced by Protestants. Father Alexander's second and most important contribution Was opening a dialog between science and religion. His books are full of brilliant analyses of history, art and religion. The fact that he turned to science in order to present the Orthodox religion made his books popular among the intelligentsia. For the first time they felt somebody was speaking their language.

Let me give an illustration. In the late 1980s the Physics and Technological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences invited a senior official of the church to a discussion about religious issues. My colleagues did not take the meeting seriously, and behind the scenes they laughed at the church official because his style and language were completely inadequate for the audience. A meeting with Father Alexander produced the opposite effect; even now my colleagues recall that Father Alexander had the unusual capacity to relate both to the common people and to the educated, and the intelligentsia trusted him. He baptized many of them. His relationship to them led to confrontation with church traditionalists, who accused Father Alexander of betraying the Orthodox tradition. I believe, however, that his murder was a criminal and not a political act.

It is a characteristic feature of our intellectual life that unlike Western European countries, we have lacked a strong critical theology. It has always been difficult to combine science and the Orthodox tradition. Until the middle of the 18th century, Russia did not have universities. When these universities were established, they had no theology faculty within their hierarchy; the Orthodox Church could not agree to involve ordinary people in the discussion of theological questions. In Western Europe, theological faculties served as organic parts of universities; theology developed interdependently with medicine, law, philosophy. Men wanted to encourage this environment in Orthodoxy, but he ran into major opposition.

Q: How important are his ideas today?

A: Father Alexander's books spread his ideas, and his writings remain contemporary. Their popularity should continue in the future, and I am certain that they will strengthen reformist tendencies in the church.