My experience during Conference about Fr. Men:
"From and To the Kingdom: The Biblical Vision of Fr. Alexander Men"

By Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya

Sponsors of the Event:
Nyack College, The Patristic Society, Heritage Biblical College (Moscow), with the assistance of Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, St. Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church, St. Michael's Russian Catholic Church

I was very glad for a chance to participate at this conference celebrating the life and work of Father Men. The conference offered me a chance to learn his story, his teachings and his influence today. Also, it was an interdenominational conference, demonstrating the big impact of Fr. Men through the entire Christian spectrum.

The conference started at 10:00 am on Friday, August 20, 2004. The first speaker was Dean Jeffrey Mackey of Nyack College. He spoke very warmly about Fr. Men. The Dean emphasized the special evangelical role of Fr. Men as someone who was “too broad to fit the stereotypical boundaries of an Orthodox priest”. The Dean compared Fr. Men with another evangelist, a protestant Fr. Simpson, who was the founder of Nyack College.  He said that both of them emphasized the role of scripture and its distribution, even though their contemporaries did not always accept their missionary work.

The second speaker was the brother of Fr. Men, Pavel Men. He looked a lot like his brother. Pavel said that for Fr. Men, writing books was another way to preach the Word of God. He talked about the Bible Dictionary prepared by Fr. Men. At that time, true Christian expression was persecuted and writings were discouraged. Fr. Men had to look for old books in antique bookstores, but he managed to make a good collection and use them for the Dictionary. He also included Bible excerpts, because majority of people at the time were not acquainted with the Bible. Written several decades ago, Fr Men’s works make sense today. While the works of ancient elders were dedicated to monks living in deserted monasteries, his works are dedicated to people who live in the destructive and vain world, surrounded by families, coworkers and politics.

I was lucky enough to get two of Fr. Men’s books: The Son of Man and Lord Have Mercy, a collection of Fr. Men’s sermons. Once I opened the second book, I was moved by its simplicity and depth. Fr. Men gives a very good definition of humility: humility is not “people pleasing”, humility is openness to people and readiness to listen and to help, and humility is seeking God’s will. I have been looking for that definition, and here I found it! On the second day of the conference, a former parishioner of Fr. Men said that the book Son of Man helped her to see Jesus as a Jew and even more as a Real Person.

Next was the presentation of Prof. Olga Meerson. She quoted Psalm 51, Verse 8 (Psalm 50 in another Bible translation) and discussed some of the difficulties in its translation from Greek and Hebrew. She said if a Slavonic translator focuses on the literal translations there could be difference in meaning between the Greek and Hebrew texts. Depending on the pausing, the phrase about reveled knowledge can be seen either as knowledge of the person himself revealed by God or some secret mystical knowledge. The right interpretation is the one that says that God teaches us to know ourselves. Finally, The last speaker of the first session was Dean John Erickson of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. He gave greetings to everybody and talked about the history of the seminary. He mentioned that it was founded in 1938 on 950 years after the special date that stands for the birth of Christianity in Russia.

Then we had our lunch break.

After lunch, the conference resumed. The first speaker was John Perkins who presented a meditation “What goes up must come down”. He provided the following example of false humility: dreamy depression and constant self pity. He showed how life’s difficulties open a person’s eyes to see how lost he is and lead him toward God and true humility. The second speaker was Albert Raboteau. He said that we might only be just beginning to understand the ministry of Jesus. He talked about cultural perspectives in Fr. Men’s work.

Several people described the warmness of Fr. Men. Fr. Michael Meerson noticed that he felt like one of the close friends of Fr. Men and then later found out that many others said the same in their writings. Fr. Men acted open and equal as a unique friend of all who came to him. Fr. Michael noticed Fr. Men’s willingness to learn new things. Fr. Men knew popular culture, TV, science, classic literature, and he often visited local museums during his trips. Taking bits of goodness from everything under his reach, Fr. Men retained his amazement of God’s works and used this new knowledge to communicate with a diverse population that was coming to him.

Nyack College sponsored hot dinner at 5 pm for all participants! After that, at the end of the first day, we had a special entertainment program. One person read his poetry with music in different styles. Lazarus John Reid gave a short presentation where he showed a holy painting and then compared positioning with work of Cezanne. Icons, our “windows to the faith”, present a different idea about spacing. If a person looks at the icon, its meaning goes deeper and deeper with every look. Impressionist liked that idea and used it in their works.

The evening ended at about 8:00 p.m.

On the second day Dean Sanes spoke about the meaning of the Kingdom of God and how we can talk about it with nonbelievers. He quoted parables in the Bible that describe the Kingdom. The Kingdom could be big like a real kingdom and it could internal in a heart of a believer. When talking to a non-believer, the concept of forgiveness is a good starting point. Then, Fr. Sergey Kozin pointed two biblical images referring to the church: of a chosen woman (Old Testament ) and of a tree with multiple branches (New Testament). Bishop Seraphim added that we need also to interpret New Testament theory focusing on the root, our Christ, rather than on branches in themselves.  

At the second group, Dr. Ilya Grits made a description of the contemporary Bible Study that originated with Fr. Men and currently goes on in many places including the Heritage Bible College. There, the Study is open to students, professors and even non-Orthodox Christians. The criteria is to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, His Devine Revelation.  People are encouraged to rely on the Holy Spirit. One passage is taken and then, after meditation, discussed. One passage can produce different interpretations, but no one interrupts the speaking person until he/she is done and only then adds their interpretation. The study begins and finishes with prayers. My parish, Christ the Savior Orthodox Church also has a bible study organized in a similar way. I always enjoy participating in it. In the Old Testaments, Jews were studying Torah in a similar way. “Blessed is the man who meditates on the word of God”, says the first Psalm.

Olga Bukhina, a former Fr. Men parishioner, shared her memories about parish life. Parish in Novaja Derevnja consisted of two groups of people: old Russian babushkas  and college students in their twenties. These two groups had different needs and opinions. However, Fr. Men was able to speak to both of thee groups and make peace in his parish. In time, both groups went beyond their initial distrust and became more related to each other. Also, a lot of newly converted Jewish people came to the parish, and in that anti-Semitic time, Novaja Dervnja was a peaceful place where they found acceptance.  

Andrey Cherinak talked about the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a Jewish governor in Jerusalem; we read his story in the Old Testament. At his time, Israel left God and acted wicked. Nehemiah simplified and reinforced the law. Jerusalem returned to worshiping the True God. However, when God himself came down on earth, people could not recognize Him because they pushed too much some parts of the law and ignored the others. A good act by Nehemiah worked out badly over time. Andrey said that Fr. Men also wrote about the same case in one of his books.

Then we had a lunch and a roundtable to discuss the influence of Fr. Men’s work today. Vladimir spoke about his trip to Novaja Derevnja and the joy Fr. Men inspired in him during a tough communism time. Fr. Men said that we should feel the presence of God in every moment and not be afraid of the circumstances.

After the event, all were invited to go to the Christ the Savior Orthodox Church on Sunday. Also, on Saturday afternoon we had a reception and a Bible Meditation the home of Peter Palterman in Bayside. The Bible Study was a wonderful and spiritual experience; it also transcended the missionary of Fr. Men. A lot of people actually attended it and also attended Sunday service. I enjoyed the whole conference experience, and I am looking forward for more events.