Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The curious case of Fr. Alexander Men

He seems to be some sort of unorthodox Orthodox priest, that has something to do with Jews and ecumenism. But I'm really not sure what his story is. However, this is fascinating:

There was, of course, a downside. In an obituary written shortly after the murder of the priest, Men's friend (and a friend of some of you), Mikhail Agursky, called him a "passionate missionary, [who] tried to attract everyone to Christianity, but especially Jews. [...] For this, he was hated by many Russians as well as very many Jews." [6] Indeed, the former Metropolitan of Leningrad, Antonii Mel'nikov called him a "guard" of Zionism in Orthodoxy (postovoi sionizma v pravoslavii). [7]

So, the newly-baptized Jews did not always find the bridge of ecumenism and universality that Men' preached, however, and an interesting metaphor crept into many of my interviews: that of illness and healing: The Russian Orthodox Church is rather sick, "Marina" pronounced. "Avraham" diagnosed the illness: the Church is infected by antisemitism. … It is not just a disease in the Church. It is a genetic disease. It is destroying the Church from the inside.

So what, we might ask, are the Russian Jewish Christians doing in this hotbed of infection and disease? One might assume that they, too, would become infected. And, in fact, such so-called "self-hatred" is not unheard of among acculturated Jews in Russia as well as elsewhere.[8] And Jewish out-converts to other denominations often suffer from the illness. For example, the scholars Isser and Schwartz argue that, "modern Jews who have converted to 'Hebrew Christianity' or 'Jews for Jesus' groups are not only plagued by the 'ineradicable' Jewishness within themselves, but frequently suffer as well from minority self-hate, often manifested in anti-semitic behavior" [9]

But self-hatred was definitely not a characteristic I found in the population of Russian Jewish Orthodox Christians. As I was told over and over, But the deeper I went into the Church, the more deeply I felt myself as belonging to the people of Israel ("Avraham") and The more I am Christian, the more I feel myself a Jew ("Dima"). What is more, this Jewish identity had become positive and internal, rather than the negative, externally reinforced anti-Semitism that was their basic identification with Jewishness before entering the Church. They did not become "Russian" in the Russian Church, but "Jewish."

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