"AN INNER STEP TOWARDS GOD."
I would like to propose this new book ,of course available through amazon, as of
interest maybe to a good many friends here. In description and commendation perhaps
this review by Michael Plekon will do well:
"An Inner Step Toward God: Writings and Teachings on Prayer by Father Alexander Men, April French, ed., Christa Belyaeva, trans., Brewster MA: Paraclete Press, 2014, 189 pages, paper, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-61261-238-6
Fr. Alexander Men (1935-90) was assassinated, murdered on his way to Sunday liturgy on September 9, 1990. The investigation of his case turned up no suspects, no leads and to this day his killers and their motives are only matters of speculation. He had been interrogated numerous times by the KGB during his lifetime for pushing the envelope of allowed religious activities. Once Glasnost ended the official oppression of religion he enjoyed a few brief years of recognition as a high profile speaker and specialist, often appearing on Russian TV and before large audiences to talk about faith. Though not a scholar his writing was prolific, a good deal of it published outside the country and some underground. He exercised a special outreach to younger intellectuals both returning to and coming to the church for the first time. Many of his talks both public and at friends' homes were taped and then transcribed. Some of the sermon and sermon excerpts in this volume are from this category. He also produced small handbooks, really catechetical materials for those he baptized and who came to his parish, given the dearth of any such literature. The booklet on prayer is the main source for the translation of texts here. This is a most welcome collection and for an ecumenical readership because Fr. Alexander was himself radically ecumenical and able to put not only the scriptures but church history and teachings as well as the sacraments into very accessible language. In the liturgical calendar he provided for the handbook on worship, he matter-of-factly includes a number of important western saints, much as he routinely quotes them in his other writings. So in this volume many familiar Eastern Church sources are mentioned from Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, desert fathers like Barsanuphius and John to contemporary figures like Fr Alexander Elchaninov and Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, but also western ones like Francis de Sales.
The collection is full of what is typical for Fr Men–direct, uncomplicated language about pryer, honest, humane reflections on difficulties, distractions, the fickleness of our emotions, our wandering minds and attention. Here and there one finds short, powerful prayers not from the liturgy or prayerbooks and quite a few of these are Fr Men's own creations. The suggestions he gives for sticking to a definite span of time and everyday are wise. His openness to all kinds of sources for prayer and his advice about being able to pray in many different contexts–even while on vacation walking in the woods or at the beach–so compassionate, again humane. There are helpful bits of information about the services, also about the special intensity of the season of Lent, in which fasting, prayer and charity are to be linked with the services and communion. He urges communion frequently, something striking and radical in Russia even a couple of decades ago not to mention still today. One is able to listen to the "voice" of Fr. Men in a number of different registers or keys given the diversity of texts translated and included in the volume. There are quite a few selections from his really eloquent yet simple homilies, but also from some of the many public talks he gave. Then there are the more intimate "conversations" with small groups on home settings. And there is the voice in his handbooks. I was struck by the detail– something I had not seen previously in his writings-in the appendices, in his suggestions about better focus in prayer though breathing, awareness of tension, even physical weight and strain and mental concentration. I was also interested to see a very detailed examination of conscience before confession, with fourteen sets of questions to pose to oneself. I myself am no great fan of such "detail" either in prayer or in sacramental confession and I did find these in sharp contrat to thw warm informality that usually is found in Fr. Men's talks and writing. Yet even in these more methodical approaches and in remarks about how to live during Lent, there was nothing of the legalistic, nothing compulsive. One always need consider his or her situation, age, health, responsibilities at home as well as the advice of one's priest or confessor. And running through all the texts is Fr. Men's emphasis on a relationship with Christ that is joyful, that shows itself in love and forgiveness, peace rather than agitation or judgment of others. By now a number of selctions of Fr. Alexander Men's sermons, talks and writings have been published. Some have become difficult even impossible to access. This new collection reminds us of the gifts of this modern teacher, pastor and martyr and makes me hope that there will be more awareness of his lucid vision of how the Gospel is to be put into practice in everyday life.
Michael Plekon / 10010
Baruch College of the City University of New York, 1 Bernard Baruch Way, New York NY"