01-09-2006 - Traces, n.8

Reason is...

The Experience
of the Mystery in Russia

Father Men’, killed in 1990, liked to repeat, “Reason is the image and likeness of the divine Logos.” His brother remembers. The contribution of Russian Christian thought

by Giovanna Parravicini

It is not by chance that one of the greatest figures presented at the Rimini Meeting this year was that of Fr. Alexandr Men’, the orthodox priest who will certainly go down in history as the apostle of 20th-century Russia, brutally killed by unknown persons in 1990 (see CL-Litterae Communionis, October 1990), precisely in the months during which the ideology was trying desperately to keep control of the country. What was fascinating in Fr. Alexandr–during the years in which faith and Church were rigorously banned from society–was his gaze turned to the living Presence which takes flesh in reality in such a way that man can meet it. As his brother Pavel witnessed during the meeting, “He had understood that the main thing transmitted by Christianity is openness to the world. He liked to stress that Christ made himself small so as to meet mankind.” Fr. Alexandr proposed a living encounter with Jesus to the new Soviet generations, in which had been inculcated the idea that Christ was one of mankind’s many mythological figures, valuing, in line with Christian tradition, human reason reaching out to its Archetype. As he wrote in 1971, “Human reason is the image and likeness of the divine Logos, and this is why the Church, when it speaks of God’s Incarnation, uses the expression, ‘The light of Reason shone upon the world.’”

Educative method
Fr. Alexandr and Fr. Giussani never met personally, and yet their relationship, the thousands of people who visited the exhibition and attended the presentation attest the affinity between their experience and educative methods. I myself heard Fr. Giussani recall this phrase of Fr. Alexandr many times: “Christianity’s strong point consists precisely in not denying anything, but in the affirmation, in the breadth and the fullness of horizon that affirms everything.” The experience of Eastern, and particularly Russian, Christianity is precisely this lively perception of the Mystery, which becomes an encounter for man in all things, to give him the reason for everything, without censuring or forgetting anything: in the beauty of the Liturgy, it is enough to think of the young people reciting poetry in Majakovsky Square. From many points of view, Fr. Alexandr was the conclusive point of the great experience of rediscovery of the Christianity that began in Russia almost two centuries ago, almost alongside the variant of atheistic enlightenment introduced with an iron fist into the official culture of Peter the Great and Catherine II.

Those “damned questions”
The round table that the Rimini Meeting dedicated to “Reason and faith in Russian Christianity” was born of a desire to bear witness to this tradition, the drama lived by human reason, which in order to be truly itself cannot fail to measure up to the “damned questions,” and to lead to the threshold of the Mystery. The participants – Sergej C?apnin, editor of the Moscow Patriarchate’s weekly review; Aleksandr Archangel’skij, a famous television talk-show host and journalist working for Izvestija; Fr. Georgij Rjabych, assistant to Metropolitan Kirill–stressed that this is the original contribution of Russian Christian thought, but also the common root that profoundly animates the various Christian traditions and permits the acknowledgment of unity as a generative and fundamental fact. Dostoyevsky expressed this perception of Christianity well in a phrase continually contested by Western rationalists: “If they were to tell me that the truth is on one side and Christ is on the other, I would choose Christ.” This is not out of irrationality, but for the clear awareness expressed by St. Augustine when he said that the truth can always and only be a living Presence, in other words, “Vir qui adest”.