Fr. Alexander Men
Christianity is a challenge to many philosophical and religious systems. But at the same time, it meets the demands of most of them. And the strongest thing in Christian spirituality is not negation, but affirmation, comprehensiveness and completeness.
If Buddhism is imbued with the passionate longing for deliverance from evil, the longing for salvation; if the Buddha claimed that, like salt in the waters of the sea, his teaching of karma was imbued with the idea of salvation, then this thirst for salvation and the promise of salvation are inherent in Christianity.
If in Islam we find the absolute devotion of man to God, Who is the sovereign ruler of the cosmos and human destinies, we find the same in Christianity.
If in the Chinese worldview the sky – Qian – represents a guide for man in the things of life, even in the smallest and unimportant, in the various shades of tradition, this is available in Christianity.
If Brahmanism, modern Hinduism, reveals to us the manifold manifestations of the Divine, so does Christianity.
If, finally, pantheism affirms that God is in everything, that He, like some mysterious power, permeates every atom of the universe, Christianity also agrees with this, although it does not limit its understanding of God’s influence solely to this pantheistic omnipresence.
We would be mistaken, however, if we consider Christianity to be some kind of eclecticism, which has purely and simply collected in itself the elements of previous beliefs. It shows the colossal power of something new. And this newness is not so much in the teaching as in the penetration of another life into our unenviable life.
The great teachers of mankind – the authors of the “Upanishads”, Lao-tzu, Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, Socrates, Plato and others – perceived the truth as a mountain peak, which they climbed with great effort. And quite rightly so. For truth is not something easily attainable; it really looks like a high mountain, which we climb, breathing heavily, clinging to the ledges, often looking back at the past, feeling the difficult road ahead. I will never forget the words of truth spoken by the ordinary Himalayan mountaineer, Sherpa by nationality, Tensing, who climbed Everest with the Englishman Hillary. He said that mountains should be approached with reverence. In the same way – and to God. Indeed, mountains require a special frame of mind to be penetrated by their majesty and beauty. The truth is hidden from those who set out toward it without reverence, without willingness to press on, despite the dangers and pitfalls. Climbing – this is the history of mankind.
You would easily object to me: how many steps are there leading down? Yes, of course, at first glance, the steps leading down are more. People who have fallen and descended into the abyss are more. But it is more important to us that man still climbed these sky-high peaks. And with this, man is great – with his ability to climb where, in the words of Pushkin, he is in “neighborhood with God” – in the mountains of mental and spiritual contemplation.
A person has two homelands, two fatherlands. One – this is our land. And that point on earth where you were born and grew up. And the second fatherland is the hidden world of the spirit, which is invisible to the eye and imperceptible to the ear, but to which we belong by nature. We are children of the earth and at the same time guests of this world. In his religious pursuits, man realizes infinitely more of his higher nature than when he fights, plows, sows, builds. And termites build and have to fight in their own way – not really as fiercely as humans. And ants sow, there are such species. But none of the living creatures, except man, has ever thought about the meaning of being, has never risen above natural physical needs. No animate being, except man, is capable of going to risk, and even to mortal risk, for the sake of truth, for the sake of that which cannot be touched with the hand. And the thousands of martyrs of all times and nations represent in themselves a unique phenomenon in the history of our entire solar system.
When we turn to the Gospel, we enter another life. Not in this world, which offers us exciting quests in the rush to heaven, but we find ourselves before the mystery of the answer. For twenty-five years Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, spent in ascetic efforts to attain contemplation. Yogis, philosophers, and ascetics put in the same amount of work mentally, spiritually and psychophysically, while Jesus Christ came from an ordinary village, where he led the life of an ordinary man. Everything was already given in Him and He never had to climb anywhere. On the contrary, He condescended to the people. Every great sage has realized his ignorance. Socrates said: “I know that I know nothing.” The greatest saints of all ages and nations considered themselves the greatest sinners to a far greater degree than you and I, because they were nearer to the light, and every stain on their lives and consciences was more conspicuous. , than in our gray life. Christ has no consciousness of something attained by Himself. He comes to men, bringing to them what is in Him originally, by nature.
I must draw your attention to the fact that Jesus Christ did not begin to preach Christianity as a concept. What He announced to people, He called “besora”, in Greek “evangelion”, which translates as “glad tidings”, “joyful news”.
What is this joyful, good news?
A person has the right not to trust the universe. A person has the right to feel himself on earth in a foreign and hostile world. Contemporary writers such as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and others often speak of the terrible absurdity of existence. We are surrounded by something dangerous, inhuman, senseless, absurd – and it is impossible to trust it. A cold, dead or dying world. Indeed, I would like to insure, – these writers, novelists, dramatists, philosophers proceed from the position of the atheistic worldview – that is, the atheistic existentialism of Sartre and Camus, and somehow they have not seen one thing. When they say that the world is absurd, that is, meaningless, they know this because the opposite concept, the concept of meaning, is embedded in man. He who does not know what sense is, will not understand what is absurd. He will never be outraged by absurdity, he will never rise against it, he will live in it, like a fish in water. It is precisely that one rises against the absurd, against the meaninglessness of existence, that speaks in favor of the existence of meaning.
The ancient biblical narrative assures us that we can make an inner change and say “Yes!” to being, to trust what seems scary and ugly to us. And then through the chaos, through the absurd, right through the monstrosity of life, like the sun through a fog, the eye of God will look at us – the God who has a personal being and the personality reflected in each human person. And contact with Him is possible as a union of close beings. The whole meaning of humanity is its amazing analogy to the One who created the world. Charles Darwin shared that although he himself perceived the world mechanically, as a process, he still thought about its complexity and couldn’t understand: could only blind chance really have given rise to all this, and shouldn’t we look for some kind of reason behind it all? something similar to ours? We may add to the above: not merely analogous, but infinitely superior to our reason.
And in the Old Testament biblical religion, which has already been mentioned, the concept of faith-trust arises. Not faith as a theoretical, philosophical or religious belief, but faith as an act of breaking through dead, absurd reality when one speaks to God: I accept and perceive. Thus arose the ancient covenant between God and man, the ancient union. Naturally, the union between primitive, old man and the Divine could not be final and perfect. This was the upbringing of the human race, the childhood of mankind; adolescence followed, and in the 7th century BC. prophet Jeremiah wrote: “Thus says the Lord. I will make a new covenant with the people, “berit hadasha”, a new union that will not be like the old one, like the previous one. It will be written in hearts.”
And 700 years after the prophet Jeremiah, twelve people gather in a small room and perform a sacrifice. Usually the sacrifice was blood. Blood was a symbol of life. And life belongs to God alone. And the members of the assembled society sprinkled themselves with the blood of the sacrificial animal. Such was the ancient practice among all peoples, even in the most primitive times, in the Paleolithic. And Moses, when he concluded a covenant with God, sprinkled everyone with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. But on the night of which I speak, in the spring of the 30th year of the first century of our era, Jesus of Nazareth, surrounded by the Twelve, performed a rite to commemorate the freedom granted by God. There is no blood here, but a cup of wine and bread. He breaks this bread and distributes it to everyone saying, “This is My Body.” As a sacrificial lamb for the people. And he passed the cup to the disciples, saying: “This is My blood, which I shed for you; The New Testament is in My blood.” In such a way, at this sacred table that we are talking about with you, in every liturgy, God and man are united. Jesus of Nazareth performs this sacrifice. And from that moment, from that holy night, the cup does not stop being raised and the Eucharist is performed. In all branches of Christianity, in all churches and even sects, everywhere this sign is present.
Sometimes they emphasize that Christ heralded a new morality. He said: “A new commandment I give you – love one another as I have loved you.” There was a commandment to love before, and the words “to love your neighbor as yourself” belong to Moses. And Christ gives them a special sound – “as I have loved you”, because because of this love He stays with us on the polluted, bloodied and sinful earth – just to be with us. Thus His love becomes self-giving love, and because of this He also says the following: “Whoever wants to follow Me must first deny himself.” Meaning “from his individuality”, not from his personality, because personality is holy, but from his false self-affirmation. To give one’s self, to take up one’s cross, i.e. his service and suffering with joy and then follow Him.
Christ calls man to the realization of the Divine ideal. Only short-sighted people can imagine that Christianity has passed away, that it took place in the 13th century or the 4th century or whenever. I would say that it has only taken the first tentative steps in the history of the human race. Many of Christ’s words are still incomprehensible to us, because we are Neanderthals in spirit and morality. The gospel arrow is aimed at eternity.
You will say: how so, given that we had such great artists as Andrei Rublev, etc.! Yes, of course, there were also great saints who were forerunners, they walked the earth against the background of the black sea of filth, blood and tears. Obviously, this is the main thing that Tarkovsky wanted (perhaps unintentionally) to show in his film “Andrei Rublev”. Just think on what background the master creates this most tender, enchanting, Divine vision of the Trinity! What is depicted in the film is true. Wars, torture, betrayals, violence, fires, savagery. Against this background, a person not enlightened by God could only create “Capriccios”, such as Goya judged. And Rublev created a divine vision. Therefore, he drew not from the reality around him, but from the spiritual world.
Christianity is not a new ethic, but a new life. A new life that brings man into direct contact with God. This is the new covenant, the New Covenant. What is the secret, how do we understand this? Why is humanity attracted to the person of Jesus Christ like a magnet? So he has shown neither the mystery of the sages, nor the poetic exoticism of Eastern philosophy? What he spoke was so simple, so clear. And even the examples in his parables are taken from everyday life. This is the secret that He reveals in short words, such as we hear in the Gospel according to John. Philip says, “Show us the Father, the Father of all.” He Whom the Greeks called “Arches,” First, where is He? And Jesus answers in a way that no philosopher on earth has answered: “I have been with you so long, and you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”
He spoke similar words more than once, and many people turned their backs on Him and left in resentment, for this was always a great challenge. They had to penetrate a special secret. Christ never directly formulated this mystery. He only asked people: “Who do you think I am – a prophet, the resurrected John the Baptist?” – “You are the Anointed One, the King, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” He asks His questions to this day, asking each one of us, because this is what God says through human mouths. Jesus Christ is the human form of the Infinite, the Inscrutable, the Immeasurable, the Unspeakable, the Nameless. And Lao-tzu was right to say that the name we pronounce is the eternal name. He becomes not only nameable, but even named by a human name. He Who bears with us the burdens of life. It is the center and center of Christianity.
Note: A lecture delivered in the Moscow Technical House on September 8, on the eve of the tragic death of Father Alexander Men; published on a tape recording in “Literaturnaya Gazeta”, No. 51 of 19.12.1990, p. 5).