An Inner Step Toward God by Father Alexander Men
Father Alexander Men’s life reverberates beyond his own Russia into lives of many who long to pray fervently to God. Men was a popular Russian Orthodox Priest who was murdered in 1990. This new translation in English of his collection of prayers is a unique and remarkable work. What is striking about the collection of prayers here is the immense practicality that these chapters evidence. From the prayer book to the relationship between our body and difficulties in prayer, Alexander left no stone unturned in his quest to meet the living God, passing his wisdom onto others. You also get a glance into the workings of the Russian Orthodox Church here and how the liturgy shapes the worship of the triune God. I know this book will be a jolt of spiritual medicine for weary souls who long to pray more fervently and regularly.
I appreciate the candor of Father Alexander Men in chapter 2 on Prayer as a Loving Response and Sacramental Encounter. He writes, “How can I pray, since I do not now any prayers? This, my friends, is a mistake, because when you talk to each other or to a loved one, you do not need to read a paper or seek someone else’s words…Prayers written in the prayer book are just aids. They are not spells or pagan formulas to summon a spirit, but rather a conversation between a person and God – a sacramental, vivifying encounter that gives purpose, fullness of life, and incomparable joy.” (22) Prayer comes naturally as we give our hearts to God and speak our own words. Father Alexander is insistent that although prayer books are good, they are not a magic genie in a bottle. No, they aid your personal prayers as you seek to grow in your prayer life. Furthermore, Alexander comments on the goal of the Church Fathers who consider a person’s prayerful condition to be unceasing prayer. Men writes, “This means that he orients himself around God – with thanksgiving, with pleas, with repentance.” (29) The life given over to the presence of God is not blind repetitious acts of prayer but in everything we do being in the presence of God through prayer.
I found Appendix C on Examination of Conscience related to Confession to be illuminating and worth looking at over and again. Confession for Protestants is much different as for me, but the questions Alexander asks are beneficial for all believers. He writes, “What has been dominant: feelings of loss or feelings of gain? In what situations is it most difficult for you to be honest and open about your thoughts, emotions, and feelings?” (156) These questions cut the heart of issues that we rarely face during each week. But examining these questions in light of confessing our sins before God gives us the freedom that God not only forgives but gives us great strength in the battle against the things that drag us down.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for the copy of this book in exchange for review.