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Tolstoy Remains Snubbed in Russia – NYTimes.com

5 January 2011

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910): excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church

A couple of months ago one of Russia’s elder statesmen set out on a paradoxical mission: to rehabilitate one of the most beloved figures in Russian history, Tolstoy.

This would have seemed unnecessary in 2010, a century after the author’s death. But last year Russians wrestled over Tolstoy much as they did when he was alive. Intellectuals accused the Russian Orthodox Church of blacklisting a national hero. The church accused Tolstoy of helping speed the rise of the Bolsheviks. The melodrama of his last days, when he fled his family estate to take up the life of an ascetic, was revived in all its pulpy detail, like some kind of early-stage reality television.

via Tolstoy Remains Snubbed in Russia – NYTimes.com. By ELLEN BARRY and SOPHIA KISHKOVSKY. Published: January 3, 2011. Hat-tip to Ad Orientem: Russia still wrestling with Tolstoy.

This article provides yet more evidence, if any were needed, that the media don’t “get” religion.

“I understood that there would not likely be a decision to return him to the church,” said Mr. Stepashin, now president of the Russian Book Union. “But as for the attitude to him as a person, as a person who did a lot for Russian culture and for the Russian language, I just counted on that, on a change of attitude toward him.”

The church’s letter of response, published in a state-run newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, suggested not. It acknowledged Tolstoy’s “unforgettable, beautiful works,” and said Russian Orthodox readers were allowed to say solitary prayers for him on the anniversary of his death.

But its tone was mournful, calling Tolstoy the most “tragic personality” in the history of Russian literature. It said that Tolstoy “purposely used his great talent to destroy Russia’s traditional spiritual and social order” and that it was “no accident that the leader of the Bolsheviks extremely valued the aim of Leo Tolstoy’s activity.” So there could be no candles burned for Tolstoy inside Orthodox churches and no commemorations read, according to the letter, signed by the cultural council secretary to Patriarch Kirill I, the church’s leader.

Mr. Stepashin said he expected this response and was glad the letter included some praise.

But intellectuals did not hide their astonishment.

I’m not quite sure what he was expecting. It would be dishonest of the Russian Orthodox Church to pretend that Tolstoy was Orthodox when he wasn’t. They acknowledge that he was a great writer, but he was not Orthodox. Tolstoy explicitly rejected Orthodox Christianity.

But here, perhaps is the nub othe matter:

“Any power tries to adapt great people to its needs,” he added. “The current authorities don’t adapt him, or they are not clever enough. Maybe they are so self-confident they don’t think they need to.”

Thank God the Russian Church doesn’t seem to feel the need to play these sordid little power games that the media and “intellectuals” seem to expect of it.

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