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Newspaper attack on Witnesses

by Lada Pshenichka
Moskovskaia pravda, 3 March 2001

This week the Golovin district municipal court threw out the suit against the "Jehovah's Witnesses." Many see tendentiousness and prejudice in the actions of the court.

The trial that was initiated by the procurator of the northern administrative district against the widely known organization has ended. The procurator considered that there was every basis for prohibiting its activity since the Jehovists violated one of the points of article 14 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations."  The opinions of four of the five experts appointed by the court fully corresponded with the text of the procurator's representation. However Judge E. Prokhorycheva made the decision to deny the suit. The procuracy intends to correct it in a higher court.

The expert investigation lasted almost two years. Psychologists, literary critics, religious scholars, and psycho-linguists reached a conclusion that says, in particular, that in the Jehovists' texts there are "indications of incitement of religious discord, undermining of respect for and hostility toward other religions, compulsion of the destruction of the family, infringement on the person, rights, and freedom of citizens, and encouragement of citizens to refuse to fulfil civic obligations established by law."

Besides this, in the opinion of the specialists, there is "infringement of such rights and freedoms as the right to life and medical services, right of recreation, and freedom to dispose of one's own time. . . . A person is forced to spend thousands of hours each year accusing other religions of shedding the blood of humanity. . . ."  "Such accountability, withdrawal from bank accounts, deposits, and the like are all obvious signs of a political party and not a religious society." These are the conclusions listed in the procurator's representation.

Then the judge, who calmly heard out all the conclusions, started a most curious argument with the expert S. Nebolsin, a philologist and director of a section of the Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The presiding judge, who was a former communist, struck a "linguistic" counterblow against the scholar: you see, party members never gave reports! For some reason the expert did not agree with her and somehow recalled long hours spent in the party bureau. Fifteen years ago hours-long sessions were in style, when responsible persons listened to personal accounst, results of overfulfilling plan, and so on and so forth.

Besides this, the experts noted that "in the Jehovah's Witnesses' texts there are signs of business instruction, advertising propaganda, skilfully designed suggestions, as well as military regulations like there are in the army."

In reply G. Krylova introduced the example of regimentation within the Orthodox church, which considers many secular amusements to be sin. In particular, she mentioned the moral character of concert singers: "Alla Pugacheva and someone like Kristina Orbakaite use perfumes, they do gymnastics in the morning and do not recall daily God's judgment, death, and the kingdom of God. They enjoy drinking strong tea and coffee. They read with pleasure escapist books and not the writings of the holy fathers. They watch television and seek comfort in friendship. They spend time in worldly games and recreation, checkers, lotto, cards, and chess. They strive for supremacy and competition, and participate in contests. They take pleasure rides in cars, motor boats, and bicycles." In general, the enumeration of the sins of the "stars" was abundant and diverse. But the conclusion of this monologue seemed somewhat unclear.

"However they (the singers) attend church, pray, and light candles and the patriarch does not cast them out of the church but, on the contrary, considers them pillars of the church's prosperity. So isn't there anything in the Orthodox church that is militantly condemned?" the defense attorney asked.

According to the opinion of the Committee for Protection of Youth from Destructive Culty, whose members testified as witnesses, clear tendentiousness can be seen in the court's work. For example, the Jehovists had several attorneys, including one from Canada, although Russia does not have an agreement on legal aid with this country. Only the prosecutor T. Kondratieva worked on the side of the plaintiffs. For two to two and a half years she was not permitted to introduce originals of the stories of the diseases of two dead girls from Kazan and St. Petersburg. The children died because their parents were Jehovists and according to the Witnesses' rules blood transfusion is forbidden. The court refused to admit documents pertaining to this wild case on the pretense that the trial dealt with the Moscow society and "the parameters of the trial should not be widened." Nevertheless on the part of the defendants the decision of a court in the same Kazan was admitted along with the rulings of international courts. Also for some reason the Golovin district municipal court refused to review documents on the internal activity of the organization that left no doubt about the purposes and tasks of Jehovah's Witnesses.

However the procurator of the northern administrative district does not plan to surrender. In the near future the investigation will continue in the Moscow city court.

P.S. We recall that the unconditional requirements of Jehovah's Witnesses include refusal of blood transfusion or of any preparations containing blood and prohibitions on abortion, military service, family and secular holidays, and many other things. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 March 2001)

Briefs:  Catholics in Russia; 8 March holiday

by Filipp Taratorkin, 7 March 2001

According to a report from RIA "Novosti," the State Duma has commissioned its Committee on International Affairs to request information from MID of Russia about measures being taken to prevent the expansion of Catholicism on the territory of our country and other Orthodox states, as well as about the reaction of Moscow to the planned visit by Pope John Paul II to Kiev. The sponsor of this formal commission was Duma vice speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the LDPR fraction.

The Committee on International Affairs also was commissioned to request from Russia's foreign policy department information about the reasons for the meeting of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov with Pope John Paul II during the visit by the head of the Russian government to Italy.

Zhirinovsky also prepared a formal authorization for the Duma Committee on Culture and Tourism which today was also adopted by the State Duma. The committee is authorized to request of the Ministry of Culture of Russia information about measures being taken for returning the icon of the Kazan Mother of God, now located in the Vatican, to its native city.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky's instructions are not sensational nor surprising. Concern about the struggle with the expansion of Catholics and the return of the sacred object (despite the controversy over the question whether the miracle working Kazan icon itself is preserved in the Vatican) is fully inscribed in the state doctrine of the leader of liberal democrats. Such questions, obviously, seriously bother Vladimir Zhirinovsky and although it is easy to suspect that his lobbying in this way has some secondary personal interests or that is solely concerned with his own political reputation, a fact remains a fact: Vladimir Zhirinovsky is one of extremely few Russian politicians who really looks into problems of church diplomacy.

As is known, in February there was a meeting between Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. during this meeting Zhirinovsky discussed with Metropolitan Kirill a very wide range of truly burning questions of church life, the visit of the Roman pope to Ukraine, the situation of the Ukrainian schism, the state of relations with the Constantinople patriarchate in connection with the strained situation in Estonia, etc. Besides this, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as usual, contributed his own suggestions for a way out of the complex church situations. Thus the Duma vice speaker suggested to Metropolitan Kirill the organization in Ukraine of a unique "agitation train" for explaining to the Orthodox population the error of the autocephalous schism and the necessity of maintain fidelity to the canonical hierarchy of the Moscow patriarchate. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 March 2001)

by Olga Skvirskaia
Radiotserkov, 6 March 2001

From 28 February to 1 March the seventh plenary session of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian federation was held in St. Petersburg in the Mary Queen of the Apostles Advanced Ecclesiastical Seminary. All members of the conference participated: Bishop Joseph Werth of western Siberia, Bishop Clemens Pickel of South Russia and Bishop Jerzy Mazur of eastern Siberia. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, apostolic administrator of the northern part of European Russia presided. The representative of the Holy See in the Russian federation, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giorgio Zur, also attended the session.

The conference discussed the results of the first official "ad limina" visit to the Vatican that occurred at the beginning of February and problems connected with the training and education of future priests in the Advanced Ecclesiastical Seminary, as well as other questions of church life.

The conference of bishops supported the initiative of the Christian Interconfessionsl Consultative Committee to organize an interconfessional youth conference in Moscow in May of this year under the motto "Together to the end of the age. Christianity in the 21st century." A decision was made to send young Russian Catholics from each of the apostolic administrations for active participation in the conference. In connection with the tenth anniversary of the restoration of the Catholic structures in Russia, the conference decided to organize a biblical-ecclesiological symposium at the end of May.

During the conference the question of the creation of an interconfessional coordinating committee on relations among religious associations and the armed forces of the Russian federation was discussed. The bishops see great spiritual benefit which can come from this joint activity for the spiritual nurture of believers in the army.

The conference approved a draft of the further developmend of the Novosibirsk studio "TV Kana," so that it will be considered not merely a Siberian studio but will also serve other apostolic administrations as well as Russian-speaking believers of other countries.

The seventh plenary session proposed the possibility of joint pastoral ministry of the bishops. They performed the liturgy of Ash Wednesday in various parishes of St. Petersburg, Archbishops Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz  and Giorgio Zur in the church of the Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Bishop Clemens Pickel in the church of St. Stanislav, Bishop Jerzy Mazur in the church of St. Catherine, and Bishop Joseph Werth in the church of the Lourdes Mother of God. On 1 March the bishops served a solemn liturgy with the participation of seminarians and prayers for vocations to the priesthood. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 March 2001)

by Valery Melnikov
Radiotserkov, 6 March 2001

Recently the popularity of the 8 March holiday has fallen drastically in Orthodox circles. Reasons for this are many. The main one is that International Women's Day practically always comes during the Great Fast. Another reason for the dislike is the story of the origins of this holiday according to which it turns out that the eighth of March actually is the Jewish holiday of Purim. According to the authors of this story it was on the eighth of March in 1910 that an international conference of socialist women, on the suggestion of Clara Zetkin, who was Jewish by nationality, declared the new holiday of International Women's Day while Jews of the whole world were celebrating Purim.

The basis of the holiday of Purim is the biblical story about the wife of Persian emperor Xerxes, Queen Esther, who was Jewish, who saved her fellow believers from a planned pogrom. Using her feminine charm the queen persuaded her husband to permit the Jewish diaspora to get even with those who planned the pogrom. Opponents of the holiday of 8 March have said many unflattering words about the evil and cunning Esther--"a woman warrior and destroyer." Even Clara Zetkin is involved for cunningly drawing the Christian population into Jewish traditions. Confusion arose when it became clear that Clara Eisner (whose married name was Zetkin) was not a Jew and Queen Esther is honored by the Orthodox church on a par with other Old Testament saints. Nevertheless, among Orthodox believers 8 March is not considered a women's day but rather the Day of the Chrism-bearing Women, which comes two weeks after Pascha.

This year as usual 8 March comes during Lent, which has just begun, and Orthodox are observing an extended fast. This year Purim is 9 March, and on the eve of that date pious Jews take upon themselves a strict fast. Thus both Orthodox and Jews will not celebrate on the day of 8 March. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 March 2001)

Briefs: Jehovah's Witnesses; Tolstoy; Sergei Bulgakov; Patriarch Alexis

ITAR-TASS, 5 March 2001

The procurator of the northern district of Moscow filed a protest against the decision of the district court dismissing the suit for banning the religious organization "Jehovah's Witnesses." The protest will be reviewed in the Moscow city court.

The civil case for prohibition of the activity of the "Jehovah's Witnesses" religious organization was begun in 1998 by the procurator of the northern administrative district of the capital and heard in the Golovin district municipal court. The accusation contained incidents of violation of the legislation of Russia which would serve as the basis for banning the organization. However the court rejected the charged of the procurator of the northern district, which caused great confusion.  "Four of five members of the expert panel created by special decision of the court supported the accusation," the procurator's office emphasized. Specialists in the areas of psychology, religion, and linguistics examined the Jehovah's Witnesses' religious literature. According to their conclusions, the foundational documents of the organization contain judgments that incite religious discord and cases of the use of technology that psychologically influences the reader, and they advocate the destruction of the family and refusal of blood transfusion. "We intend to achieve the reversal of this unjust decision," say representatives of the plaintiff.  (tr. by PDS, posted 6 March 2001)

by Ivan Aleksandrov
Rossiiskaia gazeta, 6 March 2001

Last Sunday at a meeting in the Greek embassy Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus touched on the question of the return of the great writer Leo Tolstoy to the bosom of the church. "I do not think that we have the right to force a person who died 100 years ago to return to the bosom of the church that he renounced in his lifetime." Tolstoy, of course, is "a genius of literature," but nevertheless he was the writer of a number of "anti-Christian works," the head of the Russian Orthodox church noted.

Why is it that suddenly, unexpectedly, decades afterward, the question of the "rehabilitation" of the classic writer has come before the church? The issue is that recently a descendant of Leo Tolstoy, who directed the estate museum at Yasnaia Poliana, Vladimir Tolstoy, sent a request to RPTs for a review of the decision on the excommunication from the church of his great ancestor. An official representative of the Moscow patriarchate, Fr Vsevolod Chaplin, commented for the news agency Interfax on this request from the great-grandson of Tolstoy to remove the anathema from the writer:  "I think that all people in our country, including believers, have respect for Tolstoy as a writer. However, when Leo Nikolaevich expressed views contradicting the teaching and spirit of the church, then the church naturally had the right to say that these views cannot be considered Orthodox."

In particular, the representative of the patriarchate recalled that the writer "clearly expressed in his books such as 'Gospel' and 'Confession'" ideas which "very substantially differed from Orthodox doctrine," and "after excommunication the convictions of the writer remained as before and in any case he did not publicly renounce them." (tr. by PDS, posted 6 March 2001)

by Natalia Dardykina
Moskovskii komsomolets, 7 March 2001

A three-day international conference devoted to the outstanding philosopher and clergyman S.N. Bulgakov was organized in honor of the 130th anniversary of his birth by the "Russian Abroad" library foundation with the support of the Pushkin State Institute of Russian Language.

According to the files of the GPU, in 1922 the soviet regime exiled Sergei Bulgakov along with other leaders of science and culture outside the USSR. The years of banishment became from him a time of indefatigable spiritual labor. He was the author of brilliant philosophical works. Russian and foreign scholars talked about his contribution to world culture. S.Averintsev dealt with the historical cultural context of the two meeting of Bulgakov with the "Sistine Madonna." A. Dellasta from the Catholic Univeristy of Milan spoke about the problem of church unity in Bulgakov. B. Marchade (Paris) raised the question of "Bulgakov and 'the Roman temptation.'" B. Liubimov (Russian Culture Fund) examined the "Joy of Fr Sergei Bulgakov."

Today, 7 March, is the last day of the readings. Speakers will deal with Bulgakov's discussions of religious and mystical experience and occultism. The fortunate meeting received unknown letters of Bulgakov. In the "Russian Abroad" library, founded by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Nikita Struve, an exhibit of rare family photographs of the celebrant was unveiled. (tr. by PDS, posted 6 March 2001)

NTV, 6 March 2001

On 6 March in the patriarchal residence of the St. Daniel's monastery there was a meeting of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus with leaders of the Russian communities of CIS and Baltic countries who had come to Moscow to participate in a session of the Council of Fellow Countrymen that functions under the State Duma of RF. Addressing those assembled the patriarch spoke of the ministry of the Russian Orthodox church in Russia and countries of the near abroad. "The Russian Orthodox church considers it a duty to help fellow  countrymen living abroad and to strengthen their unity," the primate of RPTs noted.  "Many Russians are found far from their native land apart from their will. For Russian communities abroad the Orthodox church represents a vital link with the fatherland." According to Alexis II, the church supports the efforts of Russian President V.V. Putin, who is concerned for the problems of our countrymen in CIS and Baltic countries.

Participants in the meeting expressed in particular concern over the problems of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and Estonia. In response the patriarch declared that attempts to create "independent" church structures in these countries are essentially political actions which are directed to the disruption of ties among people who have a common faith, culture, and tradition. Speaking of the situation in Estonia the primate of RPTs declared that the "Constantinople patriarchate did nothing for establishing Orthodoxy in Estonia and is using political problems for validating its presence in this region."

Participants in the meeting included the chairman of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of CIS and Communications with Fellow Countrymen, B.N. Pastukhov, and secretary of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate for Relations of Church and Society, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin. (tr. by PDS, posted 6 March 2001)

Results of reregistration in Nizhny Novgorod

Sobornost, 6 March 2001

On 5 March in the Small Auditorium of the Nizhny Novgorod city hall there was a press conference: "Religion in Nizhny Novgorod, results of reregistration of religious associations." The press conference was organized by the Chief Administration of the Russian Ministry of Justice for Nizhny Novgorod province and the Department on Communication with Society and on Confessional and Interregional Cooperation of the administration of the city of Nizhny Novgorod. The conference was addressed by the director of the department of the Chief Administration of MIuRF for Nizhny Novgorod province, Aleksei Evgenievich Voronin, the first deputy director of the Department on Communication with Society and on Confessional and Interregional Cooperation of the administration of the city of Nizhny Novgorod, Igor Valentinovich Simonov, and an instructor at NNGU, Evgeny Novomirovich Volkhov, a specialist on new religious movements.

According to data presented by the administration of Nizhny Novgorod, the quantity of registered and reregistered religious associations (497) in the Nizhny Novgorod regions is greater than in a large number of provinces and republics with comparable population. In the provincial center 47 religious organizations underwent reregistration and the interprovincial administrative centers of several confessions are located here. In the number of active Orthodox associations (400) the province is in second place in Russia after Moscow province.

Aleksei Voronin described the results of reregistration, the reasons for denying reregistration for the only religious organization in the province (The Association of the Holy Spirit for Unification of World Christianity), and the distinctives of the religious situation in the province and provincial center.

The first deputy director of the Department on Communication with Society and on Confessional and Interregional Cooperation of the administration of Nizhny Novgorod, Igor Simonov, announced the names of religious associations operating in the provincial center with which the administration of the city recommends noncooperation for agencies of municipal authority and municipal institutions of education and culture, regardless of whether they are registered. This is connected with the negative reputation of such religious organizations both in Russia and abroad and citizens' complaints about the specific religious organizations.  This applies to the following associations:  Jehovah's Witnesses, the Association of the Holy Spirit for Unification of World Christianity (also known as Unification Church, followers of the preacher Sun Myun Moon, "moonies") and their daughter organizations "Federation of Families for Peace in all the World," "Federation of Women for Peace in all the World," and "CARP" student organization, the Church of Christ (also known as Moscow Church of Christ; Boston Movement); Church of the Sovereign Mother of God (formerly known as Bogorodichny Center, Marian Church, Assembly of Holy Rus, etc.), the Church of the Third Covenant (followers of Vissarion-"Christ"); the Great White Brotherhood Yusmalos (White brotherhood of the followers of Marina Tsvigun), Reiki Kadutsei ("Intergalactic Center of the Hierarchy of Light"), Scientology (in Nizhny Novgorod represented by the organization Novgorod Dianetik Center), the organization "Living Stream" (also known as "Witnesses of Lee," "Witnesses of Witness Lee"), and various forms of the so-called "True Orthodox Church."

I. Simonov thinks that publication of this list is not a violation of the principles of religious freedom. He noted that such a practice (announcing with which organizations state and municipal agencies do not intend to cooperate despite their official registration) exists in Germany, France, Greece, and other countries. It is necessary to distinguish the right of each person to confession of any religion from the question whether state and municipal agencies should cooperate in the expansion of the activity of one or another religious association.

Completion of the reregistration of religious associations in Russia signifies a real advance in the effect of the Russian federation law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." (tr. by PDS, posted 6 March 2001)


Considering Tolstoy's excommunication

Kommersant-Daily, 26 February 2001

Gennady Raikov, leader of the "People's Deputy" deputies' group: "Certainly I would forgive. More than that, if it would help I would put my signature on any pertinent document. After all even Lenin said that Tolstoy was not simply a man; he was a rock. In our society there is so much violence; excommunication is a kind of violence. Therefore the patriarch should meet this request, the more so on Forgiveness Sunday."

Adolph Shaevich, chief rabbi of Russia according to KEROR:  "I would forgive; after all it is necessary to forgive according to religious standards. His excommunication was produced not by religious considerations but political ones. Would Leo Tolstoy himself want this forgiveness? In my view the present conflict sullies his memory. He was excommunicated from the church, not from religion. I do not understand the moral aspect of this appeal."

Alexander Zhukov, chairman of the State Duma committee on budget:  "Of course. In my view, there were not any particular bases for the excommunication. Tolstoy is too great a figure and I think the church will deal with the relatives' request positively. This step would facilitate the normalization of Russian society."

Andrew Kuraev, deacon, professor of St. Tikhon's Theological Institute:  "The issue is not simply forgiveness because that is not our business. There shouldn't be a forced stylization. Not long ago Tolstoy was styled an atheist and now should we declare him something he did not consider himself to be, an Orthodox Christian? It is necessary to study all family traditions and memoirs of his last hours, without anger and passion. Is it true that he wanted to repent? Is it true that the Optina elder was not permitted to see the dying Tolstoy despite his wish? If it seems that Tolstoy's dying wish was violated, we would be happy to mention in commemorative prayers the name that is so short but so significant for Russian culture--Leo."

Gleb Yakunin, priest who was unfrocked in 1993: "For me this is not a question and I think that the descendant's appeal to the patriarch was improper. Leo Nikolaevich would not begin to ask for this because he would then have to repent. And he would not do that. But today he would not, in contrast to Solzhenitsyn, be silent about the war in Chechnia. On the contrary. And the present-day church would have even more bases for excommunicating him."

Liubov Malysheva, philologist, literary critic:  "According to divine laws everything should be done precisely the opposite way: relatives should not appeal to the church but the church should repent. But in our century the church is an absolutely mercenary institution. Incidentally, Sofia Andreevna wrote with regard to threats to deny a church burial: 'Really in order to be able to have a funeral for my husband and pray for him in church I will not find either an honorable priest who before a genuine God of love does not fear people or a dishonorable priest whom I would buy off with a lot of money. . . .'" (tr. by PDS, posted 6 March 2001)

by Liza Novikova
Kommersant-Daily, 20 February 2001

For the centennial of his excommunication

One hundred years ago an announcement about the excommunication of Leo Tolstoy from the Orthodox church was printed in the newspaper "Tserkovnye vedomosti".

Actually nobody pronounced an anathema on Tolstoy. Although this was the word that was established in public consciousness, especially after the appearance of Kuprin's work by that same name. But "anathema" means "curse." But the famous writer, who exaggerated his criticism of the church too much and encouraged others to do the same and even produced the composition "My Gospel," was simply excommunicated. That is, he was, so to speak, marked. He was identified for society as a deceiver: "A new false teacher has appeared, Count Leo Tolstoy. The writer who is known to the world, Russian by birth, Orthodox by baptism and education, Count Tolstoy, in the deceit of his proud mind, has insolently revolted against the Lord." Idolators and polygamists, for example, were excommunicated from the church. This meant that the excommunicated person did not have the right to enter a church, and if that happened the service was halted. Besides, honest Orthodox believers were counseled not to consider the disgraced one a brother or "to give him a brotherly kiss." But the announcement of this unique boycott did not mean that it was desired that Tolstoy burn in Hell. On the contrary, prayers for Tolstoy's repentance were proclaimed and repentance was expected. But the writer was persistent: "That I have renounced the church that calls itself Orthodox, this is completely correct. But I have not renounced it because I have revolted against the Lord; on the contrary, only because by all the powers of my soul I wish to serve him."

Having become completely disillusioned with Orthodoxy Tolstoy willed that "his dead body be disposed of as quickly as possible without any incantations and prayers, just like any smelly and unnecessary thing is thrown away, so that it not interfere with the living."

The synod's resolution in 1901 evoked contradictory reactions. Tolstoy's disciples remained with Tolstoy. There were sympathizers. The mood of his opponents was expressed to a great extent by the unreconcilable Vasily Rozanov, who was outraged that the synod simply displayed "lightning." The philosopher imagined a quite different picture of abuse:  "The infuriated street, offended by his teaching and theses, should tear up his portrait, forbid speaking his name, and chase him beyond the borders of its land."

It would seem that now, when a hundred years have passed since the significant event, it would be seen only as a newspaper clipping or a fact of history. Nobody, praise God, is burning Leo Tolstoy's books. When we take "War and Peace" or "Sevastopol Stories" from the shelf we are not obliged to recall that their writer was condemned by Orthodox society, beginning with the synod and ending with his own second cousin. However it is impossible to say that Tolstoy is now intensely loved and respected. Nevertheless the excommunication seemed unpleasant for the writer. The count received a black mark not only from the church but also from the long soviet history. The "atheist" Tolstoy, to his shame, had an appeal to Lenin. And he was dubbed a mirror of the Russian revolution. The excommunication of the count facilitated his being decorated with red. Today  in the favorite intellectual dispute about the comparative qualities of the two "chief" writers, Fedor Mikhailovich's religiosity has given him a substantial head start. Leo Nikolaevich still lags behind and neither Bolkonsky nor Anna Karenina give any help, even by throwing herself under a train. It is simply a paradox that in the present society that is not very well educated religiously people often get their first lessons in spirituality from literature. And some people's path to faith begins with Tolstoy. (tr. by PDS, posted 6 March 2001)

by Giles Whittell in Moscow
The Times, 26 February 2001

Count Leo Tolstoy's most famous quarrel - with the Russian Orthodox Church - could be nearing an end this week, 100 years after he was excommunicated for denying that Jesus was the Son of God.

Vladimir Tolstoy, the writer's great-grandson, has written to Aleksi II, the Church's Patriarch, asking him to revoke the excommunication as a sign of tolerance towards religious dissent and in recognition of Leo Tolstoy's status as "the pride and glory of the fatherland's culture".

Besides writing War and Peace and Anna Karenina, still regarded as the twin peaks of realist fiction, Tolstoy found time for a wholesale redefinition of Christianity. He retranslated the Gospels into Russian, threw out the Old Testament and much of the New and used the Sermon on the Mount as the basis for a new creed that advocated complete sexual abstinence and inspired the pacifism of Gandhi. Tolstoy rejected the idea of Jesus as part of a Holy Trinity, referring to him as "the man Jesus", a sage who happened to have divined truths about life.

For this, despite his fame and influence, he was thrown out of the Church in 1901 and remained excommunicated at the time of his death from pneumonia on a platform at Astapovo railway station nine years later.

A century on, "mankind has reached a new level of tolerance", Vladimir Tolstoy writes in his letter, saying that he is "entitled to hope for a new interpretation of the role of my great-grandfather in history". He goes on to urge the Patriarch to "think over anew what happened and to look for reconciliation in our souls". The Patriarch has yet to reply and is not a known conciliator.

The younger Tolstoy has also written to President Putin to remind him of another anniversary: 150 years ago, the young Leo went to Chechnya as an army ensign.

He lived there for three years, found inspiration for a peerless narrative of Russia's presence in the region (Hadji Murat, published in 1904) and came away convinced that Moscow would never subdue it by force. Mr Putin is unlikely to miss the implied criticism of his tactics in Chechnya. (Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd., posted 6 March 2001)

Attempts to recommunicate Tolstoy to the Russian Orthodox church look likely to fail.
by Amelia Gentleman,
Guardian Unlimited, 2 March 2001

Leo Tolstoy's controversial religious convictions incensed the Russian establishment during the last years of his life. A century later, his capacity to infuriate the Russian Orthodox church has not abated.

On the 100th anniversary of the writer's excommunication last week, his great-great grandson Vladimir Tolstoy called on the head of the Russian church to readmit him to the fold. This mild request for tolerance has prompted enraged controversy among Tolstoy descendants and an exasperated response from the church.

Vladimir wrote to the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II to request that the excommunication decree be revoked, appealing for posthumous forgiveness on the grounds that Orthodox believers were thrown into confusion by the church's rejection of the Russian writer. "Russian people are forced to choose between a national genius and the national religion. This is a very complex contradiction in society and within every person," he explained.

"Russians cannot renounce their nation's prophetic genius who is our culture's pride and honour," his letter stated. "Now that humanity has reached a new level of spiritual tolerance, I'm entitled to hope that my great ancestor's role in history can be reconsidered."

His appeal has not received the approval of the Tolstoy clan throughout the world - many of whom have pointed out that the writer maintained a strongly-felt distaste for the Orthodox church until his death, rejecting numerous attempts to reconvert him and dismissing the church's rituals as meaningless sorcery.

Tolstoy formulated his own version of Christianity towards the end of his life, emulating a Russian peasant's unsophisticated faith in God. He developed his belief - known as Tolstoyanism - in a series of works, most of them considered too heretical to be published in Russia. He advocated chastity, abrogated all forms of killing, and challenged most teachings of the church - questioning the concept of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ and the immaculate conception.

He made no attempt to disguise his contempt for the ceremonial rites of Orthodox church, portraying priests as villains and shocking readers with viciously critical descriptions of church services. The church denounced much of his later work as unacceptably blasphemous.

Vladimir, who runs the Tolstoy museum at his estate outside Moscow, has been overwhelmed by a stream of emails from relatives this week, complaining about his campaign.

Fyodor Svetana, a distant relative who works at another Tolstoy museum in Moscow, said the pardon campaign was pointless and irrelevant, adding that Tolstoy died in 1910 "unrepentant, without any intention of seeking a reconciliation".

An official response from the patriarch has not yet been delivered, but judging from preliminary remarks made by Alexei II, the chances that the excommunication will be overturned look remote. "He brought this upon himself when he wrote his study of the Gospels and a series or works wholly oppposed to the Orthodox church. We cannot review this decision because a review is only possible when the individual changes his position," the Patriarch said on Wednesday.

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, one of the Patriarch's representatives, clarified these remarks adding that it would be unusual to reverse the decision now, particularly given the clarity of the original case.

"It is possible that Tolstoy was on the path to repentence, but he didn't get there. One should remember that after the excommunication ruling was made, Tolstoy said himself that he was in agreement with this decision and did not consider himself a member of the Orthodox church," he said.

Seeking to reassure Orthodox believers about the writer's afterlife prospects, he added cheerfully that excommunication was by no means a sentence to hell. "Excommunication does not represent damnation as many seem to think; it is simply the recognition that the author's views were wholly incompatible with those of the Orthodox church," he said. (copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001, posted 6 March 2001)

Ananova, 26 February 2001

Leo Tolstoy's great-great-grandson is urging the Russian Orthodox Church to overturn its expulsion of the writer. The move has horrified some scholars, who say the War and Peace author would never have asked for forgiveness from the church he scorned.

Tolstoy rejected the authority of the Orthodox Church and developed his own version of Christianity.  His belief held that people can affirm the good in themselves through self-examination and reformation. His philosophy contradicted official church doctrine and was deemed heretical.

But Vladimir Tolstoy says his great-great-grandfather should be forgiven in the name of national reconciliation. He says he wrote to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II last week requesting that the church reconsider its excommunication decision in February 1901. "Russian people are forced to choose between a national genius and the national religion," he said. "This is a very complex contradiction in society and within every person."

Church spokesman Viktor Malukhin says he does not know what the patriarch's answer will be but that many of Tolstoy's writings remain unacceptable to the church.

Tolstoy, who lived from 1828 to 1910, is considered one of the most important figures in Russian literature and is best known for his novel Anna Karenina. He was also a committed pacifist and social reformer. (posted 6 March 2001)

Interfax, 28 February 2001

The excommunication of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in early 20th century "should not be taken as anathema, but the attestation of the fact that the writer's beliefs very seriously disagreed with Orthodox teaching," official spokesman for the Moscow patriarchy Father Vsevolod Chaplin said in comments on Tolstoi's great-great-grandson's request to lift the anathema from his illustrious ancestor.

At issue is a letter written by Vladimir Tolstoy, the manager of the writer's country estate and museum at Yasnaya Polyana, addressed to Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II. His letter particularly noted that the Russian people have to choose between "national genius and national religion."

Tolstoy's descendant has not yet received an official response from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Patriarchy's spokesman told Interfax, however, that the two things should not be confused.

"I think all people in our country, including the believers, respect Tolstoy as a writer," Father Vsevolod said. However, "when [Leo Tolstoy] expressed views contradicting the Church's teaching and spirit, the Church, naturally, had the right to say that these views could not be considered orthodox," he said.

The writer "clearly" expressed his thoughts, "which very seriously diverged from the Orthodox beliefs," in his "books, such as, for instance, Testament or Confession, and the writer's beliefs remained the same after his excommunication. At least, he did not abandon them publicly."

"There are also different versions as to whether Tolstoy was granted absolution before his death, but the principal ones indicate that the writer did not receive communion and did not confess before passing away," Father Vsevolod said.

"Perhaps it makes sense to reassess Leo Tolstoy's works and the period of his life between his excommunication and death." (copyright Interfax, posted 6 March 2001)

Agence France Presse, 1 March 2001

A descendant of the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy said Thursday it made "no sense" to ask the Russian Orthodox church to relent on its excommunication of the writer for heresy a century ago.

Fyodor Svetana, who helps run the Tolstoy Museum in Moscow, told Echo Moscow radio that seeking a pardon made "no sense either from the point of view of the writer himself or from that of the church."

Speaking after the Russian Orthodox patriarch Alexy II on Wednesday ruled out a revocation of the excommunication, requested by the writer's great-grandson Vladimir Tolstoy, Svetana stressed that Tolstoy had died in 1910 "unrepentant, without any intention of seeking a reconciliation."

Raising the issue "can only cause confusion", including among "the many Tolstoy descendants who are themselves true believers in the Orthodox faith," Svetana said.

Vladimir Tolstoy called on the patriarch Monday to reconsider the excommunication and heal the rift in the hearts of those who both respect the Church's ruling and love the great writer's work.

"Russians cannot renounce their nation's prophetic genius who is our culture's pride and honour even day," Tolstoy wrote, making his request to mark the centenary of the February 24, 1901 excommunication.

"Now that humanity has reached a new level of spiritual tolerance, I'm entitled to hope that my great ancestor's role in history can be reconsidered," he said in his letter to the patriarch.

However the request was opposed by many members of Tolstoy's far-flung family.

Tolstoy had rejected the authority of the Russian Orthodox church, founding his own libertarian version of Christianity that incorporated a creed of self-help and self-improvement.

Svetana -- whose relationship to the writer was not made clear -- said it was for each man, including Tolstoy, to decide on his relationship to God and not for members of his family.

Patriarch Alexy II said Wednesday that the author of "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina" had effectively "banned himself, by writing works that anti-Orthodox, anti-Christian. It was not the Orthodox church that banned him."  (posted 6 March 2001)

by Patrick Cockburn
The Independent (London), 5 March 2001

Leo Tolstoy was understandably annoyed. In 1909, when the writer was aged 81, a Russian Orthodox bishop approached his wife, Sofya, and asked her to let him know when her husband was likely to die. He suspected that this was the first move in a plan by the clergy to claim, after he died, that he had repented and returned to the bosom of the church, which had excommunicated him in 1901.

Tolstoy made his position clear in an angry entry in his diary. "I cannot return to the church and repent, just as I cannot before death say obscene words and look at obscene pictures," he wrote on 22 January 1909. "And so whatever they may say about my repenting and taking communion before death will be a lie." When he did die the following year he was still regarded as a heretic.

Now, however, a century after the original excommunication, Tolstoy's great -great grandson is asking the church to forgive him. Vladimir Ilyich Tolstoy, who manages the state museum at Yasnaya Polyana where his famous ancestor is buried, wrote last week to the Russian Orthodox patriarch Alexei II asking for the church to reconsider its excommunication decree.

Vladimir Tolstoy believes that that the moment has come for the rehabilitation of Russia's great novelist "because humanity has reached a new level of tolerance". For reasons not entirely clear he also believes that a posthumous reconciliation between Tolstoy and the church would serve as a symbol of reconciliation in Chechnya, despite the fact that Chechens are Muslim.

The church is openly dubious about the suggestion. A Russian Orthodox spokesman said caustically this week that Anna Karenina, War and Peace and Tolstoy's other writings are just as heretical now as they were when he was excommunicated - and the writer is hardly in a position to re-edit the original texts. At the Tolstoy Museum in Moscow, Berta Shumova, the deputy director, is, from a different point of view, equally dismissive, saying that the writer would have deeply disapproved of his descendant's action.

Relations between the present day guardians of Tolstoy's former residences are not themselves a model of tolerance. The Russian Ministry of Culture accuses Vladimir Tolstoy, in charge at Yasnaya Polyana since 1994, of trying to make a takeover bid for the museum in the capital. In January the ministry appointed Vitaly Remizov, a former deputy director at Yasnaya Polyana and much disliked by the Tolstoys, to run the museum in the city. Vladimir Tolstoy says: "This is like letting a fox into a hen-house." He accuses Remizov of cutting down trees at the family estate. The Ministry of Culture has struck back, saying Vladimir Tolstoy and his relations are trying to privatise the writer's heritage.

Tolstoy might have been distressed, but not entirely surprised, to find his belief that possession of property poisons relations between people is again being born out by the squabbles over the properties where he once lived. His widow Sofya tried to give Yasnaya Polyana to the state after his death, but Tsar Nicholas II bowed to pressure exerted by the Orthodox church, which said he could not accept such a gift from a heretic.  (posted 6 March 2001)

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