On Tolstoy centenary, Russian Orthodox won’t lift excommunication
The Russian Orthodox Church refused to rehabilitate him and the state chose to ignore him, but the official silence surrounding the 100th anniversary of Leo Tolstoy’s death has not muffled praise or quelled debate.
Unlike the 150th anniversary of writer Anton Chekhov’s birth this year — which prompted an emotional outpouring from President Dmitry Medvedev and spurred a nationwide festival — the November centenary of one of Russia’s most universally acclaimed writers has been met with surreal silence.
(Photo: Leo Tolstoy, around 1897/U.S. Library of Congress)
Neither Medvedev nor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin mentioned the “War and Peace” author for the actual centenary on November 20th, the Culture Ministry planned no events in his honor and there were no major programs on state television — Russia’s favored outlet for tributes.
“There was a deathly silence…Tolstoy is a reminder of greatness, of humanity and their significance. And that is why we prefer not to remember,” popular novelist Dmitry Bykov wrote in business magazine Profil earlier this month.
Though a devout Christian, Tolstoy’s radical theological philosophy — he compared the Russian Orthodox Church to witchcraft and preached that guidance should come from within and not from the church — got him excommunicated in 1901. Ahead of the November 20 centenary, Sergei Stepashin, the head of Russia’s Book Union and a former prime minister, wrote an open letter to Church Patriarch Kirill to forgive the author. “I ask you, Your Holiness, to show today the compassion that only the Church can afford,” he wrote in Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
The Church was quick to respond, to the same paper, saying Tolstoy was Russian literature’s “most tragic personality.”
“Several generations of Orthodox readers both at home and abroad appreciate Tolstoy’s literary work… However, his excommunication will not be lifted,” wrote Tikhon Shevkunov, executive secretary of the Patriarch’s Arts Council.