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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Church Asked to Forgive Tolstoy's Sins

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One hundred years after the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated Leo Tolstoy, the renowned writer's great-great-grandson has asked it to bring him back into the fold — horrifying some scholars, who say Tolstoy 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, which 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 said Monday that his great-great-grandfather — one of the most important figures in Russian literature — should be forgiven in the name of national reconciliation. Vladimir Tolstoy said he wrote to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II last week requesting that the church reconsider its Feb. 24, 1901, excommunication decision.

"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."

Vladimir Tolstoy, who runs the museum at Yasnaya Polyana, Leo Tolstoy's country estate, said he had not yet received an answer from the patriarch but had been told he could expect one this week.

Church spokesman Viktor Malukhin said he did not know what Alexy's answer would be but that many of Tolstoy's writings remained unacceptable to the church.

"They remain just as heretical as they were during his lifetime. He doesn't have the power to correct those texts now and, of course, nobody is going to establish censorship and cut out the anti-Christian motifs from his works," Malukhin said. "People who read it must be firm in their faith because for those who are not, these 'teachings' of Leo Tolstoy could tempt them."

Malukhin claimed Tolstoy received absolution before his death in 1910, even though the Holy Synod never reversed its decision.

"If memory does not deceive me, he confessed to a priest before his death, repented and received absolution from his sins from that priest," Malukhin said. "His personal problem in relation to the church was resolved."

But Berta Shumova, deputy director of the Tolstoy Museum in Moscow, said Malukhin's version of history runs counter to everything Tolstoy stood for.

Tolstoy never repented, nor would he have approved of his descendant's drive to reunite him with the church, she said.

"I think the best thing is to ask Tolstoy himself," she said before reading aloud from the author's published diary. In the entry from Jan. 22, 1909, the elderly Tolstoy, who lived from 1828 to 1910, complains about a conversation his wife had with a bishop.

"It's especially unpleasant that he asked to let him know when I am going to die. As if they have thought of something to assure people that I 'repented' before death," he writes. "And that's why I am declaring: I cannot return to the church and repent, just as I cannot before death say obscene words and look at obscene pictures. And so whatever they may say about my repenting and taking communion before death will be a lie."