Restoring Old Churches Inspires a New Philanthropy in Russia

Source: The New York Times

Trubetskoye, Russia, August 9, 2016

The Orthodox Church of the Nativity in Trubetskoye, Russia, which is being restored with funds raised in charity events held by volunteers. Credit Vladas Parshin
The Orthodox Church of the Nativity in Trubetskoye, Russia, which is being restored with funds raised in charity events held by volunteers. Credit Vladas Parshin

Far from sinister headlines about matters like accusations
that Russians hacked the Democratic Party in the United
States, a few hundred people milled around the ruins of
this village’s once-imposing Orthodox church.

Here was what one might call the other Russia, a local
effort to raise funds in pursuit of the somewhat quixotic
task of renovating the Church of the Nativity, once the
place of worship attached to an aristocratic estate.

Scores of stall holders offered home-baked cakes and
discarded books, paintings and handcrafted face scrubs.
Eager buyers, mostly vacationers from summer dachas in and
around the nearby town of Tarusa, scoured the stalls.

Dappled by sunlight, the redbrick ruins of the partly
roofless church hosted singers and musicians. Three men
and two women dressed as Cossacks sang and encouraged a
few women to dance outside.

The idea for the church renovation came from Elina M.
Loginova, 75, a retired engineering professor. She lives
in this village of a few dozen homes and has minutely
chronicled the lives of peasants, priests and nobility
here before 1918.

The tranquil spot belies the violence of 20th-century
Russia.

Among other things, “History of Our Church,”
written by Ms. Loginova, charts the cruel fate of the
priest who served here when the Bolshevik Revolution
erupted in 1917.

Father Alexander V. Sokholov, who also ran a parish school
and is pictured with his pupils in Ms. Loginova’s
brochure, was gradually driven out and in 1930 sentenced
to three years’ hard labor. He was eventually
reunited afterward with his wife in the distant town of
Tambov, only to be rearrested in Stalin’s Great
Terror of 1937.

He was shot in 1938, but his name was rehabilitated in
1957, after Nikita S. Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s
purges. His granddaughter and great-grandson learned of
that decision only 50 years later, after researching his
fate.

For the past three summers, Ms. Loginova has organized
this charity fair, raising about 100,000 rubles, or about
$1,500, at each of the first two events. This Sunday, her
efforts yielded a pleasing 230,000 rubles.

She is well aware that the sum is paltry compared to the
task but perseveres nonetheless. “I have only one
thing to say,” she told the crowd at the fair.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Her friend Natasha Smirnova, 71, a retired professor of
West European languages who taught for decades at Moscow
State University, was blunter.

“If each of you adds only a little today, that would
be really great,” she told the crowd.
“Don’t be stingy, open your purses!”

In a country where the state has traditionally maintained
extensive control, private charity is still in relative
infancy. Foundations and groups that receive funds from
abroad usually must register as foreign actors.

Restoring churches is one area where Russians have seized
the volunteer spirit, however. Both churches in Tarusa
have been restored with a mixture of state, church and
private resources. A local businessman funded the lavish
restoration of a church in another village, Istomino, the
parish of Leo Tolstoy’s great-grandfather.

In Tarusa, another businessman, Ismail Akhmetov, has built
the House of Literature — complete with gallery and
concert hall — on the riverside estate where the
poet Marina Tsvetayeva once spent her summers.

He also supports the local art school and young musicians.
The clans of artists who have gathered in Tarusa for
decades are building new studios for artists in residence.

Ivan Milyaev, 53, an artist and theater director who like
several here splits time between the Tarusa region and
Moscow, confided that he was giving a new icon to the
Trubetskoye church.

He also hopes to persuade the architect grandson of Boris
Pasternak, the Nobel literature laureate, to donate his
time to advise on further structural repairs to the
building. The church, like many here, was built on a rise,
a defining sight in the sheer vastness of Russia’s
landscapes.

“The icons disappeared,” noted Mr. Milyaev,
who has exhibited at the United Nations building in New
York and knows how big philanthropy is in the United
States. “Of course the Bolsheviks took them all and
they went missing.”

Now, slowly, something of the past is being restored.

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