Just another candlestick holder?

russiacathedralAs you would expect, I have been following the coverage of the Russian "election" and the rise of Dmitry Medvedev. I have to admit that I have been frustrated by the reports that include snippets about his Orthodox faith and the role that it plays, or does not play, in his life. Consider the opening of this report in the Washington Post:

ST. PETERSBURG -- At the age of 23, Dmitry Medvedev went to a cathedral in this city, then called Leningrad, and was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church. Even in the relatively liberal environment of Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union, it was a quiet act of defiance for a postgraduate law student whose prospects depended on not straying too far from the ruling ideology.

"I think it marked the beginning of a new life for me," said Medvedev, 42, in a recent interview with the Russian magazine Itogi.

This gets linked, quickly, to other actions he took that linked him to change and reform in the final days of the Soviet era. We are told, for example, that the former law professor has artculated a great reverence for the rule of law.

"We're talking about freedom in all its forms -- personal freedom, economic freedom and, in the end, the freedom of self-expression," Medvedev said in a campaign speech. "One of the key elements in our work in the next four years will be ensuring the independence of the legal system from the executive and legislative branches of power."

OK, the story certainly had my attention at that point. I wanted more information.

However, the faith element -- which was, remember, in the lede -- completely vanished. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Is his faith linked to his carrer in any way? To what he claims is his respect for the rule of law and personal liberties? How is this linked to his marriage and family? We find out that he likes Pink Floyd, but, unless I missed something, the faith element never returned. And it was in the lede.

beeswax wedding candlesMeanwhile, the Telegraph offers some information suggesting that the baptism was a political move, even if a risky one.

Is the key his wife, Svetlana? Let me piece together some of the clues we are given.

The steely 42-year-old Mrs Medvedev is widely believed to have provided much of the drive that has helped propel her husband -- once a mild-mannered law lecturer -- to the very top of Russia's political tree. ... She helped draw him into the Russian Orthodox Church, an institution which has endorsed him in the presidential poll, and is thought to have been the friend with whom he was baptised, aged 23, at St Petersburg Cathedral. ...

With her own degree in finance and economics, Mrs Medvedev could have had her own career. But ... she immersed herself in social work -- for which the Orthodox Church gave her a medal -- and high fashion.

She helped organise art and fashion shows abroad, including the Festival of Russian Art in Cannes earlier this year, and a charity fashion show in Milan to mark the city's 40-year partnership with St Petersburg. ... She currently heads the board of a church-backed educational programme which aims to bring more spiritual and moral discipline to Russia's post-Soviet generation of young people.

Once again, we cannot tell where faith starts and stops and politics begin.

We do not find out what we most need to know -- is Russia's new leader what Russian Orthodox believers call a "podsvechnik," or a mere "candlestick holder." This is a politician who knows how to pay brief visits to Orthodox liturgies, which means lighting a candle or two, making the sign of cross and then vanishing, as soon as photographers have recorded his presence.

Who are these people? That's the question.

Why raise the faith angle if you cannot answer that question, or at least attempt to answer it, one way or the other? Yes, it's true that chasing the faith angle often leads to cynicism. But it is wrong for journalists to assume that it does. If reporters raise the question, they really need to seek an answer.

I want to know more. Has anyone seen a mainstream story, or even a religious press report, that fills in some of these gaps?

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