Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

Dr Rowan Williams is honoured for work on Russia

Dr Rowan Williams and wife Jane reading a volume of his poems translated into Russian
Dr Williams, with wife Jane, received a Russian translation of his poems

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has been awarded a top Russian honour recognising his love of the country and its literature.

Dr Williams, who has written a book on Dostoyevsky, received the Order of Friendship at a ceremony in London.

He was given a volume of his own poems translated into Russian. It was nearly blocked by a Moscow customs official who mistook it for explosives.

Dr Williams said he was "delighted and rather overwhelmed" by the award.

Lifelong interest

The award was given on the decree of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

In a speech, the Russian ambassador to London, Yuri Fedotov praised the Archbishop's "outstanding contribution to the cooperation and friendly relations between Russia and the United Kingdom".

The ambassador added: "What he is doing helps tremendously to establish better understanding to set a better climate in relations between Russia and the UK."

Receiving the award at the Russian embassy, Dr Williams spoke of his lifelong interest in and affection for Russian culture.

He described the important role Russian literature played in forming his understanding of human spirituality and said he felt honoured to be involved in what he called the reconstruction of the Russian state.

In a BBC interview, Dr Williams said he became fascinated by Russian culture as a teenager after encountering the films of Sergei Eisenstein.

He stressed the importance of cultural understanding between Russia and Britain, emphasising how much the two countries had in common.

The archbishop also encouraged people to overcome their fear of the "long Russian novel" suggesting that anyone interested in Russian culture start by reading Chekhov's short stories.

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