by Leo Tolstoy
In was then so necessary for me to believe in order to live
that I unconsciously concealed from myself the contradictions and
obscurities of theology. but this reading of meanings into the
rites had its limits. If the chief words in the prayer for the
Emperor became more and more clear to me, if I found some
explanation for the words "and remembering our Sovereign
Most-Holy Mother of God and all the Saints, ourselves and one
another, we give our whole life to Christ our God", if I
explained to myself the frequent repetition of prayers for the
Tsar and his relations by the fact that they are more exposed to
temptations than other people and therefore are more in need of
being prayed for — the prayers about subduing our enemies and
evil under our feet (even if one tried to say that sin was the
enemy prayed against), these and other prayers, such as the
"cherubic song" and the whole sacrament of oblation, or
"the chosen Warriors", etc. — quite two- thirds of all
the services — either remained completely incomprehensible or,
when I forced an explanation into them, made me feel that I was
lying, thereby quite destroying my relation to God and depriving
me of all possibility of belief.
I felt the same about the celebration of the chief holidays.
To remember the Sabbath, that is to devote one day to God, was
something I could understand. But the chief holiday was in
commemoration of the Resurrection, the reality of which I could
not picture to myself or understand. And that name of "Resurrection"
was also given the weekly holiday.  And on those days the
Sacrament of the Eucharist was administered, which was quite
unintelligible to me. The rest of the twelve great holidays,
except Christmas, commemorated miracles — the things I tried not
to think about in order not to deny: the Ascension, Pentecost,
Epiphany, the Feast of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin, etc.
At the celebration of these holidays, feeling that importance was
being attributed to the very things that to me presented a
negative importance, I either devised tranquillizing explanations
or shut my eyes in order not to see what tempted me.
Note 9. In Russia Sunday was called Resurrection-day. —A.M.
Most of all this happened to me when taking part in the most
usual Sacraments, which are considered the most important:
baptism and communion. There I encountered not incomprehensible
but fully comprehensible doings: doings which seemed to me to
lead into temptation, and I was in a dilemma — whether to lie or
to reject them.
Never shall I forge the painful feeling I experienced the day
I received the Eucharist for the first time after many years. The
service, confession, and prayers were quite intelligible and
produced in me a glad consciousness that the meaning of life was
being revealed to me. The Communion itself I explained as an act
performed in remembrance of Christ, and indicating a purification
from sin and the full acceptance of Christ's teaching. If
that explanation was artificial I did not notice its
artificiality: so happy was I at humbling and abasing myself
before the priest — a simple, timid country clergyman — turning
all the dirt out of my soul and confessing my vices, so glad was
I to merge in thought with the humility of the fathers who wrote
the prayers of the office, so glad was I of union with all who
have believed and now believe, that I did not notice the
artificiality of my explanation. But when I approached the altar
gates, and the priest made me say that I believed that what I was
about to swallow was truly flesh and blood, I felt a pain in my
heart: it was not merely a false note, it was a cruel demand made
by someone or other who evidently had never known what faith is.
I now permit myself to say that it was a cruel demand, but I
did not then think so: only it was indescribably painful to me. I
was no longer in the position in which I had been in youth when I
thought all in life was clear; I had indeed come to faith
because, apart from faith, I had found nothing, certainly
nothing, except destruction; therefore to throw away that faith
was impossible and I submitted. And I found in my soul a feeling
which helped me to endure it. This was the feeling of self-abasement
and humility. I humbled myself, swallowed that flesh and blood
without any blasphemous feelings and with a wish to believe. But
the blow had been struck and, knowing what awaited me, I could
not go a second time.
I continued to fulfil the rites of the Church and still
believed that the doctrine I was following contained the truth,
when something happened to me which I now understand but which
then seemed strange.
I was listening to the conversation of an illiterate peasant,
a pilgrim, about God, faith, life, and salvation, when a
knowledge of faith revealed itself to me. I drew near to the
people, listening to their opinions of life and faith, and I
understood the truth more and more. So also was it when I read
the Lives of Holy men, which became my favourite books. Putting
aside the miracles and regarding them as fables illustrating
thoughts, this reading revealed to me life's meaning. There were
the lives of Makarius the Great, the story of Buddha, there were
the words of St. John Chrysostom, and there were the stories of
the traveller in the well, the monk who found some gold, and of
Peter the publican. There were stories of the martyrs, all
announcing that death does not exclude life, and there were the
stories of ignorant, stupid men, who knew nothing of the teaching
of the Church but who yet were saves.
But as soon as I met learned believers or took up their books,
doubt of myself, dissatisfaction, and exasperated disputation
were roused within me, and I felt that the more I entered into
the meaning of these men's speech, the more I went astray from
truth and approached an abyss.
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