Confession | Leo Tolstoy | 13



I renounced the life of our class and recognized that this is not life but only the semblance of life, that the conditions of luxury under which we live make it impossible for us to understand life,

and that in order to understand life I must understand not the life of those of us who are parasites but the life of the simple working people, those who create life and give it meaning.

The simple working people all around me were the Russian people, and I turned to them and to the meaning they gave life.

This meaning, if it is possible to express it, was the following:

Every human being has been brought into the world according to the will of God. And God created us in such a way that every human being can either save his own soul or destroy it.

Man's task in life is to save his soul.

In order to save our souls, we must live according to the ways of God, and in order to live according to the ways of God, we must renounce the sensual pleasures of life; we must labour, suffer, and be kind and humble.

This is the meaning that the people have derived from all the religious teachings handed down and conferred upon them by their pastors, and from the tradition that lives in them, expressed through their legends, sayings, and stories.

This meaning was clear to me and dear to my heart.

But along with the meaning rooted in the faith of the people there was much that repelled me and seemed inexplicable to me, much that was inextricably bound to the non-Raskolnik people among whom I lived:

the sacraments, church services, fasts, bowing before relics and icons. The people could not separate one thing from another, and nor could I.

Despite the fact that much of what came out of the faith of the people was strange to me, I accepted all of it, attended services, participated in the morning and evening prayers, fasted and prepared for communion;

and for the first time there was nothing in opposition to my reason. The very thing that had initially seemed impossible to me now excited no opposition within me.

My relation to faith at that time was quite different from what it was now:

At first life itself seemed to be full of meaning, and I regarded faith as an arbitrary confirmation of a certain position that was quite unnecessary to me, irrational, and unconnected to life.

At that time I asked myself - what meaning such a position could have - and once I was convinced it had no meaning I cast it aside.

Now, however, I was certain that my life did not have and could not have any meaning, and not only did the principles of faith no longer seem unnecessary to me, but experience had unquestionably led me to the conviction that only the principles of faith gave life meaning.

At first I looked upon them as useless gibberish, but now I knew that even though I might not understand them, there was meaning in them, and I told myself that I must learn to understand them.

My reasoning proceeded in the following manner:

"Like man and his power of reason," I said to myself, "the knowledge of faith arises from a mysterious origin. This origin is God, the source of the human mind and body.

Just as God has bestowed my body upon me a bit at a time, so has he imparted to me my reason and understanding of life; thus the stages in the development of this understanding cannot be false.

Everything that people truly believe must be true; it may be expressed in differing ways, but it cannot be a lie. Therefore, if I take it to be a lie, this merely indicates that I have failed to understand it."

And then I said to myself:

"The essence of any faith lies in giving life a meaning that cannot be destroyed by death.

Naturally, if faith is to answer the questions of a tsar dying in the midst of luxury, an old slave tormented in his labour, an ignorant child, an aged sage, a half-witted old lady, a happy young woman, and a youth consumed by passions;

if it is to answer the questions asked by people living under radically different circumstances of life and education;

if there is but a single response to the one eternal question in life of why I live and what will become of my life, then this answer, though essentially everywhere the same, will be manifested in an infinite variety of ways.

And the more unique, true, and profound this answer is, then, of course, the more strange and outrageous will seem the attempts to express it, depending on the upbringing and position of each individual."

But even though I thought these ruminations justified the peculiarities of the ritualistic aspect of faith, they were not sufficient for me to perform acts that seemed dubious to me, especially when it came to the faith that had become the single concern of my life.

With all my soul I longed to be in a position to join with the people in performing the rites of their faith, but I could not do it. I felt that I would be lying to myself, mocking what was sacred to me, if I were to go through with it.

But here our new Russian theological works came to my aid:

According to the explanation provided by these theologians, the fundamental dogma of faith is rooted in the infallibility of the Church. The truth of everything the Church stands for follows from this dogma as a necessary conclusion.

As an assembly of believers who are united in love and who therefore possess true knowledge, the Church became the basis for my faith:

I told myself that it is not for any one man to attain divine truth; it is revealed only through a union of all people joined together by love.

If the truth is to be found, there must be no division; and if there is to be no division, we must love and be reconciled with those who do not agree with us.

Truth is a revelation of love, and therefore if you do not submit to the rituals of the Church, you destroy love; and if you destroy love, you lose all possibility of knowing truth.

At the time I did not recognize the sophistry that lay in this line of reasoning:

I failed to see that a union in love may result in the greatest love but cannot reveal divine truth as expressed in the definitive words of the Nicene Creed; I failed to see that love cannot make a given expression of truth binding on a union of believers.

At the time I did not realize the error in this line of thought, and thanks to it I found it possible to accept and perform all the rites of the Orthodox Church without understanding a large part of them.

I struggled with all my soul to avoid all discussions, all contradictions, and tried to explain as reasonably as possible the doctrines of the Church with which I was in conflict.

In carrying out the rituals of the Church I restrained my reason and submitted myself to the tradition adopted by all of humanity:

I joined with my ancestors and loved ones, with my father, mother, and grandparents. They and all before them believed and lived and brought me into the world. I joined with all the millions who made up the people whom I respected.

When I rose early in the morning to go to the church service I knew I was doing something good, if only because I was sacrificing my physical comfort to humble the pride of my intellect, to be closer to my ancestors and contemporaries, to seek the meaning of life.

It was the same with the preparation for communion, the daily reading of prayers and the gestures that go with it, and even the observance of all the fasts. No matter how insignificant these sacrifices were, they were made in the name of something good:

I prepared for communion, fasted, and observed the hours of prayer both at home and in church. When listening to the church services I tried to grasp every word and give it meaning whenever I could.

At mass the most important words for me were "Let us love one another in unity." But I disregarded the words that followed-"We believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost"-because I could not understand them.