Confession | Leo Tolstoy | 15



Many times I have envied the peasants for their illiteracy and their lack of education:

They could see nothing false in those tenets of faith which to me seemed to have arisen from patent nonsense; they could accept them and believe in the truth, the same truth I believed in.

But unhappily for me, it was clear that the truth was tied to a lie with the finest of threads and that I could not accept it in such a form.

Thus I lived for about three years, and when, like one possessed, I started to inch my way toward the truth, led only by instinct toward the place where the light seemed to shine, seeming untruths did not bother me so much. When I failed to understand something, I would say to myself, "I am guilty, I am wrong."

But the more I came to be filled with the truths I studied, the more they became the foundation of life, until untruths became increasingly difficult and disturbing.

The line separating the things I did not know how to understand from those I could understand only by lying to myself became more distinct.

In spite of doubts and torments, I was still clinging to the Orthodox Church:

But questions of life that had to be resolved kept coming up, and the Church's resolution of these questions was in direct opposition to the faith by which I lived; this is what finally led me to renounce the possibility of a relationship with the Orthodox Church.

These questions, first of all, pertained to the relation between the Orthodox Church and other churches, its relation to Catholicism and the so-called Raskolniks.

As a result of my interest in faith at the time, I became acquainted with believers of various creeds: Catholics, Protestants, Old Believers, Molokans, and others.

And I met many people among them of the highest moral character who were truly believers. I wanted to be a brother to these people. But what happened?

The doctrine that had promised me a union with all through love and a single faith was the very doctrine that, in the mouths of its finest adherents, told me that all these people were living in a lie, that the thing that gave them the strength to live was a temptation of the devil, and that we alone are in possession of the only truth possible.

And I saw that the members of the Orthodox Church regarded as heretics everyone who did not profess the same beliefs as they, just as the Catholics and others viewed the members of the Orthodox Church as heretics;

I saw that although she tried to hide it, the Orthodox Church regarded as enemies everyone who did not adopt the same outward symbols and expressions of faith as she.

And it had to be this way because, first of all, the assertion that you live in a lie while I live in the truth is the most cruel thing one person can say to another,

and, secondly, because a man who loves his children and his brothers cannot but regard as enemies those who want to convert his children and his brothers to a false faith. And this enmity grows in proportion to one's knowledge of the teachings of doctrine.

Even I, who had supposed that the truth lay in a union of love, was forced to recognize that the teachings of doctrine destroy the very thing they set out to produce.

The temptation is obvious to educated people like ourselves who live in countries where a variety of creeds are professed and who see the contemptuous, self-righteous, unflinching disdain the Catholic has for the Orthodox and the Protestant, the Orthodox for the Catholic and the Protestant, and the Protestant for both; this also applies to the Old Believers, the Revivalists, the Shakers, and all the rest.

It is so evident that at first glance it is quite puzzling. You say to yourself:

"It cannot be as simple as all that. Is it possible for people to fail to see that even though two positions are in conflict with each other, neither one may harbour the single truth that should constitute the basis for faith? There must be some kind of explanation here."

I too thought there was some kind of explanation, and I looked for it and read everything I could on the subject and consulted everyone I knew.

But the only explanation I could find was the one according to which the Sumsky hussars regard themselves as the finest regiment in the world, while the yellow Uhlans considered themselves to be the best in the world.

Clergymen of all denominations, the finest representatives of their creeds, all told me the same thing - namely, that theirs was the true belief and all the others were erroneous, and that the only thing they could do for the others was to pray for them.

I visited archimandrites, bishops, elder monks, and ascetic monks, none of whom made any attempt to explain this pitfall to me. Only one interpreted the matter for me, but his explanation was such that I asked no more questions of anyone.

I have said that for any unbelievers returning to faith (and here I have in mind our entire younger generation), the first question to be posed is: why does the truth lie not in the Lutheran or in the Catholic Church but in the Orthodox Church?

One is taught in high school and cannot help but know what the peasant does not know -namely, that the Protestants and the Catholics make exactly the same claim to the one and only truth that our own faith does.

Historical proofs perverted by each creed to suit its own purpose are insufficient.

Is it not possible, as I have suggested, that in attaining a higher level of understanding the differences would disappear, just as they do for those who are genuine believers?

Is it not possible to go further down the path along which we have set out with the Old Believers? They have claimed that there is an alternative to the way in which we make the sign of the cross, shouting hallelujahs and moving about the altar.

It has been said:

"You believe in the Nicene Creed and in the seven sacraments, and so do we. Let us keep to that; as for the rest of it, you may do as you please. Thus we may be united by placing the essential elements of faith higher than the nonessential."

Is it not possible to say to the Catholics: "You believe in this and that, in what is important; as far as the son and the Pope are concerned, do as you please?" Is it not possible to say the same thing to the Protestants and join together in the one thing needful?

I said this to one person who agreed with my thinking, but he told me that such concessions would arouse the censure of the clergy, who would object that this marks a departure from the faith of our forefathers and brings about dissent, and that it is incumbent upon the clergy to preserve in all things the purity of the Greco-Russian Orthodox faith handed down to the Church by our ancestors.

Then I understood it all:

I am searching for faith, for the force of life, but they seek the best means for fulfilling what people consider to be certain human obligations. And in meeting these human duties they perform them in an all – too - human fashion.

No matter what they may say about their compassion for their brothers who have gone astray or about their prayers for those who will come before the judgment seat of the Most High,

human duties can only be carried out by force; and force has always been implemented, is now being implemented, and always will be implemented.

If each of two religions believes that it alone abides in the truth while the other lives in a lie, then since they want to lead their brothers to the truth, they will go on preaching their own doctrine.

And if a false doctrine is preached to the inexperienced children of the Church that dwells in the truth, then that Church cannot help but burn books and banish a person who is leading her children into temptation.

What is to be done with a sectary who passionately proclaims what the Church regards as a false faith and who is leading the children of the Church astray in the most important thing in life, in faith? What is to be done with him except to chop of his head or lock him up?

In the time of (tsar) Alexis Mikhailovich they were burned at the stake, that is, they met with the full measure of the law; the same is true in our own times: they are locked up in solitary confinement.

When I turned my attention to what is done in the name of religion I was horrified and very nearly withdrew from the Orthodox Church entirely.

Another thing was the Church's relation to questions of life with respect to its attitude toward war and executions:

During this time Russia was at war. And in the name of Christian love Russians were killing their brothers:

There was no way to avoid thinking about this. There was no way to ignore the fact that murder was evil and contrary to the most fundamental tenets of any faith.

Nonetheless, in the churches they were praying for the success of our weapons, and the teachers of faith looked upon this murder as the outcome of faith.

And not only was the murder that came with the war sanctioned, but during the disturbances that followed the war I saw members of the Church, its teachers, monks, and ascetics, condoning the murder of straying, helpless youths.

I turned my attention to everything that was done by people who claimed to be Christians, I was horrified.