Leo Tolstoy letter

by Drue 1 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Drue

    Here’s a letter a famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote to his accusers when he was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church.

    I find the parallels in the Church’s dealings with him remarkably similar to those of the WTS when accusing the so-called ‘apostates’ of being ‘proud’, rebellious etc.

    Ironically, the letter is reproduced in the official web-site of JWs in Russia ( http://www.jw-russia.org/eng/frames/press.htm). To people in Russia the WT evidently try to present themselves as fighters for religious freedom and tolerance (whereas making the Russian Orthodox Church appear as enemies for such freedom). JWs do not acknowledge that their shunning policy is much more unkind than ROC’s attitude and that they do deny people who disagree with them the same privilege ROC denied to Tolstoy.

    The bold in the text below is mine.

    To the Decree of the Synod of February 20-22 and to Letters Received by Me on That Occasion

    "He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all." - Coleridge

    At first I had no intention of answering the decree of the Synod concerning me, but this decree called forth a very large number of letters, in which correspondents who are unknown to me either scold me for denying what I do not deny, or admonish me to believe in what I have not stopped believing in, or again express their fellowship of ideas with me, which hardly exists in reality, and their sympathy, to which I have hardly a right; and so I have decided to answer the decree itself, pointing out what is unjust in it, and the letters of my correspondents, whom I do not know.

    The decree of the Synod has, in general, very many faults. It is illegal, or intentionally ambiguous; it is arbitrary, ungrounded, untruthful, and besides, contains libel and incitements to evil sentiments and acts.

    It is illegal, or intentionally ambiguous, because, if it is meant to be an excommunication from the church, it does not satisfy those ecclesiastic rules by which such an excommunication may be pronounced; but if it is a declaration that he who does not believe in the church and its dogmas does not belong to it, that is self-understood, and such a declaration can have no other aim than this, that though it is in reality not an excommunication, it may appear as such, which actually happened, for it was understood as such.

    It is arbitrary, because it accuses me alone of unbelief in all the points mentioned in the decree, whereas not only many persons, but almost all educated people share such unbelief, and have constantly expressed it in conversations, and in writing, and in pamphlets, and in books.

    It is ungrounded, because as the chief cause for its issuance is given the great dissemination of false doctrine, which corrupts people, whereas it is well known to me that there are hardly a hundred men who share my views, and that the dissemination of my ideas about religion thanks to the censorship, is so insignificant that the majority of men who have read the decree of the Senate have not the slightest ideas to what I have written about religion, as may be seen from the letters which I have received.

    It contains an obvious untruth, because it says in it that on the part of the church there have been made attempts at appealing to my conscience, but that they were not successful. Nothing of the kind has ever happened.

    It represents what in juridical language is called a libel, because it contains professedly untrue statements, which are intended to injure me.

    It is, finally, an incitement to bad sentiments and acts, because it has provoked, as was to have been expected, in unenlightened and unthinking people malice and hatred against me, which rise to threats of assassination and are expressed in the letters received by me: "Now you are given over to anathema, and after your death you will go to everlasting torments and will die like a dog-anathema, old devil-be cursed," writes one. Another rebukes the government for not having yet locked me up in a monastery, and fills his letter with curses. A third writes: "If the government does not take you away, we will ourselves make you shut up;" the letter ends with curses. "To make an end of you, scavenger, we shall find the means for it," writes a fourth; there follow indecent curses. Similar signs of malice I have, since the decree of the Synod, observed in meeting certain people. On the very 25th of February, when the decree was published, I heard, as I crossed a square, the words, "Here is a devil in human form," and if the crowd had been differently composed, it is very likely that I should have been beaten, as some years ago they beat a man near Panteloymónov Tower.

    Thus the decree of the Synod is altogether bad; the fact that at the end of the decree it says that the persons signing it pray that I may become such as they are does not make matters any better.

    So it is in general; in particular this decree is not just for the following reasons. In the decree it says: "The world-known writer, Russian by birth, Orthodox by baptism and education, Count Tolstóy, in the blindness of his proud mind, boldly arose against the Lord and against His Christ and His sacred charge, and openly, in the presence of all men, renounced the Orthodox Mother church, which has nurtured and educated him."

    That I have renounced the church which calls itself Orthodox is quite true.

    But I have not renounced it because I arose against the Lord, but, on the contrary, because I wished with all my heart to serve Him. Before renouncing the church and the union with the people, which had been inexpressibly dear to me, I, having from certain symptoms come to doubt the truth of the church, devoted several years to the theoretic and the practical investigation of the church doctrine: in the theoretic investigation I read everything I could about the church doctrine, and studied and critically analyzed the dogmatic theology; in the practical investigation I for the period of more than a year strictly followed all the prescriptions of the church, observing all the fasts and all the church celebrations. And I convinced myself that the doctrine of the church was in theory a cunning and harmful deceit, and in practice a collection of the grossest superstitions and sorcery, which completely conceals the whole meaning of the Christian teaching.*

    I actually renounced the church, stopped executing its rites, and asked my relatives in my will not to admit any church servants at my death, and to take my body away as quickly as possible, without any magical formulas and prayers, as they take away every nauseating and useless thing, that it may not trouble the living.
    But as to its saying that "I devoted my literary activity and God-given talent to the dissemination among the masses of teachings which are contrary to Christ and to the church," and so forth, and that "in my writings and letters which are scattered by me and my disciples in great numbers all over the world, but especially within the boundaries of our beloved country, I with the zeal of a fanatic preach the overthrow of all the dogmas of the Orthodox Church and of the very essence of the Christian religion," that is not true. I have never had any thought as to the dissemination of my teaching. It is true, I have for my own sake expressed in my writings my understanding of Christ's teaching, and have not concealed these writings from men who wished to become acquainted with them, but I never printed them myself, and I told people about the way I understood Christ's teaching only when I was asked about it. To such people I told what I thought, and I gave them my books, if I had any.

    Then it says that I deny "God, the Creator and Provider of the universe, glorified in the Holy Trinity, and the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, the Redeemer and Saviour of the world, who suffered for the sake of us men and for the sake of our salvation, and who rose from the dead," and that I deny "the seedless conception of the Lord Christ in His manhood, and the virginity of the Immaculate Mother of God before and after His birth." It is quite true that I deny the incomprehensible Trinity, the now senseless fable about the fall of the first man, the blasphemous history of a God born of a virgin, who redeems the human race. But I not only do not deny God the Spirit, God-love, the one God, the beginning of everything, but even do not recognize anything as actually existing outside of God, and see the whole meaning of life only in the fulfilment of God's will, as expressed in the Christian teaching.

    Again it says: "He does not recognize the life after death, and retribution." If the life after death is to be taken in the sense of the second advent, hell with its everlasting torments and devils, and heaven-a constant bliss, it is quite true that I do not recognize such a life after death; but the eternal life and retribution here and everywhere I recognize to such an extent that, standing on account of my years on the brink of the grave, I have often to make efforts in order not to wish for carnal death, that is, for a birth to a new life, and I believe that every good act increases the true good of my everlasting life, and that every bad act diminishes it.
    It also says that I deny all the sacraments. That is quite true. All the sacraments I consider a low, coarse sorcery, which does not harmonize with the conception of a God and with the Christian teaching, and besides, is a violation of the directest precepts of the Gospel. In the baptism of children I see an obvious distortion of all that meaning which baptism may have had for adults, who consciously accepted Christianity; in the performance of the sacrament of marriage on people who are known to have come together before, and in the admission of divorces, and in the sanctification of marriages of divorced people I see a direct violation of the meaning and the letter of the Gospel teaching.

    In the periodic forgiveness of sins at confessions I see an injurious deception, which only encourages immorality and destroys the fear of sinning.
    In the unction with chrism, as well as in the anointment, I see the methods of gross sorcery, as also in the worship of images and relics, and also in all those ceremonies, prayers, incantations, with which the ritual is filled. In communion I see the deification of the flesh and a distortion of the Christian teaching. In priesthood I see, besides an obvious preparation for deceit, a direct violation of the words of Christ, who directly forbade any one to be called teacher, father, instructor (Matt. xxiii. 8-10).

    It says, finally that, as the last and highest degree of my guilt, "I make light of the most sacred objects of faith, and have not stopped before ridiculing the most sacred of sacraments, the Eucharist." It is quite true that I have not stopped before describing simply and objectively what a priest does for the preparation of this so-called sacrament; but it is quite untrue that this so-called sacrament is something sacred and that it is blasphemy to describe it simply, just as it is done. It is not blasphemy to call a partition a partition and not an iconostasis, a cup a cup, and not a poteriou, and so forth; but it is a terrible, unceasing, shocking blasphemy for people to use all the possible means of deceit and hypnotization, and to assure the children and the simple masses that, if bits of bread are cut in a certain way and while pronouncing certain words, and are put into wine, God enters into these bits; that he in whose name, when living, a bit is taken out, will be well, and that he in whose name, when dead, such a piece is taken out, will fare better in the world to come; and that into him who eats this piece God will enter.

    That is terrible!

    No matter how one may understand Christ's personality, His teaching, which destroys the evil of the world, which so simply, easily, and indubitably gives the good to men, if only they shall not distort it, this teaching is all concealed, all changed into a gross sorcery of bathing, smearing with oil, motions of the body, incantations, swallowing of pieces, and so forth, so that nothing is left of the teaching. And if any man tries to remind these people that Christ's teaching is not in these sorceries, not in Te Deums, masses, tapers, images, but in this, that men should love one another, should not pay evil with evil, should not judge, should not kill one another, there arises the indignation of those to whom this deception is advantageous, and these men in the hearing of all and with incredible boldness say in the churches and print in books, newspapers, and catechisms that Christ never forbade swearing (oath of allegiance), never forbade murder (executions, wars), and that the doctrine of non-resistance to evil was with satanic cunning invented by Christ's foes.**

    What above all else is terrible is this, that people to whom this is advantageous deceive not only adults, but, since they have the power for it, children also, those same children of whom Christ says that woe shall be to him who shall deceive them. What is terrible is this, that these men for the sake of their petty advantages do such a terrible evil, by concealing from men the truth which was revealed by Christ and which gives the good, and not one-thousandth part of which is balanced by advantage which they derive from the evil. They act like that robber who kills a whole family, five or six people, in order to carry off an old sleeveless coat and forty kopeks in money. They would have gladly given him all their apparel and all their money, if only he would not kill them; but he cannot act differently.

    The same is true of religious deceivers. They could be supported ten times better, in the greatest luxury, if only they did not ruin people with their deceit. But they cannot act differently. It is this that is so terrible. And so it is not only possible, but even necessary to arraign their deception. If there is anything sacred, it is certainly not that which they call a sacrament, but this duty of arraigning their religious deception, when you see it.

    When a Chuvash smears his idol with cream and scourges it, I can do so as not to offend his belief, and pass by with equanimity, because he does this in the name of his superstition, which is alien to me, and this does not touch on what is sacred to me; but when people with their savage superstition, no matter how many there may be of them, how old their superstition may be, or how powerful they may be, in the name of that God by whom I live, and of that teaching of Christ which gave me life and may give it to all men, preach gross sorcery, I cannot look on in peace. And if I call by name what they do, I do only what I must, what I cannot help doing, if I believe in God and the Christian teaching. But if they call the arraignment of their deception a blasphemy, that only proves the force of their deception, and must only increase the efforts of men who believe in God and in Christ's teaching, in order to destroy this deception, which conceals the true God from men.

    Of Christ, who drove the oxen, the sheep, and the money-changers out of the temple, they must have said that He was blaspheming.

    If He were to come now and see what is being done in His name in the church, He would with greater and more legitimate anger throw out all those terrible corporales, Eucharist spears, crosses, cups, tapers, images, and all that by means of which they, committing sorceries, conceal God and His teaching from men. So this is what is true and untrue in the Synod's decree concerning me. I really do not believe in what they say they believe. But I believe in much of what they wish to assure people that I do not believe in.

    What I believe in is this: I believe in God, whom I understand as Spirit, as Love, as the beginning of everything. I believe that He is in me and I in Him. I believe that God's will is most clearly and comprehensibly expressed in the teaching of the man Christ, whom to understand as God and pray to I consider the greatest blasphemy. I believe that the greatest true good of man is the fulfilment of God's will, but His will is this, that men should love one another and in consequence of this should treat others as they wish that others should treat them, as, indeed, it says in the Gospel that in this is all the law and the prophets. I believe that the meaning of the life of every man is, therefore, only in the augmentation of love in himself; that this augmentation of love leads the individual man in this life to a greater and ever greater good, and gives after death a greater good, the greater the love is in man, and at the same time more than anything else contributes to the establishment of the kingdom of God in the world, that is, of an order of life with which the now existing discord, deception, and violence will give way to free agreement, truth, and brotherly love of men among themselves. I believe that there is but one means for success in love, and that is prayer, not public prayer in temples, which is directly forbidden by Christ (Matt. vi. 5-13), but such as Christ has given us an example of, solitary prayer, which consists in the establishment and strengthening in our consciousness of the meaning of our life and our independence of everything except God's will.

    Whether these my beliefs offend, pain, or tempt any one, or interfere with anything or any one, or displease any one, I can change them as little as I can change my body. I have to live myself, die myself (and very soon at that), and so I can absolutely not believe otherwise than I do, while getting ready to go to that God from whom I have come. I do not believe that my faith is unchangeable and incontestably true for all times, but I do not see any other, one which is more simple and clear, and which answers all the demands of my mind and heart; when I find such a one, I will accept it at once, because God needs nothing but the truth. But I am equally unable to return to that from which I have just come out with such sufferings, as a flying bird can no longer enter into the shell of the egg from which it came out.

    "He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all," said Coleridge.

    I went the opposite way. I began by loving my Orthodox faith more than peace, then I loved Christianity more than my church, but now I love truth better than anything in the world. And until now truth for me has coincided with Christianity, as I understand it. And I profess this Christianity; and in the measure in which I profess it, I live calmly and joyously, and calmly and joyously approach death.

    April 4, 1901
    L.N. Tolstoy

    * We need only read the ritual, to follow those ceremonies which without cessation are performed by the Orthodox clergy, and are considered to be Christian divine service, to see that all these ceremonies are nothing but various methods of sorcery, adapted for all incidents of life. For a child after death to go to heaven, it has to be anointed with oil and bathed while certain words are enunciated; for a woman in childbirth no longer to be unclean, certain magical formulas have to be pronounced; for success in some affair or peaceful life in a new house, for a crop of corn to be good, for a drought to be broken, for a cure from some disease, for an improvement in the condition of a deceased man in the other world,?for all that and thousands of other circumstances there are certain magical formulas, which in return for certain offerings are pronounced by a priest in a certain place. - Author's Note.

    ** Speech of Amvroad, the Bishop of Kharkov. - Author's Note.

  • outnfree

    Thank you, Drue, for sharing that. I had never read it, although I read somewhere that Tolstoy was not a Trinitarian.

    It was encouraging to read and I also am

    1/ not surprised that the Witnesses have it up on the Russian website,
    as it promotes a non-Trinitarian view; and

    2/ not surprised that the WTBTS cannot see the parallels you mentioned
    in the harshness of their disfellowshipping action and the reaction
    of the rank and file to their df'd "friends" with the reviling
    meted out to Tolstoy in letters and comments which other Russian
    Orthodox Church members were allowed to send and make and the less
    harsh excommunication of the ROC which only prevented Tolstoy from
    participating in the sacraments (which he no longer had any desire
    to do anyway).

    Ah, well! Posts like yours might open the eyes of posters here who have not yet made the connection.

    Thanks again.


    A man must not swallow more beliefs than he can digest.
    -- Havelock Ellis

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