Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Great Russian writer

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself"

Leo Tolstoy and the Church

An anathema, as one often hears, was not handed down to the writer by the Church. There was only the decision of the Synod in 1901, condemning Tolstoy for his criticism of Church teaching and indicating that such views were not to be tolerated at all.

Tolstoy recounted his experiences, his martyrdom of faith, in his autobiographical novel The Confession, written in the late 1870s. After the book was published, Tolstoy broke off all ties with the Church. From 1880, Tolstoy completely abandoned the idea of being an Orthodox believer. He himself withdrew from the church, for him its doors always remained open.

Like every man thinking about the meaning of life, the mysteries of creation, Tolstoy for many years sought support in Orthodoxy, strictly observing fasting, taking communion, confessing and praying constantly. Since 1883, the writer takes the path of vegetarianism, as a logical extension of his views on the immoral nature of all violence. And his work was imbued with the idea of faith in God, in repentance, in service to the Almighty.

But the religious life did not bring answers to his questions, on the contrary, it only intensified his spiritual doubts and torments. The sense of falsity, insincerity, absurdity of the Church’s rituals and dogmas led to a severe spiritual crisis. At the same time continuing to believe in God, not separating himself from Christianity, the writer has built his system of values, which was based on the primacy of love in all its manifestations, to all that surrounds man.

Tolstoy completely rejects all rituals and church ceremonies:

«Not in prayers, masses, candles and icons is the teaching of Christ, but in the fact that people love one another, do not pay evil for evil, do not judge, do not kill one another».

The trouble with the writer is that not only did he profess his thoughts and views personally, but he made every effort to give them a public outreach, to educate as many people as possible and to find supporters. And with the popularity he enjoyed, this was not difficult. Thus the rejection grew more and more intense, and a wedge was driven into the relationship between Orthodoxy and Protestantism. His views acquired a coherent system of doctrine, which came to be known as “Tolstovism”.

And then, in February 1901, the Holy Synod issued a special decree, which points out the unacceptable action on the part of the writer in relation to Orthodoxy:

«World-famous writer, Russian by birth, Orthodox by baptism and upbringing, Count Tolstoy, in the seduction of his proud mind, boldly rebelled against the Lord and against Christ and His holy property, clearly before everyone renounced to his mother, the Orthodox Church, which educated him, and devoted his literary career and talent given to him by God to spread the doctrine, opposed to Christ and the Church, and to the destruction of the fatherly faith, the Orthodox faith, in the minds and hearts of people».

To this definition of the Synod the answer of the Count was even more severe. He did not soften his thoughts and clothe them in beautiful phrases. The answer was merciless:

«I have become convinced that the teaching of the Church is theoretically an insidious and pernicious lie, but practically it is a collection of the grossest superstitions and witchcraft, which conceals the whole meaning of Christian teaching. …That I reject the incomprehensible Trinity and the fable of the fall of the first man, the story of God born of the Virgin, who redeems the human race, is absolutely right».

Tolstoy first and foremost rejected as far-fetched, such church dogmas as:

  • The Trinity,
  • The divinity of Christ (considering him first and foremost a man),
  • The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary,
  • The worship of the saints,
  • The promise of hell for sinners,
  • And, at the same time, all the sacraments of the Church, considering them to be meaningless witchcraft.

Count himself renounced the church, in the course of deep and comprehensive, from his words, study of theoretical and practical teachings of the church:

“Theoretically – I have read everything I could about the doctrine of the church, studied and critically parsed dogmatic theology.”

For many years the persecution of the church continued against the recalcitrant apostate. But the writer was unwavering in his convictions.

“Oh, how terrible you are, Leo Tolstoy, spawn of the echidna…”, so wrote the famous Archpriest John of Kronstadt.

But even on his deathbed in 1910, deeply moved, abandoned by everyone, the writer could not find the strength to repent, more and more in conflict not only with Orthodoxy, but also with those around him.

Tolstoy willed to exclude the presence of priests on his deathbed. Even before his death, having visited the Optina hermitage, he did not seek reconciliation with the spiritual people and to the end of his days was faithful to his then-formed views.

A man who for many years preached “non-resistance to evil with violence”, the philosophy of universal love and eternity through his heroes, seeking meaning in everything and eternally dissatisfied with himself and what is happening, with age he a priori could not accept the dogmas of the Church.

Everything is not in vain, the search is not in vain. And in those days, quite a few people around the genius of the Russian word, shared his views, realizing that not everything converges in the teachings of the holy fathers very much contradict explicit and implicit.

Tolstoy – the great thinker-philosopher, learned the depths of life, the educator, the publicist. Perhaps his life and his system of values could not have developed differently. He finished his thorny way in search of truth and truth, leaving for posterity an enigma and a cause for dispute: why so, and what truth did the wise man seek.