A Confession

Part 13

I turned from the life of our circle, acknowledging that ours
is not life but a simulation of life -- that the conditions of
superfluity in which we live deprive us of the possibility of
understanding life, and that in order to understand life I must
understand not an exceptional life such as our who are parasites on
life, but the life of the simple labouring folk -- those who make
life -- and the meaning which they attribute to it.  The simplest
labouring people around me were the Russian people, and I turned to
them and to the meaning of life which they give.  That meaning, if
one can put it into words, was as follows:  Every man has come into
this world by the will of God.  And God has so made man that every
man can destroy his soul or save it.  The aim of man in life is to
save his soul, and to save his soul he must live "godly" and to
live "godly" he must renounce all the pleasures of life, must
labour, humble himself, suffer, and be merciful.  That meaning the
people obtain from the whole teaching of faith transmitted to them
by their pastors and by the traditions that live among the people. 
This meaning was clear to me and near to my heart.  But together
with this meaning of the popular faith of our non-sectarian folk,
among whom I live, much was inseparably bound up that revolted me
and seemed to me inexplicable: sacraments, Church services, fasts,
and the adoration of relics and icons.  The people cannot separate
the one from the other, nor could I.  And strange as much of what
entered into the faith of these people was to me, I accepted
everything, and attended the services, knelt morning and evening in
prayer, fasted, and prepared to receive the Eucharist: and at first
my reason did not resist anything.  The very things that had
formerly seemed to me impossible did not now evoke in me any

My relations to faith before and after were quite different. 
Formerly life itself seemed to me full of meaning and faith
presented itself as the arbitrary assertion of propositions to me
quite unnecessary, unreasonable, and disconnected from life.  I
then asked myself what meaning those propositions had and,
convinced that they had none, I rejected them.  Now on the contrary
I knew firmly that my life otherwise has, and can have, no meaning,
and the articles of faith were far from presenting themselves to me
as unnecessary --  on the contrary I had been led by indubitable
experience to the conviction that only these propositions presented
by faith give life a meaning.  formerly I looked on them as on some
quite unnecessary gibberish, but now, if I did not understand them,
I yet knew that they had a meaning, and I said to myself that I
must learn to understand them.

I argued as follows, telling myself that the knowledge of
faith flows, like all humanity with its reason, from a mysterious
source.  That source is God, the origin both of the human body and
the human reason.  As my body has descended to me from God, so also
has my reason and my understanding of life, and consequently the
various stages of the development of that understanding of life
cannot be false.  All that people sincerely believe in must be
true; it may be differently expressed but it cannot be a lie, and
therefore if it presents itself to me as a lie, that only means
that I have not understood it.  Furthermore I said to myself, the
essence of every faith consists in its giving life a meaning which
death does not destroy.  Naturally for a faith to be able to reply
to the questions of a king dying in luxury, of an old slave
tormented by overwork, of an unreasoning child, of a wise old man,
of a half-witted old woman, of a young and happy wife, of a youth
tormented by passions, of all people in the most varied conditions
of life and education -- if there is one reply to the one eternal
question of life:  "Why do I live and what will result from my
life?" -- the reply, though one in its essence, must be endlessly
varied in its presentation; and the more it is one, the more true
and profound it is, the more strange and deformed must it naturally
appear in its attempted expression, conformably to the education
and position of each person.  But this argument, justifying in my
eyes the queerness of much on the ritual side of religion, did not
suffice to allow me in the one great affair of life -- religion --
to do things which seemed to me questionable.  With all my soul I
wished to be in a position to mingle with the people, fulfilling
the ritual side of their religion; but I could not do it.  I felt
that I should lie to myself and mock at what was sacred to me, were
I to do so.  At this point, however, our new Russian theological
writers came to my rescue.

According to the explanation these theologians gave, the
fundamental dogma of our faith is the infallibility of the Church. 
From the admission of that dogma follows inevitably the truth of
all that is professed by the Church.  The Church as an assembly of
true believers united by love and therefore possessed of true
knowledge became the basis of my belief.  I told myself that divine
truth cannot be accessible to a separate individual; it is revealed
only to the whole assembly of people united by love.  To attain
truth one must not separate, and in order not to separate one must
love and must endure things one may not agree with.

Truth reveals itself to love, and if you do not submit to the
rites of the Church you transgress against love; and by
transgressing against love you deprive yourself of the possibility
of recognizing the truth.  I did not then see the sophistry
contained in this argument.  I did not see that union in love may
give the greatest love, but certainly cannot give us divine truth
expressed in the definite words of the Nicene Creed.  I also did
not perceive that love cannot make a certain expression of truth an
obligatory condition of union.  I did not then see these mistakes
in the argument and thanks to it was able to accept and perform all
the rites of the Orthodox Church without understanding most of
them.  I then tried with all strength of my soul to avoid all
arguments and contradictions, and tried to explain as reasonably as
possible the Church statements I encountered.

When fulfilling the rites of the Church I humbled my reason
and submitted to the tradition possessed by all humanity.  I united
myself with my forefathers: the father, mother, and grandparents I
loved. They and all my predecessors believed and lived, and they
produced me.  I united myself also with the missions of the common
people whom I respected.  Moveover, those actions had nothing bad
in themselves ("bad" I considered the indulgence of one's desires). 
When rising early for Church services I knew I was doing well, if
only because I was sacrificing my bodily ease to humble my mental
pride, for the sake of union with my ancestors and contemporaries,
and for the sake of finding the meaning of life.  It was the same
with my preparations to receive Communion, and with the daily
reading of prayers with genuflections, and also with the observance
of all the fasts.  However insignificant these sacrifices might be
I made them for the sake of something good.  I fasted, prepared for
Communion, and observed the fixed hours of prayer at home and in
church.  During Church service I attended to every word, and gave
them a meaning whenever I could.  In the Mass the most important
words for me were: "Let us love one another in conformity!"  The
further words, "In unity we believe in the Father, the Son, and
Holy Ghost", I passed by, because I could not understand them.


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.   [Footnote: In Russia Sunday
was called Resurrection-day. -- A. M.]  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.

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

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

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.


How often I envied the peasants their illiteracy and lack of
learning!  Those statements in the creeds which to me were evident
absurdities, for them contained nothing false; they could accept
them and could believe in the truth -- the truth I believed in. 
Only to me, unhappy man, was it clear that with truth falsehood was
interwoven by finest threads, and that I could not accept it in
that form.

So I lived for about three years.  At first, when I was only
slightly associated with truth as a catechumen and was only
scenting out what seemed to me clearest, these encounters struck me
less.  When I did not understand anything, I said, "It is my fault,
I am sinful";  but the more I became imbued with the truths I was
learning, the more they became the basis of my life, the more
oppressive and the more painful became these encounters and the
sharper became the line between what I do not understand because I
am not able to understand it, and what cannot be understood except
by lying to oneself.

In spite of my doubts and sufferings I still clung to the
Orthodox Church.  But questions of life arose which had to be
decided; and the decision of these questions by the Church --
contrary to the very bases of the belief by which I lived --
obliged me at last to renounce communion with Orthodoxy as
impossible.  These questions were:  first the relation of the
Orthodox Eastern Church to other Churches -- to the Catholics and
to the so-called sectarians.  At that time, in consequence of my
interest in religion, I came into touch with believers of various
faiths:  Catholics, protestants, Old-Believers, Molokans [Footnote: 
A sect that rejects sacraments and ritual.],  and others.  And I
met among them many men of lofty morals who were truly religious. 
I wished to be a brother to them.  And what happened?  That
teaching which promised to unite all in one faith and love -- that
very teaching, in the person of its best representatives, told me
that these men were all living a lie; that what gave them their
power of life was a temptation of the devil; and that we alone
possess the only possible truth.  And I saw that all who do not
profess an identical faith with themselves are considered by the
Orthodox to be heretics, just as the Catholics and others consider
the Orthodox to be heretics.  And i saw that the Orthodox (though
they try to hide this) regard with hostility all who do not express
their faith by the same external symbols and words as themselves;
and this is naturally so; first, because the assertion that you are
in falsehood and I am in truth, is the most cruel thing one man can
say to another; and secondly, because a man loving his children and
brothers cannot help being hostile to those who wish to pervert his
children and brothers to a false belief.  And that hostility is
increased in proportion to one's greater knowledge of theology. 
And to me who considered that truth lay in union by love, it became
self-evident that theology was itself destroying what it ought to

This offence is so obvious to us educated people who have
lived in countries where various religions are professed and have
seen the contempt, self-assurance, and invincible contradiction
with which Catholics behave to the Orthodox Greeks and to the
Protestants, and the Orthodox to Catholics and Protestants, and the
Protestants to the two others, and the similar attitude of Old-
Believers, Pashkovites (Russian Evangelicals), Shakers, and all
religions -- that the very obviousness of the temptation at first
perplexes us.  One says to oneself: it is impossible that it is so
simple and that people do not see that if two assertions are
mutually contradictory, then neither of them has the sole truth
which faith should possess.  There is something else here, there
must be some explanation.  I thought there was, and sought that
explanation and read all I could on the subject, and consulted all
whom I could.  And no one gave me any explanation, except the one
which causes the Sumsky Hussars to consider the Sumsky Hussars the
best regiment in the world, and the Yellow Uhlans to consider that
the best regiment in the world is the Yellow Uhlans.  The
ecclesiastics of all the different creeds, through their best
representatives, told me nothing but that they believed themselves
to have the truth and the others to be in error, and that all they
could do was to pray for them.  I went to archimandrites, bishops,
elders, monks of the strictest orders, and asked them; but none of
them made any attempt to explain the matter to me except one man,
who explained it all and explained it so that I never asked any one
any more about it.  I said that for every unbeliever turning to a
belief (and all our young generation are in a position to do so)
the question that presents itself first is, why is truth not in
Lutheranism nor in Catholicism, but in Orthodoxy?  Educated in the
high school he cannot help knowing what the peasants do not know --
that the Protestants and Catholics equally affirm that their faith
is the only true one.  Historical evidence, twisted by each
religion in its own favour, is insufficient.  Is it not possible,
said I, to understand the teaching in a loftier way, so that from
its height the differences should disappear, as they do for one who
believes truly?  Can we not go further along a path like the one we
are following with the Old-Believers?  They emphasize the fact that
they have a differently shaped cross and different alleluias and a
different procession round the altar.  We reply:  You believe in
the Nicene Creed, in the seven sacraments, and so do we.  Let us
hold to that, and in other matters do as you pease.  We have united
with them by placing the essentials of faith above the
unessentials.  Now with the Catholics can we not say:  You believe
in so and so and in so and so, which are the chief things, and as
for the Filioque clause and the Pope -- do as you please.  Can we
not say the same to the Protestants, uniting with them in what is
most important?

My interlocutor agreed with my thoughts, but told me that such
conceptions would bring reproach o the spiritual authorities for
deserting the faith of our forefathers, and this would produce a
schism; and the vocation of the spiritual authorities is to
safeguard in all its purity the Greco-Russian Orthodox faith
inherited from our forefathers.

And I understood it all.  I am seeking a faith, the power of
life; and they are seeking the best way to fulfil in the eyes of
men certain human obligations.  and fulfilling these human affairs
they fulfil them in a human way.  However much they may talk of
their pity for their erring brethren, and of addressing prayers for
them to the throne of the Almighty -- to carry out human purposes
violence is necessary, and it has always been applied and is and
will be applied.  If of two religions each considers itself true
and the other false, then men desiring to attract others to the
truth will preach their own doctrine.  And if a false teaching is
preached to the inexperienced sons of their Church -- which as the
truth -- then that Church cannot but burn the books and remove the
man who is misleading its sons.  What is to be done with a
sectarian -- burning, in the opinion of the Orthodox, with the fire
of false doctrine -- who in the most important affair of life, in
faith, misleads the sons of the Church?  What can be done with him
except to cut off his head or to incarcerate him?  Under the Tsar
Alexis Mikhaylovich people were burned at the stake, that is to
say, the severest method of punishment of the time was applied, and
in our day also the severest method of punishment is applied --
detention in solitary confinement.  [Footnote:  At the time this
was written capital punishment was considered to be abolished in
Russia. -- A.M.] 

The second relation of the Church to a question of life was
with regard to war and executions.

At that time Russia was at war.  And Russians, in the name of
Christian love, began to kill their fellow men.  It was impossible
not to think about this, and not to see that killing is an evil
repugnant to the first principles of any faith.  Yet prayers were
said in the churches for the success of our arms, and the teachers
of the Faith acknowledged killing to be an act resulting from the
Faith.  And besides the murders during the war, I saw, during the
disturbances which followed the war, Church dignitaries and
teachers and monks of the lesser and stricter orders who approved
the killing of helpless, erring youths.  And I took note of all
that is done by men who profess Christianity, and I was horrified.


And I ceased to doubt, and became fully convinced that not all
was true in the religion I had joined.  Formerly I should have said
that it was all false, but I could not say so now.  The whole of
the people possessed a knowledge of the truth, for otherwise they
could not have lived.  Moreover, that knowledge was accessible to
me, for I had felt it and had lived by it.  But I no longer doubted
that there was also falsehood in it.  And all that had previously
repelled me now presented itself vividly before me.  And though I
saw that among the peasants there was a smaller admixture of the
lies that  repelled me than among the representatives of the
Church, I still saw that in the people's belief also falsehood was
mingled with the truth.

But where did the truth and where did the falsehood come from? 
Both the falsehood and the truth were contained in the so-called
holy tradition and in the Scriptures.  Both the falsehood and the
truth had been handed down by what is called the Church.

And whether I liked or not, I was brought to the study and
investigation of these writings and traditions -- which till now I
had been so afraid to investigate.

And I turned to the examination of that same theology which I
had once rejected with such contempt as unnecessary.  Formerly it
seemed to me a series of unnecessary absurdities, when on all sides
I was surrounded by manifestations of life which seemed to me clear
and full of sense; now I should have been glad to throw away what
would not enter a health head, but I had nowhere to turn to.  On
this teaching religious doctrine rests, or at least with it the
only knowledge of the meaning of life that I have found is
inseparably connected.  However wild it may seem too my firm old
mind, it was the only hope of salvation.  It had to be carefully,
attentively examined in order to understand it, and not even to
understand it as I understand the propositions of science:  I do
not seek that, nor can I seek it, knowing the special character of
religious knowledge.  I shall not seek the explanation of
everything.  I know that the explanation of everything, like the
commencement of everything, must be concealed in infinity.  But I
wish to understand in a way which will bring me to what is
inevitably inexplicable.  I wish to recognize anything that is
inexplicable as being so not because the demands of my reason are
wrong (they are right, and apart from them I can understand
nothing), but because I recognize the limits of my intellect.  I
wish to understand in such a way that everything that is
inexplicable shall present itself to me as being necessarily
inexplicable, and not as being something I am under an arbitrary
obligation to believe.

That there is truth in the teaching is to me indubitable, but
it is also certain that there is falsehood in it, and I must find
what is true and what is false, and must disentangle the one from
the other.  I am setting to work upon this task.  What of falsehood
I have found in the teaching and what I have found of truth, and to
what conclusions I came, will form the following parts of this
work, which if it be worth it and if anyone wants it, will probably
some day be printed somewhere.

The foregoing was written by me some three years ago, and will
be printed.

Now a few days ago, when revising it and returning to the line
of thought and to the feelings I had when I was living through it
all, I had a dream.  This dream expressed in condensed form all
that I had experienced and described, and I think therefore that,
for those who have understood me, a description of this dream will
refresh and elucidate and unify what has been set forth at such
length in the foregoing pages.  The dream was this:

I saw that I was lying on a bed.  I was neither comfortable
nor uncomfortable: I was lying on my back.  But I began to consider
how, and on what, I was lying -- a question which had not till then
occurred to me.  And observing my bed, I saw I was lying on plaited
string supports attached to its sides: my feet were resting on one
such support, by calves on another, and my legs felt uncomfortable. 
I seemed to know that those supports were movable, and with a
movement of my foot I pushed away the furthest of them at my feet -
- it seemed to me that it would be more comfortable so.  But I
pushed it away too far and wished to reach it again with my foot,
and that movement caused the next support under my calves to slip
away also, so that my legs hung in the air.  I made a movement with
my whole body to adjust myself, fully convinced that I could do so
at once; but the movement caused the other supports under me to
slip and to become entangled, and I saw that matters were going
quite wrong: the whole of the lower part of my body slipped and
hung down, though my feet did not reach the ground.  I was holding
on only by the upper part of my back, and not only did it become
uncomfortable but I was even frightened.  And then only did I ask
myself about something that had not before occurred to me.  I asked
myself:  Where am I and what am I lying on? and I began to look
around and first of all to look down in the direction which my body
was hanging and whiter I felt I must soon fall.  I looked down and
did not believe my eyes.  I was not only at a height comparable to
the height of the highest towers or mountains, but at a height such
as I could never have imagined.

I could not even make out whether I saw anything there below,
in that bottomless abyss over which I was hanging and whiter I was
being drawn.  My heart contracted, and I experienced horror.  To
look thither was terrible.  If I looked thither I felt that I
should at once slip from the last support and perish.  And I did
not look.  But not to look was still worse, for I thought of what
would happen to me directly I fell from the last support.  And I
felt that from fear I was losing my last supports, and that my back
was slowly slipping lower and lower.  Another moment and I should
drop off.  And then it occurred to me that this cannot e real.  It
is a dream.  Wake up! I try to arouse myself but cannot do so. 
What am I to do?  What am I to do?  I ask myself, and look upwards. 
Above, there is also an infinite space.  I look into the immensity
of sky and try to forget about the immensity below, and I really do
forget it.  The immensity below repels and frightens me; the
immensity above attracts and strengthens me.  I am still supported
above the abyss by the last supports that have not yet slipped from
under me; I know that I am hanging, but I look only upwards and my
fear passes.  As happens in dreams, a voice says: "Notice this,
this is it!"  And I look more and more into the infinite above me
and feel that I am becoming calm.  I remember all that has
happened, and remember how it all happened; how I moved my legs,
how I hung down, how frightened I was, and how I was saved from
fear by looking upwards.  And I ask myself: Well, and now am I not
hanging just the same?  And I do not so much look round as
experience with my whole body the point of support on which I am
held.  I see that I no longer hang as if about to fall, but am
firmly held.  I ask myself how I am held: I feel about, look round,
and see that under me, under the middle of my body, there is one
support, and that when I look upwards I lie on it in the position
of securest balance, and that it alone gave me support before.  And
then, as happens in dreams, I imagined the mechanism by means of
which I was held; a very natural intelligible, and sure means,
though to one awake that mechanism has no sense.  I was even
surprised in my dream that I had not understood it sooner.  It
appeared that at my head there was a pillar, and the security of
that slender pillar was undoubted though there was nothing to
support it.  From the pillar a loop hung very ingeniously and yet
simply, and if one lay with the middle of one's body in that loop
and looked up, there could be no question of falling.  This was all
clear to me, and I was glad and tranquil.  And it seemed as if
someone said to me:  "See that you remember."
     And I awoke.