August 01, 1998

Tolstoy's Message

Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy is well-known as a novelist and short-story writer. But the philosophical writings that occupied his life after 1880 are much less well-known. Likewise, few know of the depth and scope of his political, social and religious ostracism as a result of these writings. On the 170th anniversary of Tolstoy’s birth Russian Life asked noted Tolstoy expert Vitaly Remizov to contribute some reflections on these themes, which Tolstoy himself considered much more important than novels “which divert some members of the wealthy classes for a short time.”

In Russia, we are reviving the names of Russia's best thinkers. We are finally publishing the works of philosophers and thinkers like Soloviev, Berdyaev, Bulgakov and Florensky. Yet Lev Tolstoy's name is still surrounded by a wall of silence or, worse, overt verbal abuse. For both the left and right, both orthodox and reformers, he is still deemed a mentally sick heretic punished by God.

In the summer of 1989, I met with the abbot of Optina Pustyn monastery, archimandrite Yevlogy. As we were chatting in a small room, I spotted a painting of little artistic value yet quite siginificant in terms of its contents. The center featured the aged Metropolitan Makary [from the 16th century]. On his right hand were all those who believed in the infallibility and sanctity of the Orthodox Church -- Gogol, Dostoevsky, Aksakov, and many others. On his left hand, at a distance, in a somewhat crippled pose, sat a lonely Lev Tolstoy, with a withered branch overhead, evoking the image of Job. "This is what pride is all about," Father Yevlogy said, pointing to the painting. He meant Tolstoy. While it would have been more proper of me to have kept silent, I could not help replying: “Is the Church really always infallible ?"

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