“He rebelled against his Lord bravely.” Why was Leo Tolstoy excommunicated from the church? Writer Leo Tolstoy was born 195 years ago 09.09.2023, 16:45

Reasons for Tolstoy’s excommunication from the church

Baptized in the Orthodox Church in early childhood, Leo Tolstoy, at the age of 27, wrote in his diary that he wanted to devote his life to a new faith, “corresponding to the development of humanity, the religion of Christ, but <...> mystery, a practical religion that does not promise happiness in the future, but gives happiness to the world.” Later, by his own admission, the count, who for some time lost the meaning of his existence, began to seek the truth in the life of ordinary people and still tried to unite with their faith. He participated in the services and rituals of the Orthodox Church According to Tolstoy, the first communion many years later became “unforgettably painful” for him.

“Although I made all kinds of concessions and stayed away from all kinds of discussions, I could not accept the faith of these people. I saw that what they conveyed as faith was not an explanation, but an obscuration of the meaning of life. “They themselves confirmed my faith, not to answer the question of life that led me to faith, but for other purposes alien to me,” Tolstoy explained.

He joined the congregation for the last time in April 1878, after which he confessed to being disillusioned with the official faith. In the late 1870s, Tolstoy wrote “The Four Gospels: A Connection and Translation of the Four Gospels” in which he removed what he considered to be lies from the Bible. Ten years later, the author’s novel “Resurrection” was published, criticizing the actions of the clergy.

“It had never occurred to anyone that the gilded cross with enamel medallions at the ends, which the priest took out and gave to the people to kiss, was nothing more than an image of the gallows on which Jesus was executed precisely for forbidding it. Tolstoy wrote about the ceremony: “It was now held here in his name.

LN Tolstoy in the book “The Origins of Mental Disaster,” journalist Ivan Kontsevich noted that in “Resurrection” the author “exceeded even himself in attacks on the church and blasphemy.” According to historian Yuri Prokopchuk, this novel became one of the main reasons for Tolstoy’s excommunication from the church.


In February 1901, the magazine “Church Newspaper” published the decision of the Holy Governing Synod (the highest governing body of the Russian Church) on the excommunication of Count Leo Tolstoy. The initiator of the decision was St. They were Metropolitan Anthony of St. Petersburg and Ladoga. At the same time, one of Tolstoy’s enemies, the Prosecutor General of the Holy Synod, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, was against excommunication, believing that this would only increase the popularity of the writer.

The description stated that in his writings and letters Tolstoy “preached with the zeal of a fanatic the destruction of all the dogmas of the Orthodox Church and the essence of the Christian faith”, rejected all the sacraments and even “did not hesitate to ridicule”. the greatest of all sacraments, the Holy Eucharist.”

The authors of the description stated that due to unsuccessful attempts to warn the “new false teacher”, the church would not accept Tolstoy as a member until he repented.

“Russian by birth, Orthodox by baptism and upbringing, the world-famous writer Count Tolstoy, seduced by his proud mind, boldly rebelled openly against the Lord, Christ and His holy possessions, before everyone else renounced the Mother. He nurtured and nurtured the Orthodox Church and devoted his literary activity and the talent given to him by God to the spread among people of teachings contrary to Christ and the Church and to destruction in the minds and hearts of paternalistic people. The Synod’s definition said: The faith that founded the universe, by which our ancestors lived and were saved, and by which Holy Russia remains intact and strong to this day, the Orthodox faith.

According to the decree, Tolstoy was forbidden to confess, receive communion and receive communion. He was also deprived of the right to be buried and prayed in accordance with Orthodox customs.

Tolstoy’s answer

In April 1901, Tolstoy wrote a response to the Synod, which was published with significant abbreviations in church publications. Tolstoy particularly noted the shortcomings of the definition, calling it illegal, unfounded and untrue. He also noted slander and “incitement to bad feelings and actions” in the text.

“It is said that I reject all rituals. This is completely fair. I consider all sacraments to be vile, vulgar, witchcraft inconsistent with the concept of God and Christian teaching, and, moreover, a violation of the most direct instructions of the Bible. I see in infant baptism a clear distortion of the meaning that baptism could have for adults who consciously accept Christianity; Tolstoy wrote, “I see a direct violation of both the meaning and the letter of Biblical teaching in the application of the sacrament of marriage over people who have previously been openly united, in the permitting of divorces and the sanctification of marriages of divorced persons.”

According to the author, he had renounced the church not because he rebelled against the Lord, but “only because he wanted to serve Him with all the strength of his soul.”

“I believe this: I believe in God, whom I understand as Spirit, whom I understand as love, who is the beginning of everything. I believe he is in me and I am in him. “I believe that the will of God is expressed most clearly and most understandably in the teaching of Jesus Christ, which I consider the greatest blasphemy to be understood and prayed to as God,” Tolstoy concluded.

Public reaction to the Synod’s decision

A few days after the definition was published, many newspapers of the Russian Empire reprinted it. This news caused a great stir in society: Tolstoy received many letters containing threats and demands for repentance.

Many religious figures harshly criticized Tolstoy, including Archbishop John of Kronstadt. He called the writer an atheist, compared him to Judas, and published a prayer in the Moscow newspaper “News of the Day” calling on God to “take Leo Tolstoy and all his ardent followers from the earth.”

Tolstoy also had his defenders. Thus, the philosopher of religion Nikolai Berdyaev noted that Tolstoy “rebelled with unprecedented strength and radicalism against the hypocrisy of a semi-Christian society, against the lies of a semi-Christian state.”

“He brilliantly exposed the monstrous unreality and deadness of official, official Christianity, put a mirror in front of the false and deadly Christian society, and terrified people of sensitive conscience. Tolstoy himself excommunicated himself from the Church, and the fact that he was excommunicated by the Russian Holy Synod pales in comparison to this fact,” Berdyaev said.

The writer’s wife, Sofya Tolstaya, wrote in her diary that she received a standing ovation, many beautiful letters were sent and baskets full of flowers were brought. To support the author, St. Demonstrations were held in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and other cities.


Shortly before Tolstoy’s death in 1910, the Holy Synod sent Elder Barsanuphius of Optina to him to accept the writer’s repentance. His relatives did not let him in. When the count died, the Synod forbade the clergy to perform a funeral service for him. One of the priests nevertheless agreed, but the clergy learned about this and asked for special consideration of this prayer.

Later, the position of the church was not revised – in fact, the decision of the Synod remains valid, and according to Orthodox traditions, it is still impossible to pray for Tolstoy.

In 2001, the author’s grandchildren applied to the Patriarchate requesting the annulment of the determination, but it was rejected.

Count Leo Tolstoy was born on August 28 (September 9), 1828 in Yasnaya Polyana, Tula province. One of the most remarkable events in the writer’s biography was his excommunication from the church. socialbites.ca tells why the Holy Synod made such a decision and what happened next.

Source: Gazeta


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