Tolstoy letter on Religious Relation to Life

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On the Religious Relation to Life[edit]

February 2, 1902

Dear N-,

I quite agree with what you write. I have been approaching this conviction gradually, and have now definitely reached it, as I have expressed in my article What is Religion and what is its Essence?

I disagree with you only in one but very important point: It is rue that, at the present time, and especiially amongst us in Russia, the Church and State deceit present the chief obstacle to the establishment of, or even the approach to, the Christian life, but one cannot say that the strife with these deceits represents the chief business of a Christian.

The business of a Christian, by the means of which he attains all his purposes, including the one which at present in russia stands before him, is everywhere always one: to increase one's fire and let it give light to men.

But directing all one's attention, all one's efforts, to show one particular object, as for instance, the life of manual labor, propaganda, or as in this case, strife with this or that deceit, is always a mistake, like that of a man who, during an inundation, instead of directing the water through the chief outlet or repairing the dike which resists the water, should construct dams in his own street, overlooking the fact that the water will come in from other directions.

When I received your letter I wished to write to you reminding you that in strife, one should be as wise as serpents and as meek as doves: but this is not enough: one should not for a moment forget the essential general aim, and not let oneself be carried away by efforts to attain one particular object.

This does not mean that one should not fight against deceits (when one knows that they ar the greatest, one will do so involuntarily), but one should fight only when the struggle follows as a result of the general effort towards perfection.

Another comparison. One has to protect houses from the possibility of a fire being communicated to all. One can cut green branches and stick them into the earth between the houses. And this may appear to be effective for a day or two. One can also plant small trees, and when they take root and grow up, this will be effective permenantly.

It is necessary that our activity should have roots. And these roots are in our submissiveness to the will of God, in our personal life being dedicated to perfecting oneself and increasing love.

My physical health continues to be bad, but spiritually I feel very well, and I can work and do work as well as I am able, more seriously in view of the approaching end.