A Story of Excommunication: Tolstoy-Russian Orthodox Church Relationship

The world-renowned Russian writer Tolstoy questioned the meaning of life throughout his life. In the early years of his life, he moved away from religion because of this questioning. He realized that the religious interpretation of the church was the basis of his distancing from religion over time. Thus, he studied religions. Beside his researches regarding other religions, Tolstoy contacted several groups that the Russian Orthodox church considered a heretic. However, Tolstoy, who did not abandon Christianity, reinterpreted the teaching of Jesus. He read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, in their original language, removed the chapters he thought was wrong, and rewrote it. As a result, he refused the trinity, the fact that Jesus is god, the resurrection of Jesus, sacraments, miracles, being subjected to political and religious authority, religious ceremonies, and icons. Due to his opinions, he drew reaction of the Church and his punishment was discussed from time to time. However, the Church was afraid of future reactions. His opinions about the ritual of Eucharist in his novel Resurrection caused the Church to reintroduce the punishment of Tolstoy. Furthermore, the fact that some clergymen began to adopt various views of Tolstoy also accelerated the decision-making process. In 1901, the Holy Synod decided to excommunicate Tolstoy. In response, people from the country and abroad supported Tolstoy. Tolstoy clearly explained his beliefs and reasons with the letter he wrote to the Holy Synod. Moreover, he stated that he did not want the Church rituals at his funeral when he died. The Church tried to persuade Tolstoy on several occasions while waiting for him to repent. However, Tolstoy, who did not comply with the repentance calls of the Church, died in 1910 before the excommunication decision was revoked.


History of Religion, Tolstoy, Excommunication, Christianity, Russian Orthodox Church

Author : Rukiye Aysun İNAN
Number of pages: 223-236
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.29228/TurkishStudies.43210
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Turkish Studies-Comparative Religious Studies
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