Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
In a Siberian Prison Church
(From “Resurrection”)

By Leo Tolstoy

(Russian novelist and reformer, 1828–1910)
THE SERVICE began.  1
  It consisted of the following.  The priest, having dressed himself up in a strange and very inconvenient garb of gold cloth, cut and arranged little bits of bread on a saucer and then put most of them in a cup with wine, repeating at the same time different names and prayers. Meanwhile the deacon first read Slavonic prayers, difficult to understand in themselves, and rendered still more incomprehensible by being read very fast; he then sang them turn and turn about with the convicts.  2
  The essence of the service consisted in the supposition that the bits of bread cut up by the priest and put into the wine, when manipulated and prayed over in a certain way, turned into the flesh and blood of God.  3
  These manipulations consisted in the priest, hampered by the gold cloth sack he had on, regularly lifting and holding up his arms and then sinking to his knees and kissing the table and all that was on it; but chiefly in his taking a cloth by two of its corners and waving it rhythmically and softly over the silver saucer and the golden cup. It was supposed that at this point the bread and the wine turned into flesh and blood; therefore this part of the service was performed with the utmost solemnity. And the convicts made the sign of the cross, and bowed, first at each sentence, then after every two, and then after three; and all were very glad when the glorification ended and the priest shut the book with a sigh of relief and retired behind the partition. One last act remained. The priest took from a table a large gilt cross with enamel medallions at the ends, and came out into the center of the church with it. First the inspector came up and kissed the cross, then the jailers, and then the convicts, pushing and jostling, and abusing each other in whispers. The priest, talking to the inspector, pushed the cross and his hand, now against the mouths and now against the noses of the convicts, who were trying to kiss both the cross and the hand of the priest. And thus ended the Christian service, intended for the comfort and edification of these brothers who had gone astray.  4
  And none of these present, from the inspector down, seemed conscious of the fact that this Jesus, whose name the priest repeated such a great number of times, whom he praised with all these curious expressions, had forbidden the very things that were being done there; that he had not only prohibited this meaningless much-speaking and the blasphemous incantation over the bread and wine, but had also, in the clearest words, forbidden men to call other men their master or to pray in temples; had taught that every one should pray in solitude; had forbidden to erect temples, saying that he had come to destroy them, and that one should worship not in a temple, but in spirit and in truth; and, above all, that not only had he forbidden to judge, to imprison, to torment, to execute men, as was done here, but had even prohibited any kind of violence, saying that he had come to give freedom to the captives.  5
  No one present seemed conscious that all that was going on here was the greatest blasphemy, and a mockery of that same Christ in whose name it was being done. No one seemed to realize that the gilt cross with the enamel medallions at the ends, which the priest held out to the people to be kissed, was nothing but the emblem of that gallows on which Christ had been executed for denouncing just what was going on here. That these priests, who imagined they were eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine, did in reality eat and drink his flesh and his blood, only not as wine and bits of bread, but by ensnaring “these little ones” with whom he identified himself, by depriving them of the greatest blessings and submitting them to most cruel torments, and by hiding from men the tidings of great joy which he had brought—that thought did not enter the mind of any one present.  6

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