Posted by: sean | April 24, 2007

Ivan Petroff

It is just what has taken place of late years at recruiting sessions; at a table before the zertzal – the symbol of the Czar’s authority – in the seat of honor under the life-size portrait of the Czar, sit dignified old officials, wearing decorations, conversing freely and easily, writing notes, summoning men before them, and giving orders. Here, wearing a cross on his breast, near them, is a prosperous-looking old priest in a silken cassock, with long gray hair flowing on to his cope, before a lectern who wears the golden cross and has a Gospel bound in gold.

They summon Ivan Petroff. A young man comes in, wretchedly, shabbily dressed, and in terror, the muscles of his face working, his eyes bright and restless; and in a broken voice, hardly above a whisper, he says, “I – by Christ’s law – as a Christian – I cannot.” “What is he muttering?” asks the president, frowning impatiently and raising his eyes from his book to listen. “Speak louder,” the colonel with shining epaulets shouts to him. “I – I as a Christian…” And at last it appears that the young man refuses to serve in the army because he is a Christian. “Don’t talk nonsense. Stand to be measured. Doctor, may I trouble you to measure him. He is all right?” “Yes.” “Reverend father, administer the oath to him.”

No one is the least disturbed by what the poor scared young man is muttering. They do not even pay attention to it. “They all mutter something, but we’ve no time to listen to it, we have to enroll so many.”

The recruit tries to say something still. “It’s opposed to the law of Christ.” “Go along, go along; we know without your help what is opposed to the law and what’s not; and you soothe his mind, reverend father, soothe him. Next: Vassily Nikitin.” And they lead the trembling youth away. And it does not strike anyone – the guards, or Vassily Nikitin, whom they are bringing in, or any of the spectators of this scene – that these inarticulate words of the young man, at once suppressed by the authorities, contain the truth, and that the loud, solemnly uttered sentences of the calm, self-confident official and the priest are a lie and a deception.

-Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You, 1894, trans by C. Garnett, pgs 17-18

this is from an e-book available in html or pdf

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