Slavic Review: American quarterly of Russian, Eurasian and East European studies. 2001, 60 (1), 75-95
When Leo Tolstoi emerged as a religious teacher in the 1880s, taking a sharply polemical stance against the Orthodox faith he had been raised in, the Russian church was at a loss to find effective and appropriate ways to react. On the one hand, to the very end the church hoped that it might be possible to bring the prodigal son back home. Over the last thirty years of Tolstoi's life, even while he lay on his deathbed, church dignitaries tried to gain access to the famous writer, to admonish and counsel him, hoping to bring him back to the narrow path. But while they were engaged in this Sisyphean enterprise a steady stream of ever new anti-Orthodox pamphlets emanated from Iasnaia Poliana spreading the Tolstoyan heresy all across Russia. Even more important than the missionary efforts to convert Tolstoi, therefore, was the necessity to contain, and, hopefully, extinguish, this spiritual plague. Then, on 25 February 1901, the Holy Synod promulgated a public statement condemning the Tolstoyan heresy in no uncertain terms and declaring that no requiem mass could be performed after Tolstoi's death unless he repented. The requiem debate has by and large been ignored by Tolstoi scholars in both Russia/the Soviet Union and in the West. The intense predicament in which the church found itself during Tolstoi's agony at the Astapovo railway station has been poorly understood. The present article attempts to fill this lacuna in the scholarship of Tolstoyology as well as in the history of the early 20th century Russian church.