Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Three Hermits.”
This is a great little short story that I first read back in 1994. It was part of an anthology I own called “The World of Fiction.” Essentially, it is an illustration of a point made in Mathew 6: verses 7&8:
“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
***Spoiler Alert! Read no further if you would first like to read this story (linked below) for yourself. I urge you to, as it is only about five pages long***
An orthodox bishop is traveling by ship to the “Solavetsk monastery” with some pilgrims when he learns from a fisherman of an island inhabited by three devout hermits. His curiosity piqued, he persuades the captain of the ship to stop at this island and put him ashore so that he might meet these men. The bishop finds there three very old men, dressed in rags, with long beards, and one hardly able to articulate his words. The bishop proclaims he is there to “do what I can to teach you…” He asks them how they go about their prayers to save their souls and those of the rest of mankind. They respond, “We pray in this way, ‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.’ ”
The bishop surmises that they must understand something of the trinity but then advised them, “You do not pray aright,” and proceeds to teach them the Lord’s Prayer, which turns out to be an agonizingly slow task, due to their frail memories and vocal chords. When, finally, he thinks they’ve “got it,” he departs and wishes them well, no doubt quite pleased with himself. A while after sailing away from the island, though, he and the other passengers see a disturbance on the waves pursuing them very rapidly. Wondering what it might be, they soon realize it is the three hermits, gliding supernaturally over the water. They are despondent because they have already forgotten the bishop’s instruction and wish to be trained anew. A realization then hits the bishop and he says, ‘Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.”
Maybe what I like about this story is that the church official is actually able to see that his dogmatic approach to prayer may not be the best after all.
This story may be found free on-line in many places, one of which is linked here.
This is the second Tolstoy short story I’ve read this year for my project (the other being Master and Man). I still have neither read War and Peace nor Anna Karenina, choosing instead to test the waters with his shorter works first. What about you – have you read much Tolstoy? Do you think I would like W&P or AK?