The Penitent Sinner

by Leo Tolstoy
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What is the epigraph of the story "The Penitent Sinner"?

The epigraph of "The Penitent Sinner" consists of two verses from the Gospel of Luke relating to the thief on the cross.

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Tolstoy's short story "The Penitent Sinner" is about the mercy of God and the reward of true penitence. A man who has sinned all his life is admitted to the kingdom of Heaven because he repented in his last hour before death and cried out to God to forgive him as God forgave the thief on the cross beside Christ.

This plea in the first paragraph of the story is a direct reference to the epigraph, which consists of two verses from chapter 23 of the Gospel of Luke. The epithet reads,

And he said to Jesus: Remember me, Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom. And Jesus said unto him: Verily, I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." —Luke xxiii. 42, 43.

According to this story in the Bible, two criminals are crucified alongside Christ. One of them bitterly or even sarcastically asks why Christ does not save all three of them from this punishment, but the other reflects that he and his fellow criminal are being justly punished, while Christ alone has done nothing wrong. He then speaks the words of verse 42, and Jesus gives him the unique assurance that he will be saved.

Tolstoy's message is the same as that of the Gospel he cites. People do not achieve salvation because they are virtuous, but through the mercy of God. If they have faith in God's merciful nature, this faith will be rewarded with salvation.

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