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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 211

In Russian, there is a small rhyme, “Bog i ya, my druzya . . . zachem nuzhna religiya?” that means “God and I, we are friends . . . what do I need religion for?” This rhyme epitomizes Leo Tolstoy’s attitude toward organized religion as he saw it in czarist Russia. After his own development of strong pacifist beliefs in the early 1880’s, Tolstoy was critical of the dominant Russian Orthodox Church for its sanctioning of the czarist government’s warring and social oppression. In his stories of this period, he tried to awaken people to the superiority of individual belief over religious dogma. In “The Three Hermits,” the Archbishop’s self-satisfied piety is shown to be inferior to the old men’s simple and direct relationship with God. Through the story, Tolstoy attempted to teach people not to allow others, no matter what institutional support possessed or authority cited, to mitigate their moral beliefs. In support of this lesson, he cited as an epigraph to the story a verse from the New Testament: “And when ye pray, make not vain repetitions as the heathen do; for they think they shall be heard for their much asking. Be not like unto them, for your Heavenly Father knows what ye have need of before ye ask Him.”

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