The Repentant Sinner
by Leo Tolstoy
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou
comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say
unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Once there was a man who had lived in sin for all of his seventy years. one day he fell ill, but even then he did not confess his sins. When death came, he cried out in the last hour of his life, saying, “Oh my God, forgive me, as you forgave the robber on the cross!” As soon as he had said this, his soul departed. His soul dwelt in the love and mercy of the Lord, and soon came to the doors of paradise.
And the sinner knocked at the door and asked to be granted entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
And he heard a voice from behind the door say, “Who is knocking at the door of paradise, and what deeds has this man committed during his life?”
And another voice, the voice of the accuser, listed all the man’s sins, and mentioned not a single good deed.
And first voice behind the door answered, “Sinners cannot enter the kingdom of God. Depart from here.”
And the man said, “Oh Lord, I hear your voice, but I cannot see your face, and I do not know your name.”
And the voce answered, “I am the apostle Peter.”
And the sinner said, “Please forgive me, Peter the apostle, and remember human weakness and the mercy of God. Weren’t you a disciple of Christ? Weren’t you the same man who heard the teachings of Christ from his own lips and observed the example of his life? And don’t you remember, when he missed you and grieved for you with all his soul, how he asked you three times to pray and not fall asleep, but you slept because your eyes were heavy, and three times he found you sleeping? So it is with me.
“And do your remember how you promised to be with him until the end, but then you rejected him three times when they brought him to Caiaphas? So it is with me.
“And do you remember how, when the rooster crowed in the morning, you went out and wept bitterly? So it is with me. Therefore, you cannot refuse me entrance.”
And the voice behind the door disappeared.
And the man waited a little while, and again knocked at the door and asked to be granted entrance to the kingdom of heaven.
And he heard another voice from behind the door, and it said, “Who is this man, and how has he lived his life on earth?”
And again the accuser named each of the sins of the sinner, without mentioning a single good deed.
And the voice from behind the door answered, “Depart form here! Such sinners cannot live with us in paradise.”
And the sinner said, “Lord, I hear your voice, but I cannot see your face, and I do not know your name.”
And the voice replied, “I am David, the king and prophet.”
And the sinner did not despair; he remained before the doors of paradise, and said, “Take pity on me, King David, and remember the weakness of humanity and the mercy of God. God loved you and exalted your before men. You had everything: a kingdom, and glory, and wealth, and wives, and children; but from your roof you saw the wife of a poor man and became filled with sin. You took Uriah’s wife, and you had him killed by the swords of the Ammonites. You were a wealthy man, yet you took the last sheep of a poor man, and murdered him. So did I. And yet after this you repented of your sin and said, 'I confess my guilt and am grieved over my sin.’ So it is with me. You cannot refuse me entrance.”
And the voice behind the door disappeared.
And again the man waited for a little while, and again he knocked at the door and asked to enter the kingdom of heaven. And a third voice was heard from behind the door which said, “Who is this man, and how did he live his life on earth?”
And for the third time, the accuser named all the misdeeds of this sinner, without mentioning a single good thing.
And this third voice form behind the door answered, “Depart from here! Sinners can never enter the kingdom of God.”
The sinner said, “I hear your voice, but I cannot see your face, and I do not know your name.”
The voice replied, “I am John, Christ’s beloved disciple.”
And the sinner rejoiced and said, “Now you cannot refuse me entrance, Peter and David will let me in because they understand human weakness and mercy of God. And you must allow me to enter because you are filled with love. Wasn’t it you, John, who wrote in your book that God is love and that those who have not love do not know God? When you grew old, wasn’t it you who said to people only the phrase, ‘Brothers, love one another!’ How can you, after all of that, hate me and leave me outside? You must either denounce everything you taught or love me and grant me entrance into the kingdom of God.”
And the gates of paradise opened, and John embraced the repentant sinner, and welcomed him into the kingdom of heaven.
The Repentant Sinner. A tale written by Tolstoy in 1886 and included in The circle of Reading exactly as he had originally written it.
Divine And Human and other stories by Leo Tolstoy