The Penitent Sinner
by Leo Tolstoy
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.
There was a man who lived in the world for seventy years, and all that time he lived a life of sin. And this man fell sick, and he did not repent. And when death came, in his last hour, he burst into tears and said: “Lord, forgive me as Thou forgavest the thief on the cross!” Scarce had he succeeded in saying this when his soul departed. And the soul of the sinner loved God and believed in His mercy, and came to the doors of heaven.
And the sinner began to knock and beg to be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven.
And he heard a voice behind the door saying: “What man is this that knocketh at the door of Heaven, and what deeds hath he done in his lifetime?”
And the voice of the Accuser answered, and counted up all the sinful deeds of this man. And he named no good deeds at all.
And the voice behind the door answered: “Sinners cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Depart hence!”
And the man said: “My Lord! I hear thy voice, but thy face I do not see, and thy name I know not.”
And the voice answered: “I am Peter the Apostle.”
And the sinner said: “Have pity upon me, Peter the Apostle, and be mindful of human weakness and the mercy of God. Wert not thou a disciple of Christ; didst thou not hear His teaching from His very lips and see the example of His life? And remember—when He was afflicted and tormented in spirit, and begged thee three times not to sleep but to pray, thou didst sleep because thine eyes were heavy, and three times He found thee sleeping. And so it hath been with me.
“And remember, too, how thou didst promise Him not to deny Him even unto death, and how thou didst thrice deny Him when they brought Him before Caiaphas. And so it hath been with me.
“And remember, too, how the cock crew, and thou didst depart and weep bitterly. So it hath been with me. Thou can’st not but let me in.”
And the voice behind the door of Paradise was silent
And after no very long delay the sinner again began to knock at the door and ask to be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven.
And another voice was heard to speak from behind the door, and it said: “What man is this, and what manner of life did he live in the world?”
And the voice of the Accuser replied, and recounted all the evil deeds of the sinner, and named no good deeds at all.
And the voice behind the door answered: “Depart hence; such sinners cannot live together with us in Heaven.”
And the sinner said: “My Lord, I hear thy voicer but thy face I see not, and I do not know thy name.”
And the voice said to him: “I am King David the Prophet.”
And the sinner did not despair, and did not depart from the door of Heaven, and began to say: “Have pity upon me, King David, and remember human weakness and the mercy of God. God loved thee and exalted thee in the eyes of the people. Everything was thine—dominion and glory and riches and wives and children; and thou didst behold from thy roof the wife of a poor man, and sin awakened in thee, and thou didst take the wife of Uriah and didst slay Uriah himself with the sword of the Ammonites. Thou, the rich man, didst take from the poor man his last little lamb, and destroyed the man himself. So it hath been with me.
“And remember how, afterwards, thou didst repent and say: ‘I acknowledge my faults, and my sins are ever before me.’ So it hath been with me. Thou can’st not but let me in.”
And the voice behind the door was hushed.
And in a little while the sinner again began to knock at the door and beg to be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven. And for the third time a voice was heard behind the door saying: “Who is this man, and how hath he lived his life in the world?” And the voice of the Accuser answered for the third time, and recounted all the evil deeds of the man, and named no good deeds at all.
And the voice answered from behind the door and said: “Depart hence! Sinners cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
And the sinner answered: “Thy voice I hear, but thy face I see not, and I do not know thy name.”
And the voice answered: “I am John the Divine, the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
And the sinner rejoiced and said: “Now thou can’st not refuse to let me in. Peter and David might have let me in because they knew the weakness of man and the mercy of God. And thou wilt let me in because thou lovest much. Didst not thou, oh, John the Divine, write in thy book that God is Love, and he that loveth not knoweth not God? Didst thou not in thine old age say this one sentence to the people: ‘Brethren, love one another’? How then can’st thou now begin to hate me and drive me away? Either deny what thou thyself hast said, or else let me into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
And the gates of Paradise were opened, and John embraced the penitent sinner, and admitted him into the Kingdom of Heaven.