Links across space & time:
The life and works of Leo Tolstoy,
Mary Baker Eddy
and Vladimir Megre
Presented by John Woodsworth at Canadian Association of Slavists,
York University 2006 conference paper, 29 May 2006.
Copyright © 2006 by John Woodsworth, Slavic Research Group, University of Ottawa
One might ask: what do early-1820s New England, late-1820s Tula Gubernia and mid-twentieth-century Ukraine have in common? While there may be other factors, the one I wish to focus on today is this: each of them witnessed the birth of an individual who later in life, in their mid-forties or early fifties, underwent a profound spiritual transformation that not only turned their whole lives around but, through their subsequent writings, left a lasting impression on a multitude of readers and followers. And, if we're talking about remarkable parallels, that is only the beginning.
Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy was born in September 1828 on his noble family's estate at Yasnaya Polyana near Tula . He passed away on 20 November 1910 at Astapovo Railway Station, seeking an escape from his noble background in a possible life among peasant sectarians. In his later so-called ‘post-conversion' period he is best known for his novel Voskresenie (Resurrection) and a number of stories and treatises on spiritual themes, including Ispoved' (A confession), O zhizni (On life), Otets Sergij (Father Sergius) and others. Tolstoy's writings have sold millions of copies and been translated into several dozen languages. My connection to Tolstoy? I happen to have the privilege of translating, editing and preparing for publication materials on Tolstoy in the Slavic Research Group at the University of Ottawa with its director, Andrew Donskov (a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada) who is one of the world's foremost Tolstoy experts and the only scholar from outside Russia to sit on the editorial board of the new 100-volume Academy Edition of Tolstoy's works.
Mary Baker Eddy was born seven years earlier in April 1821, on the other side of the Atlantic, on her farm family's homestead in America at Bow, New Hampshire. She passed away on 3 December 1910 (thirteen days after Tolstoy's death) at a mansion just outside Boston , where she had spent the last few years of her life in fairly comfortable surroundings. Apart from her founding of the Christian Science church, she is best known for her writing of a book on spirituality and healing called Science and health with Key to the Scriptures, which has to date sold more than 10 million copies, and been translated into sixteen languages. My connection? I happen to have grown up with the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy and am a member of the Christian Science church.
Vladimir Megre was born in July 1950 in Chernigov Oblast in northern Ukraine, but spent a good part of his adult life as a businessman in Novosibirsk , a continent away from Yasnaya Polyana and on the opposite side of the globe from New England . I am happy to report that this spiritual thinker is still very much alive, and living as a writer in the historic city of Vladimir , east of Moscow . He is best known for his authorship of a series of books called The Ringing Cedars of Russia, an exploration of Man's relationship to Nature, the Universe and God, which has sold over 10 million copies just in the ten years since its first appearance and been translated into twenty languages. Megre's central character in this series is a Siberian taiga recluse named Anastasia, who reveals to him the wisdom of the ages on everything from raising tomatoes to raising children. And it is to Anastasia that Megre attributes all the pearls of wisdom he sets forth in his books. My connection? In 2004 I happened to be selected by Ringing Cedars Press as the authorised English translator of the series: four of the nine books have been published in English to date and I am currently working on the translation of the fifth.
* * * * *
While I think it is safe to say that just about everyone here today is acquainted with the background of Lev Tolstoy, you may not be as familiar with Mary Baker Eddy or Vladimir Megre. Given the time constraints, however, rather than taking the time to include their biographical details in my talk, I decided to present this information in a handout, which also contains the references for materials I shall be quoting.
So now I'd like to offer a brief outline of what I see as the parallel aspects of the lives of these spiritual thinkers separated by geography - and, in the case of Megre, a century of history. Some of these parallels apply more strongly to Tolstoy and Eddy, although even here echoes may be seen in the case of Megre.
1. Spiritual turning-point. All three thinkers experienced a spiritual turning-point or crisis in their lives (Eddy in the mid-1860s, Tolstoy in the early 1880s, Megre in the mid-1990s) which radically changed their outlook on life and gave their future career a whole new direction. In each case while the onset came quickly, it was only the beginning of a gradual evolution of thought over the years to come, lasting to the end of their lives (although Megre has not reached the end of his just yet).
2. Experimental schools. All three were involved at some point with experimental schools. In the case of Tolstoy and Eddy, this happened well before their respective spiritual crises: In 1846 Eddy opened what turned out to be one of the first schools for children of pre-school age in New England and paved the way for similar pre-schools to follow in the state of New Hampshire . Thirteen years later Tolstoy opened his own school for the peasant children on his estate, who would otherwise have been deprived of an education. Megre's books are in harmony with the conceptual foundation for the experimental Tekos school near Gelendzhik in the northern Caucasus , founded and run by the respected Academician Mikhail Petrovich Shchetinin, very much along the ideas outlined by Megre's heroine Anastasia. The school is described in some detail in Chapters 17 and 18 of Megre's Book 3, The Space of Love.
3. Appeal to the Russian Head of State. Both Eddy and Tolstoy were vitally interested and active in political and social issues of the day, which in each case included writing an appeal to the Russian Emperor Nicholas II (Eddy in 1898, Tolstoy in 1902), calling for a moderation of Russian militarism (see footnote #1). An echo of this is seen in Megre's open letter to President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, published in Book 5, Kto zhe my? (Who are we?) in 2001 (currently being translated into English), requesting that a hectare of land be granted to each willing Russian family, on which to set up their own family domain and grow produce for themselves, for Russia and for export.
4. Media fame. The two thinkers of a century ago were widely written about in the press of their day; both had views which were sought by journalists from newspapers and magazines on major topics of the day; both wrote articles on subjects of public interest which were frequently published in contemporary secular periodicals. This is true at least partly of Megre as well, although the topics for which his opinion is sought appear to cover a somewhat narrower range.
5. Familiarity with each other's ideas and works. Both Tolstoy and Eddy read each other's works with great interest and made marginal notes on these readings - Eddy on Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata and Walk in the light ( Khodite v svete, poka est' svet ); Tolstoy on Eddy's Christian healing and No and yes, which he read in English. While the two had only minimal correspondence with each other personally, a number of Eddy's followers took it upon themselves to write to Tolstoy, pointing out certain commonalities in their ideas; they also sent him a number of volumes of her writings. Eddy herself sent him a copy of Science and health. We have a few indications of Tolstoy's reaction to these letters. On 20 August 1889 Tolstoy responded to a Christian Scientist named Mrs E.S. Davis: “ Pishite mne o meditsine bez lekarstv. Èto vazhnoe delo, i ja pochti soglasen s posledovateljami Christian science, ot kotorykh poluchaju chasto pis'ma i knigi. (Write to me about medicine without drugs. That is an important question, and I am almost in agreement with the followers of Christian Science, from whom I often receive letters and books.)” (See footnote 2) A similar sentiment is expressed in a letter Tolstoy wrote to his biographer Pavel Birjukov. Details of Tolstoy's correspondence with Eddy and her followers, as well as his reaction to her ideas may be found in my paper presented at the 2003 Tolstoy conference at Yasnaya Polyana (the last item under ‘References' in the handout). While it is most likely Megre was familiar with Tolstoy's works, we have no specific indication of this, or of any acquaintance he may have had with the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, although certain passages in his books show remarkable parallels with Eddy's Science & health.
6. Popularity of teachings. All three of these thinkers promulgated ideas which came to be studied on a regular basis by their followers and in each case formed the basis for a religious denomination or group of followers which still thrives today. For Eddy, these were Christian Scientists. For Tolstoy, they were the Doukhobors, whom he helped emigrate en masse to Canada in 1899. For Megre, they are the thousands of members of so-called ‘Anastasia clubs' all over Russia and abroad.
7. Discussion at gatherings. All three thinkers' teachings still serve today as the focus of gatherings of interested people who meet in groups at regular intervals for the purpose of discussion of these teachings and further enlightenment on their basis. Those of us here already know about the numerous Tolstoy conferences around the world, and here we are gathered today for this purpose right now, having just heard Baktygul Aliev's insightful paper on Tolstoy and critical thinking. Every teacher of Christian Science authorised by the educational system Eddy established calls a meeting of his or her alumni association each year for further delving into her teachings, and these associations continue to meet for the same purpose even in cases where their teacher has passed on. And The Mother Church annual meeting in Boston each year in June is attended by thousands of church members from all over the world. Since Megre's first book in the series, Anastasia, appeared some ten years ago, numerous gatherings of his readers have taken place, with or without his presence as a speaker. Fifteen hundred devoted followers packed a readers' conference held in September 1999 at Gelendzhik in the Caucasus, at which Megre himself gave a six-hour presentation one day and spoke for another two hours the next. This conference is described in Chapter 34 of Book 4 of the series, Co-creation.
8. Opposition from church and state. The ideas promulgated by all three writers ran against not only the prevailing beliefs of the traditional churches of their time, but also their state government's practices, and provoked strong opposition on the part of both church and state officialdom. While their own popularity spared the writers themselves from personal arrest and physical abuse, this was not always the case among their followers, and it did not stop the writers from being vilified in the press by those who perceived in them a threat to their own beliefs and doctrines. The Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated Tolstoy a century ago and has now launched a so-called ‘anti-Anastasia' movement against Megre. Eddy found herself constantly under attack not only by clergy and legislators, but also by doctors opposed to her followers' reliance on spiritual rather than medical means for healing (though some doctors and clergymen embraced Eddy's teachings and eventually became spiritual healers themselves).
9. Opposition from former followers. It is widely documented that both Tolstoy and Eddy had followers who turned against their mentor, in spite of the latter's best efforts to treat them with Christian love. In Megre's case, while I cannot point to any specific cases, I have heard that this has been true here as well. All three thinkers felt constantly obliged to direct their followers' attention away from their person to the ideas presented in their writings.
* * * * *
To date we have seen some striking parallels in the lives of Leo Tolstoy, Mary Baker Eddy and Vladimir Megre. Let us take just a brief look at some of the parallels in their ideas and works. One of the principal leitmotifs shared by all three thinkers was the rejection of traditional church doctrine, rejection of the role of the organised church as an intermediary between people and God in favour of people discovering God in their own consciousness through a progressive seeking for individual spiritual development and gradually demonstrating a greater degree of perfection in their day-to-day life.
In my brief presentation today, I should like to focus on two aspects in particular - first, the nature of life, or God , and second, the nature of prayer .
In the works of all three writers life is seen as far more than a biological existence in a physical, material body. Tolstoy began writing his treatise O zhizni (On life) in 1886, immediately following his completion of the novel Smert' Ivana Il'icha (The death of Ivan Ilich). As Gary Jahn points out in the commentary on the treatise, Tolstoy defined the ‘true life' as being of the spirit, in contrast to the ‘animal life' of the physical body. Jahn parahrases Tolstoy's statements as follows:
The body is considered transient and ultimately unimportant in comparison with the spirit. The spirit ‘man's true life' - is incorporeal, impersonal, and unassailable by any external force. (See footnote 3)
This concept is brought into even sharper focus in a letter Tolstoy wrote to the Molokan philosopher Fedor Zheltov on 12 October 1909, in response to a comment by the latter on Sufism. Tolstoy declared:
The true understanding of life and the consciousness of man's relationship to the Principle of All and the law of life and human activity arising from that relationship, consisting in love, that is, in the union of one's life with the manifestation of this Principle in all beings and especially in human beings like ourselves - such an understanding of life and the law arising therefrom are common to all religions in their true sense. (See footnote 4)
We have in this quotation the phrases: “the Principle of All”, “the law of life”, “consisting in love”, and earlier: “The spirit is incorporeal”. Interestingly enough, the terms Principle, Life, Love and Spirit are among the synonyms Mary Baker Eddy applied directly to God. In her book Miscellaneous writings, she states:
God is divine Principle and … His synonyms are Love, Truth, Life, Spirit, Mind, Soul, which combine as one. The divine Principle includes them all. (See footnote 5)
Echoes of this statement can be found throughout her writings. More specifically, in Eddy's major work Science and health we find this passage:
Continuing our definition of man, let us remember that harmonious and immortal man has existed forever, and is always beyond and above the mortal illusion of any life, substance, and intelligence as existent in matter. … The Science of being reveals man as perfect, even as the Father is perfect, because the Soul, or Mind, of the spiritual man is God, the divine Principle of all being, and because this real man is governed by Soul instead of sense, by the law of Spirit, not by the so-called laws of matter. (See footnote 6)
Megre also applies some of these same synonyms to God. In Chapter 1 of Book 4 he writes:
In the whole Universe creation is something inherent in God alone, and in God's son, Man. God's thought serves as the principle of all. (See footnote 7)
And in Chapter 8 of Book 2, The Ringing Cedars of Russia, we find this dialogue between Anastasia and the author, Vladimir Megre:
"Tell me, Vladimir, do you think there is, well, some kind of intelligence out there?… Does there exist a Mind in the invisible world of the cosmic - in the Universe? What do you think?"
"I think it's true. You know, even scholars talk about that, as do mediums, and the Bible."
"And this something - what would you say is the best word to describe it? … Say, for example, Mind, Intelligence, Being, Forces of Light, Vacuum, Absolute, Rhythm, Spirit, God…?" (See footnote 8)
Incidentally, in Chapter 10 of the same book, Megre has Anastasia explaining that “Man's essence is not in the flesh”. (See footnote 9)
* * * * *
And now to the nature of prayer. In his novel Otets Sergij (Father Sergius) Leo Tolstoy gives us an indication of how a traditional, formalised kind of prayer may well prove fruitless to the petitioner. In Chapter 2 he describes his hero Stepan Kasatskij's efforts to find solace in prayer:
In this situation salvation meant obedience, work and the whole day taken up in prayer. He prayed as he usually did, bowed low and prayed even more than was his custom, but he was praying with his body, there was no soul in it. And this went on for a day, sometimes two, at a time, before fading all by itself. But this day or two was absolutely horrid. Kasatskij felt he wasn't under either his own control or God's, but somebody else's. (See footnote 10)
Tolstoy's personal secretary Nikolaj Gusev, in his book Dva goda s L. N. Tolstym (Two years with L.N. Tolstoy), describes Tolstoy's telling him of a woman who had led a profligate life. After she was chastised by her husband, Tolstoy observed her spend hours on her knees, evidently praying. According to Gusev, Tolstoy concluded his account by saying:
Nobody else was around, she was alone, and there was someone she was talking with. You see, it is how people relate to this someone that constitutes religion. And in every [instance of] faith, no matter how coarse we may perceive it to be, that relationship is there. (See footnote 11)
This same theme of prayer as being a silent, individual experience in the solitude of one's heart rather than a formalised repetition of words, runs throughout the whole of the first chapter of what Eddy referred to as the ‘Christian Science textbook', i.e., Science and health. The chapter itself is entitled “Prayer” and opens with these words:
The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, - a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love. (See footnote 12)
On page 4 we read:
Audible prayer can never do the works of spiritual understanding, which regenerates; but silent prayer, watchfulness, and devout obedience enable us to follow Jesus' example.
And elsewhere in the chapter she writes this (Eddy 1911: 2):
God is Love. Can we ask Him to be more? God is intelligence. Can we inform the infinite Mind of anything He does not already comprehend? Do we expect to change perfection? … The unspoken desire does bring us nearer the source of all existence and blessedness.
The chapter concludes (pp. 16–17) with what she offers as the “spiritual sense of the Lord's Prayer”. For example, the line “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” Eddy interprets as: “ Enable us to know, - as in heaven, so on earth, - God is omnipotent, supreme. ” Or another example: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is explained as “ And God leadeth us not into temptation, but delivereth us from sin, disease, and death. ”
This same Lord's Prayer ( Otche nash ) comes in for special discussion in Chapter 11 of Megre 's Book 4, Co-creation. After listening to the author recite the prayer from memory, “the way everybody else does”, Anastasia has this comment on his recitation:
When you were saying the prayer, Vladimir, I tried to follow your thought, your feelings, the meaning of your appeal to God. … You were unable to grasp the meaning of many of the words, and you were not addressing yourself to anyone. You were simply muttering. (See footnote 13)
And then, like Eddy, Anastasia in Megre's narrative offers her own ‘spiritual sense' of the Lord's Prayer (p. 52):
Vladimir , God provided food for His sons and daughters before they were born. … A loving parent forgives everyone their sins without being asked, and does not even think of leading anyone into temptation. The Father has given each one the capacity to withstand the wiles of evil. Why offend the Father by not realising what He has already provided a long time ago? His eternal gifts are all around you. What more can this loving Parent give, who has already given all to His child?
Compare this passage to a sentence on page 2 of Eddy's Science and health:
God is not moved by the breath of praise to do more than He has already done, nor can the infinite do less than bestow all good, since He is unchanging wisdom and Love. We can do more for ourselves by humble fervent petitions, but the All-loving does not grant them simply on the ground of lip-service, for He already knows all.
I might point out here that in the passage from Tolstoy's Father Sergius quoted earlier, it is interesting to note that one anonymous English translator on-line freely renders the phrase “was praying with his body” ( molilsja telom ) as “it was lip-service only”. (See footnote 14)
And one more point about prayer: in line with Jesus' admonition in St Matthew (6: 6), both Tolstoy and Eddy repeatedly stated that the most effective prayer is the individual communion with God in sacred solitude. Witness Eddy's statement near the close of her chapter on “Prayer” ( Science and health: 15):
The Master's injunction is, that we pray in secret and let our lives attest our sincerity.
As for Tolstoy, in a letter he received from Fedor Zheltov on 27 December 1900, Zheltov had written:
Christ's words are clear on the subject of prayer. It is evident from his example that his prayer was always in solitude. (See footnote 15)
Tolstoy evidently agreed with the sentiment, as three days later he responded to Zheltov: “Prayer cannot be other than in solitude.” (See footnote 16)
* * * * *
I think you will agree we have found some rather interesting parallels in these links across space and time, comparing the life and works of three spiritual thinkers: Leo Tolstoy, Mary Baker Eddy and Vladimir Megre. I should like to close with a reference I included in my paper on Tolstoy and Eddy at the 2003 Tolstoy conference at Yasnaya Polyana, from the 1951 book by French scholar William Rivier entitled Les Deux chemins (Two paths), which he wrote as a sequel to Irish bishop George Berkeley's Three dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in opposition to sceptics and atheists penned some two-and-a-half centuries earlier (See footnote 17). The particular section of dialogue in Les Deux chemins reads as follows:
PHIL . I believe that the existence of eternal truths cannot be doubted. We even have two ways of talking about them.
HYL. What are they ?
PHIL. The language of reason and that of religious faith. These are like two paths which thought can take and which more often than not lead it in opposite directions.
HYL. Don't we hear from time to time of some spirit desirous of bringing these two languages together toward a common goal?
PHIL. Yes. Over the course of the past century, one can point to such spirits as Count Leo Tolstoy and the founder of Christian Science, Mrs Mary Baker Eddy.
HYL. I know. The influence these two spirits exercised on their times is felt even today.
PHIL. Each of these two interpreters of Christ's teachings presents them in a different light. Count Leo Tolstoy can be said to have brought out the stricter aspect [of these teachings] in constantly talking about the sacrifices a Christian must be willing to make. Mrs Baker Eddy put more emphasis on demonstrating their essentially logical (or rational) nature. (See footnote 18)
It is interesting to note in this dialogue that Philonous speaks of Tolstoy and Eddy as two thinkers who managed to blend the languages of reason and religious faith into a single whole toward a common goal. This in fact was a point recognized by both these thinkers in their writings and/or correspondence. In his paper presented yesterday at this conference, entitled “Tolstoy's rational path to his ‘spiritual crisis'”, Arkadi Klioutchanski quoted a letter from Tolstoy to Nikolaj Strakhov as follows: “Po-moemu, nauka v obshchem smysle, filosofija, religija – odno i to zhe” (In my opinion, science in general, philosophy and religion are one and the same). Eddy came to a more or less similar conclusion when she illustrated the blending of reason and religious faith in her very combination of the term Science with Christianity. And more specifically, in a passage in Science and health describing her discovery, she writes:
In following these leadings of scientific revelation, the Bible was my only textbook. The Scriptures were illumined; reason and revelation were reconciled, and afterwards the truth of Christian Science was demonstrated. (See footnote 19)
Had Rivier known in 1951 about Vladimir Megre at the end of the 20th century, he might well have entitled his book: Les Trois chemins (The three paths), supplementing the religiously didactic and the scientifically rational paths with that of cosmic unfoldment. These three paths have been at times close to each other, at times separated by some distance. But the three spiritual thinkers who have taken them — Leo Tolstoy, Mary Baker Eddy and Vladimir Megre — may be seen as pursuing more or less parallel courses toward a common spiritual goal.
1. For the text of Eddy's letter see Christian Science Sentinel, 14 October 2002: 22. For the original text of Tolstoy's letter (in Russian), see: http://www.patriotica.ru/history/tolstoy_letter.html
2. Quoted in John Woodsworth (Dzhon Vudsvort), “Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoj i Mèri Bèker Èddi: sopostavitel'nyj vzgljad”. In: Galina Alekseeva (ed.), Lev Tolstoj i mirovaja literatura (Yasnaya Polyana: izd. dom “Jasnaja Poljana”), 2005: 130–31.
3. Gary Jahn, The death of Ivan Il'ich: an interpretation ( New York : Twayne), 1993: 94.
4. Andrew Donskov (ed.), A Molokan's search for truth: the correspondence of Leo Tolstoy and Fedor Zheltov. Translated from the Russian by John Woodsworth. Editor of the English edition: Ethel Dunn. ( Berkeley , Calif. USA : Highgate Road Social Science Research Station & Ottawa: Slavic Research Group at the University of Ottawa ), 2001: 148. Additional information - http://www.arts.uottawa.ca/gres/zhtren.html
5. Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous writings ( Boston : The First Church of Christ, Scientist), 1896: 225.
6. M. B. Eddy, Science and health with Key to the Scriptures ( Boston : The First Church of Christ, Scientist), final edition 1911: 302. Cf. also Miscellaneous writings: 81–82.
7. Vladimir Megre, Co-creation (Ringing Cedars Series, Book 4). Translated by John Woodsworth; edited by Leonid Sharashkin ( New York : Ringing Cedars Press), 2006: 5.
8. V. Megre, The Ringing Cedars of Russia (Ringing Cedars Series, Book 2). Translated by John Woodsworth; edited by Leonid Sharashkin ( Columbia , Missouri , USA : Ringing Cedars Press), 2005: 43.
9. Ibid.: 66.
10. L. N. Tolstoj, Otets Sergij. http://magister.msk.ru/library/tolstoy/prosa/tolsl021.htm Chapter 3. Translation: JW.
11. N. N. Gusev, Dva goda s L. N. Tolstym. Quoted in A. Donskov (ed.), L. N. Tolstoj i M. P. Novikov: Perepiska (München: Verlag Otto Sagner), 1996: 22. Translation: JW. A similar thought was recently expressed by a 21 st -century follower of Eddy's, Christine Driessen in an interview in the Christian Science Journal (January 2006: 18), speaking of the need to “make clear that the Christ is not exclusive to any particular group or religion, but is the manifestation of God's love for His entire creation”. And later on the same page she writes: “Probably everyone has felt at one time or another deep within themselves: ‘I am a good person. I deserve to be respected and loved.' That is the Christ speaking to them.”
12. M. B. Eddy, Science and health: 1.
13. V. Megre, Co-creation: 51.
15. A. Donskov (ed.), A Molokan's search for truth: 141. Earlier Zheltov had sent Tolstoy an article called “On life as faith in Christ”, which included the following statement, combining his view of prayer with his view of life and God: “My prayer must be a true, living dialogue with God, it must be expressed in actions according to my calling, since my true spiritual self is the ability to understand this calling, while the outer self is the work of life, the work of love and righteousness, and thus my work is true service to the Father of life.” ( Ibid.: 44)
16. Ibid.: 143 (emphasis - JW ).
17. First published 1713. Reprinted in Harvard Classics 37: 197–302. http://www.bartleby.com/37/2.
18. William Rivier, Les Deux chemins. Nouveaux entretiens de Hylas et de Philonous (Bruxelles: Éditions du Temple ) 1951: 24. Translation: JW. The extended passage in the original French text is given in the accompanying notes.
19. Eddy, Science and health: 110. And just one more point, which I can now add to the paper thanks to a subsequent revelatory ‘tip' from a colleague: As you know, one of Tolstoy's most significant works of his ‘post-conversion' period was Voskresenie, or Resurrection. As Leonid Sharashkin (editor with the Ringing Cedars Press) has now pointed out to me, the name of Megre's heroine, Anastasia, is also the Greek word for resurrection. (Indeed, according to Strong's Exhaustive concordance of the Bible, it is the most common word for resurrection throughout the New Testament.) And Eddy in turn defines resurrection in her Glossary in Science and health (p. 593): “Spiritualization of thought; a new and higher idea of immortality, or spiritual existence; material belief yielding to spiritual understanding.”
“Links across space and time: the life & works of Leo Tolstoy, Mary Baker Eddy and
Vladimir Megre” — CAS York 2006 conference paper by John Woodsworth
Mary Baker Eddy and Vladimir Megre — Biographical notes / References
Copyright © 2006 by John Woodsworth, Slavic Research Group, University of Ottawa
VLADIMIR NIKOLAEVICH MEGRE (1950–)
Author of the series The Ringing Cedars of Russia
Little is known about Vladimir Megre's early background, apart from a few experiences he himself describes in the context of his writings. One of these occurred in the 1960s when over the course of a year the teen-aged Megre made periodic visits (as inconspicuously as possible) to a monk named Father Feodorit at the Trinity-Sergiev Monastery in the town of Sergiev Posad (then known as Zagorsk), just east of Moscow. These meetings (described in Chapter 24 of Book 2, The Ringing Cedars of Russia (pp. 119–31) left a lasting impression on the young Vladimir's consciousness, and can perhaps be taken as a prelude to his later spiritual transformation during his meetings, as he describes them, with Anastasia in the Siberian taiga.
We know that by the mid-1980s Megre was married with a daughter and living in Novosibirsk, where, like many other budding Russian capitalists, he took advantage of perestroika and the subsequent collapse of the communist system to launch into an entrepreneurial career. Even before perestroika he had shown his business acumen in finding ways to significantly increase the profits of a photographic collective. He went on to form a number of commercial co-operatives and by the late 1980s had leased a small fleet of vessels which plied the waters of the Ob River north of Novosibirsk, trading with the villages along the way and conducting tours for foreign entrepreneurs (see Chapter 1 of Book 1, Anastasia ).
On one of these trips north in 1994, he encountered two elderly gentlemen who told him of a cedar tree ( kedr in Russian, more commonly known as the Siberian pine in English) deep in the taiga forest that was making a ‘ringing' or humming sound, which meant it was near the end of its centuries-old life and was ripe for cutting up and selling pieces to those interested in its remarkable healing properties. He decided to return to the area the following year (1995) on his own to investigate. In place of the two elderly gentlemen he discovered a young woman in her twenties who said they were her grandfather and great-grandfather, and offered to take him to the cedar they had described. She turned out to be a recluse who lived all alone in the taiga, with no other company or facilities (including housing and food supply) than those provided by Nature.
But that was just the beginning. During the three days Megre spent with her in the taiga, she revealed to him not only the secrets of the ringing cedar, but many mysteries of Nature and the Universe — especially their role in the Divine order of things — that had been known to people in so-called ancient times but subsequently lost to mankind. Much of the earlier knowledge had been deliberately consigned to oblivion by so-called ‘wise men' who felt their own sophisticated world-view threatened by the simple wisdom of their forebears.
At his new acquaintance's insistence he reluctantly abandoned his business career and set about writing a book about his taiga experiences (but only after he became peniless trying to set up a league of ethical entrepreneurs and only after his marriage failed, although he received help from a number of Moscow university students as well as his grown daughter Polina). The book, entitled Anastasia, was published in 1996 — largely thanks to the generosity of the manager of a print shop Megre had shown it to — and sold by the author himself on Moscow street-corners.
Then an incredible turn of events suddenly took place. A great number of those who purchased the book returned directly they finished reading it (or even before) to buy copies for their friends and neighbours, and the first print-run of 2,000 copies sold out in a very short time. A generous donor financed the next printing, before a recognised publisher caught wind of its success and launched it into mass production. (The Russian editions of the Ringing Cedars Series are now published by Dilya Publishers in Moscow & St-Petersburg.) And one copy of the first printing even ended up in the United States Library of Congress collection.
The success of Book 1 prompted the author to write a second volume, The Ringing Cedars of Russia, which offers, among other things, a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the story of how Anastasia came to be published, as well as a deeper exploration of the concepts revealed in the first book. Subsequent visits to Anastasia in the taiga — including conversations with the son she had conceived together with the author — engendered even more books, which now number eight in the original (the last one running into two volumes). By 1999, only three years after the first book appeared, Vladimir Megre had become modern Russia's most widely read author, with his writings selling in the millions.
In September of 2004, Ringing Cedars Press in America selected John Woodsworth of the University of Ottawa to undertake the first authorised English translation. The first three volumes were published in English in 2005, the fourth in early 2006. Volume 5, Who are we? is scheduled for release in the late summer of 2006, and the subsequent volumes should appear in translation over the next year or two. The English editions are edited by Leonid Sharashkin.
At the end of Book 3, The Space of Love, may be found a thumbnail sketch of the “Series at a glance”, as well as a brief description of the background to the series and profiles of the author, translator and editor. (See footnote 1)
It is interesting to note the change in the author's style over the course of the books. According to his own admission, before his taiga adventure this hard-nosed businessman had never written a word of prose or poetry before in his life, but he reluctantly launched into writing a book at the insistence of Anastasia. He admits his initial prose did not sound professional, which only aggravated his difficulty in getting his first book to press. This prose may well be described as ‘choppy' and simplistic, but over the first few books — under the influence, he says, of Anastasia — his writing gradually developed into a style more and more polished and professional. By the latter part of Book 3, entitled The Space of Love, and throughout a good part of Book 4, Co-creation, his dialogues with the Siberian recluse take on the quality of poetic prose, including elements of metre and even rhyme. These features have been preserved as much as possible in the English translation.
MARY BAKER EDDY (April 1821–December 1910)
(See footnote 2)
Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science,
author of Science and health with Key to the Scriptures and other works.
In contrast to Tolstoy, who, despite his noble birth, came to strive for the simplicity he associated with peasant life, Mary Baker Eddy was born into the simple country home of a New England farm family. The last of six children, she made her appearance in the world in April 1921, seven years before Tolstoy made his. Her parents were strict Congregationalists, especially her father, Mark Baker, who (in the words of people who knew him) had an “iron will and inflexible sense of righteousness”, accompanied by “generosity and hidden warmth” (Peel 1966: 5). Mary's mother, Abigail Baker, is described by Peel as follows (1966: 6):
W. Rivier, Les Deux chemins. Nouveaux entretiens de Hylas et de Philonoüs,
(Bruxelles, Éditions du Temple) 1951: 23–25, 91
(See footnote 8)
PHILONOÜS. Te rappelles-tu, Hylas, nos entretiens sur le problème de la vie ?
HYLAS. Certes, je m'en souviens. Nous nous rencontrions ici-même avant le coucher du soleil. La discussion durait jusqu'à la nuit. Dans le premier de ces entretiens, nous avons parlé d'une expérience physique célèbre et de celles de ses conséquences qui sont susceptibles de retenir l'attention des philosophes. C'étaient là des vues qui passionnaient les esprits il y a trente ou quarante ans, mais auxquelles avait déjà cessé de s'intéresser l'époque où nous en discutions.
PHIL. On aurait tort de ne s'intéresser qu'aux idées du moment. Un recul de quelques dizaines d'années me paraît indispensable à qui veut apprécier à leur juste valeur la pensée et les travaux de ses contemporains.
HYL. C'est aussi mon avis. Mais cela ne doit pas nous empêcher de marcher avec notre temps.
PHIL. Il est bon parfois de penser contre son époque. Après tout, le mieux que le philosophe puisse faire, c'est peut-être de s'en tenir aux vérités qui sont de tous les temps.
HYL. En existe-t-il de cette sorte ?
PHIL. Je crois que l'existence de vérités éternelles ne peut pas être mise en doute. Nous disposons même de deux façons d'en parler.
HYL. Quelles sont-elles ?
PHIL. Le langage de la raison et celui de la foi religieuse. Ce sont comme deux chemins que la pensée peut suivre et qui l'orientent le plus souvent dans des directions opposées.
HYL. Ne se rencontre-t-il pas de temps à autre quelque esprit désireux de plier ces deux langages à une fin commune ?
PHIL. Si. Dans le courant du siècle dernier, on peut ranger parmi de tels esprits le comte Léon Tolstoï et la fondatrice de la Science Chrétienne, Mrs Mary Baker Eddy.
HYL. Je sais. L'influence que ces deux esprits ont exercée sur leur temps se fait sentir encore aujourd'hui.
PHIL. Ces deux interprètes de la doctrine du Christ sont présentés chacun sous un jour different. Le comte Léon Tolstoï peut passer pour en avoir fait ressortir le côté sévère en insistant sur les sacrifices que le Chrétien doit consentir. Mrs Baker Eddy en a plus particulièrement mis en evidence le caractère essentiellement raisonnable.
HYL. Comment s'y est-elle prise ?
PHIL. En montrant les avantages immenses que l'on peut retirer d'une compréhension profonde de cette doctrine.
HYL. Mrs Eddy n'a-t-elle pas combattu la croyance dans la matérialité du monde ?
PHIL. Oui. Mrs Eddy a affirmé l'irrealité de la matière. Elle en concluait au caractère illusoire de l'univers sensible.
HYL. On conçoit que l'affirmation de l'irrealité de la matière ait choqué la plupart des contemporains de la célèbre leader religieuse. Mais cette affirmation devrait moins surprendre a une époque comme la nôtre où la science réduit la matière à n'être plus qu'une forme de l'énergie et tend à regarder l'énergie elle-même comme une propriété de l'étendue.
PHIL. Tu dis vrai. Pour les physiciens du siècle dernier, le monde était espace et matière. Pour les physiciens actuels, il n'est plus guère qu'espace, ces savants visant, dans le fait, à effacer la distinction entre le plein et le vide et à reporter sur l'espace considéré en lui-même le caractère de réalité concrète qu'on attribuait autrefois à la matière seulement. J'en conclus que, si Mrs Eddy avait vécu à notre époque, c'eût été la croyance dans la réalité de l'espace encore plus que celle dans la réalité de la matière qu'elle aurait combattue. […]
PHIL. Assurément. Mais nous saurions difficilement prolonger cette discussion sans nous transporter sur le terrain du sentiment religiux. Or je n'éprouve pas le besoin, ni ne me sentirais capable d'enfermer dans des formules nouvelles les hautes réalités qui relèvent de ce sentiment. Je m'en rapporte à la manière de s'exprîmer de Mrs Mary Baker Eddy, lorsque la célèbre fondatrice de la Science Chrétienne déclare, en s'appuyant sur les Écritures, qu'il n'y a qu'un entendement.
HYL. Selon toi, cet entendement unique dont parle Mrs Eddy se confond, j'imagine, avec ce que tu nommes la conscience universelle.
PHIL. Oui, mais en partie seulement. Car il est bien davantage encore. Suivant la formule adoptée par Mrs Eddy, cet entendement unique est Dieu, le Bien.
HYL. Je vois. Il s'agit de deux aspects que revêtirait la réalité dernière. L'un de ces deux aspects, celui que tu envisages plus particulièrement, se présenterait surtout à la méditation du philosophe. L'autre intéresserait plus directement la conduite de notre vie.
PHIL. C'est bien cela. Il importe toutefois de remarquer que ces deux aspects sont inséparables dans la pensée de Mrs Eddy. Mais je m'aperçois que la discussion commence à sortir du cadre où nous l'avons maintenue jusqu'au présent et je te propose d'en rester là pour aujourd'hui.
Berkeley, G. Three dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in opposition to sceptics and atheists. First published 1713. Reprinted in Harvard Classics 37: 197-302. Internet: http://www.bartleby.com/37/2/
Church of Christ, Scientist, The (The Mother Church). Website. Boston. Internet: http://www.churchofchristscientist.org/
Cramer, R.N. BibleTexts-dot-com. Questions, insights & responses, #76. Internet: http://www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa076.htm
Donskov, A.A. (ed.). L. N. Tolstoj i M. P. Novikov: Perepiska. Munchen, 1996.
— A Molokan's search for truth: the correspondence of Leo Tolstoy and Fedor Zheltov. Translated from the Russian by J. Woodsworth. Editor of the English edition: E. Dunn. Berkeley (Calif.) USA & Ottawa, 2001.
Eddy, M.B. Scrapbook I. The Mary Baker Eddy Collection (archives).
— Science and health with Key to the Scriptures. Boston, First edition, 1875. Internet: http://www.mbeinstitute.org/SAHI/1875pre.htm
— Retrospection and introspection. Boston, 1891. (Russian edition 1953)
— Miscellaneous writings. Boston, 1896.
— Letter to His Majesty Nicholas II, Czar of all the Russias. The Mary Baker Eddy Collection. 1898. Reprinted in: Christian Science Sentinel (14 October 2002), p. 22.
— Science and health with Key to the Scriptures. Boston, final English edition 1911. Internet edition: http://www.spirituality.com/dt/toc_SH.jhtml (2nd Russian edition 1994)
— The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany. Boston, 1913.
— Speaking for herself. With an introduction by J. Riess. Boston, 2002. Comprises two autobiographical works : (a) Retrospection and introspection ( pp. 1-78); (b) Footprints fadeless ( pp. 81-144).
Gusev, N.N. Dva goda s L.N. Tolstym. Moscow, 1973.
Harris, V. Interview on "Larry King Live". CNN, 2001. Internet: http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0105/04/lkl.00.html
Jahn, G. The death of Ivan Ilich: an interpretation. New York, 1993.
Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity. Website. Boston. Internet: http://www.marybakereddylibrary.org/
Megre V. Anastasia. Translated from the Russian by J. Woodsworth. Edited by Leonid Sharashkin. Columbia (Missouri, USA), 2005.
— The Ringing Cedars of Russia. (Translated & edited as above). Columbia, 2005.
— The Space of Love. (Translated & edited as above). Columbia, 2005.
— Co-creation. (Translated & edited as above). New York, 2006.
Paine A.B. Mark Twain. A biography. New York, 1902.
Peel, R. Mary Baker Eddy. The years of discovery 1821-1875. New York, 1966.
— Mary Baker Eddy. The years of trial 1876-1891. New York, 1971.
— Mary Baker Eddy. The years of authority 1892-1910. New York, 1977.
Ramsay E.M. Christian Science and its discoverer. Cambridge (U.K.), 1923. Re-published: Boston, 1955.
Riess, J. Introduction to M.B. Eddy, Speaking for herself . See : Eddy 2002.
Ringing Cedars Press. Website. Internet: http://www.ringingcedars.com/
Rivier, W. Les Deux chemins. Nouveaux entretiens de Hylas et de Philonous. Bruxelles, 1951.
Smaus, J. S. Mary Baker Eddy. The golden days. Boston, 1966.
Spirituality-dot-com. Website. Boston. Internet: http://www.spirituality.com
Tolstoj, L. Pis'mo imperatoru Nikolaju II, 16.I.1902. Internet: http://www.patriotica.ru/history/tolstoy_letter.html
Tolstoj, L. Otets Sergij. Internet: http://magister.msk.ru/library/tolstoy/prosa/tolsl021.htm
— (Tolstoy, L). Father Sergius. Internet: http://www.online-literature.com/Tolstoy/father-sergius/
Twain, Mark (Samuel L. Clemens). Christian Science. New York, 1907.
Washington, P. Madame Blavatsky's baboon. A history of the mystics, mediums & misfits who brought spiritualism to America. New York, 1996. (Russian translation 1998).
Woodsworth, J. Professional website. Internet: http://www.kanadacha.ca/
— (Vudsvort, Dzh.) “Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoj i Meri Beker Eddi: sopostavitel'nyj vzgljad”. In: G. Alekseeva (ed.), Lev Tolstoj i mirovaja literatura. Yasnaya Polyana, 2005: 121–135.
1. This information, along with reviews, is also included on the publishers' website at: http://www.ringingcedars.com — see also the translator's site at: http://www.kanadacha.ca/prosetr/index.html#anastasia
2. This outline is translated (with minor revisions) from Woodsworth 2005.
3. Not all historians agree on the degree of her protest. On this subject see Riess 2002: xxxi.
4. On Eddy's experiments with Quimby, see Peel 1966: Chapter 5 and Washington 1966: Chapter 1.
5. An appraisal of Robert Peel's biography is provided by Bible scholar R.N. Cramer (n.d.): “ As illustrated by some reaction to Robert Peel's biographies of Mrs. Eddy, the articulation of honest findings is not always very comfortable to those who prefer simply to accept traditional views that justify or at least reassure their already-held opinions. Mr. Peel's biographies are a difficult read for those fundamentalist Christians whose literature so consistently misrepresents the history and theology of Christian Science and who find modern biblical scholarship threatening. Mr. Peel's biographies are also difficult to read for those fundamentalist Christian Scientists who have idolized Mrs. Eddy to an almost semi-divine status and/or who also find modern biblical scholarship threatening.” For further information on Eddy and Christian Science, see the websites: Church of Christ Scientist, Mary Baker Eddy Library and Spirituality-dot-com.
6. It might be noted that this second autobiographical work was written in 1901 in response to a series of accusations levelled against her at the time. Riess (2002: xlii) explains that “the manuscript was preserved for possible future publication after her attorneys advised her not to publish it, but Eddy never returned to it”. The vast majority of her writings and letters have not been published to this day, although they are available for public consultation at the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity.
7. On Mark Twain's ambiguity Bernard de Voto wrote in his preface to The portable Mark Twain (New York, 1968: 15, cited in Peel 1977: 448): “ He is usually to be found on both sides of any question he argues.”
8. For assistance in locating the text of this dialogue I am indebted to Brynne Gray, who in 2003 was a post-graduate student at the University of California (Davis) in America.