Letter from an Orthodox rural vegetarian priest of the early XNUMXth century

The journal “Something about Vegetarianism” for 1904 contains a letter from an Orthodox rural vegetarian priest. He tells the editors of the magazine about what exactly prompted him to become a vegetarian. The priest’s answer is given in full by the journal. 

“Until the 27th year of my life, I lived the way most people like me lived and live in the world. I ate, drank, slept, strictly defended the interests of my personality and my family before others, even to the detriment of the interests of other people like me. From time to time I amused myself by reading books, but I preferred to spend the evening playing cards (a stupid entertainment for me now, but then it seemed interesting) to reading books. 

More than five years ago I happened to read, among other things, The First Step by Count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Of course, before this article I had to read good books, but somehow they did not stop my attention. After reading the “First Step”, I was so strongly taken over by the idea carried out in it by the author that I immediately stopped eating meat, although until that time vegetarianism had seemed to me an empty and unhealthy pastime. I was convinced that I could not do without meat, as people who consume it are convinced of this, or as an alcoholic and tobacco smoker is convinced that he cannot do without vodka and tobacco (then I quit smoking). 

However, we must be fair and agree that habits artificially instilled in us from childhood have great power over us (which is why they say that habit is second nature), especially when a person does not give himself a reasonable account of anything, or until he introduces himself enough strong impulse to get rid of them, which happened to me 5 years ago. Count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy’s “First Step” was such a sufficient impulse for me, which not only freed me from the habit of eating meat falsely instilled in me from childhood, but also made me consciously treat other issues of life that had previously slipped past my attention. And if I have grown at least a little spiritually, in comparison with my 27-year-old age, then I owe it to the author of The First Step, for which I am deeply grateful to the author. 

Until I was a vegetarian, the days on which a Lenten dinner was prepared in my house were days of a gloomy mood for me: having got used to eating meat in general, it used to be a great annoyance for me to refuse it, even on Lenten days. Out of indignation at the custom of not eating meat on some days, I preferred hunger to lenten food, and therefore did not come to dinner. The consequence of this situation was that when I was hungry, I was easily irritated, and it even happened to quarrel with people close to me. 

But then I read The First Step. With amazing clarity, I imagined what animals are subjected to in slaughterhouses, and under what conditions we obtain meat food. Of course, even before I knew that in order to have meat, one had to slaughter an animal, it seemed so natural to me that I didn’t even think about it. If I ate meat for 27 years, it was not because I consciously chose this kind of food, but because everyone did it, which I was taught to do from childhood, and I didn’t think about it until I read The First Step. 

But I still wanted to be at the slaughterhouse itself, and I visited it – our provincial slaughterhouse and saw with my own eyes what they do with animals there for the sake of all those who consume meat, in order to deliver us a hearty dinner, so that we would not be annoyed at the Lenten table, as we did Until then, I saw and was horrified. I was horrified that I could not think and see all this before, although it is so possible and so close. But such, apparently, is the force of habit: a person has got used to it from an early age, and he does not think about it until a sufficient push occurs. And if I could induce anyone to read the First Step, I would feel an inner satisfaction in the consciousness that I had brought at least a small benefit. And big things are not up to us … 

I had to meet a lot of intelligent readers and admirers of our pride – Count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, who, however, did not know about the existence of the “First Step”. By the way, there is also a chapter in The Ethics of Everyday Life of The Independent, entitled The Ethics of Food, which is extremely interesting in its artistic presentation and sincerity of feeling. After reading the “First Step” and after I visited the slaughterhouse, I not only stopped eating meat, but for about two years I was in some kind of exalted state. For these words, Max Nordau – a great hunter for catching abnormal, degenerate subjects – would classify me among the latter. 

The idea put forward by the author of The First Step somehow weighed on me, the feeling of compassion for animals doomed to slaughter reached the point of pain. Being in such a state, I, according to the proverb “He who hurts, he talks about it,” talked with many about not eating meat. I was seriously concerned about the exclusion from my everyday life not only of meat food, but also of all those items for the obtaining of which animals are killed (such as, for example, a hat, boots, etc.). 

I remember that the hairs on my head stood on end when a railroad guard told me how he felt when he cut an animal. Once it happened to me at the railway station to wait a long time for a train. It was winter time, evening, the station was far from busy, the station servants were free from the daily bustle, and we struck up an uninterrupted conversation with the railway watchmen. We talked about what, finally came down to vegetarianism. I had in mind not to preach vegetarianism to railroad guards, but I was interested to know how the common people look at meat-eating. 

“That’s what I’ll tell you, gentlemen,” began one of the watchmen. – When I was still a boy, I served with one master – a carver, who had a home-grown cow that fed his family for a long time and, finally, grew old with him; then they decided to kill her. In his slaughter, he cut like this: he would first stun with a butt blow to the forehead, and then he would cut. And so they brought his cow to him, he lifted his butt to hit her, and she gazed intently into his eyes, recognized her master, and fell to her knees, and tears flowed … So what do you think? We all even became scared, the carver’s hands dropped, and he didn’t slaughter the cow, but fed her until his death, he even left his job. 

Another, continuing the speech of the first, says: 

“And I! With what anger I slaughter a pig and do not pity it, because it resists and screams, but it’s a pity when you slaughter a calf or a lamb, it still stands still, looks at you like a child, believes you until you slaughter it. 

And this is told by people who are not even aware of the existence of a whole literature for and against meat-eating. And how insignificant are all those bookish arguments in favor of eating meat, allegedly based on the shape of the teeth, the structure of the stomach, etc., compared to this peasant, unbookish truth. And what do I care about the arrangement of my stomach when my heart hurts! The train approached, and I parted from my temporary society, but the image of a young calf and a lamb, who “like a child, looks at you, believes you”, haunted me for a long time … 

It is easy to breed in the theory that eating meat is natural, it is easy to say that pity for animals is a stupid prejudice. But take a speaker and prove it in practice: cut the calf, which “looks at you like a child, believes you”, and if your hand does not tremble, then you are right, and if it trembles, then hide with your scientific, bookish arguments in favor of meat eating. After all, if eating meat is natural, then slaughtering animals is also natural, because without it we cannot eat meat. If it is natural to kill animals, then where does the pity to kill them come from – this uninvited, “unnatural” guest? 

My exalted state lasted for two years; now it has passed, or at least it has weakened considerably: the hair on my head no longer rises when I remember the story of the railway watchman. But the meaning of vegetarianism for me did not decrease with the release from the exalted state, but became more thorough and reasonable. I have seen from my own experience what, in the end, Christian ethics leads to: it leads to benefits, both spiritual and bodily. 

After fasting for more than two years, in the third year I felt a physical aversion to meat, and it would be impossible for me to return to it. Besides, I became convinced that meat is bad for my health; If I had been told this while I was eating it, I would not have believed it. Having given up eating meat, not for the purpose of improving my health, but because I listened to the voice of pure ethics, I simultaneously improved my health, completely unexpectedly for myself. When eating meat, I often suffered from migraines; meaning to fight it rationally, I kept a kind of journal in which I wrote down the days of her appearance and the strength of the pain in numbers, according to a five-point system. Now I don’t suffer from migraines. While eating meat I was lethargic, after dinner I felt the need to lie down. Now I am the same before and after dinner, I don’t feel any heaviness from dinner, I also left the habit of lying down. 

Before vegetarianism, I had a severe sore throat, the doctors diagnosed an incurable catarrh. With the change in nutrition, my throat gradually became healthy and is now completely healthy. In a word, a change has taken place in my health, which I feel first of all myself, and also see others who knew me before and after leaving the meat diet. I have two pre-vegetarian children and two vegetarian ones, and the latter are incomparably healthier than the former. From what causes this whole change came about, let people who are more competent in this matter judge me, but since I did not use doctors, I have the right to conclude that I owe this whole change exclusively to vegetarianism, and I consider it my duty to express my deep gratitude to Count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy for his First Step. 

Source: www.vita.org

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