Tolstoy’s Three Hermits

“The Three Hermits” (Russian: Три Старца) is a short story by Russian author Leo Tolstoy (Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy: 1828-1910) written in 1885 and first published in 1886 in the weekly periodical “Niva” (нива).
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It appeared in the short-story collection “Twenty-Three Tales” which was first translated into English for an edition released by Funk & Wagnalls in 1907. The title refers to its three central characters; unnamed simple monks living on a remote island in a life of prayer and contemplation “for the salvation of their souls.”
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The story concludes:

“The steersman looked and let go the helm in terror.
‘Oh Lord! The hermits are running after us on the water as though it were dry land!’
The passengers hearing him, jumped up, and crowded to the stern. They saw the hermits coming along hand in hand, and the two outer ones beckoning the ship to stop. All three were gliding along upon the water without moving their feet. Before the ship could be stopped, the hermits had reached it, and raising their heads, all three as with one voice, began to say:
‘We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again.’
The Bishop crossed himself, and leaning over the ship’s side, said:
‘Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.
And the Bishop bowed low before the old men; and they turned and went back across the sea. And a light shone until daybreak on the spot where they were lost to sight.”

The text (in English) can be found at and in Russian at

There is a film dramatization in Притчи 2 (2011) (19m25 video) in Russian:
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American composer Stephen Paulus (b. 1949) adapted Tolstoy’s short story into an opera, entitled “The Three Hermits” (1997), available on CD: The “Pilgrims’ Chorus” from the opera can be heard at
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Study for “The Three Hermits” by Mikhail Vasil’evich Nesterov (1862-1942)
signed in Cyrillic and dated ‘Mikh Nesterov 1889-1917’ (lower left)
watercolour and bodycolour on paper laid on board
8½ x 10½in. (21.5 x 26.5cm.)

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