Christianity believes in the trinity of God – that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, three together. And those three villagers said, “Thinking that he is three and we are also three, we have made our prayer: ‘You are three, we are three, have mercy on us!’ More than that we don’t know.”
The archbishop was very angry – “This is not the right thing for a Christian to do! How have you dared to create such a stupid prayer? I will tell you the authorized version which the church accepts.”
They said, “We will be very grateful, but make it a little short, because we are uneducated and we cannot remember anything long.”
The archbishop said, “You will have to remember it!”
They said, “We will try if you insist.”
The archbishop recited the whole prayer. It was really long, and when he had said the whole prayer one of the three said, “You will have to repeat it at least three times, because we are three. Be kind and compassionate so we can remember it.”
He repeated it three times, they listened silently, and the archbishop was very happy. They touched his feet again, and he said, “You are nice people, but remember the prayer that I have taught you.” And then he left in his motorboat.
When he was just in the middle of the lake he saw something almost like a cloud, running towards the boat. He could not figure out what was happening. Then he saw – those three saints were coming, running on the lake. They said, “Wait! We have forgotten the prayer, so we thought it would be better to catch hold of you. At least three times more; have mercy on us.”
But seeing them walking on water, the archbishop thought, “Perhaps I have unnecessarily disturbed these beautiful people.”
He said, “Forgive me for interfering. You continue your old prayer, which has been heard. My prayer has not been heard yet. My prayer is nothing but my intellectual approach to a hypothetical God. Your prayer comes from your very heart. Your prayer is not to ask for something, your prayer is just a thankfulness because you are feeling so contented. You don’t have anything, but you have tremendous contentment. Your bliss is enough. Then, whatever way you want to give thanks is up to you. There is no need for you to know about the authorized prayer. On the contrary…I’m feeling miserable; I have missed my whole life in reading, learning, accumulating knowledge, holy scriptures. But I cannot walk on the waters. Your simple prayer has been heard.”
This small story from Leo Tolstoy has always appealed to me tremendously. The implications of the story are great. You need not believe in God to be religious. First you have to be religious to know something about godliness. All the religions are putting the bullock behind the cart. Hence the whole humanity is suffering – no movement, no progress, no spiritual growth.