The deacon’s hand in a plush cuff accepted a three-rouble note unobtrusively, and the deacon said he would put it down in the register, and his new boots creaking jauntily over the flagstones of the empty church, he went to the altar. A moment later he peeped out thence and beckoned to Levin. Thought, till then locked up, began to stir in Levin’s head, but he made haste to drive it away. “It will come right somehow,” he thought, and went towards the altar-rails. He went up the steps, and turning to the right saw the priest. The priest, a little old man with a scanty grizzled beard and weary, good-natured eyes, was standing at the altar-rails, turning over the pages of a missal. With a slight bow to Levin he began immediately reading prayers in the official voice. When he had finished them he bowed down to the ground and turned, facing Levin.
“Christ is present here unseen, receiving your confession,” he said, pointing to the crucifix. “Do you believe in all the doctrines of the Holy Apostolic Church?” the priest went on, turning his eyes away from Levin’s face and folding his hands under his stole.
“I have doubted, I doubt everything,” said Levin in a voice that jarred on himself, and he ceased speaking.
The priest waited a few seconds to see if he would not say more, and closing his eyes he said quickly, with a broad, Vladimirsky accent:
“Doubt is natural to the weakness of mankind, but we must pray that God in His mercy will strengthen us. What are your special sins?” he added, without the slightest interval, as though anxious not to waste time.
“My chief sin is doubt. I have doubts of everything, and for the most part I am in doubt.”
“Doubt is natural to the weakness of mankind,” the priest repeated the same words. “What do you doubt about principally?”
“I doubt of everything. I sometimes even have doubts of the existence of God,” Levin could not help saying, and he was horrified at the impropriety of what he was saying. But Levin’s words did not, it seemed, make much impression on the priest.
“What sort of doubt can there be of the existence of God?” he said hurriedly, with a just perceptible smile.
Levin did not speak.
“What doubt can you have of the Creator when you behold His creation?” the priest went on in the rapid customary jargon. “Who has decked the heavenly firmament with its lights? Who has clothed the earth in its beauty? How explain it without the Creator?” he said, looking inquiringly at Levin.