The Tsar and the Angel
Somewhere, nowhere, in a certain kingdom, in a certain empire, time out of mind, and in no land of ours, dwelt a Tsar who was so proud, so very proud, that he feared neither God nor man. He listened to no good counsel from whithersoever it might come, but did only that which was good in his own eyes, and nobody durst put him right. And all his ministers and nobles grieved exceedingly, and all the people grieved likewise.
One day this Tsar went to church; the priest was reading from Holy Scripture, and so he needs must listen. Now there were certain words there which pleased him not. “To say such words to me!” thought he, “words that I can never forget, though I grow grey-headed.” After service the Tsar went home, and bade them send the priest to him. The priest came. “How durst thou read such and such passages to me?” said the Tsar.––“They were written to be read,” replied the priest.––“Written, indeed! And wouldst thou then read everything that is written? Smear those places over with grease, and never dare to read them again, I say!”––“’Tis not I who have written those words, your Majesty,” said the priest; “nor is it for such as I to smear them over.”––“What! thou dost presume to teach me? I am the Tsar, and it is thy duty to obey me.”––“In all things will I obey thee, O Tsar, save only in sacred things. God is over them, men cannot alter them.”––“Not alter them!” roared the Tsar; “if I wish them altered, altered they must be. Strike me out those words instantly, I say, and never dare read them in church again. Dost hear?”––“I dare not,” said the priest, “I have no will in the matter.”––“I command thee, fellow!”––“I dare not, O Tsar!”––“Well,” said the Tsar, “I’ll give thee three days to think about it, and on the evening of the fourth day appear before me, and I’ll strike thy head from thy shoulders if thou dost not obey me!” Then the priest bowed low and went home.
The third day was already drawing to a close, and the priest knew not what to do. It was no great terror to him to die for the faith, but what would become of his wife and children?