“The Gift of One Minute”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the famous Russian writer from the nineteenth century, is one of the most celebrated novelists of all time.  

Dostoevsky describes an experience when he was 27 as a major turning point in his life. Even though the celebrated author was born into a privileged family in imperial Russia,  Dostoevsky committed himself to helping the poor under-classes who were being deliberately oppressed throughout society.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881)

Dostoevsky joined a progressively-minded group of writers and teachers in St. Petersburg, but was then arrested by Emperor Nicholas I. The Russian Emperor feared Dostoevsky and his friends would cause a revolution. 

The arrested group of writers and academics were placed in a fortified prison where conditions were deplorable. For over a year Dostoevsky and his fellow prisoners survived in damp cells without much light. They were continually tortured and interrogated to hand over more names of people who might be a threat to the Emperor and the status quo in Russia at the time.

One cold December morning, all of the prisoners were taken from their cells without explanation and taken to the town square. The sentence of death was read out to them, and they were tied to stakes in front of a firing squad. The condemned men stood waiting in front of raised rifles to be shot.

For some unexplained reason they waited for a minute, and then unexpectedly one of the Emperor’s messengers rode in on a horse. The messenger had a royal proclamation, and he announced the Emperor had changed the sentence from death to life-long exile. The prisoners were untied, taken back to the prison, and soon after sent to Siberia.

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A 19th-century sketch of the ‘mock execution’ of Dostoevsky’s “Petrashevsky Circle” in St. Petersburg in 1849

Later, in a letter to his brother Mikhail, Fyodor Dostoevsky described how that single minute of waiting for death changed his outlook towards life. Dostoevsky told his brother: “When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul – then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift,” 

The Russian author concluded, “And every minute can be an eternity of happiness.”

As I retell this story of a nineteenth century Russian novelist’s experience of waiting one minute for what he thought would be his death, I’m reminded of the words of Jesus Christ. He told the listeners during His Sermon on the Mount: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries” (Matthew 6:34). Jesus continued by telling His listeners that we are simply to focus on the tasks and travails of the day we’ve been given. 

Each day is a gift from God. Maybe that’s why it’s called the present.


About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and lives on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.

Want to read more inspirational stories of faith from this series? Click here to read the inspiring story of how one soldier’s sacrifice changed an entire prisoner-of-war camp during World War II.David speaking 2