An Unfortunate Gathering
They Arrive at the Monastery
IT was a warm, bright day the end of August. The interview with
the elder had been fixed for half-past eleven, immediately after
late mass. Our visitors did not take part in the service, but
arrived just as it was over. First an elegant open carriage, drawn
by two valuable horses, drove up with Miusov and a distant relative of
his, a young man of twenty, called Pyotr Fomitch Kalganov. This
young man was preparing to enter the university. Miusov with whom he
was staying for the time, was trying to persuade him to go abroad to
the university of Zurich or Jena. The young man was still undecided.
He was thoughtful and absent-minded. He was nice-looking, strongly
built, and rather tall. There was a strange fixity in his gaze at
times. Like all very absent-minded people he would sometimes stare
at a person without seeing him. He was silent and rather awkward,
but sometimes, when he was alone with anyone, he became talkative
and effusive, and would laugh at anything or nothing. But his
animation vanished as quickly as it appeared. He was always well and
even elaborately dressed; he had already some independent fortune
and expectations of much more. He was a friend of Alyosha's.
In an ancient, jolting, but roomy, hired carriage, with a pair
of old pinkish-grey horses, a long way behind Miusov's carriage,
came Fyodor Pavlovitch, with his son Ivan. Dmitri was late, though
he had been informed of the time the evening before. The visitors left
their carriage at the hotel, outside the precincts, and went to the
gates of the monastery on foot. Except Fyodor Pavlovitch, more of
the party had ever seen the monastery, and Miusov had probably not
even been to church for thirty years. He looked about him with
curiosity, together with assumed ease. But, except the church and
the domestic buildings, though these too were ordinary enough, he
found nothing of interest in the interior of the monastery. The last
of the worshippers were coming out of the church bareheaded and
crossing themselves. Among the humbler people were a few of higher
rank- two or three ladies and a very old general. They were all
staying at the hotel. Our visitors were at once surrounded by beggars,
but none of them gave them anything, except young Kalganov, who took a
ten-copeck piece out of his purse, and, nervous and embarrassed- God
knows why!- hurriedly gave it to an old woman, saying: "Divide it
equally." None of his companions made any remark upon it, so that he
had no reason to be embarrassed; but, perceiving this, he was even
It was strange that their arrival did not seem expected, and
that they were not received with special honour, though one of them
had recently made a donation of a thousand roubles, while another
was a very wealthy and highly cultured landowner, upon whom all in the
monastery were in a sense dependent, as a decision of the lawsuit
might at any moment put their fishing rights in his hands. Yet no
official personage met them.
Miusov looked absent-mindedly at the tombstones round the
church, and was on the point of saying that the dead buried here
must have paid a pretty penny for the right of lying in this "holy
place," but refrained. His liberal irony was rapidly changing almost
"Who the devil is there to ask in this imbecile place? We must
find out, for time is passing," he observed suddenly, as though
speaking to himself.
All at once there came up a bald-headed, elderly man with
ingratiating little eyes, wearing a full, summer overcoat. Lifting his
hat, he introduced himself with a honeyed lisp as Maximov, a landowner
of Tula. He at once entered into our visitors' difficulty.
"Father Zossima lives in the hermitage, apart, four hundred
paces from the monastery, the other side of the copse."
"I know it's the other side of the copse," observed Fyodor
Pavlovitch, "but we don't remember the way. It is a long time since
we've been here."
"This way, by this gate, and straight across the copse... the
copse. Come with me, won't you? I'll show you. I have to go.... I am
going myself. This way, this way."
They came out of the gate and turned towards the copse. Maximov, a
man of sixty, ran rather than walked, turning sideways to stare at
them all, with an incredible degree of nervous curiosity. His eyes
looked starting out of his head.
"You see, we have come to the elder upon business of our own,"
observed Miusov severely. "That personage has granted us an
audience, so to speak, and so, though we thank you for showing us
the way, we cannot ask you to accompany us."
"I've been there. I've been already; un chevalier parfait," and
Maximov snapped his fingers in the air.
"Who is a chevalier?" asked Miusov.
"The elder, the splendid elder, the elder! The honour and glory of
the monastery, Zossima. Such an elder!"
But his incoherent talk was cut short by a very pale,
wan-looking monk of medium height wearing a monk's cap, who overtook
them. Fyodor Pavlovitch and Miusov stopped.
The monk, with an extremely courteous, profound bow, announced:
"The Father Superior invites all of you gentlemen to dine with him
after your visit to the hermitage. At one o'clock, not later. And
you also," he added, addressing Maximov.
"That I certainly will, without fail," cried Fyodor Pavlovitch,
hugely delighted at the invitation. "And, believe me, we've all
given our word to behave properly here.... And you, Pyotr
Alexandrovitch, will you go, too?"
"Yes, of course. What have I come for but to study all the customs
here? The only obstacle to me is your company...."
"Yes, Dmitri Fyodorovitch is non-existent as yet."
"It would be a capital thing if he didn't turn up. Do you
suppose I like all this business, and in your company, too? So we will
come to dinner. Thank the Father Superior," he said to the monk.
"No, it is my duty now to conduct you to the elder," answered
"If so I'll go straight to the Father Superior- to the Father
Superior," babbled Maximov.
"The Father Superior is engaged just now. But as you please- " the
"Impertinent old man!" Miusov observed aloud, while Maximov ran
back to the monastery.
"He's like von Sohn," Fyodor Pavlovitch said suddenly.
"Is that all you can think of?... In what way is he like von Sohn?
Have you ever seen von Sohn?"
"I've seen his portrait. It's not the features, but something
indefinable. He's a second von Sohn. I can always tell from the
"Ah, I dare say you are a connoisseur in that. But, look here,
Fyodor Pavlovitch, you said just now that we had given our word to
behave properly. Remember it. I advise you to control yourself. But,
if you begin to play the fool I don't intend to be associated with you
here... You see what a man he is"- he turned to the monk- "I'm
afraid to go among decent people with him." A fine smile, not
without a certain slyness, came on to the pale, bloodless lips of
the monk, but he made no reply, and was evidently silent from a
sense of his own dignity. Miusov frowned more than ever.
"Oh, devil take them all! An outer show elaborated through
centuries, and nothing but charlatanism and nonsense underneath,"
flashed through Miusov's mind.
"Here's the hermitage. We've arrived," cried Fyodor Pavlovitch.
"The gates are shut."
And he repeatedly made the sign of the cross to the saints painted
above and on the sides of the gates.
"When you go to Rome you must do as the Romans do. Here in this
hermitage there are twenty-five saints being saved. They look at one
another, and eat cabbages. And not one woman goes in at this gate.
That's what is remarkable. And that really is so. But I did hear
that the elder receives ladies," he remarked suddenly to the monk.
"Women of the people are here too now, lying in the portico
there waiting. But for ladies of higher rank two rooms have been built
adjoining the portico, but outside the precincts you can see the
windows- and the elder goes out to them by an inner passage when he is
well enough. They are always outside the precincts. There is a
Harkov lady, Madame Hohlakov, waiting there now with her sick
daughter. Probably he has promised to come out to her, though of
late he has been so weak that he has hardly shown himself even to
"So then there are loopholes, after all, to creep out of the
hermitage to the ladies. Don't suppose, holy father, that I mean any
harm. But do you know that at Athos not only the visits of women are
not allowed, but no creature of the female sex- no hens, nor turkey
hens, nor cows."
"Fyodor Pavlovitch, I warn you I shall go back and leave you here.
They'll turn you out when I'm gone."
"But I'm not interfering with you, Pyotr Alexandrovitch. Look," he
cried suddenly, stepping within the precincts, "what a vale of roses
they live in!"
Though there were no roses now, there were numbers of rare and
beautiful autumn flowers growing wherever there was space for them,
and evidently tended by a skilful hand; there were flower-beds round
the church, and between the tombs; and the one-storied wooden house
where the elder lived was also surrounded with flowers.
"And was it like this in the time of the last elder, Varsonofy? He
didn't care for such elegance. They say he used to jump up and
thrash even ladies with a stick," observed Fyodor Pavlovitch, as he
went up the steps.
"The elder Varsonofy did sometimes seem rather strange, but a
great deal that's told is foolishness. He never thrashed anyone,"
answered the monk. "Now, gentlemen, if you will wait a minute I will
"Fyodor Pavlovitch, for the last time, your compact, do you
hear? Behave properly or I will pay you out!" Miusov had time to
"I can't think why you are so agitated," Fyodor Pavlovitch
observed sarcastically. "Are you uneasy about your sins? They say he
can tell by one's eyes what one has come about. And what a lot you
think of their opinion! you, a Parisian, and so advanced. I'm
surprised at you."
But Miusov had no time to reply to this sarcasm. They were asked
to come in. He walked in, somewhat irritated.
"Now, I know myself, I am annoyed, I shall lose my temper and
begin to quarrel- and lower myself and my ideas," he reflected.
The Old Buffoon
THEY entered the room almost at the same moment that the elder
came in from his bedroom. There were already in the cell, awaiting the
elder, two monks of the hermitage, one the Father Librarian, and the
other Father Paissy, a very learned man, so they said, in delicate
health, though not old. There was also a tall young man, who looked
about two and twenty, standing in the corner throughout the interview.
He had a broad, fresh face, and clever, observant, narrow brown
eyes, and was wearing ordinary dress. He was a divinity student,
living under the protection of the monastery. His expression was one
of unquestioning, but self-respecting, reverence. Being in a
subordinate and dependent position, and so not on an equality with the
guests, he did not greet them with a bow.
Father Zossima was accompanied by a novice, and by Alyosha. The
two monks rose and greeted him with a very deep bow, touching the
ground with their fingers; then kissed his hand. Blessing them, the
elder replied with as deep a reverence to them, and asked their
blessing. The whole ceremony was performed very seriously and with
an appearance of feeling, not like an everyday rite. But Miusov
fancied that it was all done with intentional impressiveness. He stood
in front of the other visitors. He ought- he had reflected upon it the
evening before- from simple politeness, since it was the custom
here, to have gone up to receive the elder's blessing, even if he
did not kiss his hand. But when he saw all this bowing and kissing
on the part of the monks he instantly changed his mind. With dignified
gravity he made a rather deep, conventional bow, and moved away to a
chair. Fyodor Pavlovitch did the same, mimicking Miusov like an ape.
Ivan bowed with great dignity and courtesy, but he too kept his
hands at his sides, while Kalganov was so confused that he did not bow
at all. The elder let fall the hand raised to bless them, and bowing
to them again, asked them all to sit down. The blood rushed to
Alyosha's cheeks. He was ashamed. His forebodings were coming true.
Father Zossima sat down on a very old-fashioned mahogany sofa,
covered with leather, and made his visitors sit down in a row along
the opposite wall on four mahogany chairs, covered with shabby black
leather. The monks sat, one at the door and the other at the window.
The divinity student, the novice, and Alyosha remained standing. The
cell was not very large and had a faded look. It contained nothing but
the most necessary furniture, of coarse and poor quality. There were
two pots of flowers in the window, and a number of holy pictures in
the corner. Before one huge ancient ikon of the virgin a lamp was
burning. Near it were two other holy pictures in shining settings,
and, next them, carved cherubim, china eggs, a Catholic cross of
ivory, with a Mater Dolorosa embracing it, and several foreign
engravings from the great Italian artists of past centuries. Next to
these costly and artistic engravings were several of the roughest
Russian prints of saints and martyrs, such as are sold for a few
farthings at all the fairs. On the other walls were portraits of
Russian bishops, past and present.
Miusov took a cursory glance at all these "conventional"
surroundings and bent an intent look upon the elder. He had a high
opinion of his own insight a weakness excusable in him as he was
fifty, an age at which a clever man of the world of established
position can hardly help taking himself rather seriously. At the first
moment he did not like Zossima. There was, indeed, something in the
elder's face which many people besides Miusov might not have liked. He
was a short, bent, little man, with very weak legs, and though he
was only sixty-five, he looked at least ten years older. His face
was very thin and covered with a network of fine wrinkles,
particularly numerous about his eyes, which were small,
light-coloured, quick, and shining like two bright points. He had a
sprinkling of grey hair about his temples. His pointed beard was small
and scanty, and his lips, which smiled frequently, were as thin as two
threads. His nose was not long, but sharp, like a bird's beak.
"To all appearances a malicious soul, full of petty pride,"
thought Miusov. He felt altogether dissatisfied with his position.
A cheap little clock on the wall struck twelve hurriedly, and
served to begin the conversation.
"Precisely to our time," cried Fyodor Pavlovitch, "but no sign
of my son, Dmitri. I apologise for him, sacred elder!" (Alyosha
shuddered all over at "sacred elder".) "I am always punctual myself,
minute for minute, remembering that punctuality is the courtesy of
"But you are not a king, anyway," Miusov muttered, losing his
self-restraint at once.
"Yes; that's true. I'm not a king, and, would you believe it,
Pyotr Alexandrovitch, I was aware of that myself. But, there! I always
say the wrong thing. Your reverence," he cried, with sudden pathos,
"you behold before you a buffoon in earnest! I introduce myself as
such. It's an old habit, alas! And if I sometimes talk nonsense out of
place it's with an object, with the object of amusing people and
making myself agreeable. One must be agreeable, mustn't one? I was
seven years ago in a little town where I had business, and I made
friends with some merchants there. We went to the captain of police
because we had to see him about something, and to ask him to dine with
us. He was a tall, fat, fair, sulky man, the most dangerous type in
such cases. It's their liver. I went straight up to him, and with
the ease of a man of the world, you know, 'Mr. Ispravnik,' said I, 'be
our Napravnik.' 'What do you mean by Napravnik?' said he. I saw, at
the first half-second, that it had missed fire. He stood there so
glum. 'I wanted to make a joke,' said I, 'for the general diversion,
as Mr. Napravnik is our well-known Russian orchestra conductor and
what we need for the harmony of our undertaking is someone of that
sort.' And I explained my comparison very reasonably, didn't I?
'Excuse me,' said he, 'I am an Ispravnik, and I do not allow puns to
be made on my calling.' He turned and walked away. I followed him,
shouting, 'Yes, yes, you are an Ispravnik, not a Napravnik.' 'No,'
he said, 'since you called me a Napravnik I am one.' And would you
believe it, it ruined our business! And I'm always like that, always
like that. Always injuring myself with my politeness. Once, many years
ago, I said to an influential person: 'Your wife is a ticklish
lady,' in an honourable sense, of the moral qualities, so to speak.
But he asked me, 'Why, have you tickled her?' I thought I'd be polite,
so I couldn't help saying, 'Yes,' and he gave me a fine tickling on
the spot. Only that happened long ago, so I'm not ashamed to tell
the story. I'm always injuring myself like that."
"You're doing it now," muttered Miusov, with disgust.
Father Zossima scrutinised them both in silence.
"Am I? Would you believe it, I was aware of that, too, Pyotr
Alexandrovitch, and let tell you, indeed, I foresaw I should as soon
as I began to speak. And do you know I foresaw, too, that you'd be the
first to remark on it. The minute I see my joke isn't coming off, your
reverence, both my cheeks feel as though they were drawn down to the
lower jaw and there is almost a spasm in them. That's been so since
I was young, when I had to make jokes for my living in noblemen's
families. I am an inveterate buffoon, and have been from birth up,
your reverence, it's as though it were a craze in me. I dare say
it's a devil within me. But only a little one. A more serious one
would have chosen another lodging. But not your soul, Pyotr
Alexandrovitch; you're not a lodging worth having either. But I do
believe- I believe in God, though I have had doubts of late. But now I
sit and await words of wisdom. I'm like the philosopher, Diderot, your
reverence. Did you ever hear, most Holy Father, how Diderot went to
see the Metropolitan Platon, in the time of the Empress Catherine?
He went in and said straight out, 'There is no God.' To which the
great bishop lifted up his finger and answered, 'The fool has said
in his heart there is no God and he fell down at his feet on the spot.
'I believe,' he cried, 'and will be christened.' And so he was.
Princess Dashkov was his godmother, and Potyomkin his godfather."
"Fyodor Pavlovitch, this is unbearable! You know you're telling
lies and that that stupid anecdote isn't true. Why are you playing the
fool?" cried Miusov in a shaking voice.
"I suspected all my life that it wasn't true," Fyodor Pavlovitch
cried with conviction. "But I'll tell you the whole truth,
gentlemen. Great elder! Forgive me, the last thing about Diderot's
christening I made up just now. I never thought of it before. I made
it up to add piquancy. I play the fool, Pyotr Alexandrovitch, to
make myself agreeable. Though I really don't know myself, sometimes,
what I do it for. And as for Diderot, I heard as far as 'the fool hath
said in his heart' twenty times from the gentry about here when I
was young. I heard your aunt, Pyotr Alexandrovitch, tell the story.
They all believe to this day that the infidel Diderot came to
dispute about God with the Metropolitan Platon...."
Miusov got up, forgetting himself in his impatience. He was
furious, and conscious of being ridiculous.
What was taking place in the cell was really incredible. For forty
or fifty years past, from the times of former elders, no visitors
had entered that cell without feelings of the profoundest
veneration. Almost everyone admitted to the cell felt that a great
favour was being shown him. Many remained kneeling during the whole
visit. Of those visitors, many had been men of high rank and learning,
some even free thinkers, attracted by curiosity, but all without
exception had shown the profoundest reverence and delicacy, for here
there was no question of money, but only, on the one side love and
kindness, and on the other penitence and eager desire to decide some
spiritual problem or crisis. So that such buffoonery amazed and
bewildered the spectators, or at least some of them. The monks, with
unchanged countenances, waited, with earnest attention, to hear what
the elder would say, but seemed on the point of standing up, like
Miusov. Alyosha stood, with hanging head, on the verge of tears.
What seemed to him strangest of all was that his brother Ivan, on whom
alone he had rested his hopes, and who alone had such influence on his
father that he could have stopped him, sat now quite unmoved, with
downcast eyes, apparently waiting with interest to see how it would
end, as though he had nothing to do with it. Alyosha did not dare to
look at Rakitin, the divinity student, whom he knew almost intimately.
He alone in the monastery knew Rakitin's thoughts.
"Forgive me," began Miusov, addressing Father Zossima, "for
perhaps I seem to be taking part in this shameful foolery. I made a
mistake in believing that even a man like Fyodor Pavlovitch would
understand what was due on a visit to so honoured a personage. I did
not suppose I should have to apologise simply for having come with
Pyotr Alexandrovitch could say no more, and was about to leave the
room, overwhelmed with confusion.
"Don't distress yourself, I beg." The elder got on to his feeble
legs, and taking Pyotr Alexandrovitch by both hands, made him sit down
again. "I beg you not to disturb yourself. I particularly beg you to
be my guest." And with a bow he went back and sat down again on his
"Great elder, speak! Do I annoy you by my vivacity?" Fyodor
Pavlovitch cried suddenly, clutching the arms of his chair in both
hands, as though ready to leap up from it if the answer were
"I earnestly beg you, too, not to disturb yourself, and not to
be uneasy," the elder said impressively. "Do not trouble. Make
yourself quite at home. And, above all, do not be so ashamed of
yourself, for that is at the root of it all."
"Quite at home? To be my natural self? Oh, that is much too
much, but I accept it with grateful joy. Do you know, blessed
father, you'd better not invite me to be my natural self. Don't risk
it.... I will not go so far as that myself. I warn you for your own
sake. Well, the rest is still plunged in the mists of uncertainty,
though there are people who'd be pleased to describe me for you. I
mean that for you, Pyotr Alexandrovitch. But as for you, holy being,
let me tell you, I am brimming over with ecstasy."
He got up, and throwing up his hands, declaimed, "Blessed be the
womb that bare thee, and the paps that gave thee suck- the paps
especially. When you said just now, 'Don't be so ashamed of
yourself, for that is at the root of it all,' you pierced right
through me by that remark, and read me to the core. Indeed, I always
feel when I meet people that I am lower than all, and that they all
take me for a buffoon. So I say, 'Let me really play the buffoon. I am
not afraid of your opinion, for you are every one of you worse than
I am.' That is why I am a buffoon. It is from shame, great elder, from
shame; it's simply over-sensitiveness that makes me rowdy. If I had
only been sure that everyone would accept me as the kindest and wisest
of men, oh, Lord, what a good man I should have been then! Teacher!"
he fell suddenly on his knees, "what must I do to gain eternal life?"
It was difficult even now to decide whether he was joking or
Father Zossima, lifting his eyes, looked at him, and said with a
"You have known for a long time what you must do. You have sense
enough: don't give way to drunkenness and incontinence of speech;
don't give way to sensual lust; and, above all, to the love of
money. And close your taverns. If you can't close all, at least two or
three. And, above all- don't lie."
"You mean about Diderot?"
"No, not about Diderot. Above all, don't lie to yourself. The
man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a
pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him,
and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no
respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself
without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and
sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other
men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily
offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take
offence, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but
that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and
exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a
mountain out of a molehill- he knows that himself, yet he will be
the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he
feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But
get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful
"Blessed man! Give me your hand to kiss."
Fyodor Pavlovitch skipped up, and imprinted a rapid kiss on the
elder's thin hand. "It is, it is pleasant to take offence. You said
that so well, as I never heard it before. Yes, I have been all my life
taking offence, to please myself, taking offence on aesthetic grounds,
for it is not so much pleasant as distinguished sometimes to be
insulted- that you had forgotten, great elder, it is distinguished!
I shall make a note of that. But I have been lying, lying positively
my whole life long, every day and hour of it. Of a truth, I am a
lie, and the father of lies. Though I believe I am not the father of
lies. I am getting mixed in my texts. Say, the son of lies, and that
will be enough. Only... my angel... may sometimes talk about
Diderot! Diderot will do no harm, though sometimes a word will do
harm. Great elder, by the way, I was forgetting, though I had been
meaning for the last two years to come here on purpose to ask and to
find out something. Only do tell Pyotr Alexandrovitch not to interrupt
me. Here is my question: Is it true, great Father, that the story is
told somewhere in the Lives of the Saints of a holy saint martyred for
his faith who, when his head was cut off at last, stood up, picked
up his head, and, 'courteously kissing it,' walked a long way,
carrying it in his hands. Is that true or not, honoured Father?"
"No, it is untrue," said the elder.
"There is nothing of the kind in all the lives of the saints. What
saint do you say the story is told of?" asked the Father Librarian.
"I do not know what saint. I do not know, and can't tell. I was
deceived. I was told the story. I had heard it, and do you know who
told it? Pyotr Alexandrovitch Miusov here, was so angry just now about
Diderot. He it was who told the story."
"I have never told it you, I never speak to you at all."
"It is true you did not tell me, but you told it when I was
present. It was three years ago. I mentioned it because by that
ridiculous story you shook my faith, Pyotr Alexandrovitch. You knew
nothing of it, but I went home with my faith shaken, and I have been
getting more and more shaken ever since. Yes, Pyotr Alexandrovitch,
you were the cause of a great fall. That was not a Diderot!
Fyodor Pavlovitch got excited and pathetic, though it was
perfectly clear to everyone by now that he was playing a part again.
Yet Miusov was stung by his words.
"What nonsense, and it is all nonsense," he muttered. "I may
really have told it, some time or other... but not to you. I was
told it myself. I heard it in Paris from a Frenchman. He told me it
was read at our mass from the Lives of the Saints... he was a very
learned man who had made a special study of Russian statistics and had
lived a long time in Russia.... I have not read the Lives of the
Saints myself, and I am not going to read them... all sorts of
things are said at dinner- we were dining then."
"Yes, you were dining then, and so I lost my faith!" said Fyodor
Pavlovitch, mimicking him.
"What do I care for your faith?" Miusov was on the point of
shouting, but he suddenly checked himself, and said with contempt,
"You defile everything you touch."
The elder suddenly rose from his seat. "Excuse me, gentlemen,
for leaving you a few minutes," he said, addressing all his guests. "I
have visitors awaiting me who arrived before you. But don't you tell
lies all the same," he added, turning to Fyodor Pavlovitch with a
good-humoured face. He went out of the cell. Alyosha and the novice
flew to escort him down the steps. Alyosha was breathless: he was glad
to get away, but he was glad, too, that the elder was good-humoured
and not offended. Father Zossima was going towards the portico to
bless the people waiting for him there. But Fyodor Pavlovitch
persisted, in stopping him at the door of the cell.
"Blessed man!" he cried, with feeling. "Allow me to kiss your hand
once more. Yes, with you I could still talk, I could still get on.
Do you think I always lie and play the fool like this? Believe me, I
have been acting like this all the time on purpose to try you. I
have been testing you all the time to see whether I could get on
with you. Is there room for my humility beside your pride? I am
ready to give you a testimonial that one can get on with you! But now,
I'll be quiet; I will keep quiet all the time. I'll sit in a chair and
hold my tongue. Now it is for you to speak, Pyotr Alexandrovitch.
You are the principal person left now- for ten minutes."
Peasant Women Who Have Faith
NEAR the wooden portico below, built on to the outer wall of the
precinct, there was a crowd of about twenty peasant women. They had
been told that the elder was at last coming out, and they had gathered
together in anticipation. Two ladies, Madame Hohlakov and her
daughter, had also come out into the portico to wait for the elder,
but in a separate part of it set aside for women of rank.
Madame Hohlakov was a wealthy lady, still young and attractive,
and always dressed with taste. She was rather pale, and had lively
black eyes. She was not more than thirty-three, and had been five
years a widow. Her daughter, a girl of fourteen, was partially
paralysed. The poor child had not been able to walk for the last six
months, and was wheeled about in a long reclining chair. She had a
charming little face, rather thin from illness, but full of gaiety.
There was a gleam of mischief in her big dark eyes with their long
lashes. Her mother had been intending to take her abroad ever since
the spring, but they had been detained all the summer by business
connected with their estate. They had been staying a week in our town,
where they had come more for purposes of business than devotion, but
had visited Father Zossima once already, three days before. Though
they knew that the elder scarcely saw anyone, they had now suddenly
turned up again, and urgently entreated "the happiness of looking once
again on the great healer."
The mother was sitting on a chair by the side of her daughter's
invalid carriage, and two paces from her stood an old monk, not one of
our monastery, but a visitor from an obscure religious house in the
far north. He too sought the elder's blessing.
But Father Zossima, on entering the portico, went first straight
to the peasants who were crowded at the foot of the three steps that
led up into the portico. Father Zossima stood on the top step, put
on his stole, and began blessing the women who thronged about him. One
crazy woman was led up to him. As soon as she caught sight of the
elder she began shrieking and writhing as though in the pains of
childbirth. Laying the stole on her forehead, he read a short prayer
over her, and she was at once soothed and quieted.
I do not know how it may be now, but in my childhood I often
happened to see and hear these "possessed" women in the villages and
monasteries. They used to be brought to mass; they would squeal and
bark like a dog so that they were heard all over the church. But
when the sacrament was carried in and they were led up to it, at
once the "possession" ceased, and the sick women were always soothed
for a time. I was greatly impressed and amazed at this as a child; but
then I heard from country neighbours and from my town teachers that
the whole illness was simulated to avoid work, and that it could
always be cured by suitable severity; various anecdotes were told to
confirm this. But later on I learnt with astonishment from medical
specialists that there is no pretence about it, that it is a
terrible illness to which women are subject, especially prevalent
among us in Russia, and that it is due to the hard lot of the
peasant women. It is a disease, I was told, arising from exhausting
toil too soon after hard, abnormal and unassisted labour in
childbirth, and from the hopeless misery, from beatings, and so on,
which some women were not able to endure like others. The strange
and instant healing of the frantic and struggling woman as soon as she
was led up to the holy sacrament, which had been explained to me as
due to malingering and the trickery of the "clericals," arose probably
in the most natural manner. Both the women who supported her and the
invalid herself fully believed as a truth beyond question that the
evil spirit in possession of her could not hold if the sick woman were
brought to the sacrament and made to bow down before it. And so,
with a nervous and psychically deranged woman, a sort of convulsion of
the whole organism always took place, and was bound to take place,
at the moment of bowing down to the sacrament, aroused by the
expectation of the miracle of healing and the implicit belief that
it would come to pass; and it did come to pass, though only for a
moment. It was exactly the same now as soon as the elder touched the
sick woman with the stole.
Many of the women in the crowd were moved to tears of ecstasy by
the effect of the moment: some strove to kiss the hem of his
garment, others cried out in sing-song voices.
He blessed them all and talked with some of them. The
"possessed" woman he knew already. She came from a village only six
versts from the monastery, and had been brought to him before.
"But here is one from afar." He pointed to a woman by no means old
but very thin and wasted, with a face not merely sunburnt but almost
blackened by exposure. She was kneeling and gazing with a fixed
stare at the elder; there was something almost frenzied in her eyes.
"From afar off, Father, from afar off! From two hundred miles from
here. From afar off, Father, from afar off!" the woman began in a
sing-song voice as though she were chanting a dirge, swaying her
head from side to side with her cheek resting in her hand.
There is silent and long-suffering sorrow to be met with among the
peasantry. It withdraws into itself and is still. But there is a grief
that breaks out, and from that minute it bursts into tears and finds
vent in wailing. This is particularly common with women. But it is
no lighter a grief than the silent. Lamentations comfort only by
lacerating the heart still more. Such grief does not desire
consolation. It feeds on the sense of its hopelessness. Lamentations
spring only from the constant craving to re-open the wound.
"You are of the tradesman class?" said Father Zossima, looking
curiously at her.
"Townfolk we are, Father, townfolk. Yet we are peasants though
we live in the town. I have come to see you, O Father! We heard of
you, Father, we heard of you. I have buried my little son, and I
have come on a pilgrimage. I have been in three monasteries, but
they told me, 'Go, Nastasya, go to them'- that is to you. I have come;
I was yesterday at the service, and to-day I have come to you."
"What are you weeping for?"
"It's my little son I'm grieving for, Father. he was three years
old- three years all but three months. For my little boy, Father,
I'm in anguish, for my little boy. He was the last one left. We had
four, my Nikita and I, and now we've no children, our dear ones have
all gone I buried the first three without grieving overmuch, and now I
have buried the last I can't forget him. He seems always standing
before me. He never leaves me. He has withered my heart. I look at his
little clothes, his little shirt, his little boots, and I wail. I
lay out all that is left of him, all his little things. I look at them
and wail. I say to Nikita, my husband, 'let me go on a pilgrimage,
master.' He is a driver. We're not poor people, Father, not poor; he
drives our own horse. It's all our own, the horse and the carriage.
And what good is it all to us now? My Nikita has begun drinking
while I am away. He's sure to. It used to be so before. As soon as I
turn my back he gives way to it. But now I don't think about him. It's
three months since I left home. I've forgotten him. I've forgotten
everything. I don't want to remember. And what would our life be now
together? I've done with him, I've done. I've done with them all. I
don't care to look upon my house and my goods. I don't care to see
anything at all!"
"Listen, mother," said the elder. "Once in olden times a holy
saint saw in the Temple a mother like you weeping for her little
one, her only one, whom God had taken. 'Knowest thou not,' said the
saint to her, 'how bold these little ones are before the throne of
God? Verily there are none bolder than they in the Kingdom of
Heaven. "Thou didst give us life, O Lord," they say, "and scarcely had
we looked upon it when Thou didst take it back again." And so boldly
they ask and ask again that God gives them at once the rank of angels.
Therefore,' said the saint, 'thou, too, O Mother, rejoice and weep
not, for thy little son is with the Lord in the fellowship of the
angels.' That's what the saint said to the weeping mother of old. He
was a great saint and he could not have spoken falsely. Therefore
you too, mother, know that your little one is surely before the throne
of God, is rejoicing and happy, and praying to God for you, and
therefore weep, but rejoice."
The woman listened to him, looking down with her cheek in her
hand. She sighed deeply.
"My Nikita tried to comfort me with the same words as you.
'Foolish one,' he said, 'why weep? Our son is no doubt singing with
the angels before God.' He says that to me, but he weeps himself. I
see that he cries like me. 'I know, Nikita,' said I. 'Where could he
be if not with the Lord God? Only, here with us now he is not as he
used to sit beside us before.' And if only I could look upon him one
little time, if only I could peep at him one little time, without
going up to him, without speaking, if I could be hidden in a corner
and only see him for one little minute, hear him playing in the
yard, calling in his little voice, 'Mammy, where are you?' If only I
could hear him pattering with his little feet about the room just
once, only once; for so often, so often I remember how he used to
run to me and shout and laugh, if only I could hear his little feet
I should know him! But he's gone, Father, he's gone, and I shall never
hear him again. Here's his little sash, but him I shall never see or
She drew out of her bosom her boy's little embroidered sash, and
as soon as she looked at it she began shaking with sobs, hiding her
eyes with her fingers through which the tears flowed in a sudden
"It is Rachel of old," said the elder, "weeping for her
children, and will not be comforted because they are not. Such is
the lot set on earth for you mothers. Be not comforted. Consolation is
not what you need. Weep and be not consoled, but weep. Only every time
that you weep be sure to remember that your little son is one of the
angels of God, that he looks down from there at you and sees you,
and rejoices at your tears, and points at them to the Lord God; and
a long while yet will you keep that great mother's grief. But it
will turn in the end into quiet joy, and your bitter tears will be
only tears of tender sorrow that purifies the heart and delivers it
from sin. And I shall pray for the peace of your child's soul. What
was his name?"
"A sweet name. After Alexey, the man of God?"
"What a saint he was! I will remember him, mother, and your
grief in my prayers, and I will pray for your husband's health. It
is a sin for you to leave him. Your little one will see from heaven
that you have forsaken his father, and will weep over you. Why do
you trouble his happiness? He is living, for the soul lives for
ever, and though he is not in the house he is near you, unseen. How
can he go into the house when you say that the house is hateful to
you? To whom is he to go if he find you not together, his father and
mother? He comes to you in dreams now, and you grieve. But then he
will send you gentle dreams. Go to your husband, mother; go this
"I will go, Father, at your word. I will go. You've gone
straight to my heart. My Nikita, my Nikita, you are waiting for me,"
the woman began in a sing-song voice; but the elder had already turned
away to a very old woman, dressed like a dweller in the town, not like
a pilgrim. Her eyes showed that she had come with an object, and in
order to say something. She said she was the widow of a
non-commissioned officer, and lived close by in the town. Her son
Vasenka was in the commissariat service, and had gone to Irkutsk in
Siberia. He had written twice from there, but now a year had passed
since he had written. She did inquire about him, but she did not
know the proper place to inquire.
"Only the other day Stepanida Ilyinishna- she's a rich
merchant's wife- said to me, 'You go, Prohorovna, and put your son's
name down for prayer in the church, and pray for the peace of his soul
as though he were dead. His soul will be troubled,' she said, 'and
he will write you a letter.' And Stepanida Ilyinishna told me it was a
certain thing which had been many times tried. Only I am in
doubt.... Oh, you light of ours! is it true or false, and would it
"Don't think of it. It's shameful to ask the question. How is it
possible to pray for the peace of a living soul? And his own mother
too! It's a great sin, akin to sorcery. Only for your ignorance it
is forgiven you. Better pray to the Queen of Heaven, our swift defence
and help, for his good health, and that she may forgive you for your
error. And another thing I will tell you, Prohorovna. Either he will
soon come back to you, your son, or he will be sure to send a
letter. Go, and henceforward be in peace. Your son is alive, I tell
"Dear Father, God reward you, our benefactor, who prays for all of
us and for our sins!"
But the elder had already noticed in the crowd two glowing eyes
fixed upon him. An exhausted, consumptive-looking, though young
peasant woman was gazing at him in silence. Her eyes besought him, but
she seemed afraid to approach.
"What is it, my child?"
"Absolve my soul, Father," she articulated softly, and slowly sank
on her knees and bowed down at his feet. "I have sinned, Father. I
am afraid of my sin."
The elder sat down on the lower step. The woman crept closer to
him, still on her knees.
"I am a widow these three years," she began in a half-whisper,
with a sort of shudder. "I had a hard life with my husband. He was
an old man. He used to beat me cruelly. He lay ill; I thought
looking at him, if he were to get well, if he were to get up again,
what then? And then the thought came to me-"
"Stay!" said the elder, and he put his ear close to her lips.
The woman went on in a low whisper, so that it was almost
impossible to catch anything. She had soon done.
"Three years ago?" asked the elder.
"Three years. At first I didn't think about it, but now I've begun
to be ill, and the thought never leaves me."
"Have you come from far?"
"Over three hundred miles away."
"Have you told it in confession?"
"I have confessed it. Twice I have confessed it."
"Have you been admitted to Communion?"
"Yes. I am afraid. I am afraid to die."
"Fear nothing and never be afraid; and don't fret. If only your
penitence fail not, God will forgive all. There is no sin, and there
can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the
truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the
infinite love of God. Can there be a sin which could exceed the love
of God? Think only of repentance, continual repentance, but dismiss
fear altogether. Believe that God loves you as you cannot conceive;
that He loves you with your sin, in your sin. It has been said of
old that over one repentant sinner there is more joy in heaven than
over ten righteous men. Go, and fear not. Be not bitter against men.
Be not angry if you are wronged. Forgive the dead man in your heart
what wrong he did you. Be reconciled with him in truth. If you are
penitent, you love. And if you love you are of God. All things are
atoned for, all things are saved by love. If I, a sinner, even as
you are, am tender with you and have pity on you, how much more will
God. Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole
world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of
He signed her three times with the cross, took from his own neck a
little ikon and put it upon her. She bowed down to the earth without
He got up and looked cheerfully at a healthy peasant woman with
a tiny baby in her arms.
"From Vyshegorye, dear Father."
"Five miles you have dragged yourself with the baby. What do you
"I've come to look at you. I have been to you before- or have
you forgotten? You've no great memory if you've forgotten me. They
told us you were ill. Thinks I, I'll go and see him for myself. Now
I see you, and you're not ill! You'll live another twenty years. God
bless you! There are plenty to pray for you; how should you be ill?"
"I thank you for all, daughter."
"By the way, I have a thing to ask, not a great one. Here are
sixty copecks. Give them, dear Father, to someone poorer than me. I
thought as I came along, better give through him. He'll know whom to
"Thanks, my dear, thanks! You are a good woman. I love you. I will
do so certainly. Is that your little girl?"
"My little girl, Father, Lizaveta."
"May the Lord bless you both, you and your babe Lizaveta! You have
gladdened my heart, mother. Farewell, dear children, farewell, dear
He blessed them all and bowed low to them.