The Russian Monk.
Father Zossima and His Visitors
WHEN with an anxious and aching heart Alyosha went into his
elder's cell, he stood still almost astonished. Instead of a sick
man at his last gasp, perhaps unconscious, as he had feared to find
him, he saw him sitting up in his chair and, though weak and
exhausted, his face was bright and cheerful, he was surrounded by
visitors and engaged in a quiet and joyful conversation. But he had
only got up from his bed a quarter of an hour before Alyosha's
arrival; his visitors had gathered together in his cell earlier,
waiting for him to wake, having received a most confident assurance
from Father Paissy that "the teacher would get up, and as he had
himself promised in the morning, converse once more with those dear to
his heart." This promise and indeed every word of the dying elder
Father Paissy put implicit trust in. If he had seen him unconscious,
if he had seen him breathe his last, and yet had his promise that he
would rise up and say good-bye to him, he would not have believed
perhaps even in death, but would still have expected the dead man to
recover and fulfil his promise. In the morning as he lay down to
sleep, Father Zossima had told him positively: "I shall not die
without the delight of another conversation with you, beloved of my
heart. I shall look once more on your dear face and pour out my
heart to you once again." The monks, who had gathered for this
probably last conversation with Father Zossima, had all been his
devoted friends for many years. There were four of them: Father
Iosif and Father Paissy, Father Mihail the warden of the hermitage,
a man not very old and far from being learned. He was of humble
origin, of strong will and steadfast faith, of austere appearance, but
of deep tenderness, though he obviously concealed it as though he were
almost ashamed of it. The fourth, Father Anfim, was a very old and
humble little monk of the poorest peasant class. He was almost
illiterate, and very quiet, scarcely speaking to anyone. He was the
humblest of the humble, and looked as though he had been frightened by
something great and awful beyond the scope of his intelligence. Father
Zossima had a great affection for this timorous man, and always
treated him with marked respect, though perhaps there was no one he
had known to whom he had said less, in spite of the fact that he had
spent years wandering about holy Russia with him. That was very long
ago, forty years before, when Father Zossima first began his life as a
monk in a poor and little monastery at Kostroma, and when, shortly
after, he had accompanied Father Anfim on his pilgrimage to collect
alms for their poor monastery.
The whole party were in the bedroom which, as we mentioned before,
was very small, so that there was scarcely room for the four of them
(in addition to Porfiry, the novice, who stood) to sit round Father
Zossima on chairs brought from the sitting room. It was already
beginning to get dark, the room was lighted up by the lamps and the
candles before the ikons.
Seeing Alyosha standing embarrassed in the doorway, Father Zossima
smiled at him joyfully and held out his hand.
"Welcome, my quiet one, welcome, my dear, here you are too. I knew
you would come."
Alyosha went up to him, bowed down before him to the ground and
wept. Something surged up from his heart, his soul was quivering, he
wanted to sob.
"Come, don't weep over me yet," Father Zossima smiled, laying
his right hand on his head. "You see I am sitting up talking; maybe
I shall live another twenty years yet, as that dear good woman from
Vishegorye, with her little Lizaveta in her arms, wished me yesterday.
God bless the mother and the little girl Lizaveta," he crossed
himself. "Porfiry, did you take her offering where I told you?"
He meant the sixty copecks brought him the day before by the
good-humoured woman to be given "to someone poorer than me." Such
offerings, always of money gained by personal toil, are made by way of
penance voluntarily undertaken. The elder had sent Porfiry the evening
before to a widow, whose house had been burnt down lately, and who
after the fire had gone with her children begging alms. Porfiry
hastened to reply that he had given the money, as he had been
instructed, "from an unknown benefactress."
"Get up, my dear boy," the elder went on to Alyosha. "Let me
look at you. Have you been home and seen your brother?" It seemed
strange to Alyosha that he asked so confidently and precisely, about
one of his brothers only- but which one? Then perhaps he had sent
him out both yesterday and to-day for the sake of that brother.
"I have seen one of my brothers," answered Alyosha.
"I mean the elder one, to whom I bowed down."
"I only saw him yesterday and could not find him to-day," said
"Make haste to find him, go again to-morrow and make haste,
leave everything and make haste. Perhaps you may still have time to
prevent something terrible. I bowed down yesterday to the great
suffering in store for him."
He was suddenly silent and seemed to be pondering. The words
were strange. Father Iosif, who had witnessed the scene yesterday,
exchanged glances with Father Paissy. Alyosha could not resist asking:
"Father and teacher," he began with extreme emotion, "your words
are too obscure.... What is this suffering in store for him?"
"Don't inquire. I seemed to see something terrible yesterday... as
though his whole future were expressed in his eyes. A look came into
his eyes- so that I was instantly horror-stricken at what that man
is preparing for himself. Once or twice in my life I've seen such a
look in a man's face... reflecting as it were his future fate, and
that fate, alas, came to pass. I sent you to him, Alexey, for I
thought your brotherly face would help him. But everything and all our
fates are from the Lord. 'Except a corn of wheat fall into the
ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth
much fruit.' Remember that. You, Alexey, I've many times silently
blessed for your face, know that," added the elder with a gentle
smile. "This is what I think of you, you will go forth from these
walls, but will live like a monk in the world. You will have many
enemies, but even your foes will love you. Life will bring you many
misfortunes, but you will find your happiness in them, and will
bless life and will make others bless it- which is what matters
most. Well, that is your character. Fathers and teachers," he
addressed his friends with a tender smile, "I have never till to-day
told even him why the face of this youth is so dear to me. Now I
will tell you. His face has been as it were a remembrance and a
prophecy for me. At the dawn of my life when I was a child I had an
elder brother who died before my eyes at seventeen. And later on in
the course of my life I gradually became convinced that that brother
had been for a guidance and a sign from on high for me. For had he not
come into my life, I should never perhaps, so I fancy at least, have
become a monk and entered on this precious path. He appeared first
to me in my childhood, and here, at the end of my pilgrimage, he seems
to have come to me over again. It is marvellous, fathers and teachers,
that Alexey, who has some, though not a great, resemblance in face,
seems to me so like him spiritually, that many times I have taken
him for that young man, my brother, mysteriously come back to me at
the end of my pilgrimage, as a reminder and an inspiration. So that
I positively wondered at so strange a dream in myself. Do you hear
this, Porfiry?" he turned to the novice who waited on him. "Many times
I've seen in your face as it were a look of mortification that I
love Alexey more than you. Now you know why that was so, but I love
you too, know that, and many times I grieved at your mortification.
I should like to tell you, dear friends, of that youth, my brother,
for there has been no presence in my life more precious, more
significant and touching. My heart is full of tenderness, and I look
at my whole life at this moment as though living through it again."
Here I must observe that this last conversation of Father
Zossima with the friends who visited him on the last day of his life
has been partly preserved in writing. Alexey Fyodorovitch Karamazov
wrote it down from memory, some time after his elder's death. But
whether this was only the conversation that took place then, or
whether he added to it his notes of parts of former conversations with
his teacher, I cannot determine. In his account, Father Zossima's talk
goes on without interruption, as though he told his life to his
friends in the form of a story, though there is no doubt, from other
accounts of it, that the conversation that evening was general. Though
the guests did not interrupt Father Zossima much, yet they too talked,
perhaps even told something themselves. Besides, Father Zossima
could not have carried on an uninterrupted narrative, for he was
sometimes gasping for breath, his voice failed him, and he even lay
down to rest on his bed, though he did not fall asleep and his
visitors did not leave their seats. Once or twice the conversation was
interrupted by Father Paissy's reading the Gospel. It is worthy of
note, too, that no one of them supposed that he would die that
night, for on that evening of his life after his deep sleep in the day
he seemed suddenly to have found new strength, which kept him up
through this long conversation. It was like a last effort of love
which gave him marvellous energy; only for a little time, however, for
his life was cut short immediately.. But of that later. I will only
add now that I have preferred to confine myself to the account given
by Alexey Fyodorovitch Karamazov. It will be shorter and not so
fatiguing, though, of course, as I must repeat, Alyosha took a great
deal from previous conversations and added them to it.
Notes of the Life of the deceased Priest and Monk, the Elder
Zossima, taken from his own words by Alexey Fyodorovitch Karamazov.
(a) Father Zossima's Brother.
Beloved fathers and teachers, I was born in a distant province
in the north, in the town of V. My father was a gentleman by birth,
but of no great consequence or position. He died when I was only two
years old, and I don't remember him at all. He left my mother a
small house built of wood, and a fortune, not large, but sufficient to
keep her and her children in comfort. There were two of us, my elder
brother Markel and I. He was eight years older than I was, of hasty,
irritable temperament, but kind-hearted and never ironical. He was
remarkably silent, especially at home with me, his mother, and the
servants. He did well at school, but did not get on with his
school-fellows, though he never quarrelled, at least so my mother
has told me. Six months before his death, when he was seventeen, he
made friends with a political exile who had been banished from
Moscow to our town for freethinking, and led a solitary existence
there. He was a good scholar who had gained distinction in
philosophy in the university. Something made him take a fancy to
Markel, and he used to ask him to see him. The young man would spend
whole evenings with him during that winter, till the exile was
summoned to Petersburg to take up his post again at his own request,
as he had powerful friends.
It was the beginning of Lent, and Markel would not fast, he was
rude and laughed at it. "That's all silly twaddle, and there is no
God," he said, horrifying my mother, the servants, and me too. For
though I was only nine, I too was aghast at hearing such words. We had
four servants, all serfs. I remember my mother selling one of the
four, the cook Afimya, who was lame and elderly, for sixty paper
roubles, and hiring a free servant to take her place.
In the sixth week in Lent, my brother, who was never strong and
had a tendency to consumption, was taken ill. He was tall but thin and
delicate-looking, and of very pleasing countenance. I suppose he
caught cold, anyway the doctor, who came, soon whispered to my
mother that it was galloping consumption, that he would not live
through the spring. My mother began weeping, and, careful not to alarm
my brother, she entreated him to go to church, to confess and take the
sacrament, as he was still able to move about. This made him angry,
and he said something profane about the church. He grew thoughtful,
however; he guessed at once that he was seriously ill, and that that
was why his mother was begging him to confess and take the
sacrament. He had been aware, indeed, for a long time past, that he
was far from well, and had a year before coolly observed at dinner
to your mother and me, "My life won't be long among you, I may not
live another year," which seemed now like a prophecy.
Three days passed and Holy Week had come. And on Tuesday morning
my brother began going to church. "I am doing this simply for your
sake, mother, to please and comfort you," he said. My mother wept with
joy and grief. "His end must be near," she thought, "if there's such a
change in him." But he was not able to go to church long, he took to
his bed, so he had to confess and take the sacrament at home.
It was a late Easter, and the days were bright, fine, and full
of fragrance. I remember he used to cough all night and sleep badly,
but in the morning he dressed and tried to sit up in an arm-chair.
That's how I remember him sitting, sweet and gentle, smiling, his face
bright and joyous, in spite of his illness. A marvellous change passed
over him, his spirit seemed transformed. The old nurse would come in
and say, "Let me light the lamp before the holy image, my dear." And
once he would not have allowed it and would have blown it out.
"Light it, light it, dear, I was a wretch to have prevented you
doing it. You are praying when you light the lamp, and I am praying
when I rejoice seeing you. So we are praying to the same God."
Those words seemed strange to us, and mother would go to her
room and weep, but when she went in to him she wiped her eyes and
looked cheerful. "Mother, don't weep, darling," he would say, "I've
long to live yet, long to rejoice with you, and life is glad and
"Ah, dear boy, how can you talk of joy when you lie feverish at
night, coughing as though you would tear yourself to pieces."
"Don't cry, mother," he would answer, "life is paradise, and we
are all in paradise, but we won't see it; if we would, we should
have heaven on earth the next day."
Everyone wondered at his words, he spoke so strangely and
positively; we were all touched and wept. Friends came to see us.
"Dear ones," he would say to them, "what have I done that you should
love me so, how can you love anyone like me, and how was it I did
not know, I did not appreciate it before?"
When the servants came in to him he would say continually,
"Dear, kind people, why are you doing so much for me, do I deserve
to be waited on? If it were God's will for me to live, I would wait on
you, for all men should wait on one another."
Mother shook her head as she listened. "My darling, it's your
illness makes you talk like that."
"Mother darling," he would say, "there must be servants and
masters, but if so I will be the servant of my servants, the same as
they are to me. And another thing, mother, every one of us has
sinned against all men, and I more than any."
Mother positively smiled at that, smiled through her tears.
"Why, how could you have sinned against all men, more than all?
Robbers and murderers have done that, but what sin have you
committed yet, that you hold yourself more guilty than all?"
"Mother, little heart of mine," he said (he had begun using such
strange caressing words at that time), "little heart of mine, my
joy, believe me, everyone is really responsible to all men for all men
and for everything. I don't know how to explain it to you, but I
feel it is so, painfully even. And how is it we went on then living,
getting angry and not knowing?"
So he would get up every day, more and more sweet and joyous and
full of love. When the doctor, an old German called Eisenschmidt,
"Well, doctor, have I another day in this world?" he would ask,
"You'll live many days yet," the doctor would answer, "and
months and years too."
"Months and years!" he would exclaim. "Why reckon the days? One
day is enough for a man to know all happiness. My dear ones, why do we
quarrel, try to outshine each other and keep grudges against each
other? Let's go straight into the garden, walk and play there, love,
appreciate, and kiss each other, and glorify life."
"Your son cannot last long," the doctor told my mother, as she
accompanied him the door. "The disease is affecting his brain."
The windows of his room looked out into the garden, and our garden
was a shady one, with old trees in it which were coming into bud.
The first birds of spring were flitting in the branches, chirruping
and singing at the windows. And looking at them and admiring them,
he began suddenly begging their forgiveness too: "Birds of heaven,
happy birds, forgive me, for I have sinned against you too." None of
us could understand that at the time, but he shed tears of joy. "Yes,"
he said, "there was such a glory of God all about me: birds, trees,
meadows, sky; only I lived in shame and dishonoured it all and did not
notice the beauty and glory."
"You take too many sins on yourself," mother used to say, weeping.
"Mother, darling, it's for joy, not for grief I am crying.
Though I can't explain it to you, I like to humble myself before them,
for I don't know how to love them enough. If I have sinned against
everyone, yet all forgive me, too, and that's heaven. Am I not in
And there was a great deal more I don't remember. I remember I
went once into his room when there was no one else there. It was a
bright evening, the sun was setting, and the whole room was lighted
up. He beckoned me, and I went up to him. He put his hands on my
shoulders and looked into my face tenderly, lovingly; he said
nothing for a minute, only looked at me like that.
"Well," he said, "run and play now, enjoy life for me too."
I went out then and ran to play. And many times in my life
afterwards I remembered even with tears how he told me to enjoy life
for him too. There were many other marvellous and beautiful sayings of
his, though we did not understand them at the time. He died the
third week after Easter. He was fully conscious though he could not
talk; up to his last hour he did not change. He looked happy, his eyes
beamed and sought us, he smiled at us, beckoned us. There was a
great deal of talk even in the town about his death. I was impressed
by all this at the time, but not too much so, though I cried a good
deal at his funeral. I was young then, a child, but a lasting
impression, a hidden feeling of it all, remained in my heart, ready to
rise up and respond when the time came. So indeed it happened.
(b) Of the Holy Scriptures in the Life of Father Zossima.
I was left alone with my mother. Her friends began advising her to
send me to Petersburg as other parents did. "You have only one son
now," they said, "and have a fair income, and you will be depriving
him perhaps of a brilliant career if you keep him here." They
suggested I should be sent to Petersburg to the Cadet Corps, that I
might afterwards enter the Imperial Guard. My mother hesitated for a
long time, it was awful to part with her only child, but she made up
her mind to it at last, though not without many tears, believing she
was acting for my happiness. She brought me to Petersburg and put me
into the Cadet Corps, and I never saw her again. For she too died
three years afterwards. She spent those three years mourning and
grieving for both of us.
From the house of my childhood I have brought nothing but precious
memories, for there are no memories more precious than those of
early childhood in one's first home. And that is almost always so if
there is any love and harmony in the family at all. Indeed, precious
memories may remain even of a bad home, if only the heart knows how to
find what is precious. With my memories of home I count, too, my
memories of the Bible, which, child as I was, I was very eager to read
at home. I had a book of Scripture history then with excellent
pictures, called A Hundred and Four Stories from the Old and New
Testament, and I learned to read from it. I have it lying on my
shelf now; I keep it as a precious relic of the past. But even
before I learned to read, I remember first being moved to devotional
feeling at eight years old. My mother took me alone to mass (I don't
remember where my brother was at the time) on the Monday before
Easter. It was a fine day, and I remember to-day, as though I saw it
now, how the incense rose from the censer and softly floated upwards
and, overhead in the cupola, mingled in rising waves with the sunlight
that streamed in at the little window. I was stirred by the sight, and
for the first time in my life I consciously received the seed of God's
word in my heart. A youth came out into the middle of the church
carrying a big book, so large that at the time I fancied he could
scarcely carry it. He laid it on the reading desk, opened it, and
began reading, and suddenly for the first time I understood
something read in the church of God. In the land of Uz, there lived
a man, righteous and God-fearing, and he had great wealth, so many
camels, so many sheep and asses, and his children feasted, and he
loved them very much and prayed for them. "It may be that my sons have
sinned in their feasting." Now the devil came before the Lord together
with the sons of God, and said to the Lord that he had gone up and
down the earth and under the earth. "And hast thou considered my
servant Job?" God asked of him. And God boasted to the devil, pointing
to His great and holy servant. And the devil laughed at God's words.
"Give him over to me and Thou wilt see that Thy servant will murmur
against Thee and curse Thy name." And God gave up the just man He
loved so, to the devil. And the devil smote his children and his
cattle and scattered his wealth, all of a sudden like a thunderbolt
from heaven. And Job rent his mantle and fell down upon the ground and
cried aloud, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall
I return into the earth; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord for ever and ever."
Fathers and teachers, forgive my tears now, for all my childhood
rises up again before me, and I breathe now as I breathed then, with
the breast of a little child of eight, and I feel as I did then, awe
and wonder and gladness. The camels at that time caught my
imagination, and Satan, who talked like that with God, and God who
gave His servant up to destruction, and His servant crying out:
"Blessed be Thy name although Thou dost punish me," and then the
soft and sweet singing in the church: "Let my prayer rise up before
Thee," and again incense from the priest's censer and the kneeling and
the prayer. Ever since then- only yesterday I took it up- I've never
been able to read that sacred tale without tears. And how much that is
great, mysterious and unfathomable there is in it! Afterwards I
heard the words of mockery and blame, proud words, "How could God give
up the most loved of His saints for the diversion of the devil, take
from him his children, smite him with sore boils so that he cleansed
the corruption from his sores with a potsherd- and for no object
except to boast to the devil 'See what My saint can suffer for My
sake.' "But the greatness of it lies just in the fact that it is a
mystery- that the passing earthly show and the eternal verity are
brought together in it. In the face of the earthly truth, the
eternal truth is accomplished. The Creator, just as on the first
days of creation He ended each day with praise: "That is good that I
have created," looks upon Job and again praises His creation. And Job,
praising the Lord, serves not only Him but all His creation for
generations and generations, and for ever and ever, since for that
he was ordained. Good heavens, what a book it is, and what lessons
there are in it! What a book the Bible is, what a miracle, what
strength is given with it to man! It is like a mould cast of the world
and man and human nature, everything is there, and a law for
everything for all the ages. And what mysteries are solved and
revealed! God raises Job again, gives him wealth again. Many years
pass by, and he has other children and loves them. But how could he
love those new ones when those first children are no more, when he has
lost them? Remembering them, how could he be fully happy with those
new ones, however dear the new ones might be? But he could, he
could. It's the great mystery of human life that old grief passes
gradually into quiet, tender joy. The mild serenity of age takes the
place of the riotous blood of youth. I bless the rising sun each
day, and, as before, my heart sings to meet it, but now I love even
more its setting, its long slanting rays and the soft, tender,
gentle memories that come with them, the dear images from the whole of
my long, happy life- and over all the Divine Truth, softening,
reconciling, forgiving! My life is ending, I know that well, but every
day that is left me I feel how earthly life is in touch with a new
infinite, unknown, but approaching life, the nearness of which sets my
soul quivering with rapture, my mind glowing and my heart weeping with
Friends and teachers, I have heard more than once, and of late one
may hear it more often, that the priests, and above all the village
priests, are complaining on all sides of their miserable income and
their humiliating lot. They plainly state, even in print- I've read it
myself- that they are unable to teach the Scriptures to the people
because of the smallness of their means, and if Lutherans and heretics
come and lead the flock astray, they let them lead them astray because
they have so little to live upon. May the Lord increase the sustenance
that is so precious to them, for their complaint is just, too. But
of a truth I say, if anyone is to blame in the matter, half the
fault is ours. For he may be short of time, he may say truly that he
is overwhelmed all the while with work and services, but still it's
not all the time, even he has an hour a week to remember God. And he
does not work the whole year round. Let him gather round him once a
week, some hour in the evening, if only the children at first- the
fathers will hear of it and they too will begin to come. There's no
need to build halls for this, let him take them into his own
cottage. They won't spoil his cottage, they would only be there one
hour. Let him open that book and begin reading it without grand
words or superciliousness, without condescension to them, but gently
and kindly, being glad that he is reading to them and that they are
listening with attention, loving the words himself, only stopping from
time to time to explain words that are not understood by the peasants.
Don't be anxious, they will understand everything, the orthodox
heart will understand all! Let him read them about Abraham and
Sarah, about Isaac and Rebecca, of how Jacob went to Laban and
wrestled with the Lord in his dream and said, "This place is holy"-
and he will impress the devout mind of the peasant. Let him read,
especially to the children, how the brothers sold Joseph, the tender
boy, the dreamer and prophet, into bondage, and told their father that
a wild beast had devoured him, and showed him his blood-stained
clothes. Let him read them how the brothers afterwards journeyed
into Egypt for corn, and Joseph, already a great ruler, unrecognised
by them, tormented them, accused them, kept his brother Benjamin,
and all through love: "I love you, and loving you I torment you."
For he remembered all his life how they had sold him to the
merchants in the burning desert by the well, and how, wringing his
hands, he had wept and besought his brothers not to sell him as a
slave in a strange land. And how, seeing them again after many
years, he loved them beyond measure, but he harassed and tormented
them in love. He left them at last not able to bear the suffering of
his heart, flung himself on his bed and wept. Then, wiping his tears
away, he went out to them joyful and told them, "Brothers, I am your
brother Joseph" Let him read them further how happy old Jacob was on
learning that his darling boy was still alive, and how he went to
Egypt leaving his own country, and died in a foreign land, bequeathing
his great prophecy that had lain mysteriously hidden in his meek and
timid heart all his life, that from his offspring, from Judah, will
come the great hope of the world, the Messiah and Saviour.
Fathers and teachers, forgive me and don't be angry, that like a
little child I've been babbling of what you know long ago, and can
teach me a hundred times more skilfully. I only speak from rapture,
and forgive my tears, for I love the Bible. Let him too weep, the
priest of God, and be sure that the hearts of his listeners will throb
in response. Only a little tiny seed is needed- drop it into the heart
of the peasant and it won't die, it will live in his soul all his
life, it will be hidden in the midst of his darkness and sin, like a
bright spot, like a great reminder. And there's no need of much
teaching or explanation, he will understand it all simply. Do you
suppose that the peasants don't understand? Try reading them the
touching story of the fair Esther and the haughty Vashti; or the
miraculous story of Jonah in the whale. Don't forget either the
parables of Our Lord, choose especially from the Gospel of St. Luke
(that is what I did), and then from the Acts of the Apostles the
conversion of St. Paul (that you mustn't leave out on any account),
and from the Lives of the Saints, for instance, the life of Alexey,
the man of God and, greatest of all, the happy martyr and the seer
of God, Mary of Egypt- and you will penetrate their hearts with
these simple tales. Give one hour a week to it in spite of your
poverty, only one little hour. And you will see for yourselves that
our people is gracious and grateful, and will repay you a hundred
foId. Mindful of the kindness of their priest and the moving words
they have heard from him, they will of their own accord help him in
his fields and in his house and will treat him with more respect
than before- so that it will even increase his worldly well-being too.
The thing is so simple that sometimes one is even afraid to put it
into words, for fear of being laughed at, and yet how true it is!
One who does not believe in God will not believe in God's people. He
who believes in God's people will see His Holiness too, even though he
had not believed in it till then. Only the people and their future
spiritual power will convert our atheists, who have torn themselves
away from their native soil.
And what is the use of Christ's words, unless we set an example?
The people is lost without the Word of God, for its soul is athirst
for the Word and for all that is good.
In my youth, long ago, nearly forty years ago, I travelled all
over Russia with Father Anfim, collecting funds for our monastery, and
we stayed one night on the bank of a great navigable river with some
fishermen. A good looking peasant lad, about eighteen, joined us; he
had to hurry back next morning to pull a merchant's barge along the
bank. I noticed him looking straight before him with clear and
tender eyes. It was a bright, warm, still, July night, a cool mist
rose from the broad river, we could hear the plash of a fish, the
birds were still, all was hushed and beautiful, everything praying
to God. Only we two were not sleeping, the lad and I, and we talked of
the beauty of this world of God's and of the great mystery of it.
Every blade of grass, every insect, ant, and golden bee, all so
marvellously know their path, though they have not intelligence,
they bear witness to the mystery of God and continually accomplish
it themselves. I saw the dear lad's heart was moved. He told me that
he loved the forest and the forest birds. He was a bird-catcher,
knew the note of each of them, could call each bird. "I know nothing
better than to be in the forest," said he, "though all things are
"Truly," I answered him, "all things are good and fair, because
all is truth. Look," said I, "at the horse, that great beast that is
so near to man; or the lowly, pensive ox, which feeds him and works
for him; look at their faces, what meekness, what devotion to man, who
often beats them mercilessly. What gentleness, what confidence and
what beauty! It's touching to know that there's no sin in them, for
all, all except man, is sinless, and Christ has been with them
"Why," asked the boy, "is Christ with them too?"
"It cannot but be so," said I, "since the Word is for all. All
creation and all creatures, every leaf is striving to the Word,
singing glory to God, weeping to Christ, unconsciously accomplishing
this by the mystery of their sinless life. Yonder," said I, "in the
forest wanders the dreadful bear, fierce and menacing, and yet
innocent in it." And I told him how once a bear came to a great
saint who had taken refuge in a tiny cell in the wood. And the great
saint pitied him, went up to him without fear and gave him a piece
of bread. "Go along," said he, "Christ be with you," and the savage
beast walked away meekly and obediently, doing no harm. And the lad
was delighted that the bear had walked away without hurting the saint,
and that Christ was with him too. "Ah," said he, "how good that is,
how good and beautiful is all God's work!" He sat musing softly and
sweetly. I saw he understood. And he slept beside me a light and
sinless sleep. May God bless youth! And I prayed for him as I went
to sleep. Lord, send peace and light to Thy people!
(c) Recollections of Father Zossima's Youth before
he became a Monk. The Duel
I SPENT a long time, almost eight years, in the military cadet
school at Petersburg, and in the novelty of my surroundings there,
many of my childish impressions grew dimmer, though I forgot
nothing. I picked up so many new habits and opinions that I was
transformed into a cruel, absurd, almost savage creature. A surface
polish of courtesy and society manners I did acquire together with the
But we all, myself included, looked upon the soldiers in our
service as cattle. I was perhaps worse than the rest in that
respect, for I was so much more impressionable than my companions.
By the time we left the school as officers, we were ready to lay
down our lives for the honour of the regiment, but no one of us had
any knowledge of the real meaning of honour, and if anyone had known
it, he would have been the first to ridicule it. Drunkenness,
debauchery and devilry were what we almost prided ourselves on. I
don't say that we were bad by nature, all these young men were good
fellows, but they behaved badly, and I worst of all. What made it
worse for me was that I had come into my own money, and so I flung
myself into a life of pleasure, and plunged headlong into all the
recklessness of youth.
I was fond of reading, yet strange to say, the Bible was the one
book I never opened at that time, though I always carried it about
with me, and I was never separated from it; in very truth I was
keeping that book "for the day and the hour, for the month and the
year," though I knew it not.
After four years of this life, I chanced to be in the town of K.
where our regiment was stationed at the time. We found the people of
the town hospitable, rich, and fond of entertainments. I met with a
cordial reception everywhere, as I was of a lively temperament and was
known to be well off, which always goes a long way in the world. And
then a circumstance happened which was the beginning of it all.
I formed an attachment to a beautiful and intelligent young girl
of noble and lofty character, the daughter of people much respected.
They were well-to-do people of influence and position. They always
gave me a cordial and friendly reception. I fancied that the young
lady looked on me with favour and my heart was aflame at such an idea.
Later on I saw and fully realised that I perhaps was not so
passionately in love with her at all, but only recognised the
elevation of her mind and character, which I could not indeed have
helped doing. I was prevented, however, from making her an offer at
the time by my selfishness; I was loath to part with the allurements
of my free and licentious bachelor life in the heyday of my youth, and
with my pockets full of money. I did drop some hint as to my
feelings however, though I put off taking any decisive step for a
time. Then, all of a sudden, we were ordered off for two months to
On my return two months later, I found the young lady already
married to a rich neighbouring landowner, a very amiable man, still
young though older than I was, connected with the best Petersburg
society, which I was not, and of excellent education, which I also was
not. I was so overwhelmed at this unexpected circumstance that my mind
was positively clouded. The worst of it all was that, as I learned
then, the young landowner had been a long while betrothed to her,
and I had met him indeed many times in her house, but blinded by my
conceit I had noticed nothing. And this particularly mortified me;
almost everybody had known all about it, while I knew nothing. I was
filled with sudden irrepressible fury. With flushed face I began
recalling how often I had been on the point of declaring my love to
her, and as she had not attempted to stop me or to warn me, she
must, I concluded, have been laughing at me all the time. Later on, of
course, I reflected and remembered that she had been very far from
laughing at me; on the contrary, she used to turn off any
love-making on my part with a jest and begin talking of other
subjects; but at that moment I was incapable of reflecting and was all
eagerness for revenge. I am surprised to remember that my wrath and
revengeful feelings were extremely repugnant to my own nature, for
being of an easy temper, I found it difficult to be angry with
anyone for long, and so I had to work myself up artificially and
became at last revolting and absurd.
I waited for an opportunity and succeeded in insulting my
"rival" in the presence of a large company. I insulted him on a
perfectly extraneous pretext, jeering at his opinion upon an important
public event- it was in the year 1826- my jeer was, so people said,
clever and effective. Then I forced him to ask for an explanation, and
behaved so rudely that he accepted my challenge in spite of the vast
inequality between us, as I was younger, a person of no consequence,
and of inferior rank. I learned afterwards for a fact that it was from
a jealous feeling on his side also that my challenge was accepted;
he had been rather jealous of me on his wife's account before their
marriage; he fancied now that if he submitted to be insulted by me and
refused to accept my challenge, and if she heard of it, she might
begin to despise him and waver in her love for him. I soon found a
second in a comrade, an ensign of our regiment. In those days though
duels were severely punished, yet duelling was a kind of fashion among
the officers- so strong and deeply rooted will a brutal prejudice
It was the end of June, and our meeting was to take place at seven
o'clock the next day on the outskirts of the town- and then
something happened that in very truth was the turning point of my
life. In the evening, returning home in a savage and brutal humour,
I flew into a rage with my orderly Afanasy, and gave him two blows
in the face with all my might, so that it was covered with blood. He
had not long been in my service and I had struck him before, but never
with such ferocious cruelty. And, believe me, though it's forty
years ago, I recall it now with shame and pain. I went to bed and
slept for about three hours; when I waked up the day was breaking. I
got up- I did not want to sleep any more- I went to the window- opened
it, it looked out upon the garden; I saw the sun rising; it was warm
and beautiful, the birds were singing.
"What's the meaning of it?" I thought. "I feel in my heart as it
were something vile and shameful. Is it because I am going to shed
blood? No," I thought, "I feel it's not that. Can it be that I am
afraid of death, afraid of being killed? No, that's not it, that's not
it at all."... And all at once I knew what it was: it was because I
had beaten Afanasy the evening before! It all rose before my mind,
it all was, as it were, repeated over again; he stood before me and
I was beating him straight on the face and he was holding his arms
stiffly down, his head erect, his eyes fixed upon me as though on
parade. He staggered at every blow and did not even dare to raise
his hands to protect himself. That is what a man has been brought
to, and that was a man beating a fellow creature! What a crime! It was
as though a sharp dagger had pierced me right through. I stood as if I
were struck dumb, while the sun was shining, the leaves were rejoicing
and the birds were trilling the praise of God.... I hid my face in
my hands, fell on my bed and broke into a storm of tears. And then I
remembered by brother Markel and what he said on his death-bed to
his servants: "My dear ones, why do you wait on me, why do you love
me, am I worth your waiting on me?"
"Yes, am I worth it?" flashed through my mind. "After all what
am I worth, that another man, a fellow creature, made in the
likeness and image of God, should serve me?" For the first time in
my life this question forced itself upon me. He had said, "Mother,
my little heart, in truth we are each responsible to all for all, it's
only that men don't know this. If they knew it, the world would be a
paradise at once."
"God, can that too be false?" I thought as I wept. "In truth,
perhaps, I am more than all others responsible for all, a greater
sinner than all men in the world." And all at once the whole truth
in its full light appeared to me: what was I going to do? I was
going to kill a good, clever, noble man, who had done me no wrong, and
by depriving his wife of happiness for the rest of her life, I
should be torturing and killing her too. I lay thus in my bed with
my face in the pillow, heedless how the time was passing. Suddenly
my second, the ensign, came in with the pistols to fetch me.
"Ah," said he, "it's a good thing you are up already, it's time we
were off, come along!"
I did not know what to do and hurried to and fro undecided; we
went out to the carriage, however.
"Wait here a minute," I said to him. "I'll be back directly, I
have forgotten my purse."
And I ran back alone, to Afanasy's little room.
"Afanasy," I said, "I gave you two blows on the face yesterday,
forgive me," I said.
He started as though he were frightened, and looked at me; and I
saw that it was not enough, and on the spot, in my full officer's
uniform, I dropped at his feet and bowed my head to the ground.
"Forgive me," I said.
Then he was completely aghast.
"Your honour... sir, what are you doing? Am I worth it?"
And he burst out crying as I had done before, hid his face in
his hands, turned to the window and shook all over with his sobs. I
flew out to my comrade and jumped into the carriage.
"Ready," I cried. "Have you ever seen a conqueror?" I asked him.
"Here is one before you."
I was in ecstasy, laughing and talking all the way, I don't
remember what about.
He looked at me. "Well, brother, you are a plucky fellow, you'll
keep up the honour of the uniform, I can see."
So we reached the place and found them there, waiting us. We
were placed twelve paces apart; he had the first shot. I stood
gaily, looking him full in the face; I did not twitch an eyelash, I
looked lovingly at him, for I knew what I would do. His shot just
grazed my cheek and ear.
"Thank God," I cried, "no man has been killed," and I seized my
pistol, turned back and flung it far away into the wood. "That's the
place for you," I cried.
I turned to my adversary.
"Forgive me, young fool that I am, sir," I said, "for my
unprovoked insult to you and for forcing you to fire at me. I am ten
times worse than you and more, maybe. Tell that to the person whom you
hold dearest in the world."
I had no sooner said this than they all three shouted at me.
"Upon my word," cried my adversary, annoyed, "if you did not
want to fight, why did not you let me alone?"
"Yesterday I was a fool, to-day I know better," I answered him
"As to yesterday, I believe you, but as for to-day, it is
difficult to agree with your opinion," said he.
"Bravo," I cried, clapping my hands. "I agree with you there
too, I have deserved it!"
"Will you shoot, sir, or not?"
"No, I won't," I said; "if you like, fire at me again, but it
would be better for you not to fire."
The seconds, especially mine, were shouting too: "Can you disgrace
the regiment like this, facing your antagonist and begging his
forgiveness! If I'd only known this!"
I stood facing them all, not laughing now.
"Gentlemen," I said, "is it really so wonderful in these days to
find a man who can repent of his stupidity and publicly confess his
"But not in a duel," cried my second again.
"That's what's so strange," I said. "For I ought to have owned
my fault as soon as I got here, before he had fired a shot, before
leading him into a great and deadly sin; but we have made our life
so grotesque, that to act in that way would have been almost
impossible, for only after I had faced his shot at the distance of
twelve paces could my words have any significance for him, and if I
had spoken before, he would have said, 'He is a coward, the sight of
the pistols has frightened him, no use to listen to him.'
Gentlemen," I cried suddenly, speaking straight from my heart, "look
around you at the gifts of God, the clear sky, the pure air, the
tender grass, the birds; nature is beautiful and sinless, and we, only
we, are sinful and foolish, and we don't understand that life is
heaven, for we have only to understand that and it will at once be
fulfilled in all its beauty, we shall embrace each other and weep."
I would have said more but I could not; my voice broke with the
sweetness and youthful gladness of it, and there was such bliss in
my heart as I had never known before in my life.
"All this is rational and edifying," said my antagonist, "and in
any case you are an original person."
"You may laugh," I said to him, laughing too, "but afterwards
you will approve of me."
"Oh, I am ready to approve of you now," said he; "will you shake
hands? for I believe you are genuinely sincere."
"No," I said, "not now, later on when I have grown worthier and
deserve your esteem, then shake hands and you will do well."
We went home, my second upbraiding me all the way, while I
kissed him. All my comrades heard of the affair at once and gathered
together to pass judgment on me the same day.
"He has disgraced the uniform," they said; "Let him resign his
Some stood up for me: "He faced the shot," they said.
"Yes, but he was afraid of his other shot and begged for
"If he had been afraid of being shot, he would have shot his own
pistol first before asking forgiveness, while he flung it loaded
into the forest. No, there's something else in this, something
I enjoyed listening and looking at them. "My dear friends and
comrades," said I, "don't worry about my resigning my commission,
for I have done so already. I have sent in my papers this morning
and as soon as I get my discharge I shall go into a monastery- it's
with that object I am leaving the regiment."
When I had said this every one of them burst out laughing.
"You should have told us of that first, that explains
everything, we can't judge a monk."
They laughed and could not stop themselves, and not scornfully,
but kindly and merrily. They all felt friendly to me at once, even
those who had been sternest in their censure, and all the following
month, before my discharge came, they could not make enough of me.
"Ah, you monk," they would say. And everyone said something kind to
me, they began trying to dissuade me, even to pity me: "What are you
doing to yourself?"
"No," they would say, "he is a brave fellow, he faced fire and
could have fired his own pistol too, but he had a dream the night
before that he should become a monk, that's why he did it."
It was the same thing with the society of the town. Till then I
had been kindly received, but had not been the object of special
attention, and now all came to know me at once and invited me; they
laughed at me, but they loved me. I may mention that although
everybody talked openly of our duel, the authorities took no notice of
it, because my antagonist was a near relation of our general, and as
there had been no bloodshed and no serious consequences, and as I
resigned my commission, they took it as a joke. And I began then to
speak aloud and fearlessly, regardless of their laughter, for it was
always kindly and not spiteful laughter. These conversations mostly
took place in the evenings, in the company of ladies; women
particularly liked listening to me then and they made the men listen.
"But how can I possibly be responsible for all?" everyone would
laugh in my face. "Can I, for instance, be responsible for you?"
"You may well not know it," I would answer, "since the whole world
has long been going on a different line, since we consider the veriest
lies as truth and demand the same lies from others. Here I have for
once in my life acted sincerely and, well, you all look upon me as a
madman. Though you are friendly to me, yet, you see, you all laugh
"But how can we help being friendly to you?" said my hostess,
laughing. The room was full of people. All of a sudden the young
lady rose, on whose account the duel had been fought and whom only
lately I had intended to be my future wife. I had not noticed her
coming into the room. She got up, came to me and held out her hand.
"Let me tell you," she said, "that I am the first not to laugh
at you, but on the contrary I thank you with tears and express my
respect for you for your action then."
Her husband, too, came up and then they all approached me and
almost kissed me. My heart was filled with joy, but my attention was
especially caught by a middle-aged man who came up to me with the
others. I knew him by name already, but had never made his
acquaintance nor exchanged a word with him till that evening.
(d) The Mysterious Visitor.
He had long been an official in the town; he was in a prominent
position, respected by all, rich and had a reputation for benevolence.
He subscribed considerable sums to the almshouse and the orphan
asylum; he was very charitable, too, in secret, a fact which only
became known after his death. He was a man of about fifty, almost
stern in appearance and not much given to conversation. He had been
married about ten years and his wife, who was still young, had borne
him three children. Well, I was sitting alone in my room the following
evening, when my door suddenly opened and this gentleman walked in.
I must mention, by the way, that I was no longer living in my
former quarters. As soon as I resigned my commission, I took rooms
with an old lady, the widow of a government clerk. My landlady's
servant waited upon me, for I had moved into her rooms simply
because on my return from the duel I had sent Afanasy back to the
regiment, as I felt ashamed to look him in the face after my last
interview with him. So prone is the man of the world to be ashamed
of any righteous action.
"I have," said my visitor, "with great interest listened to you
speaking in different houses the last few days and I wanted at last to
make your personal acquaintance, so as to talk to you more intimately.
Can you, dear sir, grant me this favour?"
"I can, with the greatest pleasure, and I shall look upon it as an
honour." I said this, though I felt almost dismayed, so greatly was
I impressed from the first moment by the appearance of this man. For
though other people had listened to me with interest and attention, no
one had come to me before with such a serious, stern, and concentrated
expression. And now he had come to see me in my own rooms. He sat
"You are, I see, a man of great strength of character" he said;
"as you have dared to serve the truth, even when by doing so you
risked incurring the contempt of all."
"Your praise is, perhaps, excessive," I replied.
"No, it's not excessive," he answered; "believe me, such a
course of action is far more difficult than you think. It is that
which has impressed me, and it is only on that account that I have
come to you," he continued. "Tell me, please, that is if you are not
annoyed by my perhaps unseemly curiosity, what were your exact
sensations, if you can recall them, at the moment when you made up
your mind to ask forgiveness at the duel. Do not think my question
frivolous; on the contrary, I have in asking the question a secret
motive of my own, which I will perhaps explain to you later on, if
it is God's will that we should become more intimately acquainted."
All the while he was speaking, I was looking at him straight
into the face and I felt all at once a complete trust in him and great
curiosity on my side also, for I felt that there was some strange
secret in his soul.
"You ask what were my exact sensations at the moment when I
asked my opponent's forgiveness," I answered; "but I had better tell
you from the beginning what I have not yet told anyone else." And I
described all that had passed between Afanasy and me, and how I had
bowed down to the ground at his feet. "From that you can see for
yourself," I concluded, "that at the time of the duel it was easier
for me, for I had made a beginning already at home, and when once I
had started on that road, to go farther along it was far from being
difficult, but became a source of joy and happiness."
I liked the way he looked at me as he listened. "All that," he
said, "is exceedingly interesting. I will come to see you again and
And from that time forth he came to see me nearly every evening.
And we should have become greater friends, if only he had ever
talked of himself. But about himself he scarcely ever said a word, yet
continually asked me about myself. In spite of that I became very fond
of him and spoke with perfect frankness to him about all my
feelings; "for," thought I, "what need have I to know his secrets,
since I can see without that that is a good man? Moreover, though he
is such a serious man and my senior, he comes to see a youngster
like me and treats me as his equal." And I learned a great deal that
was profitable from him, for he was a man of lofty mind.
"That life is heaven," he said to me suddenly, "that I have long
been thinking about"; and all at once he added, "I think of nothing
else indeed." He looked at me and smiled. "I am more convinced of it
than you are, I will tell you later why."
I listened to him and thought that he evidently wanted to tell
"Heaven," he went on, "lies hidden within all of us- here it
lies hidden in me now, and if I will it, it will be revealed to me
to-morrow and for all time."
I looked at him; he was speaking with great emotion and gazing
mysteriously at me, as if he were questioning me.
"And that we are all responsible to all for all, apart from our
own sins, you were quite right in thinking that, and it is wonderful
how you could comprehend it in all its significance at once. And in
very truth, so soon as men understand that, the Kingdom of Heaven will
be for them not a dream, but a living reality."
"And when," I cried out to him bitterly, "when will that come to
pass? and will it ever come to pass? Is not it simply a dream of
"What then, you don't believe it," he said. "You preach it and
don't believe it yourself. Believe me, this dream, as you call it,
will come to pass without doubt; it will come, but not now, for
every process has its law. It's a spiritual, psychological process. To
transform the world, to recreate it afresh, men must turn into another
path psychologically. Until you have become really, in actual fact,
a brother to everyone, brotherhood will not come to pass. No sort of
scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach men
to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all.
Everyone will think his share too small and they will be always
envying, complaining and attacking one another. You ask when it will
come to pass; it will come to pass, but first we have to go though the
period of isolation."
"What do you mean by isolation?" I asked him.
"Why, the isolation that prevails everywhere, above all in our
age- it has not fully developed, it has not reached its limit yet. For
everyone strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible,
wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself;
but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of
life but self-destruction, for instead of self-realisation he ends
by arriving at complete solitude. All mankind in our age have split up
into units, they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one
holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has, from the rest, and
he ends by being repelled by others and repelling them. He heaps up
riches by himself and thinks, 'How strong I am now and how secure,'
and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up,
the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence. For he is
accustomed to rely upon himself alone and to cut himself off from
the whole; he has trained himself not to believe in the help of
others, in men and in humanity, and only trembles for fear he should
lose his money and the privileges that he has won for himself.
Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to
understand that the true security is to be found in social
solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. But this
terrible individualism must inevitably have an end, and all will
suddenly understand how unnaturally they are separated from one
another. It will be the spirit of the time, and people will marvel
that they have sat so long in darkness without seeing the light. And
then the sign of the Son of Man will be seen in the heavens.... But,
until then, we must keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has
to do it alone, and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an
example, and so draw men's souls out of their solitude, and spur
them to some act of brotherly love, that the great idea may not die."
Our evenings, one after another, were spent in such stirring and
fervent talk. I gave up society and visited my neighbours much less
frequently. Besides, my vogue was somewhat over. I say this, not as
blame, for they still loved me and treated me good-humouredly, but
there's no denying that fashion is a great power in society. I began
to regard my mysterious visitor with admiration, for besides
enjoying his intelligence, I began to perceive that he was brooding
over some plan in his heart, and was preparing himself perhaps for a
great deed. Perhaps he liked my not showing curiosity about his
secret, not seeking to discover it by direct question nor by
insinuation. But I noticed at last, that he seemed to show signs of
wanting to tell me something. This had become quite evident, indeed,
about a month after he first began to visit me.
"Do you know," he said to me once, "that people are very
inquisitive about us in the town and wonder why I come to see you so
often. But let them wonder, for soon all will be explained."
Sometimes an extraordinary agitation would come over him, and
almost always on such occasions he would get up and go away. Sometimes
he would fix a long piercing look upon me, and I thought, "He will say
something directly now." But he would suddenly begin talking of
something ordinary and familiar. He often complained of headache too.
One day, quite unexpectedly indeed, after he had been talking with
great fervour a long time, I saw him suddenly turn pale, and his
face worked convulsively, while he stared persistently at me.
"What's the matter?" I said; "do you feel ill?"- he had just
been complaining of headache.
"I... do you know... I murdered someone."
He said this and smiled with a face as white as chalk. "Why is
it he is smiling?" The thought flashed through my mind before I
realised anything else. I too turned pale.
"What are you saying?" I cried.
"You see," he said, with a pale smile, "how much it has cost me to
say the first word. Now I have said it, I feel I've taken the first
step and shall go on."
For a long while I could not believe him, and I did not believe
him at that time, but only after he had been to see me three days
running and told me all about it. I thought he was mad, but ended by
being convinced, to my great grief and amazement. His crime was a
great and terrible one.
Fourteen years before, he had murdered the widow of a landowner, a
wealthy and handsome young woman who had a house in our town. He
fell passionately in love with her, declared his feeling and tried
to persuade her to marry him. But she had already given her heart to
another man, an officer of noble birth and high rank in the service,
who was at that time away at the front, though she was expecting him
soon to return. She refused his offer and begged him not to come and
see her. After he had ceased to visit her, he took advantage of his
knowledge of the house to enter at night through the garden by the
roof, at great risk of discovery. But, as often happens, a crime
committed with extraordinary audacity is more successful than others.
Entering the garret through the skylight, he went down the ladder,
knowing that the door at the bottom of it was sometimes, through the
negligence of the servants, left unlocked. He hoped to find it so, and
so it was. He made his way in the dark to her bedroom, where a light
was burning. As though on purpose, both her maids had gone off to a
birthday party in the same street, without asking leave. The other
servants slept in the servants' quarters or in the kitchen on the
ground floor. His passion flamed up at the sight of her asleep, and
then vindictive, jealous anger took possession of his heart, and
like a drunken man, beside himself, he thrust a knife into her
heart, so that she did not even cry out. Then with devilish and
criminal cunning he contrived that suspicion should fall on the
servants. He was so base as to take her purse, to open her chest
with keys from under her pillow, and to take some things from it,
doing it all as it might have been done by an ignorant servant,
leaving valuable papers and taking only money. He took some of the
larger gold things, but left smaller articles that were ten times as
valuable. He took with him, too, some things for himself as
remembrances, but of that later. Having done this awful deed. he
returned by the way he had come.
Neither the next day, when the alarm was raised, nor at any time
after in his life, did anyone dream of suspecting that he was the
criminal. No one indeed knew of his love for her, for he was always
reserved and silent and had no friend to whom he would have opened his
heart. He was looked upon simply as an acquaintance, and not a very
intimate one, of the murdered woman, as for the previous fortnight
he had not even visited her. A serf of hers called Pyotr was at once
suspected, and every circumstance confirmed the suspicion. The man
knew- indeed his mistress did not conceal the fact- that having to
send one of her serfs as a recruit she had decided to send him, as
he had no relations and his conduct was unsatisfactory. People had
heard him angrily threatening to murder her when he was drunk in a
tavern. Two days before her death, he had run away, staying no one
knew where in the town. The day after the murder, he was found on
the road leading out of the town, dead drunk, with a knife in his
pocket, and his right hand happened to be stained with blood. He
declared that his nose had been bleeding, but no one believed him. The
maids confessed that they had gone to a party and that the street door
had been left open till they returned. And a number of similar details
came to light, throwing suspicion on the innocent servant.
They arrested him, and he was tried for the murder; but a week
after the arrest, the prisoner fell sick of a fever and died
unconscious in the hospital. There the matter ended and the judges and
the authorities and everyone in the town remained convinced that the
crime had been committed by no one but the servant who had died in the
hospital. And after that the punishment began.
My mysterious visitor, now my friend, told me that at first he was
not in the least troubled by pangs of conscience. He was miserable a
long time, but not for that reason; only from regret that he had
killed the woman he loved, that she was no more, that in killing her
he had killed his love, while the fire of passion was still in his
veins. But of the innocent blood he had shed, of the murder of a
fellow creature, he scarcely thought. The thought that his victim
might have become the wife of another man was insupportable to him,
and so, for a long time, he was convinced in his conscience that he
could not have acted otherwise.
At first he was worried at the arrest of the servant, but his
illness and death soon set his mind at rest, for the man's death was
apparently (so he reflected at the time) not owing to his arrest or
his fright, but a chill he had taken on the day he ran away, when he
had lain all night dead drunk on the damp ground. The theft of the
money and other things troubled him little, for he argued that the
theft had not been committed for gain but to avert suspicion. The
sum stolen was small, and he shortly afterwards subscribed the whole
of it, and much more, towards the funds for maintaining an almshouse
in the town. He did this on purpose to set his conscience at rest
about the theft, and it's a remarkable fact that for a long time he
really was at peace- he told me this himself. He entered then upon a
career of great activity in the service, volunteered for a difficult
and laborious duty, which occupied him two years, and being a man of
strong will almost forgot the past. Whenever he recalled it, he
tried not to think of it at all. He became active in philanthropy too,
founded and helped to maintain many institutions in the town, did a
good deal in the two capitals, and in both Moscow and Petersburg was
elected a member of philanthropic societies.
At last, however, he began brooding over the past, and the
strain of it was too much for him. Then he was attracted by a fine and
intelligent girl and soon after married her, hoping that marriage
would dispel his lonely depression, and that by entering on a new life
and scrupulously doing his duty to his wife and children, he would
escape from old memories altogether. But the very opposite of what
he expected happened. He began, even in the first month of his
marriage, to be continually fretted by the thought, "My wife loves me-
but what if she knew?" When she first told him that she would soon
bear him a child, he was troubled. "I am giving life, but I have taken
life." Children came. "How dare I love them, teach and educate them,
how can I talk to them of virtue? I have shed blood." They were
splendid children, he longed to caress them; "and I can't look at
their innocent candid faces, I am unworthy."
At last he began to be bitterly and ominously haunted by the blood
of his murdered victim, by the young life he had destroyed, by the
blood that cried out for vengeance. He had begun to have awful dreams.
But, being a man of fortitude, he bore his suffering a long time,
thinking: "I shall expiate everything by this secret agony." But
that hope, too, was vain; the longer it went on, the more intense
was his suffering.
He was respected in society for his active benevolence, though
everyone was overawed by his stern and gloomy character. But the
more he was respected, the more intolerable it was for him. He
confessed to me that he had thoughts of killing himself. But he
began to be haunted by another idea- an idea which he had at first
regarded as impossible and unthinkable, though at last it got such a
hold on his heart that he could not shake it off. He dreamed of rising
up, going out and confessing in the face of all men that he had
committed murder. For three years this dream had pursued him, haunting
him in different forms. At last he believed with his whole heart
that if he confessed his crime, he would heal his soul and would be at
peace for ever. But this belief filled his heart with terror, for
how could he carry it out? And then came what happened at my duel.
"Looking at you, I have made up my mind."
I looked at him.
"Is it possible," I cried, clasping my hands, "that such a trivial
incident could give rise to a resolution in you?"
"My resolution has been growing for the last three years," he
answered, "and your story only gave the last touch to it. Looking at
you, I reproached myself and envied you." He said this to me almost
"But you won't be believed," I observed; "it's fourteen years
"I have proofs, great proofs. I shall show them."
Then I cried and kissed him.
"Tell me one thing, one thing," he said (as though it all depended
upon me), "my wife, my children! My wife may die of grief, and
though my children won't lose their rank and property, they'll be a
convict's children and for ever! And what a memory, what a memory of
me I shall leave in their hearts!"
I said nothing.
"And to part from them, to leave them for ever? It's for ever, you
know, for ever!" I sat still and repeated a silent prayer. I got up at
last, I felt afraid.
"Well?" He looked at me.
"Go!" said I, "confess. Everything passes, only the truth remains.
Your children will understand, when they grow up, the nobility of your
He left me that time as though he had made up his mind. Yet for
more than a fortnight afterwards, he came to me every evening, still
preparing himself, still unable to bring himself to the point. He made
my heart ache. One day he would come determined and say fervently:
"I know it will be heaven for me, heaven, the moment I confess.
Fourteen years I've been in hell. I want to suffer. I will take my
punishment and begin to live. You can pass through the world doing
wrong, but there's no turning back. Now I dare not love my neighbour
nor even my own children. Good God, my children will understand,
perhaps, what my punishment has cost me and will not condemn me! God
is not in strength but in truth."
"All will understand your sacrifice," I said to him, "if not at
once, they will understand later; for you have served truth, the
higher truth, not of the earth."
And he would go away seeming comforted, but next day he would come
again, bitter, pale, sarcastic.
"Every time I come to you, you look at me so inquisitively as
though to say, 'He has still not confessed!' Wait a bit, don't despise
me too much. It's not such an easy thing to do as you would think.
Perhaps I shall not do it at all. You won't go and inform against me
then, will you?"
And far from looking at him with indiscreet curiosity, I was
afraid to look at him at all. I was quite ill from anxiety, and my
heart was full of tears. I could not sleep at night.
"I have just come from my wife," he went on. "Do you understand
what the word 'wife' means? When I went out, the children called to
me, 'Good-bye, father, make haste back to read The Children's Magazine
with us.' No, you don't understand that! No one is wise from another
His eyes were glittering, his lips were twitching. Suddenly he
struck the table with his fist so that everything on it danced- it was
the first time he had done such a thing, he was such a mild man.
"But need I?" he exclaimed, "must I? No one has been condemned, no
one has been sent to Siberia in my place, the man died of fever. And
I've been punished by my sufferings for the blood I shed. And I shan't
be believed, they won't believe my proofs. Need I confess, need I? I
am ready to go on suffering all my life for the blood I have shed,
if only my wife and children may be spared. Will it be just to ruin
them with me? Aren't we making a mistake? What is right in this
case? And will people recognise it, will they appreciate it, will they
"Good Lord!" I thought to myself, "he is thinking of other
people's respect at such a moment!" And I felt so sorry for him
then, that I believe I would have shared his fate if it could have
comforted him. I saw he was beside himself. I was aghast, realising
with my heart as well as my mind what such a resolution meant.
"Decide my fate!" he exclaimed again.
"Go and confess," I whispered to him. My voice failed me, but I
whispered it firmly. I took up the New Testament from the table, the
Russian translation, and showed him the Gospel of St. John, chapter
12, verse 24:
"Verily, verily, I say unto you,
except a corn of wheat fall into
the ground and die, it abideth alone:
but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
I had just been reading that verse when he came in. He read it.
"That's true," he said, he smiled bitterly. "It's terrible the
things you find in those books," he said, after a pause. "It's easy
enough to thrust them upon one. And who wrote them? Can they have been
written by men?"
"The Holy Spirit wrote them," said I.
"It's easy for you to prate," he smiled again, this time almost
I took the book again, opened it in another place and showed him
the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 31. He read:
"It is a fearful thing to fall
into the hands of the living God."
He read it and simply flung down the book. He was trembling all
"An awful text," he said. "There's no denying you've picked out
fitting ones." He rose from the chair. "Well!" he said, "good-bye,
perhaps I shan't come again... we shall meet in heaven. So I have been
for fourteen years 'in the hands of the living God,' that's how one
must think of those fourteen years. To-morrow I will beseech those
hands to let me go."
I wanted to take him in my arms and kiss him, but I did not
dare- his face was contorted add sombre. He went away.
"Good God," I thought, "what has he gone to face!" I fell on my
knees before the ikon and wept for him before the Holy Mother of
God, our swift defender and helper. I was half an hour praying in
tears, and it was late, about midnight. Suddenly I saw the door open
and he came in again. I was surprised.
Where have you been?" I asked him.
"I think," he said, "I've forgotten something... my
handkerchief, I think.... Well, even if I've not forgotten anything,
let me stay a little."
He sat down. I stood over him.
"You sit down, too," said he.
I sat down. We sat still for two minutes; he looked intently at me
and suddenly smiled. I remembered that- then he got up, embraced me
warmly and kissed me.
"Remember," he said, "how I came to you a second time. Do you
hear, remember it!"
And he went out.
"To-morrow," I thought.
And so it was. I did not know that evening that the next day was
his birthday. I had not been out for the last few days, so I had no
chance of hearing it from anyone. On that day he always had a great
gathering, everyone in the town went to it. It was the same this time.
After dinner he walked into the middle of the room, with a paper in
his hand- a formal declaration to the chief of his department who
was present. This declaration he read aloud to the whole assembly.
It contained a full account of the crime, in every detail.
"I cut myself off from men as a monster. God has visited me," he
said in conclusion. "I want to suffer for my sin!"
Then he brought out and laid on the table all the things he had
been keeping for fourteen years, that he thought would prove his
crime, the jewels belonging to the murdered woman which he had
stolen to divert suspicion, a cross and a locket taken from her neck
with a portrait of her betrothed in the locket, her notebook and two
letters; one from her betrothed, telling her that he would soon be
with her, and her unfinished answer left on the table to be sent off
next day. He carried off these two letters- what for? Why had he
kept them for fourteen years afterwards instead of destroying them
as evidence against him?
And this is what happened: everyone was amazed and horrified,
everyone refused to believe it and thought that he was deranged,
though all listened with intense curiosity. A few days later it was
fully decided and agreed in every house that the unhappy man was
mad. The legal authorities could not refuse to take the case up, but
they too dropped it. Though the trinkets and letters made them ponder,
they decided that even if they did turn out to be authentic, no charge
could be based on those alone. Besides, she might have given him those
things as a friend, or asked him to take care of them for her. I heard
afterwards, however, that the genuineness of the things was proved
by the friends and relations of the murdered woman, and that there was
no doubt about them. Yet nothing was destined to come of it, after
Five days later, all had heard that he was ill and that his life
was in danger. The nature of his illness I can't explain; they said it
was an affection of the heart. But it became known that the doctors
had been induced by his wife to investigate his mental condition also,
and had come to the conclusion that it was a case of insanity. I
betrayed nothing, though people ran to question me. But when I
wanted to visit him, I was for a long while forbidden to do so,
above all by his wife.
"It's you who have caused his illness," she said to me; "he was
always gloomy, but for the last year people noticed that he was
peculiarly excited and did strange things, and now you have been the
ruin of him. Your preaching has brought him to this; for the last
month he was always with you."
Indeed, not only his wife but the whole town were down upon me and
blamed me. "It's all your doing," they said. I was silent and indeed
rejoiced at heart, for I saw plainly God's mercy to the man who had
turned against himself and punished himself. I could not believe in
They let me see him at last. he insisted upon saying good-bye to
me. I went in to him and saw at once, that not only his days, but
his hours were numbered. He was weak, yellow, his hands trembled, he
gasped for breath, but his face was full of tender and happy feeling.
"It is done!" he said. "I've long been yearning to see you. Why
didn't you come?"
I did not tell him that they would not let me see him.
"God has had pity on me and is calling me to Himself. I know I
am dying, but I feel joy and peace for the first time after so many
years. There was heaven in my heart from the moment I had done what
I had to do. Now I dare to love my children and to kiss them.
Neither my wife nor the judges, nor anyone has believed it. My
children will never believe it either. I see in that God's mercy to
them. I shall die, and my name will be without a stain for them. And
now I feel God near, my heart rejoices as in Heaven... I have done
He could not speak, he gasped for breath, he pressed my hand
warmly, looking fervently at me. We did not talk for long, his wife
kept peeping in at us. But he had time to whisper to me:
"Do you remember how I came back to you that second time, at
midnight? I told you to remember it. You know what I came back for?
I came to kill you!"
"I went out from you then into the darkness, I wandered about
the streets, struggling with myself. And suddenly I hated you so
that I could hardly bear it. Now, I thought, he is all that binds
me, and he is my judge. I can't refuse to face my punishment
to-morrow, for he knows all. It was not that I was afraid you would
betray me (I never even thought of that), but I thought, 'How can I
look him in the face if I don't confess?' And if you had been at the
other end of the earth, but alive, it would have been all the same,
the thought was unendurable that you were alive knowing everything and
condemning me. I hated you as though you were the cause, as though you
were to blame for everything. I came back to you then, remembering
that you had a dagger lying on your table. I sat down and asked you to
sit down, and for a whole minute I pondered. If I had killed you, I
should have been ruined by that murder even if I had not confessed the
other. But I didn't think about that at all, and I didn't want to
think of it at that moment. I only hated you and longed to revenge
myself on you for everything. The Lord vanquished the devil in my
heart. But let me tell you, you were never nearer death."
A week later he died. The whole town followed him to the grave.
The chief priest made a speech full of feeling. All lamented the
terrible illness that had cut short his days. But all the town was
up in arms against me after the funeral, and people even refused to
see me. Some, at first a few and afterwards more, began indeed to
believe in the truth of his story, and they visited me and
questioned me with great interest and eagerness, for man loves to
see the downfall and disgrace of the righteous. But I held my
tongue, and very shortly after, I left the town, and five months later
by God's grace I entered the safe and blessed path, praising the
unseen finger which had guided me so clearly to it. But I remember
in my prayer to this day, the servant of God, Mihail, who suffered
Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zossima
(e) The Russian Monk and his possible Significance.
FATHERS and teachers, what is the monk? In the cultivated world
the word is nowadays pronounced by some people with a jeer, and by
others it is used as a term of abuse, and this contempt for the monk
is growing. It is true, alas, it is true, that there are many
sluggards, gluttons, profligates, and insolent beggars among monks.
Educated people point to these: "You are idlers, useless members of
society, you live on the labour of others, you are shameless beggars."
And yet how many meek and humble monks there are, yearning for
solitude and fervent prayer in peace! These are less noticed, or
passed over in silence. And how suprised men would be if I were to say
that from these meek monks, who yearn for solitary prayer, the
salvation of Russia will come perhaps once more! For they are in truth
made ready in peace and quiet "for the day and the hour, the month and
the year." Meanwhile, in their solitude, they keep the image of Christ
fair and undefiled, in the purity of God's truth, from the times of
the Fathers of old, the Apostles and the martyrs. And when the time
comes they will show it to the tottering creeds of the world. That
is a great thought. That star will rise out of the East.
That is my view of the monk, and is it false? Is it too proud?
Look at the worldly and all who set themselves up above the people
of God; has not God's image and His truth been distorted in them? They
have science; but in science there is nothing but what is the object
of sense. The spiritual world, the higher part of man's being is
rejected altogether, dismissed with a sort of triumph, even with
hatred. The world has proclaimed the reign of freedom, especially of
late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs? Nothing but
slavery and self-destruction! For the world says:
"You have desires and so satisfy them, for you have the same
rights as the most rich and powerful. Don't be afraid of satisfying
them and even multiply your desires." That is the modern doctrine of
the world. In that they see freedom. And what follows from this
right of multiplication of desires? In the rich, isolation and
spiritual suicide; in the poor, envy and murder; for they have been
given rights, but have not been shown the means of satisfying their
wants. They maintain that the world is getting more and more united,
more and more bound together in brotherly community, as it overcomes
distance and sets thoughts flying through the air.
Alas, put no faith in such a bond of union. Interpreting freedom
as the multiplication and rapid satisfaction of desires, men distort
their own nature, for many senseless and foolish desires and habits
and ridiculous fancies are fostered in them. They live only for mutual
envy, for luxury and ostentation. To have dinners visits, carriages,
rank, and slaves to wait on one is looked upon as a necessity, for
which life, honour and human feeling are sacrificed, and men even
commit suicide if they are unable to satisfy it. We see the same thing
among those who are not rich, while the poor drown their unsatisfied
need and their envy in drunkenness. But soon they will drink blood
instead of wine, they are being led on to it. I ask you is such a
man free? I knew one "champion of freedom" who told me himself that,
when he was deprived of tobacco in prison, he was so wretched at the
privation that he almost went and betrayed his cause for the sake of
getting tobacco again! And such a man says, "I am fighting for the
cause of humanity."
How can such a one fight? What is he fit for? He is capable
perhaps of some action quickly over, but he cannot hold out long.
And it's no wonder that instead of gaining freedom they have sunk into
slavery, and instead of serving, the cause of brotherly love and the
union of humanity have fallen, on the contrary, into dissension and
isolation, as my mysterious visitor and teacher said to me in my
youth. And therefore the idea of the service of humanity, of brotherly
love and the solidarity of mankind, is more and more dying out in
the world, and indeed this idea is sometimes treated with derision.
For how can a man shake off his habits? What can become of him if he
is in such bondage to the habit of satisfying the innumerable
desires he has created for himself? He is isolated, and what concern
has he with the rest of humanity? They have succeeded in
accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has
The monastic way is very different. Obedience, fasting, and prayer
are laughed at, yet only through them lies the way to real, true
freedom. I cut off my superfluous and unnecessary desires, I subdue my
proud and wanton will and chastise it with obedience, and with God's
help I attain freedom of spirit and with it spiritual joy. Which is
most capable of conceiving a great idea and serving it- the rich in
his isolation or the man who has freed himself from the tyranny of
material things and habits? The monk is reproached for his solitude,
"You have secluded yourself within the walls of the monastery for your
own salvation, and have forgotten the brotherly service of
humanity!" But we shall see which will be most zealous in the cause of
brotherly love. For it is not we, but they, who are in isolation,
though they don't see that. Of old, leaders of the people came from
among us, and why should they not again? The same meek and humble
ascetics will rise up and go out to work for the great cause. The
salvation of Russia comes from the people. And the Russian monk has
always been on the side of the people. We are isolated only if the
people are isolated. The people believe as we do, and an unbelieving
reformer will never do anything in Russia, even if he is sincere in
heart and a genius. Remember that! The people will meet the atheist
and overcome him, and Russia will be one and orthodox. Take care of
the peasant and guard his heart. Go on educating him quietly. That's
your duty as monks, for the peasant has God in his heart.
(f) Of Masters and Servants, and of whether it is
possible for them to be Brothers in the Spirit.
Of course, I don't deny that there is sin in the peasants too. And
the fire of corruption is spreading visibly, hourly, working from
above downwards. The spirit of isolation is coming upon the people
too. Money-lenders and devourers of the commune are rising up. Already
the merchant grows more and more eager for rank, and strives to show
himself cultured though he has not a trace of culture, and to this end
meanly despises his old traditions, and is even ashamed of the faith
of his fathers. He visits princes, though he is only a peasant
corrupted. The peasants are rotting in drunkenness and cannot shake
off the habit. And what cruelty to their wives, to their children
even! All from drunkenness! I've seen in the factories children of
nine years old, frail, rickety, bent and already depraved. The
stuffy workshop, the din of machinery, work all day long, the vile
language and the drink, the drink- is that what a little child's heart
needs? He needs sunshine, childish play, good examples all about
him, and at least a little love. There must be no more of this, monks,
no more torturing of children, rise up and preach that, make haste,
But God will save Russia, for though the peasants are corrupted
and cannot renounce their filthy sin, yet they know it is cursed by
God and that they do wrong in sinning. So that our people still
believe in righteousness, have faith in God and weep tears of
It is different with the upper classes. They, following science,
want to base justice on reason alone, but not with Christ, as
before, and they have already proclaimed that there is no crime,
that there is no sin. And that's consistent, for if you have no God
what is the meaning of crime? In Europe the people are already
rising up against the rich with violence, and the leaders of the
people are everywhere leading them to bloodshed, and teaching them
that their wrath is righteous. But their "wrath is accursed, for it is
cruel." But God will save Russia as He has saved her many times.
Salvation will come from the people, from their faith and their
Fathers and teachers, watch over the people's faith and this
will not be a dream. I've been struck all my life in our great
people by their dignity, their true and seemly dignity. I've seen it
myself, I can testify to it, I've seen it and marvelled at it, I've
seen it in spite of the degraded sins and poverty-stricken
appearance of our peasantry. They are not servile, and even after
two centuries of serfdom they are free in manner and bearing, yet
without insolence, and not revengeful and not envious. "You are rich
and noble, you are clever and talented, well, be so, God bless you.
I respect you, but I know that I too am a man. By the very fact that I
respect you without envy I prove my dignity as a man."
In truth if they don't say this (for they don't know how to say
this yet), that is how they act. I have seen it myself, I have known
it myself, and, would you believe it, the poorer our Russian peasant
is, the more noticeable is that serene goodness, for the rich among
them are for the most part corrupted already, and much of that is
due to our carelessness and indifference. But God will save His
people, for Russia is great in her humility. I dream of seeing, and
seem to see clearly already, our future. It will come to pass that
even the most corrupt of our rich will end by being ashamed of his
riches before the poor, and the poor, seeing his humility, will
understand and give way before him, will respond joyfully and kindly
to his honourable shame. Believe me that it will end in that; things
are moving to that. Equality is to be found only in the spiritual
dignity of man, and that will only be understood among us. If we
were brothers, there would be fraternity, but before that they will
never agree about the division of wealth. We preserve the image of
Christ, and it will shine forth like a precious diamond to the whole
world. So may it be, so may it be!
Fathers and teachers, a touching incident befell me once. In my
wanderings I met in the town of K. my old orderly, Afanasy. It was
eight years since I had parted from him. He chanced to see me in the
market-place, recognised me, ran up to me, and how delighted he was!
He simply pounced on me: "Master dear, is it you? Is it really you I
see?" He took me home with him.
He was no longer in the army, he was married and already had two
little children. He and his wife earned their living as
costermongers in the market-place. His room was poor, but bright and
clean. He made me sit down, set the samovar, sent for his wife, as
though my appearance were a festival for them. He brought me his
children: "Bless them, Father."
"Is it for me to bless them? I am only a humble monk. I will
pray for them. And for you, Afanasy Pavlovitch, I have prayed every
day since that day, for it all came from you," said I. And I explained
that to him as well as I could. And what do you think? The man kept
gazing at me and could not believe that I, his former master, an
officer, was now before him in such a guise and position; it made
him shed tears.
"Why are you weeping?" said I, "better rejoice over me, dear
friend, whom I can never forget, for my path is a glad and joyful
He did not say much, but kept sighing and shaking his head over me
"What has become of your fortune?" he asked.
"I gave it to the monastery," I answered; "we live in common."
After tea I began saying good-bye, and suddenly he brought out
half a rouble as an offering to the monastery, and another half-rouble
I saw him thrusting hurriedly into my hand: "That's for you in your
wanderings, it may be of use to you, Father."
I took his half-rouble, bowed to him and his wife, and went out
rejoicing. And on my way I thought: "Here we are both now, he at
home and I on the road, sighing and shaking our heads, no doubt, and
yet smiling joyfully in the gladness of our hearts, remembering how
God brought about our meeting."
I have never seen him again since then. I had been his master
and he my servant, but now when we exchanged a loving kiss with
softened hearts, there was a great human bond between us. I have
thought a great deal about that, and now what I think is this: Is it
so inconceivable that that grand and simple-hearted unity might in due
time become universal among the Russian people? I believe that it will
come to pass and that the time is at hand.
And of servants I will add this: In old days when I was young I
was often angry with servants; "the cook had served something too hot,
the orderly had not brushed my clothes." But what taught me better
then was a thought of my dear brother's, which I had heard from him in
childhood: "Am I worth it, that another should serve me and be ordered
about by me in his poverty and ignorance?" And I wondered at the
time that such simple and self-evident ideas should be so slow to
occur to our minds.
It is impossible that there should be no servants in the world,
but act so that your servant may be freer in spirit than if he were
not a servant. And why cannot I be a servant to my servant and even
let him see it, and that without any pride on my part or any
mistrust on his? Why should not my servant be like my own kindred,
so that I may take him into my family and rejoice in doing so? Even
now this can be done, but it will lead to the grand unity of men in
the future, when a man will not seek servants for himself, or desire
to turn his fellow creatures into servants as he does now, but on
the contrary, will long with his whole heart to be the servant of all,
as the Gospel teaches.
And can it be a dream, that in the end man will find his joy
only in deeds of light and mercy, and not in cruel pleasures as now,
in gluttony, fornication, ostentation, boasting and envious rivalry of
one with the other? I firmly believe that it is not and that the
time is at hand. People laugh and ask: "When will that time come and
does it look like coming?" I believe that with Christ's help we
shall accomplish this great thing. And how many ideas there have
been on earth in the history of man which were unthinkable ten years
before they appeared! Yet when their destined hour had come, they came
forth and spread over the whole earth. So it will be with us, and
our people will shine forth in the world, and all men will say: "The
stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the
And we may ask the scornful themselves: If our hope is a dream,
when will you build up your edifice and order things justly by your
intellect alone, without Christ? If they declare that it is they who
are advancing towards unity, only the most simple-hearted among them
believe it, so that one may positively marvel at such simplicity. Of a
truth, they have more fantastic dreams than we. They aim at justice,
but, denying Christ, they will end by flooding the earth with blood,
for blood cries out for blood, and he that taketh up the sword shall
perish by the sword. And if it were not for Christ's covenant, they
would slaughter one another down to the last two men on earth. And
those two last men would not be able to restrain each other in their
pride, and the one would slay the other and then himself. And that
would come to pass, were it not for the promise of Christ that for the
sake of the humble and meek the days shall be shortened.
While I was still wearing an officer's uniform after my duel, I
talked about servants in general society, and I remember everyone
was amazed at me. "What!" they asked, "are we to make our servants sit
down on the sofa and offer them tea?" And I answered them: "Why not,
sometimes at least?" Everyone laughed. Their question was frivolous
and my answer was not clear; but the thought in it was to some
(g) Of Prayer, of Love, and of Contact with other Worlds.
Young man, be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if
your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in
it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that
prayer is an education. Remember, too, every day, and whenever you
can, repeat to yourself, "Lord, have mercy on all who appear before
Thee to-day." For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave
life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of
them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for
them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from
the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will
rise up to God though you knew them not nor they you. How touching
it must be to a soul standing in dread before the Lord to feel at that
instant that, for him too, there is one to pray, that there is a
fellow creature left on earth to love him too! And God will look on
you both more graciously, for if you have had so much pity on him, how
much will He have pity Who is infinitely more loving and merciful than
you! And He will forgive him for your sake.
Brothers, have no fear of men's sin. Love a man even in his sin,
for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on
earth. Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in
it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals,
love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will
perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you
will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at
last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Love the
animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy
untroubled. Do not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive them
of their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not pride
yourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you,
with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and
leave the traces of your foulness after you- alas, it is true of
almost every one of us! Love children especially, for they too are
sinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts
and, as it were, to guide us. Woe to him who offends a child! Father
Anfim taught me to love children. The kind, silent man used often on
our wanderings to spend the farthings given us on sweets and cakes for
the children. He could not pass by a child without emotion. That's the
nature of the man.
At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight
of men's sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love.
Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once for all,
you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvellously
strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like
Every day and every hour, every minute, walk round yourself and
watch yourself, and see that your image is a seemly one. You pass by a
little child, you pass by, spiteful, with ugly words, with wrathful
heart; you may not have noticed the child, but he has seen you, and
your image, unseemly and ignoble, may remain in his defenceless heart.
You don't know it, but you may have sown an evil seed in him and it
may grow, and all because you were not careful before the child,
because you did not foster in yourself a careful, actively
benevolent love. Brothers, love is a teacher; but one must know how to
acquire it, for it is hard to acquire, it is dearly bought, it is
won slowly by long labour. For we must love not only occasionally, for
a moment, but for ever. Everyone can love occasionally, even the
My brother asked the birds to forgive him; that sounds
senseless, but it is right; for all is like an ocean, all is flowing
and blending; a touch in one place sets up movement at the other end
of the earth. It may be senseless to beg forgiveness of the birds, but
birds would be happier at your side- a little happier, anyway- and
children and all animals, if you were nobler than you are now. It's
all like an ocean, I tell you. Then you would pray to the birds too,
consumed by an all-embracing love, in a sort of transport, and pray
that they too will forgive you your sin. Treasure this ecstasy,
however senseless it may seem to men.
My friends, pray to God for gladness. Be glad as children, as
the birds of heaven. And let not the sin of men confound you in your
doings. Fear not that it will wear away your work and hinder its being
accomplished. Do not say, "Sin is mighty, wickedness is mighty, evil
environment is mighty, and we are lonely and helpless, and evil
environment is wearing us away and hindering our good work from
being done." Fly from that dejection, children! There is only one
means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible
for all men's sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as
soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for
all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and that you are
to blame for everyone and for all things. But throwing your own
indolence and impotence on others you will end by sharing the pride of
Satan and murmuring against God.
Of the pride of Satan what I think is this: it is hard for us on
earth to comprehend it, and therefore it is so easy to fall into error
and to share it, even imagining that we are doing something grand
and fine. Indeed, many of the strongest feelings and movements of
our nature we cannot comprehend on earth. Let not that be a
stumbling-block, and think not that it may serve as a justification to
you for anything. For the Eternal judge asks of you what you can
comprehend and not what you cannot. You will know that yourself
hereafter, for you will behold all things truly then and will not
dispute them. On earth, indeed, we are, as it were, astray, and if
it were not for the precious image of Christ before us, we should be
undone and altogether lost, as was the human race before the flood.
Much on earth is hidden from us, but to make up for that we have
been given a precious mystic sense of our living bond with the other
world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts
and feelings are not here but in other worlds. That is why the
philosophers say that we cannot apprehend the reality of things on
God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this earth,
and His garden grew up and everything came up that could come up,
but what grows lives and is alive only through the feeling of its
contact with other mysterious worlds. If that feeling grows weak or is
destroyed in you, the heavenly growth will die away in you. Then you
will be indifferent to life and even grow to hate it. That's what I
(h) Can a Man judge his Fellow Creatures? Faith to the End.
Remember particularly that you cannot be a judge of anyone. For no
one can judge a criminal until he recognises that he is just such a
criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is more
than all men to blame for that crime. When he understands that, he
will be able to be a judge. Though that sounds absurd, it is true.
If I had been righteous myself, perhaps there would have been no
criminal standing before me. If you can take upon yourself the crime
of the criminal your heart is judging, take it at once, suffer for him
yourself, and let him go without reproach. And even if the law
itself makes you his judge, act in the same spirit so far as possible,
for he will go away and condemn himself more bitterly than you have
done. If, after your kiss, he goes away untouched, mocking at you,
do not let that be a stumbling-block to you. It shows his time has not
yet come, but it will come in due course. And if it come not, no
Matter; if not he, then another in his place will understand and
suffer, and judge and condemn himself, and the truth will be
fulfilled. Believe that, believe it without doubt; for in that lies
all the hope and faith of the saints.
Work without ceasing. If you remember in the night as you go to
sleep, "I have not done what I ought to have done," rise up at once
and do it. If the people around you are spiteful and callous and
will not hear you, fall down before them and beg their forgiveness;
for in truth you are to blame for their not wanting to hear you. And
if you cannot speak to them in their bitterness, serve them in silence
and in humility, never losing hope. If all men abandon you and even
drive you away by force, then when you are left alone fall on the
earth and kiss it, water it with your tears and it will bring forth
fruit even though no one has seen or heard you in your solitude.
Believe to the end, even if all men went astray and you were left
the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in
your loneliness. And if two of you are gathered together- then there
is a whole world, a world of living love. Embrace each other
tenderly and praise God, for if only in you two His truth has been
If you sin yourself and grieve even unto death for your sins or
for your sudden sin, then rejoice for others, rejoice for the
righteous man, rejoice that if you have sinned, he is righteous and
has not sinned.
If the evil-doing of men moves you to indignation and overwhelming
distress, even to a desire for vengeance on the evil-doers, shun above
all things that feeling. Go at once and seek suffering for yourself,
as though you were yourself guilty of that wrong. Accept that
suffering and bear it and your heart will find comfort, and you will
understand that you too are guilty, for you might have been a light to
the evil-doers, even as the one man sinless, and you were not a
light to them. If you had been a light, you would have lightened the
path for others too, and the evil-doer might perhaps have been saved
by your light from his sin. And even though your light was shining,
yet you see men were not saved by it, hold firm and doubt not the
power of the heavenly light. Believe that if they were not saved, they
will be saved hereafter. And if they are not saved hereafter, then
their sons will be saved, for your light will not die even when you
are dead. The righteous man departs, but his light remains. Men are
always saved after the death of the deliverer. Men reject their
prophets and slay them, but they love their martyrs and honour those
whom they have slain. You are working for the whole, are acting for
the future. Seek no reward, for great is your reward on this earth:
the spiritual joy which is only vouchsafed to the righteous man.
Fear not the great nor the mighty, but be wise and ever serene. Know
the measure, know the times, study that. When you are left alone,
pray. Love to throw yourself on the earth and kiss it. Kiss the
earth and love it with an unceasing, consuming love. Love all men,
love everything. Seek that rapture and ecstasy. Water the earth with
the tears of your joy and love those tears. Don't be ashamed of that
ecstasy, prize it, for it is a gift of God and a great one; it is
not given to many but only to the elect.
(i) Of Hell and Hell Fire, a Mystic Reflection.
Fathers and teachers, I ponder, "What is hell?" I maintain that it
is the suffering of being unable to love. Once in infinite
existence, immeasurable in time and space, a spiritual creature was
given on his coming to earth the power of saying, "I am and I love."
Once, only once, there was given him a moment of active lifting
love, and for that was earthly life given him, and with it times and
seasons. And that happy creature rejected the priceless gift, prized
it and loved it not, scorned it and remained callous. Such a one,
having left the earth, sees Abraham's bosom and talks with Abraham
as we are told in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and beholds
heaven and can go up to the Lord. But that is just his torment, to
rise up to the Lord without ever having loved, to be brought close
to those who have loved when he has despised their love. For he sees
clearly and says to himself, "Now I have understanding, and though I
now thirst to love, there will be nothing great, no sacrifice in my
love, for my earthly life is over, and Abraham will not come even with
a drop of living water (that is the gift of earthly active life) to
cool the fiery thirst of spiritual love which burns in me now,
though I despised it on earth; there is no more life for me and will
be no more time! Even though I would gladly give my life for others,
it can never be, for that life is passed which can be sacrificed for
love, and now there is a gulf fixed between that life and this
They talk of hell fire in the material sense. I don't go into that
mystery and I shun it. But I think if there were fire in material
sense, they would be glad of it, for I imagine that in material agony,
their still greater spiritual agony would be forgotten for a moment.
Moreover, that spiritual agony cannot be taken from them, for that
suffering is not external but within them. And if it could be taken
from them, I think it would be bitterer still for the unhappy
creatures. For even if the righteous in Paradise forgave them,
beholding their torments, and called them up to heaven in their
infinite love, they would only multiply their torments, for they would
arouse in them still more keenly a flaming thirst for responsive,
active and grateful love which is now impossible. In the timidity of
my heart I imagine, however, that the very recognition of this
impossibility would serve at last to console them. For accepting the
love of the righteous together with the impossibility of repaying
it, by this submissiveness and the effect of this humility, they
will attain at last, as it were, to a certain semblance of that active
love which they scorned in life, to something like its outward
expression... I am sorry, friends and brothers, that I cannot
express this clearly. But woe to those who have slain themselves on
earth, woe to the suicides! I believe that there can be none more
miserable than they. They tell us that it is a sin to pray for them
and outwardly the Church, as it were, renounces them, but in my secret
heart I believe that we may pray even for them. Love can never be an
offence to Christ. For such as those I have prayed inwardly all my
life, I confess it, fathers and teachers, and even now I pray for them
Oh, there are some who remain proud and fierce even in hell, in
spite of their certain knowledge and contemplation of the absolute
truth; there are some fearful ones who have given themselves over to
Satan and his proud spirit entirely. For such, hell is voluntary and
ever consuming; they are tortured by their own choice. For they have
cursed themselves, cursing God and life. They live upon their
vindictive pride like a starving man in the desert sucking blood out
of his own body. But they are never satisfied, and they refuse
forgiveness, they curse God Who calls them. They cannot behold the
living God without hatred, and they cry out that the God of life
should be annihilated, that God should destroy Himself and His own
creation. And they will burn in the fire of their own wrath for ever
and yearn for death and annihilation. But they will not attain to
Here Alexey Fyodorovitch Karamazov's manuscript ends. I repeat, it
is incomplete and fragmentary. Biographical details, for instance,
cover only Father Zossima's earliest youth. Of his teaching and
opinions we find brought together sayings evidently uttered on very
different occasions. His utterances during the last few hours have not
been kept separate from the rest, but their general character can be
gathered from what we have in Alexey Fyodorovitch's manuscript.
The elder's death came in the end quite unexpectedly. For although
those who were gathered about him that last evening realised that
his death was approaching, yet it was difficult to imagine that it
would come so suddenly. On the contrary, his friends, as I observed
already, seeing him that night apparently so cheerful and talkative,
were convinced that there was at least a temporary change for the
better in his condition. Even five minutes before his death, they said
afterwards wonderingly, it was impossible to foresee it. He seemed
suddenly to feel an acute pain in his chest, he turned pale and
pressed his hands to his heart. All rose from their seats and hastened
to him. But though suffering, he still looked at them with a smile,
sank slowly from his chair on to his knees, then bowed his face to the
ground, stretched out his arms and as though in joyful ecstasy,
praying and kissing the ground, quietly and joyfully gave up his
soul to God.
The news of his death spread at once through the hermitage and
reached the monastery. The nearest friends of the deceased and those
whose duty it was from their position began to lay out the corpse
according to the ancient ritual, and all the monks gathered together
in the church. And before dawn the news of the death reached the town.
By the morning all the town was talking of the event, and crowds
were flocking from the town to the monastery. But this subject will be
treated in the next book; I will only add here that before a day had
passed something happened so unexpected, so strange, upsetting, and
bewildering in its effect on the monks and the townspeople, that after
all these years, that day of general suspense is still vividly
remembered in the town.