ALYOSHA was roused early, before daybreak. Father Zossima woke up feeling very weak, though he wanted to get out of bed and sit up in a chair. His mind was quite clear; his face looked very tired, yet bright and almost joyful. It wore an expression of gaiety, kindness and cordiality. “Maybe I shall not live through the coming day,” he said to Alyosha. Then he desired to confess and take the sacrament at once. He always confessed to Father Paissy. After taking the communion, the service of extreme unction followed. The monks assembled and the cell was gradually filled up by the inmates of the hermitage. Meantime it was daylight. People began coming from the monastery. After the service was over the elder desired to kiss and take leave of everyone. As the cell was so small the earlier visitors withdrew to make room for others. Alyosha stood beside the elder, who was seated again in his arm-chair. He talked as much as he could. Though his voice was weak, it was fairly steady.
“I’ve been teaching you so many years, and therefore I’ve been talking aloud so many years, that I’ve got into the habit of talking, and so much so that it’s almost more difficult for me to hold my tongue than to talk, even now, in spite of my weakness, dear Fathers and brothers,” he jested, looking with emotion at the group round him.
Alyosha remembered afterwards something of what he said to them. But though he spoke out distinctly and his voice was fairly steady, his speech was somewhat disconnected. He spoke of many things, he seemed anxious before the moment of death to say everything he had not said in his life, and not simply for the sake of instructing them, but as though thirsting to share with all men and all creation his joy and ecstasy, and once more in his life to open his whole heart.
“Love one another, Fathers,” said Father Zossima, as far as Alyosha could remember afterwards. “Love God’s people. Because we have come here and shut ourselves within these walls, we are no holier than those that are outside, but on the contrary, from the very fact of coming here, each of us has confessed to himself that he is worse than others, than all men on earth. . . . And the longer the monk lives in his seclusion, the more keenly he must recognise that. Else he would have had no reason to come here. When he realises that he is not only worse than others, but that he is responsible to all men for all and everything, for all human sins, national and individual, only then the aim of our seclusion is attained. For know, dear ones, that every one of us is undoubtedly responsible for all men — and everything on earth, not merely through the general sinfulness of creation, but each one personally for all mankind and every individual man. This knowledge is the crown of life for the monk and for every man. For monks are not a special sort of men, but only what all men ought to be. Only through that knowledge, our heart grows soft with infinite, universal, inexhaustible love. Then every one of you will have the power to win over the whole world by love and to wash away the sins of the world with your tears. . . . Each of you keep watch over your heart and confess your sins to yourself unceasingly. Be not afraid of your sins, even when perceiving them, if only there be penitence, but make no conditions with God. Again, I say, be not proud. Be proud neither to the little nor to the great. Hate not those who reject you, who insult you, who abuse and slander you. Hate not the atheists, the teachers of evil, the materialists — and I mean not only the good ones — for there are many good ones among them, especially in our day — hate not even the wicked ones. Remember them in your prayers thus: Save, O Lord, all those who have none to pray for them, save too all those who will not pray. And add: it is not in pride that I make this prayer, O Lord, for I am lower than all men. . . . Love God’s people, let not strangers draw away the flock, for if you slumber in your slothfulness and disdainful pride, or worse still, in covetousness, they will come from all sides and draw away your flock. Expound the Gospel to the people unceasingly . . . be not extortionate. . . . Do not love gold and silver, do not hoard them. . . . Have faith. Cling to the banner and raise it on high.”
But the elder spoke more disconnectedly than Alyosha reported his words afterwards. Sometimes he broke off altogether, as though to take breath and recover his strength, but he was in a sort of ecstasy. They heard him with emotion, though many wondered at his words and found them obscure. . . . Afterwards all remembered those words.
When Alyosha happened for a moment to leave the cell, he was struck by the general excitement and suspense in the monks who were crowding about it. This anticipation showed itself in some by anxiety, in others by devout solemnity. All were expecting that some marvel would happen immediately after the elder’s death. Their suspense was, from one point of view, almost frivolous, but even the most austere of the monks were affected by it. Father Paissy’s face looked the gravest of all.
Alyosha was mysteriously summoned by a monk to see Rakitin, who had arrived from town with a singular letter for him from Madame Hohlakov. In it she informed Alyosha of a strange and very opportune incident. It appeared that among the women who had come on the previous day to receive Father Zossima’s blessing, there had been an old woman from the town, a sergeant’s widow, called Prohorovna. She had inquired whether she might pray for the rest of the soul of her son, Vassenka, who had gone to Irkutsk, and had sent her no news for over a year. To which Father Zossima had answered sternly, forbidding her to do so, and saying that to pray for the living as though they were dead was a kind of sorcery. He afterwards forgave her on account of her ignorance, and added, “as though reading the book of the future” (this was Madame Hohlakov’s expression), words of comfort: “that her son Vassya was certainly alive and he would either come himself very shortly or send a letter, and that she was to go home and expect him.” And “Would you believe it?” exclaimed Madame Hohlakov enthusiastically, “the prophecy has been fulfilled literally indeed, and more than that.” Scarcely had the old woman reached home when they gave her a letter from Siberia which had been awaiting her. But that was not all; in the letter written on the road from Ekaterinenburg, Vassya informed his mother that he was returning to Russia with an official, and that three weeks after her receiving the letter he hoped “to embrace his mother.”
Madame Hohlakov warmly entreated Alyosha to report this new “miracle of prediction” to the Superior and all the brotherhood. “All, all, ought to know of it” she concluded. The letter had been written in haste, the excitement of the writer was apparent in every line of it. But Alyosha had no need to tell the monks, for all knew of it already. Rakitin had commissioned the monk who brought his message “to inform most respectfully his reverence Father Paissy, that he, Rakitin, has a matter to speak of with him, of such gravity that he dare not defer it for a moment, and humbly begs forgiveness for his presumption.” As the monk had given the message to Father Paissy, before that to Alyosha, the latter found after reading the letter, there was nothing left for him to do but to hand it to Father Paissy in confirmation of the story.
And even that austere and cautious man, though he frowned as he read the news of the “miracle,” could not completely restrain some inner emotion. His eyes gleamed, and a grave and solemn smile came into his lips.
“We shall see greater things!” broke from him.
“We shall see greater things, greater things yet!” the monks around repeated.
But Father Paissy, frowning again, begged all of them, at least for a time, not to speak of the matter “till it be more fully confirmed, seeing there is so much credulity among those of this world, and indeed this might well have chanced naturally,” he added, prudently, as it were to satisfy his conscience, though scarcely believing his own disavowal, a fact his listeners very clearly perceived.
Within the hour the “miracle” was of course known to the whole monastery, and many visitors who had come for the mass. No one seemed more impressed by it than the monk who had come the day before from St. Sylvester, from the little monastery of Obdorsk in the far North. It was he who had been standing near Madame Hohlakov the previous day and had asked Father Zossima earnestly, referring to the “healing” of the lady’s daughter, “How can you presume to do such things?”
He was now somewhat puzzled and did not know whom to believe. The evening before he had visited Father Ferapont in his cell apart, behind the apiary, and had been greatly impressed and overawed by the visit. This Father Ferapont was that aged monk so devout in fasting and observing silence who has been mentioned already, as antagonistic to Father Zossima and the whole institution of “elders,” which he regarded as a pernicious and frivolous innovation. He was a very formidable opponent, although from his practice of silence he scarcely spoke a word to anyone. What made him formidable was that a number of monks fully shared his feeling, and many of the visitors looked upon him as a great saint and ascetic, although they had no doubt that he was crazy. But it was just his craziness attracted them.
Father Ferapont never went to see the elder. Though he lived in the hermitage they did not worry him to keep its regulations, and this too because he behaved as though he were crazy. He was seventy-five or more, and he lived in a corner beyond the apiary in an old decaying wooden cell which had been built long ago for another great ascetic, Father Iona, who had lived to be a hundred and five, and of whose saintly doings many curious stories were still extant in the monastery and the neighbourhood.
Father Ferapont had succeeded in getting himself installed in this same solitary cell seven years previously. It was simply a peasant’s hut, though it looked like a chapel, for it contained an extraordinary number of ikons with lamps perpetually burning before them — which men brought to the monastery as offerings to God. Father Ferapont had been appointed to look after them and keep the lamps burning. It was said (and indeed it was true) that he ate only two pounds of bread in three days. The beekeeper, who lived close by the apiary, used to bring him the bread every three days, and even to this man who waited upon him, Father Ferapont rarely uttered a word. The four pounds of bread, together with the sacrament bread, regularly sent him on Sundays after the late mass by the Father Superior, made up his weekly rations. The water in his jug was changed every day. He rarely appeared at mass. Visitors who came to do him homage saw him sometimes kneeling all day long at prayer without looking round. If he addressed them, he was brief, abrupt, strange, and almost always rude. On very rare occasions, however, he would talk to visitors, but for the most part he would utter some one strange saying which was a complete riddle, and no entreaties would induce him to pronounce a word in explanation. He was not a priest, but a simple monk. There was a strange belief, chiefly, however, among the most ignorant, that Father Ferapont had communication with heavenly spirits and would only converse with them, and so was silent with men.
The monk from Obdorsk, having been directed to the apiary by the beekeeper, who was also a very silent and surly monk, went to the corner where Father Ferapont’s cell stood. “Maybe he will speak as you are a stranger and maybe you’ll get nothing out of him,” the beekeeper had warned him. The monk, as he related afterwards, approached in the utmost apprehension. It was rather late in the evening. Father Ferapont was sitting at the door of his cell on a low bench. A huge old elm was lightly rustling overhead. There was an evening freshness in the air. The monk from Obdorsk bowed down before the saint and asked his blessing.
“Do you want me to bow down to you, monk?” said Father Ferapont. “Get up!”
The monk got up.
“Blessing, be blessed! Sit beside me. Where have you come from?”
What most struck the poor monk was the fact that in spite of his strict fasting and great age, Father Ferapont still looked a vigorous old man. He was tall, held himself erect, and had a thin, but fresh and healthy face. There was no doubt he still had considerable strength. He was of athletic build. In spite of his great age he was not even quite grey, and still had very thick hair and a full beard, both of which had once been black. His eyes were grey, large and luminous, but strikingly prominent. He spoke with a broad accent. He was dressed in a peasant’s long reddish coat of coarse convict cloth (as it used to be called) and had a stout rope round his waist. His throat and chest were bare. Beneath his coat, his shirt of the coarsest linen showed almost black with dirt, not having been changed for months. They said that he wore irons weighing thirty pounds under his coat. His stockingless feet were thrust in old slippers almost dropping to pieces.
“From the little Obdorsk monastery, from St. Sylvester,” the monk answered humbly, whilst his keen and inquisitive, but rather frightened little eyes kept watch on the hermit.
“I have been at your Sylvester’s. I used to stay there. Is Sylvester well?”
The monk hesitated.
“You are a senseless lot! How do you keep the fasts?”
“Our dietary is according to the ancient conventual rules. During Lent there are no meals provided for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For Tuesday and Thursday we have white bread, stewed fruit with honey, wild berries, or salt cabbage and whole meal stirabout. On Saturday white cabbage soup, noodles with peas, kasha, all with hemp oil. On weekdays we have dried fish and kasha with the cabbage soup. From Monday till Saturday evening, six whole days in Holy Week, nothing is cooked, and we have only bread and water, and that sparingly; if possible not taking food every day, just the same as is ordered for first week in Lent. On Good Friday nothing is eaten. In the same way on the Saturday we have to fast till three o’clock, and then take a little bread and water and drink a single cup of wine. On Holy Thursday we drink wine and have something cooked without oil or not cooked at all, inasmuch as the Laodicean council lays down for Holy Thursday: “It is unseemly by remitting the fast on the Holy Thursday to dishonour the whole of Lent!” This is how we keep the fast. But what is that compared with you, holy Father,” added the monk, growing more confident, “for all the year round, even at Easter, you take nothing but bread and water, and what we should eat in two days lasts you full seven. It’s truly marvellous — your great abstinence.”
“And mushrooms?” asked Father Ferapont, suddenly.
“Mushrooms?” repeated the surprised monk.
“Yes. I can give up their bread, not needing it at all, and go away into the forest and live there on the mushrooms or the berries, but they can’t give up their bread here, wherefore they are in bondage to the devil. Nowadays the unclean deny that there is need of such fasting. Haughty and unclean is their judgment.”
“Och, true,” sighed the monk.
“And have you seen devils among them?” asked Ferapont.
“Among them? Among whom?” asked the monk, timidly.
“I went to the Father Superior on Trinity Sunday last year, I haven’t been since. I saw a devil sitting on one man’s chest hiding under his cassock, only his horns poked out; another had one peeping out of his pocket with such sharp eyes, he was afraid of me; another settled in the unclean belly of one, another was hanging round a man’s neck, and so he was carrying him about without seeing him.”
“You — can see spirits?” the monk inquired.
“I tell you I can see, I can see through them. When I was coming out from the Superior’s I saw one hiding from me behind the door, and a big one, a yard and a half or more high, with a thick long grey tail, and the tip of his tail was in the crack of the door and I was quick and slammed the door, pinching his tail in it. He squealed and began to struggle, and I made the sign of the cross over him three times. And he died on the spot like a crushed spider. He must have rotted there in the corner and be stinking, but they don’t see, they don’t smell it. It’s a year since I have been there. I reveal it to you, as you are a stranger.”
“Your words are terrible! But, holy and blessed father,” said the monk, growing bolder and bolder, “is it true, as they noise abroad even to distant lands about you, that you are in continual communication with the Holy Ghost?”
“He does fly down at times.”
“How does he fly down? In what form?”
“As a bird.”
“The Holy Ghost in the form of a dove?”
“There’s the Holy Ghost and there’s the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can appear as other birds — sometimes as a swallow, sometimes a goldfinch and sometimes as a blue-tit.”
“How do you know him from an ordinary tit?”
“How does he speak, in what language?”
“And what does he tell you?”
“Why, to-day he told me that a fool would visit me and would ask me unseemly questions. You want to know too much, monk.”
“Terrible are your words, most holy and blessed Father,” the monk shook his head. But there was a doubtful look in his frightened little eyes.
“Do you see this tree?” asked Father Ferapont, after a pause.
“I do, blessed Father.”
“You think it’s an elm, but for me it has another shape.”
“What sort of shape?” inquired the monk, after a pause of vain expectation.
“It happens at night. You see those two branches? In the night it is Christ holding out His arms to me and seeking me with those arms, I see it clearly and tremble. It’s terrible, terrible!”
“What is there terrible if it’s Christ Himself?”
“Why, He’ll snatch me up and carry me away.”
“In the spirit and glory of Elijah, haven’t you heard? He will take me in His arms and bear me away.”
Though the monk returned to the cell he was sharing with one of the brothers, in considerable perplexity of mind, he still cherished at heart a greater reverence for Father Ferapont than for Father Zossima. He was strongly in favour of fasting, and it was not strange that one who kept so rigid a fast as Father Ferapont should “see marvels.” His words seemed certainly queer, but God only could tell what was hidden in those words, and were not worse words and acts commonly seen in those who have sacrificed their intellects for the glory of God? The pinching of the devil’s tail he was ready and eager to believe, and not only in the figurative sense. Besides he had, before visiting the monastery, a strong prejudice against the institution of “elders,” which he only knew of by hearsay and believed to be a pernicious innovation. Before he had been long at the monastery, he had detected the secret murmurings of some shallow brothers who disliked the institution. He was, besides, a meddlesome, inquisitive man, who poked his nose into everything. This was why the news of the fresh “miracle” performed by Father Zossima reduced him to extreme perplexity. Alyosha remembered afterwards how their inquisitive guest from Obdorsk had been continually flitting to and fro from one group to another, listening and asking questions among the monks that were crowding within and without the elder’s cell. But he did not pay much attention to him at the time, and only recollected it afterwards.
He had no thought to spare for it indeed, for when Father Zossima, feeling tired again, had gone back to bed, he thought of Alyosha as he was closing his eyes, and sent for him. Alyosha ran at once. There was no one else in the cell but Father Paissy, Father Iosif, and the novice Porfiry. The elder, opening his weary eyes and looking intently at Alyosha, asked him suddenly:
“Are your people expecting you, my son?”
“Haven’t they need of you? Didn’t you promise someone yesterday to see them to-day?”
“I did promise — to my father — my brothers — others too.”
“You see, you must go. Don’t grieve. Be sure I shall not die without your being by to hear my last word. To you I will say that word, my son, it will be my last gift to you. To you, dear son, because you love me. But now go to keep your promise.”
Alyosha immediately obeyed, though it was hard to go. But the promise that he should hear his last word on earth, that it should be the last gift to him, Alyosha, sent a thrill of rapture through his soul. He made haste that he might finish what he had to do in the town and return quickly. Father Paissy, too, uttered some words of exhortation which moved and surprised him greatly. He spoke as they left the cell together.
“Remember, young man, unceasingly,” Father Paissy began, without preface, “that the science of this world, which has become a great power, has, especially in the last century, analysed everything divine handed down to us in the holy books. After this cruel analysis the learned of this world have nothing left of all that was sacred of old. But they have only analysed the parts and overlooked the whole, and indeed their blindness is marvellous. Yet the whole still stands steadfast before their eyes, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Has it not lasted nineteen centuries, is it not still a living, a moving power in the individual soul and in the masses of people? It is still as strong and living even in the souls of atheists, who have destroyed everything! For even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardour of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ of old. When it has been attempted, the result has been only grotesque. Remember this especially, young man, since you are being sent into the world by your departing elder. Maybe, remembering this great day, you will not forget my words, uttered from the heart for your guidance, seeing you are young, and the temptations of the world are great and beyond your strength to endure. Well, now go, my orphan.”
With these words Father Paissy blessed him. As Alyosha left the monastery and thought them over, he suddenly realised that he had met a new and unexpected friend, a warmly loving teacher, in this austere monk who had hitherto treated him sternly. It was as though Father Zossima had bequeathed him to him at his death, and “perhaps that’s just what had passed between them,” Alyosha thought suddenly. The philosophic reflections he had just heard so unexpectedly testified to the warmth of Father Paissy’s heart. He was in haste to arm the boy’s mind for conflict with temptation and to guard the young soul left in his charge with the strongest defence he could imagine.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53