“There is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ten righteous men.”
“I am sorry that I cannot say anything more comforting, for active love is harsh and dreadful compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching . . . Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science. “
Things I wanted to googled in Book II of the Brothers Karamazov:
What are ecclesiastic courts? (Courts that settled religious disputes within the religious community)
What is a holy fool? (A person who appears unrefined but actually has redeeming qualities)
What is the Russian Orthodox view of the afterlife? (Too complex to sum up, but certainly not what I was raised with as a post-Billy Graham evangelical)
What is anthropophagy? (Spoiler alert: cannibalism!)
What are gudgeons? (Tiny fish, I guess).
Was Dostoevsky Anti-Semitic? (Yes, which deserves to be acknowledged and grieved over—just like so many “great” literary writers were).
Ok, so a lot went down in this chapter. It was all about a meeting that took place at the monastery—the elder Zossima was supposed to settle a dispute between Dmitri and his father, Fyodor. But we get a lot of insights into Ivan (who is an atheist but gets his kicks writing theological pieces—and who only wants peace of mind), the buffoonery of Fyodor, the anguish of Alyosha, and see the elder interacting with women, who come to him for blessings. Things get ridiculous and very bad, and it ends with a friend of Alyosha hinting very darkly that Something Bad is Going to Happen. Also, both Fyodor and Dmitri (again, father and son) are in love with the same woman, who is maybe a prostitute. Oh, and Ivan might marry Dmitri’s ex-fiancé? And the elder Zossima is dying and told Alyosha to leave the monastery. So yeah, a whooooole lot of drama was in this one.
One of the main themes that stuck out to me was the emphasis on the divide between the holy/the unholy in the culture—focusing on the elders, monks, and the Superior in contrast to people like Fyodor and Miusov, who obviously felt ashamed and inferior in their presence. The religious folks seem to be the ones with power here, which is always disconcerting when it come to the gospel of Christ. Do we have this in our society? I sense in this regard that Fyodor is a holy fool, pushing back on the religious words and ceremony and longing to know the truth—does God love him?
Watching the elder interact with the people who came to him for blessing was intense (especially the woman who lost four children but became stuck on the death of the last son). The counsel the elder gave (don’t weep, for your child is now an angel) didn’t sit all that well with me. For that matter, neither did his advice to Alyosha at the end (“let worldly men follow their dead with tears; here we rejoice over a departing father”). Zossima seems to equate the old idea that people who are spiritual/holy should never grieve on earth but rejoice in heaven, which I don’t buy at all. Hasn’t he ever read the Psalms? God desires our authentic selves, not blind acceptance! But perhaps Dostoevsky is just foreshadowing the plot (here we rejoice over a departing father…).
But probably my favorite scene in book II came when Fyodor was being ridiculous and bringing up Grushenka (then unnamed) to the monks:
“This ‘creature,’ this ‘woman of bad behavior’ is perhaps holier than all of you, gentleman soul-saving hieromonks! Maybe she fell in her youth, being influenced by her environment, but she has ‘loved much’ and even Christ forgave her who loved much …’
‘Christ did not forgive that kind of love’ . . . escaped impatiently from the meek Father Iosif.
‘No, that kind, monks, exactly that kind, that kind! You are saving your souls here on cabbage, and you think you are righteous! You eat gudgeons, one gudgeon a day, and you think you can buy God with gudgeons!”
As someone who has long struggled with trying to earn God’s approval (I became a missionary, which was as close to a monastery as I could get in my world) I really identified with this speech. As distasteful as Fyodor says, he does say some true things. And as holy as the elder is supposed to be, he says some false things. What an interesting conundrum Dostoevsky is setting up for us! What about you—what were the bits that stuck out? Questions you had? Themes you hope will be picked up and explained more? Favorite scenes/quotes? Any more ideas on what is going to happen (and who does it???) Please share in the comments!
See you next Monday, June 26th, for the discussion on Book III.