The Brothers Karamazov – 6: The Russian Monk

Previously: Book I, Book II, Book III, Books IV & V

Today I spent some time cleaning out my closet, one of my favorite things to do on academic break.  Afterwards, I settled down to read another part of BK.  In all honesty, the chapter “From the Life of the Elder Zosima” did not look too promising.  Typically my expectations are low for stories in a story, and I was anxious to get back to Alyosha’s story.  This was going to be a struggle to get through, I thought.

As Thorin might say . . . I have never been so wrong.

About halfway through, this “story in a story” actually moved me to tears.  And it struck me how timely it was, reading this part during this time of my life.  I always thought I should have read BK long ago, but it turns out this was the best timing.  “The Russian Monk” is a story about love, Godly love, and what a powerful force it is, and how profound, deep, painful, and beautiful it must be, to love your neighbor, and your enemies.

One may stand perplexed before some thought, especially seeing men’s sin, asking oneself: “Shall I take it by force, or by humble love?”  Always resolve to take it by humble love . . . A loving humility is a terrible power, the most powerful of all, nothing compares with it. 

I think I should mention another theme in “The Russian Monk,” which is Zosima’s directive to “take on” others’ guilt, or at least to feel as if it is yours.  This kind of confused me.  Does he mean for his listeners to interpret it literally?  (That is not, to my knowledge, a biblical idea.) As a description of humility and sin being universal, it would make a striking point.  I think that was the intent, but I’d have to re-read it several times to come to a more definite evaluation of what he saying.  As a way of disclaimer, there were one or two other points like this that call for reading this part with a grain of salt, in terms of Christian beliefs.

That said, it is still worth reading, and there is much that is relevant.  I was not looking for Christian doctrinal instruction in a secular novel.  I did find many Christian truths poignantly illustrated in the character of Zosima.  He is certainly one of best representations of a cleric in any literature I’ve read.  There were so many beautiful quotes, like the one above.  I will just add one more (also about love):

. . . love is a teacher, but one must know how to acquire it, for it is difficult to acquire, it is dearly bought, by long work over a long time, for one ought to love not for a chance moment but for all time.

This has been my favorite part of the book so far.