Category: Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamozov.

The Sinner and Silence

by Andrea Elizabeth

Freud distinguished Dostoyevsky the writer, Dostoyevsky the neurotic, Dostoyevsky the moralist, and Dostoyevsky the sinner. Freud regarded Dostoyevsky the writer as unassailable, placing his work alongside SophoclesOedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The moralist Freud dismissed, for Dostoyevsky confined himself to being the sinner, subject to the czar and God, even while he oscillated between faith and atheism. Sadistic toward the outside world where small things were concerned, and toward himself where large things were concerned, Dostoyevsky finally appeared to be a masochist, “that is to say the mildest, kindliest, most helpful person possible” (p. 179). But for Freud there is more: Dostoyevsky’s projections into his characters—violent, egocentric, criminal—bear witness to his identification with them. (from answers.com)

According to this article on a paper written by Freud, he did not like Dostoevsky and possibly considered him a rival, but I think the above shows a certain respect. Having not studied Freud, from the little I’ve been exposed to him, I suppose that humanity is more complex than his simplistic diagnoses, but at least he thought about motivations and natural cause and effect. Dostoevsky seems an expert on motivations, and it’s the distinction that he identifies with sinners that gets my attention. Western stories identify stronger with the simplistic knight in shining armor protagonist, or lately, they confuse things by making the bad guy into a hero. In reality, the more light you have, the more you see your own sin.

After writing yesterday’s post on noble silence, I thought of Christ telling people not to broadcast their miracles, and being silent when He was accused towards the end. He hid His divinity. We are not divine, so we do not need to keep that a secret. But we are gods. Alyosha seeks to keep that a secret when he identifies with Dmitri and Grushenka. But he is being honest in identifying with sinners. We are both, but we have to be rid of the sin and united to Christ before we can show that we are gods. Or at least to be good gods. The Fathers tell us that getting rid of sin, repentance, is what this life is given to us for, so that is what we concentrate on. Dostoevsky seems to have that aspect down pretty well.

Another note about Alyosha, not only does he identify with sinners, but he seems to ignore any ill-will or bad treatment given to him by others. He takes up the cause of others who may be victimized, but focuses on comforting them and making restitution, not accusing or condemning the perpetrator. Freud may think this masochistic, but I intuitively find it a way towards peace. I suppose I’ll also have to read Crime and Punishment now that I’ve gotten my feet wet.

The Onion Story

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m half-way through Brothers Karamazov and am finding that every point he makes is very satisfying. I’ve heard that Freud was impressed with Dostoevsky’s characterizations, and that Dostoevsky was somewhat of an existentialist, so does that mean that I am a Freudian existentialist for agreeing with how he portrays his characters? To me it’s an Orthodox pov regarding loving others and the causes and consequences of sin, at least how I understand it. Lise and her mother are somewhat silly, as I criticized some of Dickens’ portrayals of women, but the other women seem to be more significantly complex. Dickens was a little romantically idealistic about his heroins, but so far Alyosha is the only one who would fit in that category. But he isn’t as impossibly virtuous as Agnes was. Not so martyrish. He acts according to great faith and love, but he doesn’t suffer in silence so much. Too much silent suffering irks me. In other stories, there are dire misunderstandings that people are just too noble to clear up. Letting people believe a lie seems a waste of time to me. Alyosha says what’s on his mind, and it’s the purity of his mind and heart that saves the moment, not that he keeps secrets. But I’m only half-way through, and I just intended to post this little fable that Grushenka relates:

Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; ‘She once pulled up an onion in her garden,’ said he, ‘and gave it to a beggar woman.’ And God answered: ‘You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.’ The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. ‘Come,’ said he, ‘catch hold and I’ll pull you out.’ he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. ‘I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.’ As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.

The Cost of Finding Paradise

by Andrea Elizabeth

Part II; Book VI; Chapter 2, “From the Life of Elder Zosima”

As a young man, Elder Zosima on a particular occasion acted out of jealousy and abused some people. Then he comes to his senses, much like the Prodigal Son, right before he was to participate in a duel. At this time he remembers his brother’s words on his deathbed,

“Mother, heart of my heart, truly each of us is guilty before everyone and for everyone, only people do not know it, and if they knew it, the world at once become paradise.” “Lord,” I wept and thought, “can that possibly not be true? Indeed, I am perhaps the most guilty of all, and the worst of all men in the world as well!” (p. 298)

He then changes his course of action and joyfully accepts blame for everything.

“Gentlemen,” I cried suddenly from the bottom of my heart, “look at the divine gifts around us: the clear sky, the fresh air, the tender grass, the birds, nature is beautiful and sinless, and we, we alone, are godless and foolish, and do not understand that life is paradise, for we need only wish to understand, and it will come at once in all its beauty, and we shall embrace each other and weep…” I wanted to go on but I could not, so much sweetness, so much youngness even took my breath away, and in my heart there was such happiness as I had never felt before in all my life. (p. 299)

People are pleased and love him after this. At a party a woman says,

“But how is it possible that I am guilty for everyone,” they would all laugh in my face, “well, for instance, can I be guilty for you?” “But how can you even understand it,” I would answer, “if the whole world has long since gone off on a different path, and if we consider what is a veritable lie to be the truth, and demand the same lie from others?” (p. 300, 301)

A mysterious but well-respected philanthropist he meets at the party starts visiting him and the conversation progresses,

And I learned much that was useful from him, for he was a man of lofty mind. “That life is paradise,” he said to me suddenly, “I have been thinking about for a long time” – and suddenly added, “that is all I think about.” He looked at me, smiling. “I am convinced of it,” he said, “more than you are; you shall find out why later on.” I listened and thought to myself: “Surely he wants to reveal something to me.” “Paradise,” he said, “is hidden in each one of us, it is concealed within me, too, right now, and if I wish, it will come for me in reality, tomorrow even, and for the rest of my life.” I looked at him: he was speaking with tenderness and looking at me mysteriously, as if questioning me. “And,” he went on, “as for each man being guilty before all and for all, besides his own sins, your reasoning about that is quite correct, and it is surprising that you could suddenly embrace this thought so fully. And indeed it is true that when people understand this thought, the Kingdom of Heaven will come to them, no longer in a dream but in reality.” “But when will this come true?” I exclaimed to him ruefully. “And will it ever come true? Is it not just a dream?” “Ah,” he said, “now you do not believe it, you preach it and do not believe it yourself. Know, then, that this dream, as you call it, will undoubtedly come true, believe it, though not now, for every action has its law. This is a matter of the soul, a psychologial matter. In order to make the world over anew, people themselves must turn onto a different path psychically. Until one has indeed become the brother of all, there will be no brotherhood.” (p. 303)

Then the mysterious man confesses to him a crime that he had committed and successfully concealed 14 years ago.

“I know that paradise will come to me, will come at once, the moment I tell. For fourteen years I have been in hell. I want to suffer. I will embrace suffering, and begin to live. One can go through the world with a lie, but there is no going back. Now I do not dare to love not only my neighbor, but even my own children. Lord, but perhaps my children really will understand the cost of my suffering and will not condemn me! The Lord is not in power but in truth.” (p. 308)

This however is not the end of his tormented struggle. The later Elder enters into the man’s suffering quite literally and intercedes in prayer and tears. Therefore he leaves paradise and joines his brother in hell. He ends up suffering at the hands of society for this intercession as he gets blamed for the respected man’s ensuing illness. He eventually has to leave the town.

“I kept silent, and was glad in my soul, for I saw the undoubted mercy of God towards him who had risen against himself and punished himself.”

But the man had found paradise,

“God has pitied 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. I at once felt paradise in my soul, as soon as I had done what I had to do.” (p. 311)

Brothers Karamazov IX; Settling for less than ideal, or is it?

by Andrea Elizabeth

I am enjoying discussing Brothers Karamazov on this blog as it is a way to accompany input with output. Part of my frustration with reading books is that it is such a one-way street. Blogging about it helps it seem more like a conversation. Most bloggers I know have read it already, so I wont write the jarring spoiler alert warning. I’m trying to work on presenting things gently.

Here are Alyosha’s thoughts when he returns to the monastery after a traumatic day at his father’s house.

Why had the elder sent him “into the world”? Here was quiet, here was holiness, and there – confusion, and a darkness in which one immediately got lost and went astray… (p. 157)

I wrote elsewhere of my first extended stay at a monastery. I felt such overwhelming grace there, and I felt completely at home, even with the schedule of services, when usually I am not a morning person. It was very painful for me to leave. I cried all the way home on the airplane and for about a week after. I hurt my husband’s and my little girl’s feelings because I did not hide my tears or why I had them.

On going back into the world,

Lise is worried that Alyosha would not welcome the contents of her message:

“As soon as I read it [her note offering to be his fiancée], I thought at once that that was how everything would be, because as soon as the elder Zosima dies, I must immediately leave the monastery. Then I’ll finish my studies and pass the exam, and when the legal times comes, we’ll get married. I will love you. Though I haven’t had much time to think yet, I don’t think I could find a better wife than you, and the elder told me to get married… ” (p. 184)

Some people have indeed left their spouse and children to become monastics, but I believe this is mostly advised against. I certainly have not been given a blessing to do so either by my husband, Priest, or the Abbess at the monastery. Since that time three years ago, almost exactly, I have grown to appreciate my home and family more and to see that it is God’s will for me to be here, and thus it is best for me personally to be here. I still get impatient and frustrated, but that is because of my disordered passions, not because they aren’t living up to how I think life in a monastery would be. Part of my attraction to the monastery was that I would not be “the parent”, but that I would have one. For that reason I do not think that I would want to be an Abess, even if I were qualified.

May God grant nourishment, energy, peace, patience and rest to all of the Abbots, Abbesses, and parents out there.

Brothers Karamazov VIII; Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

by Andrea Elizabeth

Or should I title it, “Forward Women”

The end of Part I

*Spoiler Warning* Dmitri Karamazov is engaged because Katarina Ivanovna offered in a note to be his fiancée, and the last thing in Part I is Alyosha happily receiving a note from Lise offering the same thing. *end Spoiler Warning*

Add to that, today’s delightful Saint, Saint Scholastica, memorialized at Logismoi, detaining her brother, Saint Benedict, to stay and talk with her against his will. In Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, and I think in much of Classic British Literature, the virtuous woman silently waits, like a flower on the wall, for the man to make any advances or to initiate conversations. Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility scandalizes people when she approaches Willoughby in an open and direct way. From this brief foray into Russian Literature, it seems the social constraints of the same century were different over there. It’s been so long since I read Tolstoy that I don’t remember how the codes of etiquette of this nature are presented in his works.

Today’s poem seems fitting,

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a getting;
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best, which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times, still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Brothers Karamazov VII; Dmitri’s Confession Part 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

Part 1, Book 3, Chapter 4, “The Confession of an Ardent Heart. In Anecdotes”

After Dmitri tells Alyosha about his sins, Alyosha says,

“I blushed not at your words, and not at your deeds, but because I’m the same as you.”

“You? Well, that’s going a bit too far.”

“No, not too far,” Alyosha said hotly. (Apparently the thought had been with him for some time.) “the steps are all the same. I’m on the lowest, and you are above, somewhere on the thirteenth. That’s how I see it, but it’s all one and the same, all exactly the same sort of thing. Whoever steps on the lowest step will surely step on the highest.”

“So one had better not step at all.”

“Not if one can help it.”

“Can you?”

“It seems not.”

“Stop, Alyosha, stop,[…]”

It has not yet been shown how Alyosha has stepped on the first rung, but I am relieved that he identifies with his brother to some extent. There is comfort in commonality, and with that I think there is greater comfort when “one of us” shows the way off the ladder.

Brothers Karamazov V; Seek Happiness in Sorrow

by Andrea Elizabeth

Part 1, Book 2, Ch 7, “A Seminarist-Careerist”

Frail Elder Zosima counsels Alyosha,

“For the time being your place is not here. I give you my blesing for a great obedience in the world. You sitll have much journeying before you. And you will have to marry – yes, you will. You will have to endure everything before you come back again. And there will be much work to do. But I have no doubt of you, that is why I am sending you. Christ is with you. Keep him, and he will keep you. You will behold great sorrow, and in this sorrow you will be happy. Here is a commandment for you: seek happiness in sorrow. Work, work tirelessly. Remember my words from now on, for although I shall still talk with you, not only my days but even my hours are numbered.

Strong emotion showed again in Alyosha’s face. The corners of his mouth trembled.

“What’s wrong now?” the elder smiled gently. “Let worldly men follow their dead with tears; here we rejoice over a departing father. We rejoice and pray for him. Leave me now. It is time to pray. Go, and hurry. Be near your brothers. Not just one, but both of them.”

This sort or reminds me of the director telling Jane to go obey her husband (who thankfully had a conversion experience accompanied by true repentance) in That Hideous Strength. Not all are called to monasticism though, like is brought out in the post below on Mother Raphaela’s Living in Christ, we all struggle to attain purity, illumination, and theosis. Sometime I would like to see if any non-monastics attain theosis in this life. Maybe there’s different manifestations, but I don’t know if I’ve heard of any married Saints glowing or being miracle workers, but I am not a thorough student of hagiography. It does seem that many of the married Saints were martyrs. We are all called to martyrdom.

The elder instructing Alyosha to seek happiness in sorrow is a surprise. I look forward to seeing how this plays out. George listened to the audible version during his commute to work a few years ago, but I’ve asked him not to tell me what happens. I’ve tried several times to listen to the audible version but I have trouble with the reader and my attention usually is drawn elsewhere, so I’ve missed big chunks of the first part and have never gone further than that. Luckily, I’ve not seen any movie versions either. George agrees with me that there seems to be big sections left out of the audible version, Garnett translation, which is supposed to be unabridged, compared to the leafed translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky that I am reading now. With this experience, the words are nourishing me like food rather than seeming like work to get through. I just get lazy about picking it up in the first place. Let me attend!

Brothers Karamazov IV; State alone, Church and State, or Church alone

by Andrea Elizabeth

From Part 1, Book 2, Ch. 5, “So Be It! So Be It!”

Elder Zosima gives his opinion on criminal justice to the Karamazov guests, minus Dmitri.

“But, you know, in reality it is so even now,” the elder suddenly spoke and everyone turned to him at once. “If it were not for Christ’s Church, indeed there would be no restraint on the criminal in his evildoing, and no punishment for it later, real punishment, that is, not a mechanical one such as has just been mentioned, which only chafes the heart in most cases, but a real punishment, the only real, the only frightening and appeasing punishment, which lies in the acknowledgement of one’s own conscience.”

“How is that, may I ask?” Miusov (Fyodore’s cousin-in-law) inquired with the liveliest curiosity.

“Here is how it is,” the elder began. “All this exile to hard labor, and formerly with floggings, does not reform anyone, and above all does not even frighten almost any criminal, and the number of crimes not only does not diminish but increases all the more. Surely you will admit that. And it turns out that society, thus, is not protected at all, for although the harmful member is mechanically cut off and sent far away out of sight, another criminal appears at once to take his place, perhaps even two others. If anything protects society even in our time, and even reforms the criminal himself and transforms him into a different person, again it is Christ’s law alone, which manifests itself in the acknowledgment of one’s own conscience. Only if he acknowledges his guilt as a son of Christ’s society – that is, of the Church – will he acknowledge his guilt before society itself- that is, before the Church. Thus, the modern criminal is capable of acknowledging his guilt before the Church alone, and not before the state. If it were so that judgment belonged to society as the Church, then it would know whom to bring back from excommunication and reunite with itself. But now the Church, having no active jurisdiction but merely the possibility of moral condemnation alone, withholds from actively punishing the criminal of its own acord. It does ot excomunicate him, but simply does not leave him without paternal guidance. Moreover, it even tries to preserve full Christian communion with the crimal, admitting him to church services, to the holy gifts, giving him alms, and treating him more as a captive than as a wrongdoer. And what would become of the criminal, oh, Lord, if Christian society, too – that is, the Church – rejected him in the same way that civil law rejects him and cuts him off? What would become of him if the Church, too, punished him with excommunication each time immediately after the law of the state has punished him? Surely there could be no greater despair, at least for a Russian criminal, for Russian criminals still have faith. Though who knows: perhaps a terrible thing would happen then – the loss of faith, perhaps, would occur in the desperate heart of the criminal, and what then? But the Church, like a mother, tender and loving, witholds from active punishment, for even without her punishment, the wrongdoer is already too painfully punished by the state court, and at least someone should pity him. And it withholds above all because the judgment of the Curch is the only judgment that contains the truth, and for that reason it cannot, essentially and morally, be combined with any other judgment, even in a temporary compromise. Here it is not possible to strike any bargains. The foreign criminal, they say, rarely repents, for even the modern theories themselves confirm in him the idea that his crime is not a crime but only a rebellion against an unjustly oppressive force. Soceity cuts him off from itself quite mechanically by the force that triumphs over him, and accompanies that excommunication with hatred (so, at least, they say about themselves in Europe) – with hatred and complete indifference and forgetfulness of his subsequent fate as their brother. Thus, all of this goes on without the least compassion of the Church, for in many cases there already are no more churches at all, and what remains are just churchmen and splendid church buildings, while the churches themselveshave long been striving to pass from the lower species, the Church, to a higher species, the state, in order to disappear into it completely. So it seems to be, at least, in Lutheran lands. And in Rome it is already a thosand years since the state was proclaimed in place of the Church. And therefore the criminal is not conscious of himself as a member of the Church, and, excommunicated, he sits in despair. And if he returns to society, it is not seldom with such hatred that society itself, as it were, now excommunicates him. What will be the end of it, you may judge for yourselves. In many cases, it would appear to be the same with us; but the point is precisely that, besides the established courts, we have, in addition, the Church as well, which never loses communion with the criminal as a dear and still beloved son, and above that there is preserved, even if only in thought, the judgment of the Church, not active now but still living for the future, if only as a dream, and unquestionably acknowledged by the criminal himself, by the instinct of his soul. What has just been said here is also true, that if, indeed, the judgment of the Church came, and in its full force – that is, if the whole of society turned into the Church alone – then, not only would the judgment of the Church influence the reformation of the criminal as it can never influence it now, but perhaps crimes themselves would indeed diminish at an incredible rate. And the Church, too, no doubt, would understand the future criminal and the future crime in many cases quite differently from now, and would be able to bring the excommunicated back, to deter the plotter, to regenerate the fallen. It is true,” the elder smiled, “that now Christian society itself is not yet ready, and stands only on seven righteous men, but as they are never wanting, it abides firmly all the same, awaiting its complete transfiguration from society as still an almost pagan organization, into one universal and sovereign Church. And so be it, so be it, if only at the end of time, for this alone is destined to be fulfilled! And there is no need to trouble oneself with times and seasons, for the mystery of times and seasons is in the wisdom of God, in his foresight, and in his love. And that which by human reckoning may still be rather remote, by divine predestination may already be standing on the eve of its appearance, at the door. And so be that, too! So be it!”

[…Father Paissy:] “It is not the Church that turns into the state, you see. That is Rome and its dream. That is the third temptation of the devil! But, on the contrary, the state turns into the Church, it rises up to the Church and becomes the Church over all the earth, which is the complete opposite of Ultramontanism and of Rome, and of your interpretation, and is simply the great destiny of Orthodoxy on earth. This star will show forth from the East!”

I have wondered what it would be like if Orthodox Christians were in high state positions, legislative, executive, and judicial. Hopefully they would demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit and hold Orthodox posititions on abortion, war, social responsibility and so on. Dostoevsky’s proposition goes further. Not only would state positions be held by Orthodox, but the state would dissolve into the Church. Meaning that Bishops would be at the head, and Church canons would rule the day. This is quite bold. I could imagine that worries of corruption would quickly enter people’s minds. But if the Church functioned properly and internal order were restored when problems arose, as has graciously occurred for 2000 years, the gates of hell not prevailing, then the deterrent that the Elder speaks of, excommunication and a guilty conscience, would only work if the criminals were also Orthodox. An atheist criminal wouldn’t care, I don’t think.

Russia was an Orthodox country back then, but the Revolution happened not long after Dostoevsky died and the atheist state alone reigned for 70 years. Perhaps his prophecy of Church alone is still yet to be. The last part of the chapter, not copied, stresses that it would not be a Christian socialist state. Then what would govern market affairs? The Church usually doesn’t handle that, except for a 10% tithe, if the Biblical model is to be maintained. It is nice that the Elder is convinced that people would be most desperate to maintain communion with the Church. I wish that were the case in America, and I agree with his statements about punishment.

Brothers Karamazov III; Active Love

by Andrea Elizabeth

Part 1, Book 2, Ch.4 “A Lady of Little Faith”

The mother of a crippled girl who is brought to the elder for healing desires to talk to him about where faith comes from.

“One cannot prove anything here, but it is possible to be convinced.”

“How? By what?”

“By the experience of active love. Try to love your neighbors actively and tirelessly. The more you succeed in loving, the more you’ll be convinced of the existence of God and the immortality of your soul. And if you reach complete selflessness in the love of your neighbor, then undoubtedly you will believe, and no doubt will even be able to enter your soul. This has been tested. It is certain.”

“Active love? That’s another question, and what a question, what a question! You see, I love makind so much that – would you believe it? – I sometimes dream of giving up all, all I have, of leaving Lise and going to become a sister of mercy. I close my eyes, I think and dream, and in such moments I feel an invincible strength in myself. No wounds, no festering sores could frighten me. I would bind them and cleanse them with my own hands, I would nurse the suffering, I am ready to kiss those sores…”

“It’s already a great deal and very well for you that you dream of that in your mind and not of something else. Once in a while, by chance, you many do some good deed.”

“Yes, but could I survive such a life for long? the lady went on heatedly, almost frantically, as it were. “That’s the main question, that’s my most tormenting question of all. I close my eyes and ask myself: could you stand it for long on such a path? And if the sick man whose sores you are cleansing does not respond immediately with gratitude but, on the contrary, begins tormenting you with his whims, not appreciating and not noticing your philanthropic ministry, if he begins to shout at you, to make rude demands, even to complain to some sort of superiors (as often happens with people who are in pain) – what then? Will you go on loving, or not? And, imagine, the answer already came to me with a shudder: if there’s anything that would immediately cool my ‘active’ love for mankind, that one thing is ingratitude. In short, I work for pay and demand my pay at once, that is, praise and a good return of love for my love. Otherwise I’m unable to love anyone!”

She was in a fit of the most sincere self-castigation, and, having finished, looked with defiant determination at the elder.

[skipping the much-quoted part about the physician who didn’t love individuals but mankind instead….]

It is enough that you are distressed by it. Do what you can, and it will be reckoned unto you. You have already done much if you can understand yourself so deeply and so sincerely! But if you spoke with me so sincerely just now in order to be praised, as I have praised you, for your truthfulness, then of course you will get nowhere with your efforts at active love; it will all remain merely a dream, and your whole life will flit by like a phantom. Then, naturally, you will forget about the future life, and in the end will somehow calm down by yourself.”

“You have crushed me! Only now, this very moment, as you were speaking, did I realize that indeed I was waiting only for you to praise my sincerity, when I told you that I couldn’t bear ingratitude. You’ve brought me back to myself, you’ve caught me out and explained me to myself!”

“Is it true what you say? Well, now, after such a confession from you, I believe that you are sincere and good of heart. If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on a good path, and try not to leave it. Above all, avoid lies, all lies, especially the lie to yourself. Keep watch on you own lie and examine it every hour, every minute. And avoid contempt, both of others and of yourself: what seems bad to you in yourself is purified by the very fact that you have noticed it in yourself. And avoid fear, though fear is simply the consequence of every lie. Never be frightened at your own faintheartedness in attaining love, and meanwhile do not even be very frightened by your own bad acts. I am sorry that I cannot say anything more comforting, for active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving even of one’s life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science. But I predict that even in that very moment when you see with horror that despite all your efforts, you not only have not come nearer your goal but seem to have gotten farther from it, at that very moment – I predict this for you – you will suddenly reach your goal and will clearly behold over you the wonder-working power of the Lord, who all the while has been loving you, and all the while has been mysteriously guiding you.”

When the mother first began to speak, I was thinking she was indulging in too much introspection. We judge wherein we are judged I suppose. But it is through conversation that she is taught about persevering, active love that does not depend on the response of the object (not that she hadn’t been giving it to Lise all along). When I went into nursing school when I was barely 18 I wanted to be a missionary to Africa. I had dreams of saving mankind. I did not want to practice in America for the reason the lady states, I didn’t think Americans were very grateful. They seemed selfishly demanding. Little brown baby Africans would appreciate my philanthropy. I’ll not go into the reasons why I never made it to Africa, but indeed, though most patients were very nice, I did encounter a few negative experiences as described above. One from a head injury patient who had been transformed from a loving young man into a profane, abusive one after being hit by a car. One from the family of a woman dying of cancer, people in pain do act out sometimes. And a couple of psychotic nursing home people would throw things at people. But these weren’t as bad as some of the attitudes among the nurses. You give patients under stress some lee-way, but nurses sometimes don’t give it to each other. There’s a lot of pressure and stress from looming law-suits (another American tendency), impatient, shall we say, doctors, and overly demanding work loads. It got to me, and my romantic “save mankind” bubble burst. Then I became a mother, which is where one must learn active, unappreciated, sometimes unwitnessed, no-quitting-allowed love. But of course a peacefully sleeping or playfully laughing face can recharge a person’s batteries.

I’m late picking up my son and missed posting yesterday so I’ll go ahead and post this without proofreading. I was going to go into seeking praise, but I’ll let the elder’s words on that serve for now.

Brothers Karamazov II; Grieving over infants who have died

by Andrea Elizabeth

Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, Book 2, Ch. 3. Elder Zosima to the “Women of Faith”:

“What are you weeping for?”

“I pity my little son, dear father, he was three years old, just three months short of three years old. I grieve for my little son, father, for my little son. He was the last little son left to us […] this last one I buried and I can’t forget him. As if he’s standing right in front of me and won’t go away. My soul is wasted over him. I look at his clothes, at his little shirt or his little boots, and start howling. I lay out all that he left behind, all his things, and look at them and howl. Then I say to Nikitushka, that’s my husband, let me go on a pilgrimage, master. He’s a coachman, we’re not poor, father, not poor, we run our own business, everything belongs to us, the horses and the carriages. But who needs all that now? […] And now I don’t even think about him [her husband]. It’s three months since I left home. I’ve forgotten, I’ve forgotten everything, and I don’t want to remember, what can I do with him now? […] I’m through with everybody. And I don’t even want to see my house now, and my things, I don’t want to see anything at all!”

“Listen, mother,” said the elder. “Once, long ago, a great saint saw a mother in church, weeping just as you are over her child, her only child, whom the Lord had also called to him. ‘Do you not know,’ the saint said to her, ‘how bold these infants are before the throne of God? No one is bolder in the Kingdom of Heaven: Lord, you granted us life, they say to God, and just as we beheld it, you took it back from us. And they beg and plead so boldly that the Lord immediately puts them in the ranks of the angels. And therefore,’ said the saint, ‘you too, woman, rejoice and do not weep. Your infant, too, now abides with the Lord in the host of his angels.’ That is what a saint said to a weeping woman in ancient times. He was a great saint and would not have told her a lie. Therefore you, too, mother, know that you infant, too, surely now stands before the throne of the Lord, rejoicing and being glad, and praying to God for you. Weep, then, but also rejoice.”

The woman listened to him, resting her cheek in her hand, her eyes cast down. She sighed deeply.

“The same way my Nikitushka was comforting me, word for word, like you, he’d say: ‘Foolish woman,’ he’d say, ‘why do you cry so? Our little son is surely with the Lord God now, singing with the angels. ‘He’d say it to me, and he’d be crying himself, I could see, he’d be crying just like me. ‘I know, Nikitushka,’ I’d say, ‘where else can he be if not with the Lord God, only he isn’t here, with us, Nikitushka, he isn’t sitting here with us like before!’ If only I could just have one more look at him, if I could see him one more time, I wouldn’t even go up to him, I wouldn’t speak, I’d hide in a corner, only to see him for one little minute, to hear him the way he used to play in the backyard and come in and shout in his little voice: ‘Mama, where are you?’ […] But he’s gone, dear father, he’s gone and I’ll never hear him again! His little belt is here, but he’s gone, and I’ll never see him, I’ll never hear him again…!”

She took her boy’s little gold-braided belt from her bosom and, at the sight of it, began shaking with sobs, covering her eyes with her hands, through which streamed the tears that suddenly gushed from her eyes.

“This,” said the elder, “is Rachel of old ‘weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not. This is the lot that befalls you mothers, on earth. And do not be comforted, you should not be comforted, do not be comforted, but weep. Only each time you weep, do not fail to remember that your little son is one of God’s angels, that he looks down at you from there and sees you, and rejoices in your tears and points them out to the Lord God. And you will be filled with this great mother’s weeping for a long time, but in the end it will turn into quiet joy for you, and your bitter tears will become tears of quiet tenderness and the heart’s purification, which saves from sin. And I will remember your little child in my prayers for the repose of the dead. What was his name?”

“Alexei, dear father.”

“A lovely name! After Alexei, the man of God?”

“Of God, dear father, of God. Alexei, the man of God.”

“A great saint! I”ll remember, mother, I’ll remember, and I’ll remember your sorrow in my prayers, and I’ll remember your husband, too. Only it is a sin for you to desert him. Go to your husband and take care of him. Your little boy will look down and see that you’ve abandoned his father, an will weep for both of you: why, then, do you trouble his blessedness? He’s alive, surely he’s alive, for the soul lives forever, and though he’s not at home, he is invisibly near you. How then, can he come to his home if you say you now hate your home? To whom will he go if he does not find you, his father and mother, together? You see him now in your dreams and are tormented, but at home he will send you quiet dreams. Go to your husband, mother, go this very day.”

“I will go, my dear, according to your word, I will go. You’ve touched my heart. Nikitushka, my Nikitushka, you are waiting for me, my dear, waiting for me!” The woman began to murmur, but the elder had already turned to a very little old lady[…].”

Dostoyevsky saw me. I have written a few posts about our stillborn son, Isaac. It is amazing to me how Dostoyevsky captures the grief of a mother. I so many times think my feelings are unique, but not after reading this. Maybe modern people do not get as carried away as this woman, at least for as long as she did. I think I grieved more over him, as described above, after I became Orthodox. As I have written, one of the things that drew me to Orthodoxy was the icon of the little boy with his guardian angel, which caused me to weep for knowing where my son is.


Our modern culture tries to hide from death. You are supposed to move on with your life after someone dies. Grieving after a year is considered excessive. You certainly aren’t supposed to try to maintain a connection with the departed. I like how Elder Zosima supports her grief, but also redirects her to not forget others, and that by remembering the baby’s father, she is also giving security to her departed child. We don’t have to forget or disconnect from our departed loved ones, but neither should we forget our spouse or God, who also love them. It’s weird to me how loss can make us forget about the ones who remain.

I was very traumatized when I found out Isaac was dead, but when I got pregnant a couple months later, I was distracted from my grief. But there is a bond that remains even after a child dies. I think this is what drew me to Orthodoxy, where I could commune with my son in Christ. I believe he intercedes for our family even now. But it’s not as if death has no negative consequences. I think that a woman “losing it” after a child dies is partly because she is connected to him and wants to be where he is. Part of her experiences the separation from this world that death brings. She leaves with her child. We are not made for separation and loss. We are made for union with all things in Christ. After a death in the family, we have to learn how to reattach to our loved ones still in this realm, while keeping the departed loved one’s Memory Eternal.

And I do feel closer to Isaac at my house, surrounded by our icons. I get the feeling he wants me to be home.

(icon from Conciliar Press)