The Brothers Karamazov
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 Alyosha.
“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 joyful.”
“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, came:
“Well, doctor, have I another day in this world?” he would ask, joking.
“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 heaven now?”
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 joy.
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 good.”
“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 before us.”
“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!