The visitors enter the room at the same time as the elder Zosima. Father Iosif and Father Paissy are already in the cell awaiting the elder. When Zosima emerges with a novice and Alexei, the monks bow deeply at each other, touching the ground with their fingers. Pyotr Alexandrovich and Fyodor also bow deeply. Pyotr, however, dislikes the elder, whose withered face and small eyes displease him. He surmises that the monk is “a malicious and pettily arrogant little soul.” It shames him to think this.
Pyotr’s irritation with the elder may come from becoming hyper-aware of how much the elder’s humility and lack of interest in material comforts contrast with his own vanity and covetousness. He seems to be projecting his fears about himself onto the elder out of envy for the holy man’s qualities, which he will never possess.
When the clock chimes, Fyodor mentions that Dmitri still hasn’t arrived and notes that he, on the other hand, always makes a point to be punctual. He also tells Zosima that he (Fyodor) is “a natural-born buffoon,” painfully embarrassed when a joke isn’t going over well. He says that, as a youth, he made his living by “sponging” off of the gentry.
Fyodor is showing off for the elder. However, he’s also in an oddly confessional mood and expresses sharp self-awareness in this moment. He knows that he likes to act the fool and he also admits that he acquired his wealth as a result of using people. This blatant honesty makes him occasionally endearing in spite of his many other repulsive qualities.
Fyodor throws himself down onto his knees and asks Zosima what he should do to “inherit eternal life.” The elder tells him to stop getting drunk, to resist sensuality and the adoration of money, and to close his taverns. Above all else, he says, Fyodor mustn’t lie because it encourages disrespect of himself and others. Zosima then tells him to get off of his knees, for “these posturings are false, too.” Zosima then rises to leave the room for a few minutes to attend to people who were waiting for him before the Karamazov party arrived.
Fyodor’s question to Zosima may have been genuine. He is concerned with the fate of his soul, knowing what an immoral man he is. Zosima’s advice is delivered in a practical and direct manner, contrasting with Fyodor’s posturing, which he seems to perform at the benefit of the elder and out of a desire to adjust his manner to the institution.