Alexei is awakened by the sound of the elder Zosima moving from his bed to his armchair before dawn. As the day continues, monks arrive from the monastery. Zosima speaks to them of many things, as though he wishes to share everything with them all for the last time. He tells them to love all of God’s people, and that the monks are not holier merely because they’ve shut themselves off from the world. He tells them not to hate those who reject them, including atheists. Zosima gasps for breath as he speaks, but seems to be “in ecstasy.”
Zosima is eager to share all of the knowledge that he has left to disseminate, knowing that his death is imminent. What is unique about Zosima, compared to his rival Father Ferapont, and the others who condemn him, is his egalitarian view of humanity as well as his belief that it is the job of monks to foster equality among people. He’s not interested in superiority or isolation, which is why he receives so many visitors.
Alexei leaves the cell after a fellow monk tells him that Rakitin is looking for him. He has come from town with a letter from Madame Khokhlakov. She tells him that Zosima’s prophecy about Prokhorovna’s son, Vasenka, has come true—he is “undoubtedly alive” and, as Zosima predicted, sent his mother a letter from Siberia, in which he says that he will return to Russia with an official and, upon his arrival, hopes to embrace his mother again. Madame Khokhlakov begs Alexei to tell the Father Superior and the other monks this news. Alexei shares the information with Father Paissy, who is unmoved. Within an hour, the report of the “miracle” spreads around the monastery, mostly impressing the little monk from the small Obdorsk monastery in the north.
What probably amounts to no more than a lucky guess is regarded as a prophecy by the followers of the elder Zosima. Father Paissy exists here partly to reflect what would be the reader’s reaction to this news. It seems that people believe that Zosima has performed a miracle because they want to believe it. This exalted image of the elder contrasts with how he presents himself—with humility and full appreciation of his humanity, including ignoble aspects of his past.
The little monk from Obdorsk finds that the seventy-five-year-old Father Ferapont is “an extremely dangerous adversary of the elder Zosima.” Rumor has it, “among the most ignorant people,” that Father Ferapont is in communication with “the heavenly spirits” and speaks only to them, which is why he doesn’t care to be bothered with visitors. He also claims to see devils.
Father Ferapont is a foil for Zosima. His isolation and misanthropy contrast with Zosima’s boundless empathy and frequent contact with others. This isolation, however, gives Father Ferapont an aura of mystique. His strict fasting probably causes him to hallucinate devils.
The little monk is surprised by these tales. He then asks Father Ferapont if it’s true that he’s “in constant communication with the Holy Spirit.” Father Ferapont says that the Spirit flies down like a bird, “in the form of a dove.” He also distinguishes between the Holy Spirit and the Holispirit. The latter comes as some other type of bird—“a swallow, a goldfinch, a tomtit.” Also, the Holispirit speaks, and today announced that a fool would visit Father Ferapont and ask him “improper questions.”
Father Ferapont is making fun of the visiting monk, but he’s generally cantankerous and doesn’t like to speak or meet with people. In this instance, he creates an amusing pun—the “Holispirit,” which doesn’t, in fact, exist, but which Father Ferapont makes up to symbolize those who annoy him, including the little monk.
Father Ferapont points to an elm tree. He says, at night, its branches become Christ’s arms, which may grab him and carry him away. The little monk from Obdorsk goes back to his cell. Father Ferapont’s words are no odder than those uttered by other “holy fools.” The visiting monk arrived having been “strongly biased against the institution of elders.” Now, with news of the “miracle” involving the widow Prokhorovna, he’s not so sure.
Father Ferapont paints an image of Christ that seems quite dark. The monk doesn’t take him seriously, but he does wonder if Zosima may have special powers, given the rumor of his prophecy. It wasn’t much of a prophecy, but the gossip about it has turned it into a bigger story than it actually is.
Feeling tired, Zosima returns to bed and summons Alexei to his side. He tells Alexei that he must go to visit those whom he promised to see and assures him that he won’t die without saying his last word in Alexei’s presence. Alexei obeys. Before he leaves, Father Paissy tells him how the learned people of the world have examined everything and learned nothing. Those who renounce Christianity are “in their essence of the same image of the same Christ.” They will never succeed in creating “another, higher image of man” and their attempts have only resulted in “monstrosities.” Father Paissy tells Alexei this because he wants him to remember that the world’s temptations are strong. Alexei is young and his strength isn’t enough to endure the temptations. He then sends Alexei on his way. Alexei concludes that he has found a loving friend in Father Paissy.
Zosima reminds Alexei of his responsibility to his family, which Zosima encourages him to place above his allegiance to the monastery. On the other hand, Father Paissy worries about Alexei’s vulnerability. He reflects on it in relation to his brothers’ traits. When warning him about those who renounce Christianity and rebel against God, he may as well be talking about Ivan. His warning to Alexei about temptations and being strong enough to endure them may also be referring to Dmitri, and what can happen when one succumbs to weaknesses such as lust and jealousy.