Zosima talks about what a monk is and his significance. Though he acknowledges the presences of those who are “pleasure-seekers,” there are others who are “humble and meek.” He talks, too, about how people are saying that the world is becoming more united in a “brotherly communion.” He encourages his listeners not to believe this. The monastic way is “the way to real and true freedom.”
Unlike Father Ferapont, Zosima is less interested in the rituals of monasticism than he is in the service that monks perform for the public. He believes that they can act as examples of what an egalitarian society could look like.
Zosima asserts that Russia will be saved by its people and that the monastery has always been on the side of the people. However, the people “are festering with drink.” Children as young as ten, Zosima says, work in factories and crave wine. Still, he thinks that God will save Russia, which knows that it is sinning—that is, the simple man knows, while his betters think that they can create a just order with reason alone.
Zosima thinks that the country, which is shifting to a modern era, will revert to the better part of human nature and create a mutually beneficial society. However, he mentions that the country has grave social ills, such as the corruption of children, that it still must overcome.
Zosima goes on to say that, in Europe, people are rising up against the rich. On the other hand, in Russia, despite two centuries of serfdom, the people are neither “vengeful” nor “envious.” They honor those who have more but also demand that they be regarded as men equally worthy of respect. Zosima believes that God will save a country that is so “great in her humility.” He says that “the most corrupt” rich men will be ashamed of their obscene wealth, resulting in class equality.
The conditions that Zosima describes are prophetic; they seem to anticipate the Russian Revolution of 1917. However, he also overestimates the egalitarian spirit of his people. Envy and the desire for revenge are natural responses for those who have been oppressed and exploited. Smerdyakov is an example of the serf who rises up against the rich.
Zosima narrates a story in which he one day met Afanasy by chance in a marketplace. It had been eight years since they had last seen each other. Afanasy was delighted and took Zosima to meet his wife and two small children. The family sold items at the market. Afanasy lived in a home that was “poor, but clean, [and] joyful.” He wept at the sight of his former master and asked Zosima what he did with his wealth. Zosima said that he gave it to the monastery. After tea, Zosima said goodbye to the family. Afanasy hurriedly gave him fifty kopecks—a donation to the monastery. Zosima never saw him again, but, when they kissed, “a great human communion” took place. Zosima wonders if such a communion might one day take place throughout Russia.
Afanasy can relate more easily to Zosima now because he is poor and has humbled himself before the Lord. This proves, to some degree, Zosima’s belief that true brotherhood can exist through the monastery, which teaches men how to regard others as their natural equals. Despite his poverty, Afanasy wants to give money to the Church, a sign of his own devotion as well as his wish to show that he is willing to contribute to Zinovy’s purpose—another gesture that equalizes them. Zinovy relies on such donations as much as Afanasy relies on the Church for comfort.
Zosima advises that one pray sincerely. for prayer is education. He also says that one shouldn’t be afraid of another man’s sin but should love him. One should love all of God’s creations, particularly children who are “sinless, like angels.” It was Father Anfim who taught Zosima to love children. He would spend some of the kopecks given to them as alms on gingerbread and candy.
Zossima sees prayer as a form of meditation, intended to bring one into closer communion with God. In this communion, one accepts the weaknesses of others, seeing that we are all children of the same God. Like Ivan, Zosima focuses on the innocence of children, but he draws a much more positive conclusion from his musings than Ivan does.
Zosima then tells his listeners about hell, which he defines as no longer being able to love. People speak of the material torment of flames, but these would be preferable over “spiritual torment.” There are, however, “those who remain proud and fierce even in hell,” who are “in communion with Satan and his proud spirit.” For them, hell “is voluntary and insatiable.” They suffer, Zosima says, according to their own will, due to cursing God. They will burn “in the fire of their wrath,” but they will never find death.
Zosima dissuades people from thinking about hell as a literal place filled with fire and devils who torment them—an image evoked both from Scripture and later Church doctrine. Instead, he sees hell as the state of misery. The “devils” are not actual evil beings, but the evil acts that attack one’s conscience.
Alexei’s manuscript ends here, but it is “incomplete and fragmentary.” The elder Zosima’s death comes rather unexpectedly. He seems to feel pain in his chest. He then turns pale and “pressed his hands firmly to his heart.” Everyone rises from their seats and rushes toward him. He gazes at them, smiling. He “lowered himself from his armchair to the floor and knelt.” He then bows his face to the ground and stretches out his arms. Before dawn, the town hears about his death. Townspeople rush to the monastery. That same day, something “strange, disturbing, and bewildering” occurs.
Zosima’s reaction to death is not fear or an expression of pain. His gesture of pressing his hands to his heart could easily be perceived as a gesture of love, while his smile signals a feeling of rapture. He then descends to his knees for what seems to be a final prayer. With his elder gone, Alexei must now reenter the world and engage in the complexities of his family life, which will overwhelm him. The world Zosima represents is about to be replaced by the darker, more sensual, and sometimes even nihilistic world of the Karamazovs.