Alexei returns to the hermitage very late. The gatekeeper lets him in “by a special entrance,” and Alexei goes to the elder’s cell, where his coffin now rests. Father Paissy is reading the Gospel over the coffin. The window is open, letting in “fresh and rather cool” air. Alexei thinks that the smell must’ve gotten worse for them to open the window. He listens to Father Paissy reading passages from the Gospel about the marriage that took place in Cana of Galilee. Alexei comments on the part that he loves, when Christ turns water into wine, bringing joy. Then, he starts dozing off.
Reading the Gospel is part of the funerary ritual according to the Russian Orthodox Church. The idea of the elder Zosima’s still-rotting flesh is a reminder of what the monk never denied—he’s human, not divine. This is also why he was so aligned with the natural world and the more sensual aspects of life. Alexei is, too, though he doesn’t yet seem to know it. His interest in the aforementioned Biblical passage is an indication of this, as he enjoys the fact that Christ made wine simply to bring delight to his friends. This seems much more aligned with Zosima’s view of Christianity than the harsher, more ascetic religion of some of the monks.
Suddenly, Alexei hears the elder Zosima’s voice. The voice asks Alexei why he’s hiding, and tells him to join the others in drinking wine—"the wine of a new and great joy.” In the dream, they are at a wedding. Zosima, who appears as a “little wizened man,” says that he’s there because he gave an onion and that there are many others who gave only “one little onion.” Zosima tells Alexei that he, too, was able “to give a little onion to a woman who hungered.” Alexei feels a burning in his heart, then “tears of rapture nearly burst from his soul.” He stretches out his hands, gives a little cry, and wakens.
Alexei’s “hiding” suggests his tendency to avoid physical pleasures as an avowal of his communion with God. This is demonstrated when he refuses Rakitin’s offer of champagne, when he chooses only to drink coffee when his father offers him breakfast, and, most particularly, in his embarrassment around women, who remind him of his potential for sexual desire. The return of the image of the onion is a reminder of the idea that a single act of love has the potential to redeem a person.
Alexei fell asleep on his knees, but now he’s standing. He goes to the coffin and looks at it for about thirty seconds. Zosima’s corpse is covered up, and there’s an icon on his chest. Just a moment ago, Alexei heard the elder’s voice, and now he wants to hear more. Suddenly, his soul yearns for freedom. He walks outside. He’s in a state of rapture and begins to weep, but he doesn’t know why. He feels that he wants “to forgive everyone for everything, and to ask forgiveness” for everything. Three days later, Alexei decides to leave the monastery, following the words of his elder, who encouraged him to “sojourn with the world.”
Alexei’s feeling of wanting to forgive mirrors Zosima’s deathbed narrative about his older brother Markel who, before he died, was overwhelmed by empathy and wished to forgive all offenses and take on the suffering of those who had been offended. This overflow of emotion is also an example of the characteristic Karamazov passion, though Alexei turns this kind of fervor to a productive rather than destructive purpose. With Zosima gone, Alexei has no reason to remain at the monastery, and many of its members have now offended him by trying to dishonor Zosima’s memory.