Praying with Zossima and Dostoevsky

My favorite author is Fyodor Dostoevsky (aside from Saint Athanasius and the authors of the Bible). I highly recommend that you read, at minimum, two of his novels: The Brothers Karamazov and Crime & Punishment (note: the two links are FREE Kindle downloads, and Kindle apps are available for free on computers and phones! You have no excuses!) In these two books you find amazing theological themes of sin, grace, justice, mercy, salvation, etc. Reading Dostoevsky is truly a spiritual exercise for me and I wish I could devote more of my time to reading his works. In the Brothers K, Father Zossima is the character who gives many words of Orthodox wisdom — especially to Alyosha, one of the Brothers who is told to live the life of a monk in the world by taking a wife. I wish Dostoevsky had survived long enough to finish the sequel to this book so that he could explain the latter part of Alyosha’s life! However, Fyodor’s time came to an end on February 9th, 1881. I wish to share an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov (p.293). In this quote, Father Zossima teaches us on the necessity of prayer, I hope that it brings you hope and encourages you to pray:

Young man, be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education. Remember too, every day, and whenever you can, repeat to yourself, “Lord, have mercy on all who appear before Thee today.” For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will rise up to God though you knew them not nor they knew you. How touching it must be to a soul standing in dread before the Lord to feel at that instant that, for him too, there is one to pray, that there is a fellow creature left on earth to love him too! And God will look on you both more graciously, for you have had pity on him, how much will He have pity Who is infinitely more loving and merciful than you! And He will forgive him for your sake.

Brothers, have no fear of men’s sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love….

At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men’s sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it….

My friends, pray to God for gladness. Be glad as children, as the birds of heaven. And let not the sin of men confound you in your doings. Fear not that it will wear away your work and hinder its being accomplished. Do not say, “Sin is mighty, wickedness is mighty, evil environment is mighty, and we are lonely and helpless, and evil environment is wearing us away and hindering our good work from being done.” Fly from that dejection, children! There is only one means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men’s sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and you are to blame for everyone and for all things. But throwing your own indolence and impotence on others you will end by sharing the pride of Satan and murmuring against God.

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