Chapter 1   -   The Breath of Corruption

    THE body of Father Zossima was prepared for burial according to

the established Ritual. As is well known, the bodies of dead monks and

hermits are not washed. In the words of the Church Ritual: "If any one

of the monks depart in the Lord, the monk designated (that is, whose

office it is) shall wipe the body with warm water, making first the

sign of the cross with a sponge on the forehead of the deceased, on

the breast, on the hands and feet and on the knees, and that is

enough." All this was done by Father Paissy, who then clothed the

deceased in his monastic garb and wrapped him in his cloak, which was,

according to custom, somewhat slit to allow of its being folded

about him in the form of a cross. On his head he put a hood with an

eight-cornered cross. The hood was left open and the dead man's face

was covered with black gauze. In his hands was put an ikon of the

Saviour. Towards morning he was put in the coffin which had been

made ready long before. It was decided to leave the coffin all day

in the cell, in the larger room in which the elder used to receive his

visitors and fellow monks. As the deceased was a priest and monk of

the strictest rule, the Gospel, not the Psalter, had to be read over

his body by monks in holy orders. The reading was begun by Father

Iosif immediately after the requiem service. Father Paissy desired

later on to read the Gospel all day and night over his dead friend,

but for the present he, as well as the Father Superintendent of the

Hermitage, was very busy and occupied, for something extraordinary, an

unheard-of, even "unseemly" excitement and impatient expectation began

to be apparent in the monks, and the visitors from the monastery

hostels, and the crowds of people flocking from the town. And as

time went on, this grew more and more marked. Both the

Superintendent and Father Paissy did their utmost to calm the

general bustle and agitation.

    When it was fully daylight, some people began bringing their sick,

in most cases children, with them from the town- as though they had

been waiting expressly for this moment to do so, evidently persuaded

that the dead elder's remains had a power of healing, which would be

immediately made manifest in accordance with their faith. It was

only then apparent how unquestionably everyone in our town had

accepted Father Zossima during his lifetime as a great saint. And

those who came were far from being all of the humbler classes.

    This intense expectation on the part of believers displayed with

such haste, such openness, even with impatience and almost insistence,

impressed Father Paissy as unseemly. Though he had long foreseen

something of the sort, the actual manifestation of the feeling was

beyond anything he had looked for. When he came across any of the

monks who displayed this excitement, Father Paissy began to reprove

them. "Such immediate expectation of something extraordinary," he

said, "shows a levity, possible to worldly people but unseemly in us."

    But little attention was paid him and Father Paissy noticed it

uneasily. Yet he himself (if the whole truth must be told), secretly

at the bottom of his heart, cherished almost the same hopes and

could not but be aware of it, though he was indignant at the too

impatient expectation around him, and saw in it light-mindedness and

vanity. Nevertheless, it was particularly unpleasant to him to meet

certain persons, whose presence aroused in him great misgivings. In

the crowd in the dead man's cell he noticed with inward aversion

(for which he immediately reproached himself) the presence of

Rakitin and of the monk from Obdorsk, who was still staying in the

monastery. Of both of them Father Paissy felt for some reason suddenly

suspicious- though, indeed, he might well have felt the same about


    The monk from Obdorsk was conspicuous as the most fussy in the

excited crowd. He was to be seen everywhere; everywhere he was

asking questions, everywhere he was listening, on all sides he was

whispering with a peculiar, mysterious air. His expression showed

the greatest impatience and even a sort of irritation.

    As for Rakitin, he, as appeared later, had come so early to the

hermitage at the special request of Madame Hohlakov. As soon as that

good-hearted but weak-minded woman, who could not herself have been

admitted to the hermitage, waked and heard of the death of Father

Zossima, she was overtaken with such intense curiosity that she

promptly despatched Rakitin to the hermitage, to keep a careful look

out and report to her by letter ever half hour or so "everything

that takes place." She regarded Rakitin as a most religious and devout

young man. He was particularly clever in getting round people and

assuming whatever part he thought most to their taste, if he

detected the slightest advantage to himself from doing so.

    It was a bright, clear day, and many of the visitors were

thronging about the tombs, which were particularly numerous round

the church and scattered here and there about the hermitage. As he

walked round the hermitage, Father Paissy remembered Alyosha and

that he had not seen him for some time, not since the night. And he

had no sooner thought of him than he at once noticed him in the

farthest corner of the hermitage garden, sitting on the tombstone of a

monk who had been famous long ago for his saintliness. He sat with his

back to the hermitage and his face to the wall, and seemed to be

hiding behind the tombstone. Going up to him, Father Paissy saw that

he was weeping quietly but bitterly, with his face hidden in his

hands, and that his whole frame was shaking with sobs. Father Paissy

stood over him for a little.

    "Enough, dear son, enough, dear," he pronounced with feeling at

last. "Why do you weep? Rejoice and weep not. Don't you know that this

is the greatest of his days? Think only where he is now, at this


    Alyosha glanced at him, uncovering his face, which was swollen

with crying like a child's, but turned away at once without uttering a

word and hid his face in his hands again.

    "Maybe it is well," said Father Paissy thoughtfully; "weep if

you must; Christ has sent you those tears."

    "Your touching tears are but a relief to your spirit and will

serve to gladden your dear heart," he added to himself, walking away

from Alyosha, and thinking lovingly of him. He moved away quickly,

however, for he felt that he too might weep looking at him.

    Meanwhile the time was passing; the monastery services and the

requiems for the dead followed in their due course. Father Paissy

again took Father Iosif's place by the coffin and began reading the

Gospel. But before three o'clock in the afternoon that something

took place to which I alluded at the end of the last book, something

so unexpected by all of us and so contrary to the general hope,

that, I repeat, this trivial incident has been minutely remembered

to this day in our town and all the surrounding neighbourhood. I may

add here, for myself personally, that I feel it almost repulsive

that event which caused such frivolous agitation and was such a

stumbling-block to many, though in reality it was the most natural and

trivial matter. I should, of course, have omitted all mention of it in

my story, if it had not exerted a very strong influence on the heart

and soul of the chief, though future, hero of my story, Alyosha,

forming a crisis and turning-point in his spiritual development,

giving a shock to his intellect, which finally strengthened it for the

rest of his life and gave it a definite aim.

    And so, to return to our story. When before dawn they laid

Father Zossima's body in the coffin and brought it into the front

room, the question of opening the windows was raised among those who

were around the coffin. But this suggestion made casually by someone

was unanswered and almost unnoticed. Some of those present may perhaps

have inwardly noticed it, only to reflect that the anticipation of

decay and corruption from the body of such a saint was an actual

absurdity, calling for compassion (if not a smile) for the lack of

faith and the frivolity it implied. For they expected something

quite different.

    And, behold, soon after midday there were signs of something, at

first only observed in silence by those who came in and out and were

evidently each afraid to communicate the thought in his mind. But by

three o'clock those signs had become so clear and unmistakable, that

the news swiftly reached all the monks and visitors in the

hermitage, promptly penetrated to the monastery, throwing all the

monks into amazement, and finally, in the shortest possible time,

spread to the town, exciting everyone in it, believers and unbelievers

alike. The unbelievers rejoiced, and as for the believers some of them

rejoiced even more than the unbelievers, for "men love the downfall

and disgrace of the righteous," as the deceased elder had said in

one of his exhortations.

    The fact is that a smell of decomposition began to come from the

coffin, growing gradually more marked, and by three o'clock it was

quite unmistakable. In all the past history of our monastery, no

such scandal could be recalled, and in no other circumstances could

such a scandal have been possible, as showed itself in unseemly

disorder immediately after this discovery among the very monks

themselves. Afterwards, even many years afterwards, some sensible

monks were amazed and horrified, when they recalled that day, that the

scandal could have reached such proportions. For in the past, monks of

very holy life had died, God-fearing old men, whose saintliness was

acknowledged by all, yet from their humble coffins, too, the breath of

corruption had come, naturally, as from all dead bodies, but that

had caused no scandal nor even the slightest excitement. Of course,

there had been, in former times, saints in the monastery whose

memory was carefully preserved and whose relics, according to

tradition, showed no signs of corruption. This fact was regarded by

the monks as touching and mysterious, and the tradition of it was

cherished as something blessed and miraculous, and as a promise, by

God's grace, of still greater glory from their tombs in the future.

    One such, whose memory was particularly cherished, was an old

monk, Job, who had died seventy years before at the age of a hundred

and five. He had been a celebrated ascetic, rigid in fasting and

silence, and his tomb was pointed out to all visitors on their arrival

with peculiar respect and mysterious hints of great hopes connected

with it. (That was the very tomb on which Father Paissy had found

Alyosha sitting in the morning.) Another memory cherished in the

monastery was that of the famous Father Varsonofy, who was only

recently dead and had preceded Father Zossima in the eldership. He was

reverenced during his lifetime as a crazy saint by all the pilgrims to

the monastery. There was a tradition that both of these had lain in

their coffins as though alive, that they had shown no signs of

decomposition when they were buried and that there had been a holy

light in their faces. And some people even insisted that a sweet

fragrance came from their bodies.

    Yet, in spite of these edifying memories, it would be difficult to

explain the frivolity, absurdity and malice that were manifested

beside the coffin of Father Zossima. It is my private opinion that

several different causes were simultaneously at work, one of which was

the deeply rooted hostility to the institution of elders as a

pernicious innovation, an antipathy hidden deep in the hearts of

many of the monks. Even more powerful was jealousy of the dead man's

saintliness, so firmly established during lifetime that it was

almost a forbidden thing to question it. For though the late elder had

won over many hearts, more by love than by miracles, and had

gathered round him a mass of loving adherents, none the less, in fact,

rather the more on that account he had awakened jealousy and so had

come to have bitter enemies, secret and open, not only in the

monastery but in the world outside it. He did no one any harm, but

"Why do they think him so saintly?" And that question alone, gradually

repeated, gave rise at last to an intense, insatiable hatred of him.

That, I believe, was why many people were extremely delighted at the

smell of decomposition which came so quickly, for not a day had passed

since his death. At the same time there were some among those who

had been hitherto reverently devoted to the elder, who were almost

mortified and personally affronted by this incident. This was how

the thing happened.

    As soon as signs of decomposition had begun to appear, the whole

aspect of the monks betrayed their secret motives in entering the

cell. They went in, stayed a little while and hastened out to

confirm the news to the crowd of other monks waiting outside. Some

of the latter shook their heads mournfully, but others did not even

care to conceal the delight which gleamed unmistakably in their

malignant eyes. And now no one reproached them for it, no one raised

his voice in protest, which was strange, for the majority of the monks

had been devoted to the dead elder. But it seemed as though God had in

this case let the minority get the upper hand for a time.

    Visitors from outside, particularly of the educated class, soon

went into the cell, too, with the same spying intent. Of the peasantry

few went into the cell, though there were crowds of them at the

gates of the hermitage. After three o'clock the rush of worldly

visitors was greatly increased and this was no doubt owing to the

shocking news. People were attracted who would not otherwise have come

on that day and had not intended to come, and among them were some

personages of high standing. But external decorum was still

preserved and Father Paissy, with a stern face, continued firmly and

distinctly reading aloud the Gospel, apparently not noticing what

was taking place around him, though he had, in fact, observed

something unusual long before. But at last the murmurs, first

subdued but gradually louder and more confident, reached even him. "It

shows God's judgment is not as man's," Father Paissy heard suddenly.

The first to give utterance to this sentiment was a layman, an elderly

official from the town, known to be a man of great piety. But he

only repeated aloud what the monks had long been whispering. They

had long before formulated this damning conclusion, and the worst of

it was that a sort of triumphant satisfaction at that conclusion

became more and more apparent every moment. Soon they began to lay

aside even external decorum and almost seemed to feel they had a

sort of right to discard it.

    "And for what reason can this have happened," some of the monks

said, at first with a show of regret; "he had a small frame and his

flesh was dried up on his bones, what was there to decay?"

    "It must be a sign from heaven," others hastened to add, and their

opinion was adopted at once without protest. For it was pointed out,

too, that if the decomposition had been natural, as in the case of

every dead sinner, it would have been apparent later, after a lapse of

at least twenty-four hours, but this premature corruption "was in

excess of nature," and so the finger of God was evident. It was

meant for a sign. This conclusion seemed irresistible.

    Gentle Father Iosif, the librarian, a great favourite of the

dead man's, tried to reply to some of the evil speakers that "this

is not held everywhere alike," and that the incorruptibility of the

bodies of the just was not a dogma of the Orthodox Church, but only an

opinion, and that even in the most Orthodox regions, at Athos for

instance, they were not greatly confounded by the smell of corruption,

and there the chief sign of the glorification of the saved was not

bodily incorruptibility, but the colour of the bones when the bodies

have lain many years in the earth and have decayed in it. "And if

the bones are yellow as wax, that is the great sign that the Lord

has glorified the dead saint, if they are not yellow but black, it

shows that God has not deemed him worthy of such glory- that is the

belief in Athos, a great place, which the Orthodox doctrine has been

preserved from of old, unbroken and in its greatest purity," said

Father Iosif in conclusion.

    But the meek Father's words had little effect and even provoked

a mocking retort. "That's all pedantry and innovation, no use

listening to it," the monks decided. "We stick to the old doctrine;

there are all sorts of innovations nowadays, are we to follow them

all?" added others.

    "We have had as many holy fathers as they had. There they are

among the Turks, they have forgotten everything. Their doctrine has

long been impure and they have no bells even, the most sneering added.

    Father Iosif walked away, grieving the more since he had put

forward his own opinion with little confidence as though scarcely

believing in it himself. He foresaw with distress that something

very unseemly was beginning and that there were positive signs of

disobedience. Little by little, all the sensible monks were reduced to

silence like Father Iosif. And so it came to pass that all who loved

the elder and had accepted with devout obedience the institution of

the eldership were all at once terribly cast down and glanced

timidly in one another's faces, when they met. Those who were

hostile to the institution of elders, as a novelty, held up their

heads proudly. "There was no smell of corruption from the late elder

Varsonofy, but a sweet fragrance," they recalled malignantly. "But

he gained that glory not because he was an elder, but because he was a

holy man."

    And this was followed by a shower of criticism and even blame of

Father Zossima. "His teaching was false; he taught that life is a

great joy and not a vale of tears," said some of the more

unreasonable. "He followed the fashionable belief, he did not

recognise material fire in hell," others, still more unreasonable,

added. "He was not strict in fasting, allowed himself sweet things,

ate cherry jam with his tea, ladies used to send it to him. Is it

for a monk of strict rule to drink tea?" could be heard among some

of the envious. "He sat in pride," the most malignant declared

vindictively; "he considered himself a saint and he took it as his due

when people knelt before him." "He abused the sacrament of

confession," the fiercest opponents of the institution of elders added

in a malicious whisper. And among these were some of the oldest monks,

strictest in their devotion, genuine ascetics, who had kept silent

during the life of the deceased elder, but now suddenly unsealed their

lips. And this was terrible, for their words had great influence on

young monks who were not yet firm in their convictions. The monk

from Obdorsk heard all this attentively, heaving deep sighs and

nodding his head. "Yes, clearly Father Ferapont was right in his

judgment yesterday," and at that moment Father Ferapont himself made

his appearance, as though on purpose to increase the confusion.

    I have mentioned already that he rarely left his wooden cell by

the apiary. He was seldom even seen at church and they overlooked this

neglect on the ground of his craziness, and did not keep him to the

rules binding on all the rest. But if the whole truth is to be told,

they hardly had a choice about it. For it would have been

discreditable to insist on burdening with the common regulations so

great an ascetic, who prayed day and night (he even dropped asleep

on his knees). If they had insisted, the monks would have said, "He is

holier than all of us and he follows a rule harder than ours. And if

he does not go to church, it's because he knows when he ought to; he

has his own rule." It was to avoid the chance of these sinful

murmurs that Father Ferapont was left in peace.

    As everyone was aware, Father Ferapont particularly disliked

Father Zossima. And now the news had reached him in his hut that

"God's judgment is not the same as man's," and that something had

happened which was "in excess of nature." It may well be supposed that

among the first to run to him with the news was the monk from Obdorsk,

who had visited him the evening before and left his cell


    I have mentioned above, that though Father Paissy standing firm

and immovable reading the Gospel over the coffin, could not hear nor

see what was passing outside the cell, he gauged most of it

correctly in his heart, for he knew the men surrounding him well. He

was not shaken by it, but awaited what would come next without fear,

watching with penetration and insight for the outcome of the general


    Suddenly an extraordinary uproar in the passage in open defiance

of decorum burst on his ears. The door was flung open and Father

Ferapont appeared in the doorway. Behind him there could be seen

accompanying him a crowd of monks, together with many people from

the town. They did not, however, enter the cell, but stood at the

bottom of the steps, waiting to see what Father Ferapont would say

or do. For they felt with a certain awe, in spite of their audacity,

that he had not come for nothing. Standing in the doorway, Father

Ferapont raised his arms, and under his right arm the keen inquisitive

little eyes of the monk from Obdorsk peeped in. He alone, in his

intense curiosity, could not resist running up the steps after

Father Ferapont. The others, on the contrary, pressed farther back

in sudden alarm when the door was noisily flung open. Holding his

hands aloft, Father Ferapont suddenly roared:

    "Casting out I cast out!" and, turning in all directions, he began

at once making the sign of the cross at each of the four walls and

four corners of the cell in succession. All who accompanied Father

Ferapont immediately understood his action. For they knew he always

did this wherever he went, and that he would not sit down or say a

word, till he had driven out the evil spirits.

    "Satan, go hence! Satan, go hence!" he repeated at each sign of

the cross. "Casting out I cast out," he roared again.

    He was wearing his coarse gown girt with a rope. His bare chest,

covered with grey hair, could be seen under his hempen shirt. His feet

were bare. As soon as he began waving his arms, the cruel irons he

wore under his gown could be heard clanking.

    Father Paissy paused in his reading, stepped forward and stood

before him waiting

    "What have you come for, worthy Father? Why do you offend

against good order? Why do you disturb the peace of the flock?" he

said at last, looking sternly at him.

    "What have I come for? You ask why? What is your faith?" shouted

Father Ferapont crazily. "I've come here to drive out your visitors,

the unclean devils. I've come to see how many have gathered here while

I have been away. I want to sweep them out with a birch broom."

    "You cast out the evil spirit, but perhaps you are serving him

yourself," Father Paissy went on fearlessly. "And who can say of

himself 'I am holy'? Can you, Father?"

    "I am unclean, not holy. I would not sit in an arm-chair and would

not have them bow down to me as an idol," thundered Father Ferapont.

"Nowadays folk destroy the true faith. The dead man, your saint," he

turned to the crowd, pointing with his finger to the coffin, "did

not believe in devils. He gave medicine to keep off the devils. And so

they have become as common as spiders in the corners. And now he has

begun to stink himself. In that we see a great sign from God."

    The incident he referred to was this. One of the monks was haunted

in his dreams and, later on, in waking moments, by visions of evil

spirits. When in the utmost terror he confided this to Father Zossima,

the elder had advised continual prayer and rigid fasting. But when

that was of no use, he advised him while persisting in prayer and

fasting, to take a special medicine. Many persons were shocked at

the time and wagged their heads as they talked over it- and most of

all Father Ferapont, to whom some of the censorious had hastened to

report this "extraordinary" counsel on the part of the elder.

    "Go away, Father!" said Father Paissy, in a commanding voice,

"it's not for man to judge but for God. Perhaps we see here a 'sign'

which neither you, nor I, nor anyone of us is able to comprehend.

Go, Father, and do not trouble the flock!" he repeated impressively.

    "He did not keep the fasts according to the rule and therefore the

sign has come. That is clear and it's a sin to hide it," the

fanatic, carried away by a zeal that outstripped his reason, would not

be quieted. "He was seduced by sweetmeats, ladies brought them to

him in their pockets, he sipped tea, he worshipped his belly,

filling it with sweet things and his mind with haughty thoughts....

And for this he is put to shame...."

    "You speak lightly, Father." Father Paissy, too, raised his voice.

"I admire your fasting and severities, but you speak lightly like some

frivolous youth, fickle and childish. Go away, Father, I command you!"

Father Paissy thundered in conclusion.

    "I will go," said Ferapont, seeming somewhat taken aback, but

still as bitter. "You learned men! You are so clever you look down

upon my humbleness. I came hither with little learning and here I have

forgotten what I did know; God Himself has preserved me in my weakness

from your subtlety."

    Father Paissy stood over him, waiting resolutely. Father

Ferapont paused and, suddenly leaning his cheek on his hand

despondently, pronounced in a sing-song, voice, looking at the

coffin of the dead elder:

    "To-morrow they will sing over him 'Our Helper and Defender'- a

splendid anthem- and over me when I die all they'll sing will be 'What

Earthly Joy'- a little cantical,"* he added with tearful regret.

"You are proud and puffed up, this is a vain place!" he shouted

suddenly like a madman, and with a wave of his hand he turned

quickly and quickly descended the steps. The crowd awaiting him

below wavered; some followed him at once and some lingered, for the

cell was still open, and Father Paissy, following Father Ferapont on

to the steps, stood watching him. the excited old fanatic was not

completely silenced. Walking twenty steps away, he suddenly turned

towards the setting sun, raised both his arms and, as though someone

had cut him down, fell to the ground with a loud scream.

    * When a monk's body is carried out from the cell to the church

and from the church to the graveyard, the canticle "What Earthly

Joy..." is sung. If the deceased was a priest as well as a monk the

canticle "Our Helper and Defender" is sung instead.

    "My God has conquered! Christ has conquered the setting sun!" he

shouted frantically, stretching up his hands to the sun, and falling

face downwards on the ground, he sobbed like a little child, shaken by

his tears and spreading out his arms on the ground. Then all rushed up

to him; there were exclamations and sympathetic sobs... a kind of

frenzy seemed to take possession of them all.

    "This is the one who is a saint! This is the one who is a holy

man!" some cried aloud, losing their fear. "This is he who should be

an elder," others added malignantly.

    "He wouldn't be an elder... he would refuse... he wouldn't serve a

cursed innovation... he wouldn't imitate their foolery," other

voices chimed in at once. And it is hard to say how far they might

have gone, but at that moment the bell rang summoning them to service.

All began crossing themselves at once. Father Ferapont, too, got up

and crossing himself went back to his cell without looking round,

still uttering exclamations which were utterly incoherent. A few

followed him, but the greater number dispersed, hastening to

service. Father Paissy let Father Iosif read in his place and went

down. The frantic outcries of bigots could not shake him, but his

heart was suddenly filled with melancholy for some special reason

and he felt that. He stood still and suddenly wondered, "Why am I

sad even to dejection?" and immediately grasped with surprise that his

sudden sadness was due to a very small and special cause. In the crowd

thronging at the entrance to the cell, he had noticed Alyosha and he

remembered that he had felt at once a pang at heart on seeing him.

"Can that boy mean so much to my heart now?" he asked himself,


    At that moment Alyosha passed him, hurrying away, but not in the

direction of the church. Their eyes met. Alyosha quickly turned away

his eyes and dropped them to the ground, and from the boy's look

alone, Father Paissy guessed what a great change was taking place in

him at that moment.

    "Have you, too, fallen into temptation?" cried Father Paissy. "Can

you be with those of little faith?" he added mournfully.

    Alyosha stood still and gazed vaguely at Father Paissy, but

quickly turned his eyes away again and again looked on the ground.

He stood sideways and did not turn his face to Father Paissy, who

watched him attentively.

    "Where are you hastening? The bell calls to service," he asked

again, but again Alyosha gave no answer.

    "Are you leaving the hermitage? What, without asking leave,

without asking a blessing?"

    Alyosha suddenly gave a wry smile, cast a strange, very strange,

look at the Father to whom his former guide, the former sovereign of

his heart and mind, his beloved elder, had confided him as he lay

dying. And suddenly, still without speaking, waved his hand, as though

not caring even to be respectful, and with rapid steps walked

towards the gates away from the hermitage.

    "You will come back again!" murmured Father Paissy, looking

after him with sorrowful surprise.