Rediscovering his faith and love for humanity, Alyosha is compelled to the Earth’s surface and embraces the ground with a raging river of tears and the promise of forgiveness for all. Bits and pieces of the world of God are placed together in a magnificent painting and from the weather-beaten soil rises a fighter for humanity. Purpose in what appears to be a dim world unveils itself through the expression of active love, therefore suggesting a meaningless life is one self-enclosed and unprompted by responsibility for everyone and everything. As mentioned in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov God is love, and possessing active love is how most find meaning in a world where there is no apparent rhyme or reason. Human beings who assert that life is capricious and insignificant find themselves alienated and unable to attain active love. The idea of a meaningful life has traversed into the twenty-first century, where the younger generation facing overall dissatisfaction with life tends to lean toward an individualistic lifestyle that hides away from love.
An individual truly possesses active love upon successfully escaping the chains that attach themselves with every mishap one executes. The way of a monk which entails obedience, fasting, and prayer offers solace in a meaningful life because an individual loves their life when they are close to God. Therefore, accepting the call and becoming a Russian monk as Zosima does can be interpreted through the Christian ecopoetic tradition of identity as relational to others and ultimately to God as Christ in the Christian Trinity. Acting as a true monk, Elder Zosima’s identity becomes tied with God, as he acts with good faith and is characterized as a holy man. Zosima is considered a saint with great influence among the monks, for he is known for being irrevocably devoted in aiding his followers. In addition, Zosima is characterized as a moral compass who never wavers from his homilies himself. The monk consistently preaches about love, even claiming that hell is the inability to love. This idea of hell is an original idea, for he sets it up as, “man’s own choice against love” and later apologizes for the dim nature of conversation (Van Den Bercken). His homilies instruct, “Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love” (Dostoevsky, 319). Thus, a religious perspective focused on love is outlined where meaning is found in faith. In addition, contrary to popular belief the seclusion that comes with being a monk, “no one attains such loving attention, such sensitive understanding of another’s life, such breath of the world-embracing universal life as a hermit” (Frank, 91).
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To love all is to be responsible for the sins of all. Loving your neighbors and feeling guilty for everything and everybody is expressed by Zosima’s Talks and Homilies, therefore portraying that meaning is given to a life when one possesses active love comparable to the Lord. Zosima develops this theme of all encompassing guilt by claiming, “only with this realisation of guilt can man become capable of ‘an unending universal love that knows no satiation’” (Van Den Bercken, 70). Thus, active love is intertwined with the feeling of responsibility for humanity and as a result, a sense of community and purpose in life. From Talks and Homilies of the Elder Zosima includes Zosima encouraging others to take on the suffering of wicked people so that, “your heart will be eased, and you will understand that you, too, are guilty for you might have shone to the wicked, even like the only sinless One” (Dostoevsky, 321). Thus, to truly engage in active love similar to Christ, one must employ self emptying which is a part of the relational identity ecopoetic tradition. This Christian tradition is rooted in the paradoxical idea where one one finds him or herself by losing him or herself. Thus, the idea of purposeful self emptying is stressed when Zosima says, “your work is for the whole, your deed is for the future” (Dostoevsky, 322). Likewise, S.L Frank explains relational identity by claiming, “We genuinely find ourselves and our life for the first time when we sacrifice ourselves and our empirical isolation and self-enclosedness, and establish our entire being in another-in God, as the original source of all life” (89).
Therefore, one must love even those who make themselves strangers to love. Loving those who have sinned also provides life with meaning because one is still engaging in self emptying as opposed to self-enclosedness. Therefore Zosima who asserts, “Christ will not be angered by love,” confesses that he prays for souls rejected by the Church despite it being considered a sin (Dostoevsky, 323). In a historical context, Zosima’s beliefs are similar to St. Tikhon Zadonsky who Dostoevsky, “had taken to his heart with enthusiasm” (Mochulsky, 633). St. Tikhon was a holy man who wrote about Christian love and also believed in restoring those who turned away from God. Nevertheless, “Zosima is not a representative of historical Russian monasticism; he is directed toward the future as a herald of the new spiritual consciousness of the Russain people” (Mochulsky, 635). Centuries on Charity by Maximus the Confessor asserts love is found in kindness and patience and, “the one who acts contentiously or wickedly clearly makes himself a stranger to love, and the one who is a stranger to love is a stranger to God, since “God is love” ” (I Jn. 4:8; Foltz, 181).
Frank, S.L. The Meaning of Life. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010
Foltz, Bruce. Medieval Philosophy: A Multicultural Reader. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.
Mochulsky, Konstantin. Dostoevsky ; His Life and Work: Translated and Introduction by Michael A. Minihan. Princeton University Press, 1967.
Van den Bercken, W. (2011). The Spirituality of the Monk Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. In Christian Fiction and Religious Realism in the Novels of Dostoevsky (pp. 63-82). Anthem Press. doi:10.7135/UPO9780857289452.007