Tag Archives: The Brothers Karamazov

Love is real and it maintains.

mrg&G 5-11 yellow Butte lgFather Alexis Trader in another article on grief, excerpted and linked below, discusses not just the memories we hold of those who are departed, but the love that binds us to them even after our former connection is gone forever. Notice that it is not the loved one who is gone forever, but the nature of the relationship.

That the relationship one has with those who have died can continue to change is something I haven’t given much thought to in my own case, though I have heard of a person asking or offering forgiveness at the gravesite of someone with whom they didn’t have “closure.” Not knowing back then that it would pertain so closely or so soon to my experience, a few months ago I printed out an article from the Internet on the subject of “Dostoevsky and Memory Eternal” but didn’t read it until after my husband died.

I always love the hymn “Memory Eternal” that is sung at the end of every Orthodox funeral service, and I was eager to read what conjunction the writer Donald Sheehan found between it and The Brothers Karamazov, a novel that I also find very meaningful. About half of his article discusses the theology of Fr. Pavel Florensky and conditions of personhood, but it was the second half that most affected me so far, where Sheehan describes the events of his life and how they led to him becoming Orthodox. His father had been the cause of chaos and suffering for his family, but after he died, seemingly in response to his son’s own efforts at reconciliation, the father gives him a great gift.

Thanks be to God, I could not relate to the kind of pain that Sheehan lived with, between me and anyone I’ve known. It was the love he had for his father, of a kind that would not give up even after death, that resonated with me in the first days after my husband died. In his article on Grief and Human Bonds Fr. Alexis quotes two church fathers on this topic:

As Saint John Chrysostom once wrote to a widow, “For such is the power of love, it embraces, and unites, and fastens together not only those who are present, and near, and visible but also those who are far distant; and neither length of time, nor separation in space, nor anything else of that kind can break up and sunder in pieces the affection of the soul” (Letter to a Young Widow). That love was real, is real, and leaving it free to maintain a bond with the beloved is a healthy, real response to grief. When Saint Ambrose of Milan’s brother died, he wrote “My relationship with you is not lost, but changed; before we were inseparable in the body, now we are undivided in affection; for you remain with me, and will always be with me” (Book 1 on the Decease of his Brother Satyrus). In the same spirit, Saint John Chrysostom once consoled a parent who had lost his son, “I beg you, do not say ‘I am no longer called father,’ for why would you not be so called while your son remains? For you surely have not parted with your child or lost your son, but rather obtained him and have him safe.”

At the cemetery this week Fr. Michael exhorted us about the ways we can continue to love those who are no longer present in body. His words, “Do good deeds in their name,” reminded me of the broader concept of living the kind of life that honors the one who has died, and that will keep me on the road that leads to the great rendezvous at the end time. (The thought of that meeting causes me to wonder: Do you suppose we will hug with our new bodies?)

In the words of St. John Chrysostom, I may have my husband safe, but does he have me safe? I am still on my journey, and my love for him will help me to stay on track.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)

 

(Photo credit: Pippin)

Anything less is a bondage.

Fr. Stephen asks rhetorically, “Can You Forgive Someone Else’s Enemies?” with a look at the words and actions of Jesus in the Gospels, and reflecting on the story of The Brothers Karamazov. He writes:

Forgiving is “loosing.” Refusing to forgive is “binding.” The imagery of loosing and binding helps move the imagination away from a legal construction. When we sin, or even when we are involved in sin, we become bound. There is a binding that occurs because we ourselves were the cause of the sin. There is a binding that occurs because we ourselves were the victim of a sin. Thchrist forgiving resurrection 2ere is a binding that occurs because we simply witness the sin. There is even a form of binding that occurs to the whole of humanity because of the diminishment of even one of its members. If everyone were somehow only responsible for their own actions the world would be quite different. As it is, the action of one involves the binding of all. Adam’s sin has left us bound ever since. We are not being held legally responsible for Adam’s action. We are existentially and ontologically bound by Adam’s sin.

These truths are hard to grasp, even for the intellect, and Fr. Stephen helps me quite a bit at that level. But to live in the reality of our freedom, to acquire and absorb and give this kind of liberating love — it’s something impossible, were it not for the fact and the power of the Resurrection. Lent is a good time to pray about this, yes?

I’m looking forward to seeing all of my children at once this weekend, and the thought of them and their tender, breakable and forgiving hearts gives me great comfort; they are a testimony to the kindness of God. And His kindness certainly pertains to the article I was referencing, the whole of which you can read here.

Elder Zosima and his brother

In my reading of The Brothers Karamazov, I came this morning, Monday of Holy Week, to the part “From the Life of the Elder Zosima.” The elder first relates about his older brother, who only at the age of seventeen and sick unto death, turned from anger and scoffing toward a path that might lead to repentance, and seemingly only to please his mother. But that is not an entirely bad reason.

…on Tuesday morning my brother started keeping the fast and going to church. “I’m doing it only for your sake, mother, to give you joy and peace,” he said to her….But he did not go to church for long, he took to his bed, so that he had to confess and receive communion at home. The days grew bright, clear, fragrant — Easter was late that year. All night, I remember, he used to cough, slept badly, but in the morning he would always get dressed and try to sit in an armchair. So I remember him: he sits, quiet and meek, he smiles, he is sick but his countenance is glad, joyful. He was utterly changed in spirit — such a wondrous change had suddenly begun in him!

The young man asked forgiveness of everyone and talked about his great sin, but at the same time was so happy and full of thankfulness and exhortations, that people thought he was going mad.

Thus he awoke every day with more and more tenderness, rejoicing and all atremble with love. The doctor would come — the old German Eisenschmidt used to come to us: “Well, what do you think, doctor, shall I live one more day in the world?” he would joke with him. “Not just one day, you will live many days,” the doctor would answer, “you will live months and years, too.” “But what are years, what are months!” he would exclaim. “Why count the days, when even one day is enough for a man to know all happiness. My dears, why do we quarrel, boast before each other, remember each other’s offenses? Let us go into the garden, let us walk and play and love and praise and kiss each other, and bless our life.”

This older brother died a few weeks after Easter, when the teller of the story, the elder Zosima, was only eight years old. He talks, now near death himself, more about his childhood, and how it was also during Holy Week that he began to see more when he went to church.

But I remember how, even before I learned to read, a certain spiritual perception visited me for the first time, when I was just eight years old. Mother took me to church by myself (I do not remember where my brother was then), during Holy Week, to the Monday liturgy. It was a clear day, and, remembering it now, I seem to see again the incense rising from the censer and quietly ascending upwards, and from above, through a narrow window in the cupola, God’s rays pouring down upon us in the church, and the incense rising up to them in waves, as if dissolving into them. I looked with deep tenderness, and for the first time in my life I consciously received the first seed of the word of God in my soul. A young man walked out into the middle of the church with a big book, so big that it seemed to me he even had difficulty in carrying it, and he placed it on the analogion [lectern], opened it, and began to read, and suddenly, then, for the first time I understood something, for the first time in my life I understood what was read in God’s church.

The reading was from the book of Job. And tonight I myself plan to attend this liturgy, and though I haven’t seen the program for the service, I now have confidence that I will hear this same reading. How many times have I also watched the beams of light shining down when I stood in church, and even felt their heat on my face, like the warmth of God’s Holy Spirit?

The Elder Zosima is a fictional character, but he is believed to be based on a real-life monk in old Russia. In the novel, where I am reading, Zosima goes on in his very moving fashion to tell his life’s story: “– and over all is God’s truth, moving, reconciling, all-forgiving!”

Isn’t it sweet that God should arrange for me to read this passage this morning, to help me in an unusual way to become even more receptive to His being with us tonight by means of hymns such as, “Let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense….,” and the Psalms of Ascent — and the Holy Mysteries!

Last week our bishop was present with us, and he gave us a good word about the last days of Lent — well, technically Lent has come to an end, but we are still in the anticipation and preparation that is Holy Week. He said that Lent is not about finding every bit of dirt in our souls, but about the bridal chamber, about discovering the great love that our Lord Jesus has for us.

Perhaps Zosima’s brother went to a Bridegroom Matins service on Tuesday; we have three of them this week, and tomorrow I hope to attend at 6:30 in the morning. The Lord Himself has been filling my lamp with the oil of His Holy Spirit!