Father Zossima on Love

Vasily Perov, "Portrait of the Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky," 1872.

Vasily Perov, Portrait of the Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1872.

“Are you speaking the truth? Well, now, after such a confession, I believe that you are sincere and good at heart. If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on the right road, and try not to leave it. Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself. Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute. Avoid being scornful, both to others and to yourself. What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself. Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sort of falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in attaining love. Don’t be frightened overmuch even at your evil actions.

I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it–at that very moment I predict that you will reach it…”

–Father Zossima in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Garnett, trans. (New York, New American Library / Signet Classics, 1980).

From Arcs in Parabola, Volume 8, Number 1: “Guilt.” This issue is available here.