Summary—Chapter 1: They Arrive at the Monastery
On a warm, clear day at the end of August, Fyodor Pavlovich and Ivan Karamazov arrive at the monastery for the meeting with Zosima. Pyotr Alexandrovich Miusov, the cousin of Fyodor Pavlovich’s first wife who briefly adopted the young Dmitri, is with them, as is Kalganov, a young relative of Miusov’s who is living with him while preparing to enter a university. None of the men knows much about religion. Miusov, an atheist, has not been in a church for three decades. The men look around the monastery curiously. Miusov detests Fyodor Pavlovich, who intentionally torments Miusov by mocking the monastery and pretending not to understand why Miusov, as an irreligious man, would care what the monks think of him. Miusov angrily chastises himself for letting Fyodor Pavlovich bother him, but Fyodor Pavlovich’s crudeness and vulgarity are so exasperating to Miusov that he cannot control his irritation.
Dmitri has not yet arrived, and the men are shown to Zosima’s cell to wait. The little monk who escorts them tells them that they are all invited to lunch with the Father Superior of the monastery after their meeting.
Summary—Chapter 2: The Old Buffoon
The men enter Zosima’s room just as Zosima himself arrives there, accompanied by Alyosha and a small group of monks. The monks kiss Zosima’s hand in deference and ask for his blessing, but the other men decline to do so and merely bow to him somewhat stiffly. Alyosha is embarrassed by this awkward display of disrespect, but Zosima gives no sign of being troubled.
Fyodor Pavlovich apologizes melodramatically for Dmitri’s lateness and fills the awkward silence in the room with his chatter. Under the pretense of being apologetic for his uncontrollably -buffoonish behavior, Fyodor Pavlovich indulges in a series of increasingly sacrilegious witticisms and stories, well aware that in doing so, he is embarrassing and irritating the other men, especially Miusov, whom he relentlessly teases. Alyosha is mortified by his father’s behavior, but Zosima does not seem to mind it. When Fyodor begins to play the supplicant and asks Zosima for spiritual advice, Alyosha is even more humiliated. But Zosima merely tells him that, if he wants to attain eternal life, he must stop telling lies, especially to himself. Surprisingly, Zosima attributes Fyodor Pavlovich’s clownish behavior to the fact that Fyodor Pavlovich is embarrassed and ashamed of himself, and Zosima earnestly tries to make him more comfortable.
Summary—Chapter 3: Women of Faith
While the group waits for Dmitri, Zosima goes outside to meet with a crowd of women who have come to ask for his spiritual advice and blessings. Most of these women have endured great hardships and have come to Zosima for guidance. Zosima soothes a hysterical woman by covering her with his stole, then hears the story of a woman who has traveled two hundred miles to see him. After her three-year-old son died, she was overwhelmed with grief and left her husband. He tells her to weep for her son, but to remember with each tear that he is now an angel with God. He also tells her to return to her husband, so that her son’s spirit will be able to stay near his parents. A woman whose son has traveled to Siberia with the army asks if it would be acceptable to publish his name among the dead in the church in order to shame him into writing her. Zosima tells her that to do so would be a great sin. A haggard woman tells Zosima about her husband, who beat her. She then whispers something in Zosima’s ear, implying that she murdered her husband. Zosima tells her that God forgives all sins, and as long as she lives in perpetual repentance and loves God, her sin will be forgiven too. Another woman gives Zosima some money to give to a woman poorer than herself, and Zosima blesses her and her baby daughter.
Summary—Chapter 4: A Lady of Little Faith
Zosima then speaks to Madame Khokhlakov, a wealthy landowner who has met him before, and her daughter Lise, a girl with a mischievous look on her face. Madame Khokhlakov tells Zosima that his prayers have healed her daughter, who has been ill and unable to walk, but Zosima suspects that Lise’s recovery is incomplete. Madame Khokhlakov says that she is beset with religious doubt—she not only has trouble believing in the immortality of the soul, she finds it impossible to perform charitable works without expecting praise and admiration in return. Zosima tells her not to worry, but to practice active, committed love for mankind, and God will forgive her flaws simply by virtue of the fact that she is aware of them. In the meantime, Lise teases the self-conscious Alyosha: Lise says that Alyosha was her childhood friend, but since he came to the monastery he never visits her anymore. Zosima warmly promises her that Alyosha will visit her soon.