Dorothy Day and Fr Zosima

I’m not sure what had given Dorothy such a warmth for Orthodox Christianity in general and the Russian Orthodox Church in particular, but one of the factors was certainly her love of the books of Dostoevsky, and most of all his novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Perhaps the most important chapter for Dorothy concerns a conversation between a wealthy woman and an elderly monk, Father Zosima. The woman asks him how she can really know that God exists. Fr. Zosima tells her that no explanation or argument can achieve this, only the practice of “active love.” He assures her that there is no other way to know the reality of God. The woman confesses that sometimes she dreams about a life of loving service to others—she thinks perhaps she will become a nun, live in holy poverty and serve the poor in the humblest way. It seems to her such a wonderful thought that it makes tears comes to her eyes. But then it crosses her mind how ungrateful some of the people she is serving will be. Some will complain that the soup she is serving isn’t hot enough, the bread isn’t fresh enough, the bed is too hard, the covers are too thin. She confesses she couldn’t bear such ingratitude—and so her dreams about serving others vanish, and once again she finds herself wondering if there really is a God. To this Fr. Zosima responds with the words, “Love in practice is a hard and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams,” words Dorothy often repeated. I think of the Orthodox monk Father Zosima as somehow a co-founder of all the Catholic Worker houses of hospitality.

By Jim Forrest



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