This soldier had been taken prisoner in some remote part of Asia, and was threatened with an immediate agonizing death if he did not renounce Christianity and follow Islam. He refused to deny his faith, and was tortured, flayed alive, and died, praising and glorifying Christ. Grigory had related the story at table. Fyodor Pavlovitch always liked, over the dessert after dinner, to laugh and talk, if only with Grigory. This afternoon he was in a particularly good-humored and expansive mood. Sipping his brandy and listening to the story, he observed that they ought to make a saint of a soldier like that, and to take his skin to some monastery. “That would make the people flock, and bring the money in.”
Grigory frowned, seeing that Fyodor Pavlovitch was by no means touched, but, as usual, was beginning to scoff. At that moment Smerdyakov, who was standing by the door, smiled. Smerdyakov often waited at table towards the end of dinner, and since Ivan's arrival in our town he had done so every day.
“What are you grinning at?” asked Fyodor Pavlovitch, catching the smile instantly, and knowing that it referred to Grigory.
“Well, my opinion is,” Smerdyakov began suddenly and unexpectedly in a loud voice, “that if that laudable soldier's exploit was so very great there would have been, to my thinking, no sin in it if he had on such an emergency renounced, so to speak, the name of Christ and his own christening, to save by that same his life, for good deeds, by which, in the course of years to expiate his cowardice.”
“How could it not be a sin? You're talking nonsense. For that you'll go straight to hell and be roasted there like mutton,” put in Fyodor Pavlovitch.
It was at this point that Alyosha came in, and Fyodor Pavlovitch, as we have seen, was highly delighted at his appearance.
“We're on your subject, your subject,” he chuckled gleefully, making Alyosha sit down to listen.
“As for mutton, that's not so, and there'll be nothing there for this, and there shouldn't be either, if it's according to justice,” Smerdyakov maintained stoutly.
“How do you mean ‘according to justice’?” Fyodor Pavlovitch cried still more gayly, nudging Alyosha with his knee.
“He's a rascal, that's what he is!” burst from Grigory. He looked Smerdyakov wrathfully in the face.
“As for being a rascal, wait a little, Grigory Vassilyevitch,” answered Smerdyakov with perfect composure. “You'd better consider yourself that, once I am taken prisoner by the enemies of the Christian race, and they demand from me to curse the name of God and to renounce my holy christening, I am fully entitled to act by my own reason, since there would be no sin in it.”