10/10/16

The Way of a Pilgrim

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.

After hearing about the book The Way of a Pilgrim in numerous conversations and other books about Orthodoxy, I borrowed a copy from our church's library. I spend the remainder of Sunday afternoon in bed reading - unable to put the book down. The book records the spiritual and physical journey of a Russian pilgrim in the 1850s who, after hearing in a sermon the exhortation of St. Paul to "pray without ceasing," makes it his life aim to discover how one truly can pray without ceasing and to dedicate himself to a habit of constant inward prayer. With just a Bible and a copy of the Philokalia - a collection of writings on prayer by the Eastern Orthodox spiritual Fathers - he journeys across Russia, meeting spiritual mentors along the way. I had to hold myself back from bookmarking every other page (at least until my own copy arrives from Amazon...) so I thought I would put some of the passages here for reference and remembrance. 

"Consequently it is just to pray often, to pray always, which falls within our power as the means of attaining purity of prayer, which is the mother of all spiritual blessings. 'Capture the Mother, and she will bring you the children,' said St. Isaac the Syrian. Learn first to acquire the power of prayer and you will easily practice all the other virtues" (8).

"It costs nothing but the effort to sink down in silence into the depths of one's heart and call more and more upon the radiant Name of Jesus. Everyone who does that feels at once the inward light, everything becomes understandable to him, he even catches sight in this light of some of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God" (88-9).

"Then picture to yourself your heart in just the same way, turn your eyes to it just as though you were looking at it through your breast, and picture it as clearly as you can. And with your ears listen closely to its beating, beat by beat. When you have got into the way of doing this, begin to fit the words of the Prayer to the beats of the heart one after the other, looking at it all the time. Thus, with the first beat, say or think 'Lord,' with the second, 'Jesus,' with the third, 'Christ,' with the fourth, 'have mercy,' and with the fifth, 'on me.' And do it over and over again. This will come easily to you, for you already know the groundwork and the first part of praying with the heart. Afterwards, when you have grown used to what I have just told you about, you must begin bringing the whole Prayer of Jesus into and out of your heart in time with your breathing, as the Fathers taught. Thus, as you draw your breath in, say, or imagine yourself saying, 'Lord Jesus Christ,' and as you breathe again, 'have mercy on me.' Do this as often and as much as you can, and in a short space of time you will feel a slight and not unpleasant pain in your heart, followed by a warmth. Thus by God's help you will get the joy of self-acting inward prayer of the heart" (102-3).

"No prayer, good or bad, fails in God's sight. Lightness, warmth and gladness show that God is rewarding and consoling us for the effort, while heaviness, darkness and dryness mean that God is cleansing and strengthening the soul, and by this wholesome trial is saving it, preparing it in humility for the enjoyment of blessed happiness in the future" (143).

"Frequency of prayer certainly forms a habit and becomes second nature. It brings the mind and the heart into a proper state from time to time. Suppose a man continually fullfils this one commandment of God about ceaseless prayer, then in that one thing he would have fulfilled all; for it he uninterruptedly, at all times, and in all circumstances, offers the Prayer, calling in secret upon the most holy Name of Jesus (although at first he may do so without spiritual ardour and zeal and even forcing himself), then he will have no time for vain conversation, for judging his neighbors, for useless waste of time in sinful pleasures of the senses. Every evil thought of his would meet opposition to its growth. Every sinful act he contemplated would not come to fruition so readily as with an empty mind. Much talking and vain talking would be checked or entirely done away with, and every fault at once cleansed from the soul by the gracious power of so frequently calling upon the divine Name. The frequent exercise of prayer would often recall the soul from sinful action and summon it to what is the essential exercise of its skill, to union with God. Now do you see how important and necessary quantity is in prayer?" (193).

"If it were an impossible thing to pray midst distracting business or int he society of other people, then, of course, it would not have been bidden us. St. John Chrysostom in his teaching about prayer, speaks as follows: 'No one should give the answer that it is impossible for a man occupied with worldly cares, and who is unable to go to church, to pray always. Everywhere, wherever you may find yourself, you can set up an alter to God in your mind by means of prayer. And so it is fitting to pray at your trade, on a journey, standing at the counter or sitting at your handicraft. Everywhere and in every place it is possible to pray, and, indeed, if a man diligently turns his attention upon himself, then everywhere he will find convenient circumstances for prayer, if only he is convinced of the fact that prayer should constitute his chief occupation and come before every other duty. And in that case he would, of course, order his affairs with greater decision; in necessary conversation with other people he would maintain brevity, a tendency to silence, and a disinclination for useless words; he would not be unduly anxious about worrying things. And in all these ways he would find more time for quiet prayer" (199).

"Imagine that a severe and exacting monarch ordered you to compose a treatise on some abstruse subject in his presence, at the steps of his throne. Although you might be absolutely occupied by your work, the presence of the king who has power over you and who holds your life in his hands would still not allow you to forget for a single moment that you are thinking, considering and writing, not in solitude, but in a place which demands of you particular reverence, respect, and decorum. This lively feeling of the nearness of the king very clearly expresses the possibility of being occupied in ceaseless inward prayer even during intellectual work," (200).


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