The Way of a Pilgrim
Just finished The Way of a Pilgrim this week. Published in Russia in 1881 and in English in the 1930s. It is the story of a wandering Russian pilgrim (strannik) who learns to pray The Jesus Prayer. It is one of the classics of Eastern Orthodox spirituality and most widely read book on Russian spirituality (according to the introduction of the book I read!).
Here is the Jesus prayer the pilgrim is taught by a spiritual director (starets), “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” As he breathes, he is to repeat this prayer frequently. If he does this, the prayer exercise “will open the doors” to his heart.
At first, he is told to pray the prayer 3000 times a day. “Whether you are standing, sitting, walking, or lying down, continue to repeat: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ Do not be loud or rush the prayer. He then increases the prayer to 6000 times a day which he does in the solitude of his hut for one week. The pilgrim writes, “I became so accustomed to the prayer that when I stopped praying, even for a brief time, I felt as though something were missing, as if I had lost something. When I began to pray again, I was immediately filed with an inner lightness and joy.”
After a week, he is instructed to pray the prayer 12,000 times a day. After some struggles, the pilgrim one day was almost awakened by the prayer. He wrote, “As soon as I began to repeat it, I was filled with such lightness and joy that it felt as if my tongue and mouth spoke the words of their own accord, without any effort on my part. I spent the entire day wrapped up in such joy and somehow detached from everything else—almost as if I were on another planet.” When he meets his spiritual director, he is told to repeat the prayer “as much as you desire and as frequently as possible.” He is to give every “waking moment to prayer”, “not counting the number of repetitions” but calling on the name of Jesus and submitting himself humbly to the “will of God and awaiting his help.”
The rest of the book is about the joy he experiences in his travels across Russia. He begins to read the Philokalia as he travels. At one point, he explaind to someone else how to pray the Jesus prayer. “Eventually, when you get used to it, you can begin to repeat the full Jesus prayer in your heart in time with a steady rhythm of inhaling and exhaling as the Fathers taught. As you inhale, you visualize your heart and say, “Lord Jesus Christ.” As you exhale, you say, “have mercy on me.” Do this as much and as often as you can, and you soon you will experience a delicate but pleasant soreness in your heart, which will soon be followed by warmth and a warming tenderness.”
Next book up: The Philokalia, a book about interior prayer by 25 Eastern Orthodox church fathers.