Getting to know The Way of the Pilgrim
The Way of a Pilgrim was written by an unknown nineteenth-century Russian peasant and tells of his constant wrestling with the problem of ‘how to pray without ceasing.’ Through his journeys and travels, and under the tutelage of a spiritual father, he becomes gradually more open to the promptings of God. The reader is enriched as he shares these religious experiences in a most humble, simple, and beautiful narrative. — Summary at the beginning of the Doubleday version of The Way of a Pilgrim And the Pilgrim Continues His Way (Translated by Helen Bacovcin, 1985).
Although it is unclear who authored this piece of 19th century Russian spiritual literature, possibly a interweaving of the stories of several mendicant (i.e., begging) pilgrims and/or a teaching narrative by two Greek monks,Â The Way of a Pilgrim And the Pilgrim Continues His Way is for the most part based onÂ TheÂ Philokalia (1782). In Greek, philokaliaÂ means “love of the beautiful, the good” in Greek. The PhilokaliaÂ is a collection of writings by the Eastern monastic fathers (4th – 15th century). St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos) and St. Makarios of Corinth compiled TheÂ Philokalia in the context of a collection of 20 Greek Orthodox monastic communities at Mount Athos (“the Holy Mountain”), Greece. In case you were unaware, Mount Athos was formally founded in 963 and has remained not only for the most part sovereign, but also entirely without women and children for its whole existence. Some say that the influence of The Philokalia in Eastern Orthodoxy is only surpassed by the Bible. According to the summary on Google books (also a helpful place to read the introduction and excerpts from the book):
[The Philokalia]Â is concerned with themes of universal importance: how man may develop his inner powers and awake from illusion; how he may overcome fragmentation and achieve spiritual wholeness; how he may attain the life of contemplative stillness and union with God.
The pilgrim’s inner journey begins when he is struck by hearing Paul’s call to “pray without ceasing”Â (I Thessalonians 5:17).Â His search for understanding, most probably with a Slavonic translation of the Philokalia in hand, leads him to numerous personal churches, monasteries, and personal conversations along the way. A starets (“spiritual father”) not only teaches him the Jesus Prayerâ€””Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”â€” but also sparks an actual spiritual revival in 19th century Russia through the popularity of The Way of a Pilgrim. The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881) , who pioneered existentialism and was the author of a number of significant pieces including Notes from Underground (1864), The Idiot (1868), and The Brothers Karamazo (1880) , was among those touched by this spiritual revival. The story and the interest in hesychasm spread to the United States, resulting inÂ the Jesus Prayer joining the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary as the frequently prayed prayers across Western Christianity. As a matter of fact, The Way of a Pilgrim continued to grow in popularity in 20th century America with J. D. Salinger‘s “zen-like” reading of it inÂ Franny and Zooey (1961), see below. [Read more…] about Christian Devotional Classics: The Way of a Pilgrim