Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Post Twenty Nine: "The Way of the Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way" by unknown author(s)

(click on images to enlarge)

I don't wish to detract too much from my post's intent but I thought I should make brief mention of this.

This particular printing of this book was my favorite.  The reason was because of the "Forward" in which the author talks about his journey to Orthodoxy after having discovered The Prayer which is the focus of the book, "The Way of the Pilgrim and "The Pilgrim Continues His Way". In fact I remember a friend I wished to buy this version for several months ago.  I spent no little time searching online for "New Sarav Press", the publisher of this version, and not being able to find anything.

I thought that a bit strange at the time but other things occupied my time and I let go of my search.

Well, long story short, when I got around to doing a review of the book with this post,  I just happened to notice that "New Sarov Press" was part of a monastery called, "Christ of the Hills Monastery".  "Aha!", I thought, I will just Google the monastery and will in this manner find this version's publisher.

And then I realized what was the matter, why I hadn't been able to find "New Sarov Press" several months ago.  That big scandal that broke about the monastery that had allegations of sexual impropriety and a fake weeping icon was in fact the one that had published this version of "The Pilgrim".

The forward I had so liked(which is in this version I am posting on), was written by "Father Benedict".  There is a photo in the book of him which identifies him as the same man on the link I provide and as well another man is in the photo(in my book) who also had allegations brought against him.

This was a bit disconcerting for me.  But enough of that and on to the book.


Put simply, this whole book is about that most famous and beneficial prayer called "The Jesus Prayer", which in it's fullest form reads:  "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." It is often abbreviated to "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me."

It is a very ancient prayer and its scriptural roots may be found in the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 18: verses 9-14 in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.  In verse 13, the tax collector beats his breast and acknowledges his sinfulness before God begging Him that He would have mercy on him a sinner.

I have now read this book, I believe,  four times.  And of course, upon rereading it, I have drawn out more than in previous readings.  This could reasonably be inferred from my own understanding of the Life in Christ to be growing(I pray) and maturing to some extent.

For those unfamiliar with this book, read the back cover which you can click to enlarge.  The first paragraph explains well the entire book.

The book is actually two books.  The first part is The Way of a Pilgrim and the second part is The Pilgrim Continues His Way.

The first part of the book, The Way of a Pilgrim,  centers most around the actual mechanics of performing the Prayer.
 Elder Joseph the Hesychast, advising one of his spiritual children, referring to this book, tells him:
to acquire copies of it and distribute them to Christians, that they might benefit spiritually(Letter 78).  It is worth noting that in my meeting with him which I describe in Anchored in God, Father Joseph said to me:  'I suggest strongly that you read The Way of a Pilgrim.  This book shows the importance of mental prayer, or prayer of the heart, and the manner in which it is to be practiced.  The first part of this work is more valuable than the sequel, which seems to have been added by another author.'[1]
It should be made clear, however, that Elder Joseph was not stating that the sequel had no value but rather that he found more value in the first part.  In fact, the sections I provide further in the article are to found in the sequel, "The Pilgrim Continues His Way".

What became more clear to me this reading the book was that prayer was not merely to be for the Christian a thing we do but rather prayer is to be a way of life.  Or rather, prayer is to be life.  It was said of St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai that his was a world whose atmosphere was prayer.

The Orthodox Catholic Church believes that salvation is found with one's union to the Risen Christ.  Prayer is our means to have union with the Person of Christ.  And we must not envisage an impersonal relationship here but rather that the relationship is with Someone Who is intimate with us and with Whom we are striving to be intimate with on our part.

I do not here wish to go into any great detail on the Orthodox understanding on salvation but would like to bring to the reader's attention that our salvation depends on our union with Jesus Christ.  Prayer as a means to this union is indispensable.  Prayer to Him presupposes that He is God, that He is alive and that it is of interest to Him that we pray to effect our union with Him.  The effecting of this union must not be thought of again, as something of the abstract and impersonal, but as a union of love.

In the following section titled, The Secret of Salvation, Revealed by Unceasing Prayer, found on pages 176 through 186, one of the characters in the narrative, The Skhimnik, bidden by all the company he is present with, discloses a spiritual writer's instruction on how to attain salvation.  This is the opening section of that discourse:

The Skhimnik. How one is saved? This godly question naturally arises in the mind of every Christian who realizes the injured and enfeebled nature of man, and what is left of its original urge toward truth and righteousness. Everyone who has even some degree of faith in immortality and recompense in the life to come is involuntarily faced by the thought, "How am I to be saved?" when he turns his eyes toward heaven. When he tries to find a solution to this problem, he inquires of the wise and learned. Then under their guidance he reads edifying books by spiritual writers on this subject, and sets himself unswervingly to follow out the truths and the rules he has heard and read. In all these instructions he finds constantly put before him as necessary conditions of salvation a devout life and heroic struggles with himself which are to issue in decisive denial of self. This is to lead him on to the performance of good works, to the constant fulfillment of God's laws, and thus witness to the unshakableness and firmness of his faith. Further, they preach to him that all these conditions of salvation must necessarily be fulfilled with the deepest humility and in combination with one another. For as all good works depend on one another, so they should support one another, complete and encourage one another, just as the rays of the sun only reveal their strength and kindle a flame when they are focused through a glass on to one point. Otherwise, "He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much."

In addition to this, to implant in him the strongest conviction of the necessity of this complex and unified virtue, he hears the highest praise bestowed upon the beauty of virtue, he listens to censure of the baseness and misery of vice. All this is imprinted upon his mind by truthful promises either of majestic rewards and happiness or of tormenting punishment and misery in the life to come. Such is the special character of preaching in modern times. Guided in this way, one who ardently wishes for salvation sets off in all joy to carry out what he has learned and to apply to experience all he has heard and read. But alas! even at the first step he finds it impossible to achieve his purpose. He foresees and even finds out by trial that his damaged and enfeebled nature will have the upper hand of the convictions of his mind, that his free will is bound, that his propensities are perverted, that his spiritual strength is but weakness. He naturally goes on to the thought: Is there not to be found some kind of means which will enable him to fulfill that which the law of God requires of him, which Christian devotion demands, and which all those who have found salvation and holiness have carried out? As the result of this and in order to reconcile in himself the demands of reason and conscience with the inadequacy of his strength to fulfill them, he applies once more to the preachers of salvation with the question: How am I to be saved? How is this inability to carry out the conditions of salvation to be justified; and are those who have preached all this that he has learned themselves strong enough to carry it out unswervingly?

Ask God. Pray to God. Pray for His help.

It seems that this question, "How am I to be saved?"  seems to be a trivial one until we confront the fact that often, in the midst of all our religious devotions, we have forgotten "the one needful thing"(Luke 10:42).  We have lost sight of why we are religious in the first place.  Or, we have been religious perhaps only because we are aesthetically drawn to the outward form of Religion.  The section I have provided is for those who have in some way honestly struggled with the question, "How am I to be saved?"

The Skhimnik goes on in the rest of this discourse to expound on the necessity of prayer working into unceasing prayer being of the utmost importance.  Building one layer upon the next, he goes on to show that this unceasing prayer is not impossible at all but lies in the will of each and everyone.  Prayer, as he says, as do the Holy Fathers who expound on it, may be approached scientifically.  That is the results,  if the instructions are followed with a sincere prolonged effort, are verifiable.

So our goal in prayer, to put it another way, is to seek to gain Christ Himself.  A wrong approach to undertaking prayer is for the sake of the gifts bestowed on the sincere practitioner of  prayer.

I mention this because in this book are many instances described of a mystical nature.  And the one reading who is not grounded in humility will see what is available to the one who practices the Prayer and perhaps unwittingly seek after the gifts or byproducts of the Prayer as an end in themselves when the goal of the Prayer is union with Christ Himself.  The gaining of Jesus Christ is the goal, not gifts to be used selfishly.

In other words, as we attain humility, He may add gifts to us as He sees fit.  But always we must check our motives to see if we are attaining "humility" for the sake of the gifts.  If so, we are accomplishing nothing.

Another one of this wonderful book's themes is that prayer practiced lends itself to giving direction to us.  Meaning, we just have learn to pray(this is not as easy as it sounds), and through the carrying out, or the attempt of carrying out, unceasing prayer, the path itself we are on becomes illumined.  We begin to see with a new set of eyes, or rather, the "spiritual eyes" we already have exercise their vision as they are meant to, as each human being, created in the image and likeness of God has been given a good nature and that good is natural to each of us.

Invariably we are unaware of these "eyes" as well as all the good things in our possession given to us by God.  It is necessary to uncover these things "hidden" or "covered" so long from our awareness through their lack of use because of our desiring of sin rather than exercises in holiness.

The section titled On the Power of Prayer found on pages 197 through 200 lays this out very well:

The Skhimnik. Prayer is so powerful, so mighty, that "pray, and do what you like." Prayer will guide you to right and just action. In order to please God nothing more is needed than love. "Love, and do what you will," says the Blessed Augustine, "for he who truly loves cannot wish to do anything which is not pleasing to the one he loves." Since prayer is the outpouring and the activity of love, then one can truly say of it similarly, "Nothing more is needed for salvation than continuous prayer." "Pray, and do what you will," and you will reach the goal of prayer. You will gain enlightenment by it.

To draw out our understanding of this matter in more detail, let us take some examples:

1. "Pray, and think what you will." Your thoughts will be purified by prayer. Prayer will give you enlightenment of mind; it will remove and drive away all ill-judged thoughts. This is asserted by St. Gregory the Sinaite. If you wish to drive away thoughts and purify the mind, his counsel is "drive them away by prayer." For nothing can control thoughts as prayer can. St. John of the Ladder also says about this, "Overcome the foes in your mind by the Name of Jesus. You will find no other weapon than this."

2. "Pray, and do what you will." Your acts will be pleasing to God and useful and salutary to yourself. Frequent prayer, whatever it may be about, does not remain fruitless, because in it is the power of grace, "for whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21). For example a man who had prayed without success and without devotion was granted through this prayer clearness of understanding and a call to repentance. A pleasure-loving girl prayed on her return home, and the prayer showed her the way to the virgin life and obedience to the teaching of Jesus Christ.

3. "Pray, and do not labor much to conquer your passions by your own strength." Prayer will destroy them in you. "For greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4), says Holy Scripture. And St. John Karpathisky teaches that if you have not the gift of self-control, do not be cast down, but know that God requires of you diligence in prayer and the prayer will save you. The Starets about whom we are told in the Otechnik27 that, when he fell into sin, did not give way to depression, but betook himself to prayer and by it recovered his balance, is a case in point.

4. "Pray, and fear nothing." Fear no misfortunes, fear no disasters. Prayer will protect you and ward them off. Remember St. Peter, who had little faith and was sinking; St. Paul, who prayed in prison; the Monk who was delivered by prayer from the onset of temptation; the girl who was saved from the evil purpose of a soldier as the result of prayer; and similar cases, which illustrate the power, the might, the universality of prayer in the Name of Jesus Christ.

5. Pray somehow or other, only pray always and be disturbed by nothing. Be light in spirit and peaceful. Prayer will arrange everything and teach you. Remember what the Saints-John Chrysostom and Mark the Ascetic-say about the power of prayer. The first declares that prayer, even though it be offered by us who are full of sin, yet cleanses us at once. The latter says, "To pray somehow is within our power, but to pray purely is the gift of grace." So offer to God what it is within your power to offer. Bring to Him at first just quantity (which is within your power), and God will pour upon you strength in your weakness. "Prayer, dry and distracted maybe, but continuous, will establish a habit and become second nature and turn itself into prayer that is pure, luminous, flaming, and worthy."

6. It is to be noted, finally, that if the time of your vigilance in prayer is prolonged, then naturally no time will be left not only for doing sinful actions but even for thinking of them.

Now, do you see what profound thoughts are focused in that wise saying, "Love, and do what you will"; "Pray, and do what you will"? How comforting and consoling is all this for the sinner overwhelmed by his weakness, groaning under the burden of his warring passions.

Prayer-there you have the whole of what is given to us as the universal means of salvation and of the growth of the soul into perfection. Just that. But when prayer is named, a condition is added. Pray without ceasing is the command of God's Word. Consequently, prayer shows its most effective power and fruit when it is offered often, ceaselessly; for frequency of prayer undoubtedly belongs to our will, just as purity, zeal and perfection in prayer are the gifts of grace.

And so we will pray as often as we can; we will consecrate our whole life to prayer, even if it be subject to distractions to begin with. Frequent practice of it will teach us attentiveness. Quantity will certainly lead on to quality. "If you want to learn to do anything whatever well you must do it as often as possible," said an experienced spiritual writer.

27Otechnik. Lives of the Fathers with extracts from their writings.

There is so much wealth to be found in this book that I would recommend returning to it often in the course of our lives.  I cannot with this post fully expound on it but I would like to close with the following meditation.

According to the Church's understanding of the Fall and how the world held captive by Satan wars against the Church and all who would live godly, we must remember to keep before us Orthodox Anthropology as understood by the Holy Fathers.  Orthodox Anthropology has a very well established and empirically verifiable understanding of humanity and all the passions humanity since the Fall has "attached" to itself as well the passions' cure.  And I mean for the sake of what I'm saying that when we imbibe and feast on what our unchecked senses take in, these things all find their way into our hearts.  They reign there.

The practice of the Prayer, as well as "sacred space" in the Church(Icons, chanting, incense, etc.) and expanded even more in larger settings such as monasteries, counteracts this sensuality and begins to loosen the grip we have to the world's lusts and conversely the world's grip on us is loosened as well.

All the Church has given us as medicine to counteract the Fall, but especially the Prayer, is like an earth mover, digging in the heart and little by little counteracting the momentum the world has gained within us.  Especially important is the Prayer because with physical spaces we are limited perhaps to how we may find ourselves in such settings.  The Prayer we can make a part of ourselves.  Even should we lose our tongues, inwardly we can, by the act of our will with God's Grace,  always recite the Prayer.


[1]Constantine Cavarnos in the Prolegomena of Monastic Wisdom The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast(1998 St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery) pp. 30-31


1 comment:

Maxim said...

The sequel seems to be mostly just passages taken from the Philokalia, attached to a loose narrative structure.