Set in 19th Century Russia, The Way of a Pilgrim is a first-person narrative that describes the journey of a mendicant pilgrim as he travels through the Russian wilderness in search for a deeper relationship with God through prayer. The prayer at the heart of the story is the Jesus Prayer; “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.” The anonymous peasant pilgrim’s inner journey begins when he is struck upon hearing the words of Paul (in I Thessalonians 5:17) to “pray without ceasing.”
“Where shall I find someone to explain it to me? I will go to the churches where famous preachers are to be heard; perhaps there I shall hear something that will throw light on it for me.” I did so. I heard a number of very fine sermons on prayer—what prayer is, how much we need it, and what its fruits are—but no one said how one could succeed in prayer. I heard a sermon on spiritual prayer, and unceasing prayer, but how it was to be done was not pointed out. Thus listening to sermons failed to give me what I wanted, and having had my fill of them without gaining understanding, I gave up going to hear public sermons. I settled on another plan—by God’s help to look for some experienced and skilled person who would give me in conversation that teaching about unceasing prayer which drew me so urgently. For a long time I wandered through many places. I read my Bible always, and everywhere I asked whether there was not in the neighborhood a spiritual teacher, a devout and experienced guide, to be found. The Way of a Pilgrim, page 2.
The book details the gradual spiritual development and struggles of the pilgrim, and the effect the pilgrim’s spirituality has on those around him. You will have to read the rest yourself to find out how the pilgrim makes out. I first encountered this story when my parents gave me a book on Russian spirituality for Christmas. I read the few hundred page story and was immediately drawn to the Jesus Prayer. I began using it in prayer; initially setting aside five minutes of time each day to pray without ceasing and then over time increase the amount of time I pray. This spiritual practice has stuck with me and though I may not set enough time each day to engage in that ceaseless prayer, I still find it to be incredibly helpful and pray it often in the course of my day. The narrator is called a pilgrim because he has set out on a physical and spiritual journey to grow deeper in his relationship with God through prayer. His journey was filled with ups and downs, small victories and large defeats. In the end though, he was changed because of his experience. In the end he grew deeper in this faith. In just about seven hours I, along with six others, will become pilgrims and set out on a journey to achieve the same thing, grow deeper in faith. My prayer life is not perfect…far from it. I have days when I struggle to carve out time in my day to slow down, to stop, to think, to pray. It is my hope that by this journey to the holy sites of the divine drama I will grow deeper in my faith. I have been there before. I was in the Holy Land in 1999 when I was just seventeen years old. I remember that journey as being very formational and so I look with renewed excitement to be transformed again. I am not the same person when I visited last time and I will not be the same person when I return. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. Pray for me as we walk the way of a pilgrim.