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This collector's edition is cleanly formatted for easy reading. The Way of a Pilgrim was written by an anonymous nineteenth-century Russian peasant and depicts his examination of how to pray without ceasing. Through his voyages and travels, he delves into the value and power of prayer. As he becomes open to the promptings of God, the reader, too, is enlightened as he shares these rich religious experiences, presented in a humble, simple, and beautiful narrative.
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TheWayof a Pilgrimand The Pilgrim Continues on His Way
Written by an Anonymous 19th Century Russian Peasant
The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues on His Way
Written by an Anonymous 19th Century Russian Peasant
Creative Content Copyright © Magdalene Press 2017
Magdalene Press, 2017
By the grace of God I am a Christian, by my deeds a great sinner, and by my calling a homeless wanderer of humblest origin, roaming from place to place. My possessions consist of a knapsack with dry crusts of bread on my back and in my bosom the Holy Bible. This is all!
On the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost I came to church to attend the Liturgy and entered just as the epistle was being read. The reading was from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, which says in part, “Pray constantly.” These words made a deep impression on me and I started thinking of how it could be possible for a man to pray without ceasing when the practical necessities of life demand so much attention. I checked my Bible and saw with my own eyes exactly what I had heard, that it is necessary to pray continuously (1 Thess. 5:17); to pray in the Spirit on every possible occasion (Eph. 6:18); in every place to lift your hands reverently in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8). I thought and thought about these words, but no understanding came to me.
What shall I do? I thought. Where can I find a person who will explain this mystery to me? I will go to the various churches where there are good preachers and perhaps I will obtain an explanation from them. And so I went. I heard many very good homilies on prayer, but they were all instructions about prayer in general: What is prayer, the necessity of prayer, and the fruits of prayer? But no one spoke of the way to succeed in prayer. I did hear a sermon on interior prayer and ceaseless prayer but nothing about attaining that form of prayer. Inasmuch as listening to public sermons had not given me any satisfaction, I stopped attending them and decided, with the grace of God, to look for an experienced and learned person who would satisfy my ardent desire and explain ceaseless prayer to me.
For a long time I traveled through various places. I read the Bible and asked for the whereabouts of a spiritual teacher or a devout and experienced director. After some time I heard of a nobleman in a certain village who takes his salvation seriously. I was told that he has a chapel in his home and does not go out but spends all his time praying and reading spiritual books. When I heard this, I ran to the mentioned village and sought out this God-fearing landowner.
“What can I do for you?” he asked me.
“I heard that you are a devout and wise man and I came, in the name of God, to ask you to explain to me the meaning of the words of St. Paul, ‘Pray constantly.’ How is it possible to pray continuously? I am very eager to know this and cannot in any way comprehend it.”
The gentleman was silent for a moment; then he looked at me intently and said, “Ceaseless interior prayer is a continuous aspiration and a yearning of the spirit of man toward God. To succeed in this sweet exercise it is necessary to ask God frequently that He teach you to pray continuously. Pray often and fervently and prayer itself will reveal this mystery to you, how it is possible for it to be continuous, but it takes time.”
Having said this, he ordered the servants to give me food; he gave me some money for the road and dismissed me. But he did not explain ceaseless prayer.
Again I went. I thought, I read, and I meditated on the words of the nobleman, but I could not understand. And my desire to understand became so intense that even my sleep was disturbed. I continued my journey for about two hundredverstsand then found myself in a large provincial city. I saw a monastery. At the inn where I stopped I heard that the Superior of the monastery was very kind, devout, and hospitable to strangers. I went to him. He received me warmly and offered me some refreshments.
“Reverend Father,” I said, “I do not need refreshments, but I would like you to give me spiritual advice; I would like to know how to work out my salvation.”
“Work out your salvation? Well, keep the commandments and pray to God and you will be saved.”
“I heard that it is necessary to pray without ceasing, but I do not know how to pray without interruption and I cannot even understand what is meant by ceaseless prayer. Please explain this to me, dear Father.”
“I do not know how to make this clear, dear brother. But wait, I have a book which has an explanation,” and he brought a copy of St. Demetrius’s Spiritual Instructions for the Interior Man and indicated which page I should read. I began reading the following: “The words of the Apostle, ‘Pray constantly,’ are to be understood as referring to mental prayer; the mind can be constantly fixed on God and communion with Him.”
“Please explain to me how the mind can be always set on God, not be distracted but continuously praying.”
“This is exceptionally difficult to understand unless God Himself reveals it,” said the Father Superior and he did not explain.
I spent the night at the monastery and in the morning expressed my gratitude for the warm reception and continued with my journey, not knowing where it would take me. I grieved over my lack of understanding, and for consolation I read the Bible. For five days I traveled in this manner on a long and wide road, and toward the evening of the fifth day an old man caught up with me who looked like a member of some religious community.
To my question he answered that he was a monk and that his hermitage was about tenverstsfrom the main road, and he invited me to visit the hermitage. “We receive pilgrims and strangers and give them food and lodging in our guesthouse,” he said.
Since I had no inclination to stop there, I replied, “My peace does not depend on a place to stay but on spiritual direction. I am not looking for food, as I have enough bread in my knapsack.”
“And what manner of direction are you looking for; what seems to be puzzling you? Come, come dear brother, visit us; we have experienced elders who can give spiritual nourishment and direct one on the path of truth according to the word of God and the writings of the holy Fathers.”
“You see, Father, about a year ago while I was at a Liturgy I heard the following admonition from the Apostle Paul: ‘Pray constantly.’ Not being able to understand this I began to read the Bible, where in many places I found God’s precept that it is necessary to pray continuously, to pray always, at all times and in all places, not only while working, not only when awake but also in one’s sleep. ‘I sleep but my heart is awake’ (S. of S. 5:2). I was very surprised by this and could not understand how this could be possible and by what means it could be accomplished. A strong desire and curiosity took hold of me and night and day it did not leave me. For this reason I went from church to church to listen to sermons on prayer; and though I have heard very many of them, I did not receive the desired instruction, how to pray without ceasing. The homilies I heard were about the preparation for prayer or the fruits of prayer and similar things, but I did not learn how to pray without ceasing or what is the meaning of such prayer. I kept reading the Bible and in this way I tested what I had heard. But I could not find the desired knowledge, and so to this day I am left bewildered and without peace.”
The elder blessed himself and began to speak: “Thank God, dear brother, for this insatiable desire to understand ceaseless mental prayer. Recognize in this a call from God and be at peace. Believe that up to this time your seeking was in accordance with God’s will and you were given to understand that heavenly light regarding continuous prayer is not arrived at by worldly wisdom and superficial curiosity. On the contrary, it is discovered in the spirit of poverty and simplicity of heart through active experience. Therefore, it is not surprising that you did not hear about the essential act of prayer and learn how to carry it out without ceasing.
“The truth is that, though there is neither a shortage of sermons nor of treatises of various writers about prayer, for the most part these discourses are based on mental analysis and on natural considerations rather than on active experience. For this reason they teach more about the external character of prayer than the essence of prayer. One speaks beautifully about the necessity of prayer, another about its power and its benefits, and still another of the means and conditions for its accomplishment: that is, zeal, attention, warmth of heart, purity of thought, reconciliation with the enemies, humility, contrition, and so on.
“And what is prayer? And how does one learn to pray? To these primary and most fundamental questions one seldom finds an accurate explanation in the homilies of our time. These basic questions are more difficult to understand than the above-mentioned discourses and they require mystical perception in addition to academic learning. What is most unfortunate is that worldly wisdom compels these spiritual teachers to measure God’s ways by human standards. Many approach prayer with a misunderstanding and think that the preparatory means and acts produce prayer. They do not see that prayer is the source of all good actions and virtue. They look upon the fruits and results of prayer as means and methods and in this way depreciate the power of prayer.
“This is contrary to Holy Scripture, because St. Paul clearly states that prayer should precede all actions: ‘First of all, there should be prayers offered’ (1 Tim. 2:1). The Apostle’s directive indicates that the act of prayer comes first; it comes before everything else. The Christian is expected to perform many good works, but the act of prayer is fundamental because without prayer it is not possible to do good. Without frequent prayer it is not possible to find one’s way to God, to understand truth, and to crucify the lusts of the flesh. Only fidelity to prayer will lead a person to enlightenment and union with Christ.
“I say frequent prayer because purity and perfection in prayer is not within our reach, as St. Paul the Apostle indicates. The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness when we do not know how to pray (Rom. 8:26). Consequently, our only contribution toward perfection in prayer, the mother of all spiritual good, is regularity and constancy. ‘If you win the mother, you will have the children also,’ says St. Isaac of Syria. Acquire the habit of prayer, and it will be easy for you to do good. This basic truth regarding prayer is not clearly understood or presented by those who are lacking practical experience and who are not acquainted with the mystical teachings of the holy Fathers.”
The course of this conversation brought us close to the hermitage. In order not to let this wise man go, and to quickly receive my heart’s desire, I hurried to ask him, “Please, be gracious, Reverend Father, and explain the meaning of ceaseless mental prayer to me and show me how I can learn to practice it. I can see that you are both well versed and experienced in this matter.”
The elder received my plea lovingly and invited me to visit him in his cell: “Come, stop by and I will give you a book of the holy Fathers from which, with the help of God, you can learn all about prayer and understand it clearly and in detail.” When we entered his cell, the elder said, “The ceaseless Jesus Prayer is a continuous, uninterrupted call on the holy name of Jesus Christ with the lips, mind, and heart; and in the awareness of His abiding presence it is a plea for His blessing in all undertakings, in all places, at all times, even in sleep. The words of the Prayer are: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ Anyone who becomes accustomed to this Prayer will experience great comfort as well as the need to say it continuously. He will become accustomed to it to such a degree that he will not be able to do without it and eventually the Prayer will of itself flow in him.
“Now do you understand what ceaseless prayer is?” he asked me.
“Very clearly, dear Father. For the love of God please teach me how to make it my own,” I exclaimed in joy.
“To learn about this prayer, we will read from a book called thePhilokalia. This book, which was compiled by twenty-five holy Fathers, contains complete and detailed instructions about ceaseless prayer. The content of this book is of such depth and usefulness that it is considered to be the primary teacher of contemplative life, and as the VenerableNicephorussays, ‘It leads one to salvation without labor and sweat.’”
“Is it then more important than the Holy Bible?” I asked.
“No, it is neither more important nor holier than the Bible, but it contains clear exposition of the ideas that are mysteriously presented in the Bible and are not easy for our finite mind to understand. I will give you an illustration. The sun-a great, shining, and magnificent light--cannot be contemplated and looked at directly with the naked eye. An artificial glass, a million times smaller and dimmer than the sun, is needed to look at the great king of lights to be enraptured by its fiery rays. In a similar way the Holy Bible is a shining light and thePhilokaliais the necessary glass.
“Now if you will listen, I will read how you can learn ceaseless interior prayer.” The elder opened thePhilokaliato the account of St. Simeon the New Theologian and began reading: “‘Sit alone and in silence; bow your head and close your eyes; relax your breathing and with your imagination look into your heart; direct your thoughts from your head into your heart. And while inhaling say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” either softly with your lips or in your mind. Endeavor to fight distractions but be patient and peaceful and repeat this process frequently.’”
The elder illustrated this passage for me and then we read the accounts of St. Gregory of Sinai and VenerableCallistusand Ignatius. All the material which we read in thePhilokaliathe elder explained in his own words. I listened with attention and delight to everything and endeavored to remember as much as I could. We spent the whole night in this way, and in the morning we went to matins without having slept.
When I left, the elder blessed me and encouraged me to come to him for direction and confession during the course of my study of prayer. He said that without the guidance of a director it is not very profitable to study interior life.
Later, while standing in church 1 I felt a burning zeal to learn ceaseless prayer and I asked God to help me in this. But then I became concerned about having a place to stay while going to the elder for direction. At the inn I could not stay more than three days and there were no apartments available close to the hermitage. Fortunately, I heard of a village about fourverstsaway and I went there to look; God was with me and helped me to find a place. I made arrangements with a farmer to live in a little hut and guard his vegetable garden during the summer months. Glory be to God! I found a quiet place. Now I could begin to study interior prayer according to the method which was shown to me and I could still visit with the ELDER:
For a week I followed the instructions of the elder and studied ceaseless prayer alone in the vegetable garden, and for a while I managed. Then a great burden came upon me. Laziness, boredom, drowsiness and a cloud of disturbing thoughts seemed to overwhelm me. In my sorrow I went to see the elder and explained my situation to him.
He welcomed me lovingly and said, “Dearly beloved brother, a war has been declared against you by the world of darkness--a world which finds nothing as terrifying as heartfelt prayer and therefore tries by all means possible to confuse you and distract you from your purpose of learning how to pray. However, even the action of the enemy is permitted by God’s will to the extent that it is necessary for us. It seems that your humility needs to be tested and that you are not yet ready to enter the interior of your heart, for you may fall into spiritual greediness.
“I will read you a directive from thePhilokaliaregarding such a situation.” And so the elder found the instruction of the VenerableNicephorusthe Solitary and began: “‘If, in spite of all effort, you cannot enter the interior of the heart in the way which was explained to you, then do what I will tell you and with God’s help you will reach your goal. Man’s vocal cords enable him to speak, to vocalize words. Use this ability then and, while fighting distractions, diligently and continuously say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” If you will persevere for some time then, without any doubt, the path to the heart will be opened to you. This has been verified through experience.’
“Do you hear what the holy Fathers say about a case similar to yours?” asked the ELDER: “Therefore, you ought to receive this exhortation with faith and say the Jesus Prayer vocally as often as possible. Here is a rosary on which you can count and in the beginning say the Prayer at least three thousand times a day; do not add to or take away from this number by yourself. Through this exercise God will help you to achieve the ceaseless activity of the heart.’’
I received this instruction joyfully, returned to my place, and began faithfully and as accurately as possible to carry out this directive of the ELDER: For two days it was somewhat difficult. Then it became so easy and pleasant that when I was not saying the Prayer a need arose within me to say it, and I began to say it then with much greater ease than I had experienced at the beginning.
I reported this to the elder and he suggested that I recite the Prayer six thousand times a day. He said, “Be at peace and faithfully recite the assigned number of Prayers. God will reward your effort.”
For a whole week I stayed alone in my hut and recited the Jesus Prayer six thousand times every day, neither worrying about anything nor paying attention to the distracting thoughts, no matter how severe they became. My main concern was to carry out the advice of my director as accurately as possible. And do you know what happened? I became so accustomed to the Prayer that if for a short while I stopped reciting it I felt as if I were missing something, as though I had lost something. When I would begin reciting the Prayer again, I would immediately feel great joy and delight. If I happened to meet someone then, I did not feel like talking. My only desire was to be alone and to recite the Prayer. I had become so accustomed to it in a week.
As the elder had not seen me for ten days, he came to visit me. He listened as I gave him an account of my progress and then said, “You are now accustomed to the Prayer, so continue with this good habit and strengthen it. Do not waste any time but decide, with the help of God, to recite the Prayer twelve thousand times a day. Rise earlier and retire later; stay alone, and every two weeks come to me for direction.”
I did as the elder suggested, and on the first day I barely completed the assigned number by late evening. At first I felt tired in reciting the Prayer constantly; my tongue seemed numb and my jaw was tight. There was both a pleasant sensation and a slight pain in the roof of my mouth. My left thumb, with which I counted the beads, was sore, and there was an inflammation in my wrist extending to the elbow which produced a pleasant sensation. All this seemed to attract and compel me to greater accomplishment, and I spent five days faithfully reciting twelve thousand Prayers a day, experiencing both joy and longing for the Prayer.
Once, early in the morning the Prayer seemed to awaken me. I got up to read my morning prayers, but my tongue had difficulty in formulating the words and I was overwhelmed with the desire to recite the Jesus Prayer. And when I started it, it became so easy and delightful that my tongue and lips seemed to do it by themselves. I was joyful the whole day and seemingly oblivious to everything else. I seemed to be in another world, and with great ease I recited twelve thousand Prayers by early evening. I would have liked to continue but I could not go against the directions of the ELDER: For some days I continued in this manner, joyfully and lovingly calling on the name of Jesus.
Then I went to see the elder and told him everything in detail. He listened to me and then said, “Glory be to God that now you have both a longing for the Prayer and that the recitation of it comes easily. This is a natural result of discipline and frequent practice, which can be compared to a wheel of a machine that has been given a push and then the machine works by itself; then the wheel needs only to be oiled and nudged for the machine to keep working. Do you see with what excellent gifts the Lover of mankind has endowed even the sensual nature of man? Your own experience testifies to the kind of feelings which can be experienced, without extraordinary grace, even in impure and sinful souls. Ah, how indescribably wonderful it is when God deigns to purify a soul from passion and grants to it the gift of self-activating interior prayer. This condition is difficult to imagine and the revelation of this secret prayer is a foretaste of heavenly bliss while the soul is still here on earth. Only the simple and loving hearts who are earnestly seeking the Lord are found worthy of this! Now you may recite the Prayer as many times as you wish; call on the name of Jesus all your waking moments, without counting, and humbly resign yourself to God’s will expecting help from Him. I believe that He will direct your path and will not forsake you.”
After receiving this direction, I spent the rest of the summer reciting the name of Jesus vocally and I enjoyed great peace. During my sleep I often dreamed that I was praying. And if I happened to meet people during the day they all seemed as close to me as if they were my kinsmen, even though I did not know them. My thoughts had quieted down completely; I thought only of the Prayer, to which my mind now began to listen, and my heart produced certain warmth and gladness. The long Liturgy of the hermits now seemed short, and it did not tire me as in the past. My solitary hut was to me like a glorious palace, and I did not know how to thank God for sending me, a great sinner, such a holy elder for a director.
However, I was not to enjoy the guidance of my beloved and wise father for long, for at the end of the summer he passed away. With tears in my eyes I thanked him for his paternal love and teaching and said good-bye. I asked for the rosary with which he always prayed in order to have a remembrance of him. Now I was left alone. The summer had finally passed and the vegetable garden was harvested. The farmer paid me two rubles, filled my knapsack with bread, and dismissed me. Again I had no place to live, so I began to wander from place to place, but now my wandering was very different; now there was no urgency driving me. The calling on the name of Jesus Christ comforted me on the road; all people seemed good to me and I felt that everyone loved me.
One day I began thinking what I could do with the money which I had earned guarding the vegetable garden. Then it occurred to me that with the elder gone I could use a copy of thePhilokaliaso I could continue to study interior prayer. I blessed myself and continued reciting the Jesus Prayer. When I came to a provincial city, I began to inquire about thePhilokaliain various stores. I did find the book in one store, but the price was three rubles and I had only two. I tried to make a bargain but the salesman would not change the price. In the end he said to me, “Go to that church over there and ask the sexton; he has an old copy and perhaps he will sell it to you for two rubles.” So I succeeded in getting an old and battered copy and I was happy. I repaired it somehow; I sewed a cloth around the cover and placed the book in my knapsack.
So now I walk and say the Jesus Prayer without ceasing and it is more precious and sweet to me than anything else in the world. Sometimes I walk seventy or moreverstsa day and I do not get tired; I am only conscious of praying. When the cold air chills me, I begin saying the Prayer with greater intensity and I warm up. When hunger begins to overcome me, I begin saying the name of Jesus Christ more frequently and I forget that I wanted to eat. When I become sick and feel rheumatic pain in my back and legs, I pay greater attention to the Prayer and I do not feel the pain. When someone offends me, I remember how sweet the Jesus Prayer is and the offense and anger disappear and I forget everything. I walk in a semiconscious state without worries, interests, and temptations. My only desire and attraction is for solitude and ceaseless recitation of the Jesus Prayer. This makes me happy. God knows what this is all about. Certainly, all this is on the sensual level, or, as the late elder said, it is a natural and artificial result of habit. I am not yet ready to make the interior prayer of the heart my own, because I am ignorant and unworthy. I wait for God’s good time and I trust in the prayers of my deceased spiritual father. Glory be to God that even though I have not attained the ceaseless self-activating prayer of the heart, I now clearly understand what the meaning of the words of the Apostle Paul is: Pray constantly.
For a long time I traveled through various places with the Jesus Prayer as my companion. The Prayer was my comfort and my courage in all my wanderings, encounters, and situations. But it occurred to me how convenient it would be to have a permanent place to stay. I would be alone and could study thePhilokalia, which up to this time I read only when I took shelter for the night or when I rested during the day. Now I had a desire to delve into it more deeply and, with faith, to draw from it the wisdom and direction for working out my salvation by means of the prayer of the heart. However, my efforts to find a job were unsuccessful because of my handicapped left arm, which I have had since childhood, so I had to forget about having a place of my own. Instead, I decided to travel in the direction of Siberia, where I could visit the tomb of Bishop Innocent of Irkutsk. My intention was to find solitude in the Siberian woods and steppes, which would be conducive to my study and prayer.
So I set out on my journey to Siberia and I continued to recite the Jesus Prayer vocally. After some time I felt that the Prayer was somehow entering the heart by itself. The words of the Prayer seemed to be formulated according to the rhythm of the heartbeat, which is 1. Lord, 2. Jesus, 3. Christ, etc. I stopped vocalizing the Prayer and began to listen attentively as the heart spoke, and I remembered the words of my late elder in describing this joy. Then I felt a slight pain in the heart and such love toward Jesus Christ that I wished I could throw myself at His feet, lovingly embrace them, and thank Him for this great consolation which He gives in His mercy and love to His unworthy and sinful creatures through His name.
Then I experienced a kind of blessed warmth in the heart which spread throughout my whole breast. This experience led me to a more diligent reading of thePhilokaliato check my feelings and to learn more about the prayer of the heart. Without this test I was afraid of falling into deception, of seeing natural acts as heavenly ones, and of giving in to pride that I had learned the Prayer so quickly. My late spiritual father had warned me of all this. So I walked more by night and I spent the days sitting under the trees in the forest and reading thePhilokalia. Ah, how much new insight and wisdom were revealed to me in this reading! Through this practice I tasted sweetness I had not imagined up to this time. And when some of the accounts were not clear to my dull mind, the prayer of the heart enlightened my understanding, and at times I saw my late elder in my dreams and he explained many things to me, but above all he directed my unthinking soul to humility. I spent almost two summer months in such blessedness. I walked mostly through the woods and on country roads, and if I passed a village, I would stop and ask for some bread, a handful of salt, and some water, and then I would continue my journey for about a hundredversts.
Either because of my sinfulness or because I had to learn certain lessons about spiritual life, at the end of the summer there were trials in store for me. I was walking on a wide road when toward evening two men, who looked like soldiers, caught up with me and demanded money. When I tried to tell them that I did not have even a kopeck, they did not believe me and impudently cried, “You are lying! Pilgrims collect a lot of money.” One of the men remarked, “Why continue to speak with him,” and he hit me in the head with a club so that I fell to the ground unconscious. I don’t know how long I lay there unconscious, but when I came to, I saw that I was lying in the woods close to the road, all torn, and my knapsack was gone; only the cord on which I carried it was there. Glory be to God that they did not take my passport, which I kept in my old cap for convenience’ sake; if the authorities asked for it I could easily get to it. I got up and began to weep bitterly, not so much because of the pain in my head as for my lost books. The Bible and thePhilokaliawere in the knapsack, and now they were gone. Day and night I could not stop my tears and sorrow as I thought, Where is the Bible which I read since I was a little boy and which I always kept close to my heart? Where is myPhilokalia, from which I gained so much guidance and comfort? I was most unhappy without my two treasures, for I had not been sufficiently fed on them. It would have been better if they had killed me than to have left me without my spiritual nourishment. How could I ever replace those books!
For two days I could hardly move my feet, sorrow had so exhausted me, but on the third day I lost all my strength and slumped under the bushes and fell asleep. I had a dream. I was in the hermitage, in the cell of my spiritual father, grieving over my loss. The elder comforted me and said, “This is a lesson for you on detachment from material things so that your path to heaven will be more direct. This was permitted so that you would not fall into spiritual complacency. God wants a Christian to renounce completely his will, his desires, and his weaknesses and give himself up to God’s will totally. He directs all happenings for the salvation of man. ‘He wants everyone to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4). ‘You can trust God not to allow you to be tried beyond your strength and with any trial he will give you a way out of it and the strength to bear it’ (1 Cor. 10:13). Soon your joy will far surpass your present suffering.”
At these words I woke up feeling strengthened. Light and peace seemed to flood my soul. “May God’s will be done,” I said. I blessed myself and started on my way. The Prayer once again began to function in my heart, and I walked in peace for three days.
Then suddenly I saw on the road a group of prisoners under military escort. When I came all the way up to them, I recognized the two men who had robbed me, and as they were some distance from the others, I fell at their feet and earnestly implored them to tell me what had happened to my books. At first they did not pay any attention to me, and then said, “If you will give us something, then we will tell you where they are. Give us a ruble.”
I swore that I would give them a ruble without fail, even if I had to beg for it, and I offered them my passport as a pledge. They told me that the books were in the cart with the other stolen goods. “How can I get them?” I asked.
“Ask the officer in charge of the transport.”
I went to the officer and explained my situation to him in detail. Among other things he asked me, “Can you really read the Bible?”
“Not only can I read but I can write also,” I answered. “You can see my name in the Bible and you can check it against my passport.”
The officer then told me, “These swindlers, the runaway soldiers, lived in dugouts and robbed many people. Yesterday evening, a clever coachman caught them as they were about to steal a troika from him. Very likely your books are here and I will give them to you, but there is no need for you to leave the transport. You can stay with us for the night. The station is only about fourverstsaway.”
I gladly walked by the officer’s riding horse and we continued with our conversation. I noticed that he was a good and honest man of middle years. He asked about my origins md destination, and I answered all his questions with complete honesty. Soon we came to the station. He found my books, gave them to me, and again invited me to spend the night with him. I accepted his invitation and stayed.
When I received my books, I was so overjoyed that I did not know how to thank God. I placed them close to my heart and held them there for so long that my hands became stiff. Tears of joy streamed down my face and my heart beat as if in ecstasy.
The officer seeing this display of affection said to me, “It is quite obvious that you love the Bible.” In my joy I could not even answer him and I just continued crying. He went on,
“Dear brother, I also read the Gospel every day.” With this he unbuttoned his coat and pulled out a small Kiev editor of the Gospels bound in silver. “Sit down and I will tell you what brought me to this. And let’s have some supper!”
We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “l have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, due to rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could no stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.
“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg for alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. Though the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’
“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at self-control nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.
“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’
“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’
“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through His words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’
“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Sometime later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.
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