The Pilgrim

(Nineteenth Century)
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Illustration by Br. Martin Erspamer, OSB, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, Indiana. Used with permission.

The Way of a Pilgrim, an extraordinary narrative published in Moscow in 1884, is the story of an anonymous man of peasant origins, who, following the death of his wife, abandoned his village and assumed the life of a wanderer. Carrying only his Bible and a sack of dried bread, he undertook a fantastic journey, traversing the whole of Russia and Siberia on foot.  

One day in church he was struck by the text of St. Paul: “Pray without ceasing.” Obsessed with discovering the meaning of these words, he finally found a holy monk who introduced him to the Jesus Prayer, instructing him to repeat the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me.” The Pilgrim set out to recite this prayer 3,000 times a day. Within weeks he had advanced to 12,000. Gradually, these words became his constant companion, to the point that the prayer moved from his lips to the beating of his heart.  

Nothing else is known of the Pilgrim’s identity. The rest of the book describes his wanderings and his encounters with a rich assortment of characters. For the Pilgrim, good fortune and bad are alike. Every encounter is an opportunity to extol the power of prayer and the beauty of the Gospel. Through his prayer, the whole world is transformed; whether other people or the natural world, everything becomes his kinsfolk. “I found on all of them the magic of the Name of Jesus.”  

“I spent the whole day in a state of the greatest contentment. . . . I lived as though in another world.” —The Pilgrim 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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