‘By the mercy of God I am a Christian, by my deeds a great sinner, by calling a homeless wanderer of the lowliest origins, roaming from place to place. Here, see my belongings: a bag of dry crusts on my back and the Holy Bible in my breast pocket; that’s it.’
In 1884 there appeared in Russia a slim volume containing four short tales. They told of a pilgrim, a lone wanderer, led by his quiet curiosity and a deep spiritual longing to undertake a lifelong journey across the land. A folk hero, a figure familiar from the works of Tolstoy and Leskov, this gentle pilgrim and his simple story would soon travel the world – and would even, much later, traverse the pages of JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey as the ‘small pea-green cloth-bound book’ that Franny keeps close in her handbag. The pilgrim’s ancient journey takes him from a city monastery through forests, fields and the steppes of Siberia. He walks by day and by night, through rains and summer months, finding food and shelter where he can. Along the way, he encounters priests and professors, convicts, nuns and beggars, a tipsy old man in a soldier’s greatcoat, from whom he slowly gathers great stores of wisdom and experience. But at the heart of his journey is his time spent praying as he journeys on alone, discovering the peace and consolation that come of constant prayer and silent contemplation.
Simple and sincere, ‘The Way of a Pilgrim’ paints an enduring picture of a life of detachment through wandering and prayer. And, as the pilgrim makes his way through the wilds, he invites us to travel with him, along an ancient path into an immense, mystical landscape.