Saturday, August 31, 2019

"The Salvation of Sinners" in "The Way of a Pilgrim"

In The Way of a Pilgrim, an unknown pilgrim describes his wanderings through mid-nineteenth-century Russia and Siberia, from one holy place to another in search of the ways of Noetic Prayer, communicating brilliantly the spiritual truths of the gospel. In the much loved sequel, The Pilgrim Continues His Way, the narrator shares more of his story, as desire burns within him to discover deeper experiences of prayer, and to draw closer to God. The following excerpt comes from The Pilgrim Continues His Way.

When the merchant came to the end of his talk to the officer, I said to him, "What comfort you have brought to my sinful soul, Sir! I could bow down to your very feet in gratitude." Hearing this, he began to speak to me. "Ah, it seems you are a lover of stories about spiritual matters. Wait a moment and I'll read you another like the one I have just told him. I've got here a book I travel with called Agapia, or The Salvation of Sinners. There are a lot of wonderful things in it."

He took the book out of his pocket and started reading a most beautiful story about one Agathonik, a devout man who from his childhood had been taught by pious parents to say every single day before the icon of the Mother of God the prayer which begins "Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice." And this he always did. Later, when he had grown up and started life on his own, he got absorbed in the cares and worries of life and said the prayer but rarely, and finally gave it up altogether.

One day he gave a pilgrim lodging for the night, who told him he was a hermit from the Thebaid and that he had seen a vision in which he was told to go to Agathonik and rebuke him for having given up the prayer to the Mother of God. Agathonik said the reason he had given up was that he had said the prayer for many years without seeing any result whatsoever. Then the hermit said to him, "Remember, blind and thankless one, how many times this prayer has helped you and saved you from disaster. Remember how in your youth you were wonderfully saved from drowning? Do you not recall that an epidemic of infectious disease carried off many of your friends to the grave, but you remained in health? Do you remember, when you were driving with a friend, you both fell out of the cart; he broke his leg, but you were unhurt? Do you not know that a young man of your acquaintance who used to be well and strong is now lying weak and ill, whereas you are in good health and feel no pain?" And he reminded Agathonik of many other things. In the end he said, "Know this, that all those troubles were warded off from you by the protection of the Most Holy Mother of God because of that short prayer, by which you lifted up your heart every day into union with God. Take care now, go on with it, and do not give up praising the Queen of Heaven lest she should forsake you."

When he had finished reading, they called us to dinner, and afterward, feeling our strength renewed, we thanked our host and took the road. We parted, and each went his own way as seemed best to him.