Part I: Excerpts from The Way of the Pilgrim
Split up into pairs or small groups. Each group should be assigned one of the following excerpts from The Way of the Pilgrim to read aloud. Each group should try to answer these questions about their excerpt:
- What does this tell me about God?
- How does this make sense in relation to my own experience?
- How does this apply to daily college life?
“Only the guarding of the mind and purity of heart will free one’s soul from sinful thoughts; that inner freedom can be attained only through interior prayer and, I repeated, not through fear of the sufferings of hell or even the desire for the bliss of heaven.”
“My later elder used to say that obstacles to prayer come from two sides, the left and the right; that if the enemy does not succeed in turning us away from prayer by vain and sinful thoughts, then he brings to mind instructive and beautiful thoughts only to turn us away from prayer, which he cannot tolerate. And through this right-handed stealing, the soul abandons its communion with God, turns to its own thoughts, and talks to itself or to creatures.”
“So that man would see clearly his dependence on God’s will and would learn real humility, God left to man’s freedom and ability only the constant flow of prayer. God commands us to pray ceaselessly, at all times, and in all places. This is where the secret of true prayer, of faith, of keeping the commandments, and of salvation is found. Man has the ability to pray regularly and frequently. The Fathers of the Church clearly confirm this. St. Macarius the Great says, ‘To pray often is in our will, but to pray truly is a gift of grace.’ Venerable Hesychius says that constancy in prayer becomes a habit which then turns into a natural state”
“[Prayer is] constant awareness of God’s presence […] Imagine that a very severe and exacting king commanded you to write an essay on some difficult subject in his very presence, at the feet of his throne […] The presence of the king, who has authority over you and has your life in his hands, would not allow you to forget even for a moment that you are not working alone […] This very real awareness of the presence of the king clearly illustrates the possibility of praying even while one is engaged in mental work”
Part II: Group Discussion
Come back together as a group and first share one or two highlights from your small group discussion with the larger group. Then, consider these questions:
- What does it mean to live a life of prayer? What does it really mean to constantly pray throughout your life?
- The Way of the Pilgrim claims that constant prayer keeps people occupied and therefore prevents them from being led into temptations and also that being too busy is no excuse to neglect prayer. What makes prayer different from the things that keep us “too busy”? Additionally, how can we pray in the midst of very busy moments in our life?
- Reflecting on your own journey as a “pilgrim” in this world, can you think of any significant (positive or negative) moments you have had on your spiritual journey so far? How have they impacted who you are and how you relate to God and others?
Part III: Praying the Jesus Prayer
To be an Orthodox Christian living in this world but not of this world is not easy. Prayer is a vital and core part of our spiritual journeys. While we are busy with school, work, and just life in general, it is necessary to take some time to recenter ourselves and just pray.
Even though we are blessed with many prayers in the Church, we are going to focus on the Jesus Prayer. This is perhaps the simplest, yet one of the most important and humbling prayers we have, and the prayer which is at the heart of The Way of the Pilgrim.
The Jesus Prayer is also referred to as the prayer of the heart. We can say the Jesus prayer whenever we want. Consistency with saying this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to activate a life of unceasing prayer in us, a life which leads to inner freedom and purification of the mind and heart.
Here are 10 brief directives for prayer of the heart from The Way of The Pilgrim:
- Sit or stand in a dimly lit and quiet place
- Recollect yourself
- With the help of your imagination find the place of the heart and stay there with attention
- Lead the mind from the head into the heart and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, quietly with the lips or mentally, whichever is more convenient; say the prayer slowly and reverently
- As much as possible guard the attention of your mind and do not allow any thoughts to enter in
- Be patient and peaceful
- Be moderate in food, drink, and sleep
- Learn to love silence
- Read the scriptures and the writings of the Fathers about prayer
- As much as possible avoid distracting occupations
Let everyone find their own quiet space. Spend the last ten minutes of your gathering silently praying the Jesus Prayer doing your best to abide by the directives given to us in The Way of the Pilgrim.