How one mustn’t do a pilgrimage / Pilgrimage

By priest Maxim Gorozhankin
October 3, 2016


Source: Maxim Gorozhankin
What prayers should we use while on pilgrimage? What do we need to pay attention to? How far are we to travel? Priest Maxim Gorozhankin, Rector of Nativity of Most Holy Theotokos church, village Peschanka, Starooskolsky district, Belgorod Region, reflects.

Pilgrim tales of the past

One of the earliest literary examples of the pilgrim’s accounts belongs to an author from the 4th century, a woman named Egeria, who traveled to the holy places of Egypt and Palestine. Her pilgrimage lasted 3 years when she recorded everything she encountered with great detail. “Egeria’s Travels” became well known among Christians as it was translated from Latin into many other languages.

Any future pilgrim can put her story to good use. For example, while visiting the Holy Land, Egeria and her fellow travellers would read the passage from the Scriptures relating to the holy site they stopped at. On Mount Sinai, those were the passages from the Book of Exodus, on Tabor – those were the Gospels’ story of the Transfiguration of the Lord, and so on.

If God considers us worthy of going on a pilgrimage, we may as well choose to bring the Bible with us and read it where the Lord had preached.

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Someone planning a pilgrimage has got to have a clear understanding where and why he/she is going.

For instance, there are many of us these days taking a trip to the Blessed Matrona of Moscow. By all means, it is a good cause – to venerate the relics of this illumined God-pleasing saint. It has even become a fashion of sorts. Even our small town’s local radio station is known for streaming an ad where an animated presenter cheerfully invites everyone to go on a trip to “Matronushka”.

Meanwhile, some wouldn’t even give the slightest thought as to who the Blessed Matrona is, when she lived and why she was glorified among the saints. Yet everyone is clearly in the know that she fulfills every wish, and people get to believe that, by standing in line before her relics, their life’s difficulties will get settled on their own.

As we plan a visit the holy relics of Blessed Matrona and other illumined saints, we ought to explore the story of their lives ahead of time and knowingly seek their intercession. If we are asking Blessed Matrona to assist in improving our health, we have to realize that she was disabled, bed-ridden and blind. When, for health reasons, we prayerfully ask St. Luke (Voino-Yasenetsky) for his intercessions, it is worth keeping in mind that, for the most part of his life, he was half-blind, while towards its end, he’s gone fully blind. Similarly, with the Great-Martyr Panteleimon, one should be aware of the fact that he was beheaded for confessing his faith in Christ. Still yet, we ask and, through the saints’ intercessions, we frequently receive what we beseech for.

It is also imperative to point out that the saints we are seeking the intercession prayers for our health did not regard health as anything significant – they could not care less about their own lives. Christ was first and foremost in theirs.

What if the saints, whose relics we are travelling to venerate, respond to our supplications, then why don’t we respond with an effort to put Christ at the foreground of our lives, instead of ourselves, or our health?

Incidentally, we have to take care of our health. It so frequently happens that we do not care enough to stay healthy, nor we do any sports or even a basic daily exercise, but when an illness overcomes us, we rush into a pilgrimage, begging for healing.

Technical achievements

It is really so convenient to travel in the 21st century. Our ancestors could not even fathom that. The distance covered within a few hours nowadays could literally take months earlier and was full of danger.

These days, we practically have no obstacles in visiting this or that place. We can and must take advantage of it. However, we mustn’t forget about the rule of moderation or else we will keep on reading on social networks that such and such has been to Jerusalem about 30 times. On the one hand, it may be quite commendable. On the other hand, in my opinion, let’s not forget about St. Seraphim speaking from his Sarov hermitage he had never left: ”Here I have Kiev, and Jerusalem, and Athos.”

Would a pilgrimage be beneficial to one’s soul if done so frequently and so matter-of-factly? Could it be so that the funds allocated for a pilgrimage would better be turned into a donation to good causes?

Of course, it is none other but a personal business, and it is rather inappropriate to say: ”You need to do this way, not the other way around.” What if God had blessed this person with wealth and he or she has enough to spend on both, some on frequent pilgrimages and some on Good Samaritan causes.

Look around!

We should get to know the holy places located close by. Just a few years back, as an example, folks would wait hours to venerate the Belt of the Most Holy Theotokos in Moscow, yet only a few were aware of the Theotokos belt fragment’s permanent location at the Church of Elijah at the Obydenny Lane, always freely available for veneration.

It is important to learn what relics are kept in the city or village you are from. It is imperative to study the area near you, the history of the local churches, including the ones lying in ruins. Their dilapidated condition may serve as a reminder how our nation lost the faith, how our churches were taken down with our own hands, and how, through the Lord’s mercy, some of them are being brought back to life from neglect.

Let’s not bring our own code of conduct with us

Once the plans are set on taking a trip somewhere, it is always a good idea to study the local rules and traditions in order to avoid certain gaffes. Let’s say someone is travelling by bus for over than 24 hours to a remote monastery. Having arrived before the Liturgy, he or she is told by a father hieromonk during the confession:
”Since you missed the Vigil service yesterday, I cannot give you a blessing to take Communion.”

When going to a particular monastery, it is worthwhile to gain an understanding of the views on major Christian life’s issues that its clergy supports. We do have some unfortunate enthusiasts who set the “Don Quixote” windmill battles over Personal Identification Codes, passports or other sore issues. It will actually make sense to skip visiting such places altogether thus avoiding confusion and spiritual discontent.

What to ask for?

Some of us appear to seek a certain saint’s intercession only and if someone is not well or there are difficulties at work. By all means, it is not so. God ever listens and awaits. We ought to keep in mind that a prayer is primarily a dialogue; it is our conversation with God. We beseech the saints to act as intercessors in this conversation. Therefore, we ask: ”Pray to God for me.”

My parishioners and I had an opportunity to visit the city of Yelets, when a part of the holy relics of the Venerable Silouan the Athonite was brought in for veneration. We prepared ahead of time for this pilgrimage, while I had recommended reading the book by Schema-Archimandrite Sofrony (Sakharov) “Elder Silouan.” Some of my parishioners came to wonder what one could ask of venerable Silouan?

Eventually, we held a conversation about it and came to a conclusion that a saint can intercede in such issues as unfaltering faith, or having a relief from despondency, or getting rid of passions, and first and foremost – of putting on Christ.

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