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What is a Holy Pilgrimage?


An essential key to making a successful pilgrimage, whether an outward or an inner pilgrimage, is repentance. We all of us at one time or another, to one degree or another, feel some sorrow or regret about our sins and failings. But true repentance is much more than regret.

In October of 1888 the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, not yet an Orthodox Christian but still a Lutheran, went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with her Russian Orthodox husband, the Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovitch. From Jerusalem she wrote the following to her grandmother, Queen Victoria of Britain:

“My very dear Grandmama,

“All our journey we have had very little time for writing letters, but having a quiet morning I use the opportunity of sending you a few lines from this Holy Town. It is such an intense joy being here and nay thoughts constantly fly to you all, praying God to bless you with every possible blessing…. It is such a dream to see all these places where Our Lord suffered for us and such an intense comfort to have been able to come to Jerusalem …. one can quietly pray and recall all that, as a little child, one already heard with such religious awe.” (Quoted in Lubov Millar, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia: New Martyr of the Communist Yoke)

Grand Duchess Elisabeth in Jerusalem

In today’s world, especially in Europe and America where there is a certain amount of affluence, individuals and families do not go “on pilgrimage”; they “take vacations.” They go skiing, or they go to Disneyland, or they travel as tourists to see some interesting — but usually non-Orthodox, non-religious — places and sites. Our forefathers in the old countries, however, knew nothing about such things as vacations; they only knew about pilgrimages. They lived longing for the day when they could go on a pilgrimage to the shrine of some wonderworking icon or a saint. This was their concept of a vacation — something that would nourish the soul rather than give rest to the body, for the body, they knew, would soon disappear into the grave, when the soul would go on into eternity and there find its reward or punishment, according to the way of life it had led with the body on this earth.

The title of this article is “What is a Holy Pilgrimage?” Such a title suggests that there is such a thing as a “holy” pilgrimage as opposed to an “unholy,” profane, or secular journey.

The English word “holy” comes from the Middle English, halig, which is derived from the Old English, hal (hail), which means “whole” or complete, not divided or broken up. This seems to reflect the Savior’s own command to us, that we be perfect, even as your Father Who is in Heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). He could as well have said, “Be ye holy, even as your Father Who is in Heaven is holy.” Or “Be ye whole…” (Our English word “heal”–as when the Lord healed the paralytic–comes from exactly the same Old English term for “whole” and “holy.”) So, by “holy” we commonly mean something or someone that is exalted or worthy because it is perfectly good and righteous or filled with virtue. We also use the word “holy” interchangeably with “divine” or “heavenly”; thus, we say “Holy God,” or “the Most Holy Mother of God.” A less common but very useful word is “hallow,” which also comes from the same root as holy and whole, but means something that has been made holy or is set apart for holy use. Thus, we sometimes speak of a shrine as a “hallowed place.”

All of these words – whole, heal, hailow – are therefore closely related in English to our word “holy.” The whole aim of our life is to become holy, that is to become saints, to achieve union with God. Now we come to the word “pilgrimage.” This word comes from the word “pilgrim”; for our purposes a pilgrim is one who journeys to a shrine or holy place, perhaps the shrine of a saint, or a church containing a great wonderworking icon, or a monastery. This word derives from the Latin peregrinus, which means “foreigner,” and from this we get our fine old English word, “peregrinate,” seldom used nowadays, which means simply to walk or travel, especially on foot. A “pilgrimage,” then, is the journey or path that a pilgrim takes to a shrine or sacred place. It can also refer to the course of our life here on earth, about which I’ll speak more in a moment.



When we talk about a “holy pilgrimage,” we mean, then, some activity or behavior or action–namely, going somewhere very special in a churchly sense, a place that is very holy and tends to draw us towards grace, towards God and towards goodness. It is a movement forward, ultimately in the direction of God. A holy pilgrimage is something which is “set apart” and different from our normal day-to-day activities; it is supposed to be something “other-worldly.” Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, in his book, The Arena, tells us that the term “world” means “those people who lead a sinful life opposed to the will of God, who live for time and not for eternity.” Quoting Saint Isaac the Syrian, Bishop Ignatius also explains that “when we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them the world.” He further explains that “the passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure.., love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear …. In brief,” he points out, “the world is the carnal life and the carnal mind.” And it is precisely this which the pilgrim flees, which the pilgrim seeks to turn his back on...


Read the full article here: http://www.pravmir.com/holy-pilgrimage/

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