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The Way of the Poustinia

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

"The next day, he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!""

(John 1:29 WEB)

Lent is a season of reflection: a time to withdraw to prayer and to God. As we travel through Lent this year, we may find the road shattered somewhat and our contemplations pierced by the tragedy of war between Russia and Ukraine and other world events. Yet when pondering the conflict and its attendant political backdrop, my mind recalled the Russian word ‘poustinia’ and in that place, reflections upon war and the Lenten journey began to chime.

Literally meaning a ‘desert’, the poustinia is rooted in the Russian Christian tradition to describe a sparse cabin or hut where believers retreat to pray. The poustinia is a place of sparsity and withdrawal. A place of silence and solitude. A place of prayer and encounter. A place to be transformed. It follows a path sown in Scripture of the desert place giving way to a spacious place of profound preparation: Elijah's flight to the desert place, Jesus in the wilderness, John the Baptist set apart in the desert to prepare the way for the Lord.

In the Russian tradition, a poustinik is a man or woman who, much like John the Baptist, withdrew to dwell in the poustinia to pursue a life dedicated to God – a tradition not uncommon in pre-Soviet Russia. God may not call us all, or indeed many, to the life of a poustinik, but he does call us all into the poustinia.

For the way of the poustinia is the way of the cross. It is a journey with and to Christ; a journey of surrender, intimacy and transformation. For we are all called to take up our cross and follow him and to live lives that count for his kingdom. Lives that he has blazed for us. Yet none of this is possible without time in our poustinia.

The poustinia may not be a literal desert or cabin, but it is the rhythm of prayer, of talking to God, of studying his word, of pursuit. Lent in turn is a journey of contemplation: a contemplation that we might arrive at Resurrection Sunday changed, and fully able to recognise and say: “behold the Lamb of God”. In that place, Lent strikes a chord with the way of the poustinia.

This Holy Week, consider a word remembered through Russia at war, which speaks of Russia at prayer, and from which we can all learn the way of the cross and the way to Jesus Christ.

For further reflections to accompany your Lenten journey, try my devotional collection 'Daily Despatch' (see below)

Copyright © Sharmila Meadows 2022

The World English Bible (WEB) is a Public Domain (no copyright) Modern English translation of the Holy Bible.

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A very thoughtful reflection. And a timely reminder of faithful Christianity from the Russian tradition. Thanks.

Replying to

Thank you RevBlots. I think there is much we can learn from this it captures a sense of pilgrimage, which is the Christian walk.

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