There are few things better for deepening parish spiritual life and the bonds of spiritual kinship than pilgrimages, with their shared journeys, common prayer and Liturgy, eating together and making one another cups of tea, chatting, discussing spiritual matters, sharing life’s challenges, helping one another, motivating one another, and even enduring one another – snoring, funny little mannerisms, and sometimes irritating habits: all making for deepening human relationships, as well as the divine-human relationship in a powerful and palpable way.
The tangible blessings, shared joy, common strength and developing shared spiritual-identity, all eclipse the plethora of virtual Orthodox projects that characterise an internet-Orthodoxy, which, in some cases, is becoming a dangerous and deceptive surrogate for the experiential reality of the Church – with physical contact with people in the flesh; shared spiritual experience in the same place; and the physical and localised reality of the Holy Mysteries celebrated in a real setting, at arms’ length from one another in the physically manifest sobornost of the Church.
The act of pilgrimage, as an expression of the solidarity and shared Faith of a community requires the investment of time, effort, and resources.
It demands arrangements with destinations, planning services, pilgrim activities and meals, journey routes, possibly accommodation, and coordinating the pilgrims.
It requires packing cars with the multitude of things needed for Liturgy, possibly sleeping bags and tents with the whole paraphernalia of camping, changes of clothes, groceries, bug-spray and first aid kits… and so much more.
It has a cost that necessitates going out of our comfort zone, and is no quick and easy or tick-box exercise. And… through all of this, working together, we receive such blessings from God.
Over the last five months, our parish pilgrimages – to Llandaff, on our doorstep, Llanthony and Capel-y-ffin, Mathern and Tintern, Glastonbury and Pennant Melangell have spiritually strengthened our parish, as well as uniting us with friends who travel from afar.
This weekend’s pilgrimage brought friends from Poole and Cambridge – people willing to make long and tiring journeys to worship God and honour the saints. Even some regular parishioners had to travel from Wiltshire and Somerset to honour St Melangell, whose feast fell on Friday according to the Patristic Calendar, and which we celebrated a day late, on Saturday.
Our Deacon, constantly reminds the community that spiritual life is never meant to be easy or convenient, but that it demands effort, sacrifice and the endurance of inconvenience and hardship. We are never in doubt that our Cardiff ROCOR parishioners accept this, given the number travelling from the Forest of Dean, Mid-Gloucestershire, Bath and Wiltshire, but the wonderful experience of the weekend made this even clearer – with nineteen pilgrims travelling from South Wales and Wessex on a long and winding journey into the depths of Montgomery, in order to honour St Melangell in her ancient sanctuary and to celebrate her feast.
What a wonderful celebration it was, though our Liturgy was very simple, compared to our usual rather more imposing Liturgies: only one priest, one oltarnik, one singer and one reader – but, all supported by the prayers of the other pilgrims.
Most of those present had prepared to receive the Holy Mysteries and made their confessions before and during the Hours.
It was a joy to chant the hymns to St Melangell and celebrate the Liturgy in the once-wild place of her God-centred life, where the labours of eremitical reclusion and its spiritual fruits made her an earthly angel and a heavenly woman.
Our celebration and joyful fellowship spilled out into the churchyard, where our sisters arranged a table for a picnic lunch, with warm conversation (chilled wine and hot tea!) and we were well-aware of the growing bond between regular pilgrims, who want to be together and enjoy being together – to share lives, Faith, time, labours and energy within the context of the spiritual family of our parish.
This will no doubt continue, month after month, as we make further pilgrimages to holy places, whether on our doorstep or further away, bringing us closer to one another, closer to the saints, and – above all – closer to God, whose Presence makes the holy places of His saints His sanctuaries: places of encounter, where the foretaste of His Kingdom calls us to follow in the footsteps of the saints: to live in a way that challenges the world, and to be holy to the Lord.