Black bread begged, traded for prayers,
icons beseeched, plain peasant cares,
kind their cottage wayside shelters,
shade from sun, wild winter welter.
Prophetic visionary, hope-tramp,
Jerusalem bound with holy lamp,
pilgrim wanderer through birch taigas,
prayers whispered, alpha and omega.
Rugged heart warmed, eternal gaze,
dark wide skies, comet trails blaze,
candle-lit icons, Orthodox churches
bulging with believers, spirit searchers.
Sought, the heavenly homeland,
ancient route, not by map planned,
Slavic Steppes to Holy Land streets,
birchbark shoes shod his weary feet.
Tattered wayfarers, orphan-children,
you shuffled among hostel pilgrims,
foot-blistered believers, adored mystic,
weathered, his staff rapped rhythmic.
Slavic Psalms sung, Saviour adored,
incense wafted, cleansed all before,
rapturous peasant faces received
saint-spat holy water, fully believed.
This poem came from a true-life character featured
in Stephen Graham’s book “With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem”, published in 1915
Painting: Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky