POUSTINIA

A poustinia is a small sparsely furnished cabin or room where one goes to pray and fast alone in the presence of God. The word poustinia has its origin in the Russian word for desert. One called to live permanently in a poustinia is called a poustinik.

I first became familiar with the concept through the writings of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, who wrote a book called Poustinia.

This is from another book of hers that I’ve gone back to during this time when we’re all being called inward. This one is called Strannik: The Call to Pilgrimage for Western Man.


“In the resurrection, God handed you and me the key to the goal of our pilgrimage. We call it the doors of paradise, but there are many ways of explaining it. Still bloody from the wounds inflicted by his crucifixion, he hands you the key of reconciliation. It is the key of reconciliation between God and man. That was the price of sobernost. [Sobornost (Russian: Собо́рность, IPA: [sɐˈbornəstʲ] “Spiritual community of many jointly living people”].

Now would you please meditate on sobornost? The meditation is so tremendous that we need to go apart, away, in solitude if possible, at least in the solitude of our hearts.

Christ the Reconciliator. Christ the Salvation of Mankind. Christ the Victim. Christ Triumphant. Christ in our midst. Christ always present. Christ the Keys to the Father.

This requires some thinking in a poustinia–the poustinia of the heart, the poustinia of the heart, the poustinia of a shack, the poustinia of a room–it makes no difference, but it requires meditation, deep and profound contemplation. This is the key. Sobornost is the key to the survival of this planet, believe it or not. If we are united with God we will survive. If we are not, we won’t. So sobornost must be meditated upon, contemplated upon in the poustinia. “

4 Replies to “POUSTINIA”

  1. Poustinia! I just told a friend of mine about you, and how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness, your writing and the perspectives from which you write. I often think –I’d love to have some conversations with Heather King. And then, I come to your blog and find you writing about Catherine Doherty and Poustinia. I have been enthralled with the concept of poustinia since 1988 or so, when I visited Combermere, met Katherine’s best friend, and started reading all Doherty’s books. Even more, I think I would enjoy conversations with you! Thank you for the blessings you bestow with your writing. Love anyone who cares about poustinia and sobornost!

  2. Timothy O'Regan says: Reply

    I second what Eileen says. I suspect many of us consider Heather as a kindred spirit and would love to sit across a table from her. ♥️☕️

  3. Thanks so much, Eileen and Timothy! I, too, have visited Madonna House, and have a deep heart for Catherine Doherty. The operative point in the above quote is for me that the current world crisis, or any world crisis, always at bottom arises from spiritual bankruptcy. “If we are united with God, we will survive”…

    She continues: “Though pilgrims are lonely people, walking alone most of the time, they can create an atmosphere among people of joy, of friendship, and of understanding. The pilgrim doesn’t do it, but he has discovered how to allow God to do it all.”

    If we’re lucky, maybe we all get a little closer to that as we stumble in darkness along the path…

  4. Oh, Heather! You are bringing back memories of my life in the mid-’70s. Living at Syracuse l’Arche, we had visitors from all over: Folks from other l’Arche communities, Catholic Workers, people living in communities inspired by the Catholic Charismatic movement, as well as folks exploring intentional communities. “Poustinia” made the rounds along with some of Doherty’s other books. Other titles from other authors we were reading at the time were “The Way of a Pilgrim”, “The Practice of the Presence of God”, and “Letters From the Desert”, to name a few. Jut now I went and looked at my little library. Poustinia is long gone, but Doherty’s other books are with this grouping from that time. A wave of deep love just passed over me as a flood of memories of those exciting and challenging years hit my heart.
    How appropriate to bring Poustinia up now as we are to withdraw from the outside world for a little while. Your response to God’s call *literally* to the desert is yielding much along with the beauty of your garden and the tours around your home. Thank you again for your rich hospitality via words and videos. Love, MB

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