Part 19 – Poustinia


Poustinia is a Russian word that means “desert.” Catherine wrote a book called Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer which is now considered a modern spiritual classic. It explains in detail the spirituality of making a poustinia, which entails going apart from the community to a cabin where one fasts and prays in solitude, generally for a day.

Poustinias at Madonna House are usually small, simple cabins or rooms, furnished with a hard bed, small table and chair, the Bible, a plain cross, and perhaps an icon of the Mother of God. It is here that the staff members go to “make a poustinia.” Scripture is the only book taken to poustinia. Through the praying of Scripture we are immersed in the word of God. To this, fasting on bread and water is added. The intention of poustinia is always for others, for the needs of the Church, the world and those who have asked us to pray for them.

Volunteers and guests who have spent time living and working with the community in Combermere may, under direction, also go into poustinia. Being soundly grounded in community is important for the newcomer.

As Catherine said of the poustinia, “You are there in silence with God so that he can speak to your heart. The word poustinia is Russian, meaning ‘desert.’ It means, geographically, a place like Sahara, but it also means more. It means the lonely place that souls sometimes have to enter, to find the God who dwells within them. For a long time I have been thinking that we of the Lay Apostolate of Madonna House should have a poustinia — a desert to which we could go, to be in solitude and silence, to pray, and do penance. I make intercession before God, for my fellow men, my brothers and sisters in Christ, whom I love so passionately in him and for him. Every Christian must do more — with vows or without — wherever they are, whoever they are. We must do more.

Madonna House

That ‘more’ can only be a poustinia, an entry into the desert, a lonely place, a silent place where one can lift the two arms of prayer and penance to God in atonement, intercession, and reparation for one’s sins and those of one’s brothers.

Bow low before the cross when you enter the poustinia because you’re entering an immense mystery, a mystery that has no end except when you will see the Lord who came to you to be consoled. Later, the Lord who came to share your consolation will come to console you. Then the Lord will come just to be silent in solitude with you. If you understand the poustinia a little you understand what it is you are walking into. You will know what mystery you are entering. The poustinia then will welcome you and embrace you and bring you solitude and silence and make you a prayer.”

Sanctuary away from the world