This is the article that will be published in the next issue of النور (The Light), the magazine published by the Orthodox Youth Movement in Lebanon. It repeats many of the themes I've already touched on, but treats them in a more systematic manner.
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
"By the grace of God I am a Christian, by my deeds a great sinner, and by my calling a homeless wanderer of humblest origin, roaming from place to place."
This is the opening sentence of the spiritual classic, "The Way of the Pilgrim." This book has inspired generations of Christians, but this description the pilgrim gives of himself can be found throughout the Scriptures and the history of the Church. A pilgrim is one who has left home and family and set out in the world, trusting in God to guide and care for him. The first "wanderer on the earth" was Cain, but rather than accept this role assigned to him by God, he settled in the land of Nod and built a city. Perhaps the first real pilgrim we know of is Abraham, who was called by God and told, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." (Genesis 12:1)
God's promise to establish Abraham and make of him a great nation was partially fulfilled when the ancient Israelites settled in the Holy Land, but the righteous ones of the Mosaic covenant "all died in faith, not having received the promises and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." (Hebrews 11:13) It is in the Church, the Body of Christ, that the promises of God find their fulfilment. St. Peter described the Church as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9)
The life of a Christian is a journey from the darkness of sin into the light of Christ. Our obligation is to be pilgrims and strangers to the world and to abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11), but many Christians have also undertaken physical pilgrimages, travelling to monasteries or holy sites such as Rome or Jerusalem. In my case, I left my home in Canada in October and have been travelling towards Jerusalem since then with the goal of celebrating the Resurrection of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Along the way, I have met many wonderful and generous people. A common question I've been asked is, "Why walk?" It would certainly be easier to use modern transportation to get to my destination, and when the costs of daily food and lodging are factored in, this would also be cheaper. Walking thousands of kilometres in winter looks like a foolish exercise, but the way a person travels is almost as important as the goal. Travelling at the pace of 4 km/h has allowed me the time to slow down, to disengage from the frenetic pace of modern life with all its distractions, to think, and to pray. My walking pilgrimage has been a time of preparation, of hardship, and of joy.
Most people are not able to leave their homes, their families, and their responsibilities for six months and travel great distances, but the Church has provided a way for everyone to participate in the pilgrimage towards Pascha. In the introduction of Fr. Alexander Schmemann's book "Great Lent: Journey to Pascha" he writes,
"Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, "the Feast of Feasts." It is the preparation for the "fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation." [....] A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the "bright sadness" of Lent, we see - far, far away - the destination. It is the joy of Easter, it is the entrance into the glory of the Kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter, that makes Lent's sadness bright and our lenten effort a "spiritual spring." The night may be dark and long, but all along the way a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon."
If travelling by foot helps pilgrims to prepare for arriving at their destinations, there are similar preparations that can help those who remain at home as they journey towards the Resurrection. Participation in the life of the Church through the Sacraments, the cycle of feasts and fasts, and loving service to others prepares the faithful to share in the joy of our risen Lord. For Christian pilgrims, how we make our way to the destination is important, but St John Chrysostom reminds us that it is the τέλος, the "end" or "goal," which is primary. We are all invited to participate in the Resurrection of our Lord -- the joy of Pascha in this life is a foretaste of the glory which awaits us in the next.
"Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!"
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!