I am a wanderer : I remember well
How once the city I desired to reach Lay hid,
When suddenly its spires afar
flashed through the circling clouds,
Soon tbe vapours closed again,
But I had seen the city, and one such glance
No darkness could obscure.
WHOEVER has wished to go has already started on the pilgrimage. And once you have started, every step upon the road is a step toward Jerusalem. Even steps which seem to have no meaning are taking you by byways and lanes to the high-road. For the heart guides the steps, and has intentions too deep for the mind to grasp at once. The true Christian is necessarily he who has the wishing heart. Therein is the Christian discerned, that he seeks a city. Once we have consciously known ourselves as pilgrims on the way, then all the people and the scenes about us have a new significance. They are seen in their right perspective. Upon the pilgrim’s road our imperfect eyes come into focus for all earthly phenomena.
It is a long time since I wished to go. It is indeed difficult to say when I did actually begin to wish. It seems as if I had been predestined from my birth to go. For I remember a time when I wished, but did not understand what it was I wished. I look back to those tender emotions awakened by a child’s hymns–only now I know what hymns really are, songs which the pilgrims sing upon the road as they are marching to Jerusalem. I understand now why at church I looked wistfully at the procession, and why more readily than to all other melodies in the world the heart responded to march music.
In my heart was a little compass-box where an arrow always pointed steadily to Jerusalem. My mind did not know, but it knows now, for it has learned to look inward at last.
Yes, long ago I wished to go, and even long ago, to use the sweet Russian word, I promised. Often have I despaired since then, and given up, and yet always renewed the promises.
The pilgrim’s discovery is when he looks into his own heart and finds a picture of a city there. The pilgrim’s life is a journeying along the roads of the world seeking to find the city which corresponds to that picture. Often indeed he forgets the vision. and yet ever and again comes the encouraging picture, like the Comforter which, on leaving this world, our Saviour promised to His disciples.
I promised, I journeyed, and now to-day I am at Jerusalem, Jerusalem the earthly, and it seems that my pilgrimage is over. The peasants feel that when they have been to Jerusalem the serious occupations of their life are all ended. They take their death-shrouds to Jordan, and wearing them, bathe in the sacred river. All in white, on the banks where John baptized, they look like the awakened dead on the final Resurrection morning. They spend a night in the sepulchre of Christ, and receiving the Sacred Fire, extinguish it with caps that they will wear in their coffins. They mostly hope to die in the Holy Land, preferably near the Dead Sea where the Last Judgment will take place. If indeed they must return to their native villages in Russia, it will be to put their affairs in order and await death. It is seldom that a young pilgrim is seen in Jerusalem. But I am young and have accomplished my pilgrimage, yet do not think of dying. What then?
The fact is that in the material earthly journey we do not actually attain to the Jerusalem not built by hands : the ancient Eastern city above Jaffa, wonderful and sacred as it is, is for many of the faithful and for all the spiritually short-sighted a great disappointment. Jerusalem the earthly is a pleasure-ground for wealthy sightseers, a place where every stone has been commercialised either by tourist agencies or greedy monks, where the very candles lit by the pious before the pictures and the shrines are put out the moment they are lit, and sold in sheaves to the Jews. The first thought of the the pilgrim on looking at Jerusalem was expressed by a peasant who said to me as we were listening to the shrieking populace at the grave on Palm Sunday, “This is not Jerusalem.” “Of a truth,” I thought, “he is right; Jerusalem is not here.”
Yet in a sense Jerusalem was there all the time even among the disgraceful scenes at the Holy of holies. As a priest delicately forewarned the pilgrims going down to the muddy little Jordan river, “Do not expect anything like the Volga or the Dwina or the Dnieper. The Jordan is not grand. Much in the Holy Land wears an ordinary appearance. Remember that Jesus Himself came, not clothed in purple, remember that His life seemed very squalid and ignominious.”
Jerusalem, then, has an existence independent of material appearance. That at least is the refutation of one error. Similarly, I remember the ship’s carpenter on the boat which brought us was a revolutionary propagandist, and he pointed out to all and sundry how foolish it was to go pilgrimgging, told us how the monks would pick our pockets as we slept at night in the hostelry,–as indeed they did,–how the monks lived openly with women, how they had upon occasion taken possession of poor Russian peasant girls and sold them into the households of the East, how the monks invented innumerable fictions about the sacred things and the objects of our piety in order to get more money from the pilgrims. Yet most of us understood that our pilgrimaging was independent of all monkish ways; that we, the peasants pilgrimaging, were all right. The holiness of Jerusalem did not take its rise from the priests and the officials, but from the actual first peasant pilgrim, Christ Himself, who was victimised by them.
I have not therefore missed my way; I have actually attained unto Jerusalem. But the point still remains–I am young. I do not think of dying on Calvary myself, I am not exactly satisfied. What then?
Youth or age signify little in the city not made by hands; for there, there is no beginning and no end. The procession to the altar is a rite in the church; the pilgrimage is a rite in the larger church of the world; life itself, the pilgrimage of pilgrimages, is a rite in the larger church of the universe–we complete in a symbolic act an eternal journey. In the mystery of the rite I shall attain unto Calvary and die there, just as at Communion I partake of the Body of Christ–or else I have not made the pilgrimage and have not entered into Communion. As the words of the mystic remind me:–
The Cross of Golgotha thou lookest to in vain
Unless within thy heart it be set up again.
If the question be asked, “Why do you live in the rites but not in the realities of life?” it is because the rites are more real. They are earthly patterns of heavenly things. Our life itself we confidently understand to be a rite. By virtue of our mystery we cannot lift a hand to do the most ordinary thing, but we make thereby mysterious signs and enter into symbolic relationship with the universe of the unseen.
THE pilgrims all call one another brother (brat), father (atets), uncle (dyadya), or grandfather (dyed)–according to the relative ages of the one addressing and the one addressed. There was a dear old dyadya from Tver province who talked with me. He had been within earshot of the propagandism of the ship’s carpenter, so I comforted him –God saw the peasant and understood. “Ah, yes,” he rejoined with affection, though he had never seen me in his life before, and even then we were speaking in the dark, “it cannot but mean much to us that we journey to the land where God died. He will certainly soften towards us when we come before Him, and He remembers that we journeyed to the grave…. And think what He suffered. What are our sufferings beside His! They point out to us the hardships of the journey, but our suffering is little. It is good for us to suffer. I wouldn’t take advantage of comforts. I wouldn’t give up my share of suffering….”
On that little boat, the Lazarus, scarcely bigger than a Thames steamer, having accommodation for only twenty-one first-class passengers, twenty-seven second, and sixty third, there were, beyond the usual swarm of Turks, Arabs, and Syrians making short journeys in the Levant, 560 peasant pilglims. Four hundred of them slept in the dark and filthy recesses of the ship’s hold, and the remainder on the open deck. Fulfilling its commercial obligations, the vessel took ftfteen days to make the voyage from the Black Sea to Jaffa. The peasants were mostly in sheepskins, and nearly all the time the sun blazed down upon them. We had two sharp storms, and the peasants, most of whom had never seen the sea before, were terribly unwell. In one stonn, when the masts were broken, the hold where the peasants rolled over one another like corpses, or grasped at one another like madmen, was worse than any imagined pit, the stench there worse than any fire. For 560 pilgrims there were three lavatories with doors without holts. Fitly was the boat named the Lazarus. I heard a priest refer to us as the Lazarus communion; his words were apt. Yet my dear old dyadya whispered to me on the morning before our arrival in Jaffa, “We must not complain.”
After all that we went through, when we arrived at Jerusalem, I heard not a murmur but of the words,”Slava Tebye Gospody! Slava Tebye!” (Glory be to Thee, O God, Glory to Thee!) With eyes all wet the mouzhiks crowded into the monastery for the thanksgiving service, and the great Bible rested on the heads of the close-pressed throng–a human lectern, and more than that. And with what eagerness we pressed in to kiss in turn the cross in the abbot’s hand! As we stood afterwards, a dozen of us, about the door, a woman all in laughing tears knelt down and kissed our feet in turn and asked our forgiveness, seeing that she, a sinful woman, had reached Jerusalem.
Not only had the pilgrims lived that terrible voyage, but many of them had walked a thousand miles and more in Russia before reaching a port of embarkation. Many who were not there in body perished by the way.
Though there are many beggars who have no choice of way it is not usually through lack of means that the pilgrims have to rough it. The peasants brought with them rather more money, man for man, than the tourists in the hotels. To have twenty or thirty pounds in spare cash was quite common, to have fifty or sixty pounds not uncommon. You would never dream it to see the pilgrim’s clothes, but the money is there, deep under the rags, to be used for God’s purposes. It is only the degenerate peasant who pays to have himself conveyed to Jordan, to Nazareth, to Bethlehem. “Oh, what good is it to come,” I heard a peasant say in the Dead Sea wilderness, “if we take no trouble over it?” He was trudging in birch-bark plaited boots which he had made in the far North and kept new to the day when he landed at Jaffa. A simple, patriarchal figure he was, with long, dense hair cut round his head by sheep-shears, and long beard and whiskers encroaching on the sanguine colour of his high cheek-bones and well-scored temples. He was white from head to foot with the dust of the desert, even his hair was caked white, and he walked forward step by step, slowly, equably, pensively. It was at the well of Guerassim he uttered these words, a mysterious little oasis, a warm saltish spring, and over it a loving bush heavy with rhododendron blossoms.
Thus the peasant pilgrimages. On the road to Nazareth, whilst the great caravan is on the road in the third and fourth weeks of Lent, many fall down dead in the dust. They just go on and on, all white from the dust of the road, and at a turn throw up their arms and fall over dead. There is never a complaint.
I have walked many times down the steep, dark way from the Praetorium to Golgotha, where the stumblings of Christ are commemorated, and where, no matter how steady, the wayfarer is bound to stumble; and I have seen thousands of peasants come down. For want of space the Turks do not permit the actual rite, but the seeing eye needs not that to see that the back of the long-suffering Slav is bowed beneath a heavy cross of wood which he is carrying down the treacherous and narrow way to the grave.
THAT it should be with the Russian peasants that I came to Jerusalem is also symbolically true. In the larger pilgrimage of life it is with these simple people that I have been journeying. It was the wish of the heart, the genius of seeking, that taught me to seek Jerusalem through Russia, that brought me to her simple people living in the great open spaces, lighting their candles in the little cotages and temples. At Jerusalem were hundreds of Englishmen and Americans, and the English language was as frequent in my ears as Turkish. I stood next to rich tourists from my own land; they hadn’t the remotest idea that I was other than a Russian peasant, and I thought, “What luck that I didn’t come with these!” But really it was not luck, but destiny.
It is hard for any one to realise himself and the appalling mystery of his steps upon the world. No matter how truly one describes the others who are journeying to Jerusalem, it is always, nevertheless, only one person who is journeying. All that he sees, however strange and separate, is but a furnishing of his soul. I remember how, when night came down upon the steamer, the ship’s lanterns were lit up, and the electric lights twinkled high up on the dark masts. Over the pitch-black wallowing sea the loamy billows leapt like white wolves, and all unheedingly the boat ground forward on its straight line passage to the port wnich it should reach on the morrow. The first and second class passengers would be settling down for the night, the Turks in the third class spreading bright mattresses and quilts on the deck, and improvising curtains round about their black-vdied ladies; but up in the stern would be two hundred Russian men and women with gleaming candles. In the midst of them a peasant would be reading, his deep voice resonant in a general silence, “Glory to Thee, God-chosen Mother, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and earth, glory to Thee!” two hundred voices responding “Glory to Thee!” Then the reader again, and after him the chorus, “Alleiuia, alleluia, alleluia!” going through the akathisti. The akathisti ended, there would follow the singing of sacred hymns and psalms till long after midnight, all sitting on the deck, all peaceful, all intensely happy. At last the singing dies away, the band disperses, and there is silence; nought is heard but the pounding of the engines and the wind in the cordage. It may be at four o’clock in the morning you get up to take a look at the sea once more; in the east the stars are turning pale, the silent boat goes forward with the regularity of a beating heart, and you feel that every one is asleep. Yet look down into the mysterious hold, go down the ladder, and step over the sleepers; away in the dark corners among the sacks embroidered with crosses you see little pictures of Jesus are hung up and candles burn before them, and the unsleeping pilgrim kneels with his bare white brow on the dark floor. In a sense it is Russia that is kneeling; in a sense it is you and I and every one.
There went a whisper round the decks one morning, “We have a mysterious passenger on board.” Whether it was because of the man who said he had been in heaven for twenty-four hours, or because of some mysterious action of the exalted fanatic who slept by the carpenter’s bench, or of the old man who had taken the oath of silence, I know not. It was a typical peasant rumour with no explanation but in the words–“They say … there is a mysterious passenger on board.” It even came to the captain’s cars, for I heard him say, “There are no Russians without passports; of that at any rate I’m quite sure!” as if mystery could be explained away by a passport.
Often I thought of that rumour after we had reached Jerusalem. When the man who had been in heaven began to preach; when the aged beggar Abraham, twenty times in Jerusalem, came and sanctified our wooden beds every morning before dawn in Holy Week, burning incense in an old tin can on a stick, and making the sign of the cross over us with the dense fragrant smoke; when I saw the man all in white by the Golden Gate carrying in all weathers his lighted lamp, I always thought. “There is a mysterious pilgrim in Jerusalem.” When I knelt at the Life-giving Tomb I thought once more, “There is a mysterious pilgrim in Jerusalem, there is myself….”
IN the press of all the nations in Jerusalem at Easter it was perhaps difficult to find Jesus. Perhaps few people really tried to see Him. There was so much memorial of the sad past, so little evidence of the living present.
On Easter morning the old monk, Yevgeny, saluted me with these sad words, “Christ is risen, yes, and it is Easter, but not like the Easter when He rose! How the sun blazes! All Jerusalem is dry and will remain dry, but then it was fresh, and there was rain, such rain. You know there came a fruitful year after His death. No one had known such a summer. Everything seemed to yield double or treble increase, and there was a freshness that seemed to promise impossible things”–the monk’s eye filmed; he went on, “And now it is dry … dry … it has all dried up.” These were sad words, and perhaps true for the man who said them. Every man has a first Easter, and the succeeding ones are anniversaries. What was for him an anniversary was for me perhaps a first Easter or a premonition. I for my part was aware that even at Pilate’s house were fruit trees laden with blossom.
Yes, Jesus was abroad in the land on Easter day, but what is more, He was actually walking the thronged Jerusalem streets in the season of Lent when I myself was there.
These were certainly aids. Did not the peasants nurse in their hearts the rumour–There is a mysterious pilgrim in jerusalem ? There was that man all in white by Herod’s wall, he had that use in the symbology of Jerusalem, by him it was easier to imagine THE MAN IN THE CROWD. Jesus in His day was the man in the crowd; the man whom people clustered round, whom they pressed in to hear, the man of whom strange words or actions were expected. Thus stood Jesus silent on the feast day, the inquisitive flocking about Him and scanning His face, wondering if He would say anything or not, when all of a sudden His lips opened, and there came forth the word of God as from the lips of the oracle … “He stood and cried, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.'”
I suppose the Russian pilgrims read the gospel every day in Lent. Those who could read, read aloud; and those who could not read, listened. They lived with the evangel. It was possible to buy Russian guide-books to Jerusalem in the shops, but very few pilgrims bought t hem. They used their Bibles, and they found the sacred places by asking one another. It was marvellous how they found their way through the labyrinth of dark tunnel-like streets and alleys. And they never missed any shrine as they went, never passed a sacred stone without kissing it. With such clear minds as they have, they will easily reconstruct Jerusalem when they get back to their villages, and their countrymen, counting them half-holy, pour in to ask them what it was like.
Jerusalem is bewildering. Tourists are tired out in three days. Indeed, it is scarcely worth while going there to be a looker-on. Unless one lives the life, Jerusalem can mean little or nothing. And even living the life, it is necessary to have the placid, receptive soul–the open house of the soul wishing to be furnished.
We find Jesus really when we cease looking at Jerusalem and allow the gospel to look into us; when we cease gazing questioningly at Jerusalem the earthly, and realise in ourselves Jerusalem the golden; when in the pure mirror of the soul is reflected the living story of Christ. Then at Bethlehem the babe is born, and over Him the bright star shining, the shepherds hear the angels sing, the old kings come travelling through the night with gifts. The child goes to Nazareth and to Jerusalem. At Jordan, the strange Greek priest baptizing by the flowing stream is veritably John. To him comes the mysterious Pilgrim: did not the heaven in one’s soul bear witness! Jerusalem holds a Prophet. In indignation He whips the hawkers from the Temple; He says a final No to commercial Jerusalem and lives thereafter in the purged city, the city independent of material appearance. He moves among the souls of men; He gives forth oracularly the living word of God. At Bethany, Lazarus once more steps out of the grave and sits at Martha’s board, and when the pilgrims come on Palm Sunday, strewing wild flowers as they walk, and bearing on their shoulders olive branches and palms, there is truly in the midst of them the mysterious Pilgrim sitting upon an ass, and they hymn Him to Jerusalem.
The whole heart is a world, and that world is a temple. Every step and every movement is mysterious, every procession is a rite, a word, or a letter in a word, of the great poem which God reads, which is man’s life.
Alas! there are strange doings in the Temple; the dark figures that mingle with the white move forward to dark ends. The Pilgrim sits at supper with eleven white ones and a dark one; the dark one goes out. The Pilgrim goes into a cypress-veiled garden and prays; the dark one comes back and kisses Him. A dark crowd with staves presses in and the Pilgrim is taken away by them. There is a choice made between Him and a robber; there is a foolish trial. Then comes a symbolism within the symbolism, like a dream within a dream, for they put upon the Pilgrim’s head a crown of thorns, and on His shoulders a purple robe. They lead Him forth unto death. He carries the heavy cross down the steep dark way, and stumbles as He walks. To the same cross He is nailed, and the cross is set up. It is rooted in the lowest depths, and it rises into the highest heaven. Upon it hangs the mysterious One all glistering white, yet shedding drops of blood…. Then all is lost in a darkness that not till Easter morning will disperse.
A RITE scarcely lives as long as it is merely ecclesiastical, but when it is personal, it is altogether lovely. The swinging of the censer in church one allows to pass almost unnoticed, but old Abraham burning incense over us in his old tin can melts one to tears. On Holy Thursday one looks upon the washing of the disciples’ feet by the white-handed, delicate old Patriarch, but it is only a church pageant and a spectacle–the richly carpeted platform in the square of the Sepulchre, the monks each named after an apostle, the table on which stand the twelve candles, the gentle greybeard with a silk-towel at his girdle washing the spotless feet with rose-scented water from a silver basin, the pageantry of the church, its gold crosses and banners, the crush of sightseers all about. It is a different matter when an inspired peasant washes his fellow-pilgrims’ feet from an old tin pail at the back of the monastery wall. It is not artistic; the feet are very dirty; it looks coarse and uninspiring, but it is real, and if you can see beyond material appearance it is lovely. It has the beauty of summer which is hidden in the rich black earth.
Surely the priests have erred by making it into a dead pageant and letting out the roof of the Sepulchre in seats for a price. They are not near to the behest, “Wash ye one another’s feet.” The office of humility has little in common with gold crosses and carpets. Even as a picture the rough peasant’s rite was more like the original. As a reality there was no comparison, for the peasant washing the feet was the mysterious Pilgrim.
In the days of old
Cross of wood and bishop of gold,
But now they have altered that law so good
To cross of gold and bishop of wood.
Then also at the temple of Golgotha on Good Friday, and at the Sepulchre on Easter night, there were great pageants, and the accomplishment of rites ecclesiastical and no more, and though it is expressly to those places and for those time’s that the peasant makes his pilgrimage, he is quite content to realise the meaning of the time in his own Russian cathedral in the Russian settlement. The grave would have to be fifteen times as large as it is to accommodate the Russians materially: those whose bodies are not jammed and fixed in that terrible death-dealing crowd are at least there hy faith. Obviously it is possible to be there in the body and yet not be there at all–speaking in the language of the heart. Indeed, for some it is not necessary to travel to Jerusalem the earthly at all; they find the Holy City in the village church on Easter night.
The peasant is saved hy his personal realisation of holy things, by the cross which is not only in his priest’s hands, but hanging from his own neck, by the ikon not only in the church but in the home, by his hospitable house and heart, by his hard-tramped pilgrimage, by his own visions and inspirations.
Thus a pilgrim who made friends with me when I arrived at Jerusalem asked at once my name, meaning by that my Ch1istian name, and took me to the place where my “angel” was stoned. “Here he stood when they took up stones; you see the stones all about, the same stones … and here on this rock stood the Mother of God on tip-toe looking on whilst they stoned him.” Following him, I knelt down and kissed the places in turn.
I suppose every man whose life is a going forth upon divine adventures feels somewhere at the back of him the supporting faith of a woman. Hilda looking on, the Master-Builder climbs the scaffold and does the impossible a second time. Mary looking on, the first martyr faces his persecutors with a face catching a radiance from a hidden light. A man and a woman make one man–he is the outward limbs battling in the world; she is his steady beating heart.
The rough unshorn peasant in his old sheepskin had not learned to read, and knew nothing of my mind or its furnishings, but he brought me there like a child.
As I was tramping through the Crimea and along the Black Sea coast toward the Turkish frontier it often occurred to me that I was with the wise men, or one of them, following a star to Bethlehem. When I reached the Holy Land, Bethlehem was one of the first places that I visited; and as if Providence had smiled on me, it turned out that the day which saw me there was my own birthday.
I shall always remember the day. The March wind blew freshly over the trimly rounded stone hills outside Jerusalem, and seemed to turn over Bible pages. Every scene was like a living representation of some picture in a religious book at home. The palm started up into the sky on the horizon, the dark cypress gloomed beside grey ancient walls, brown-faced girls came carrying pots on their heads, Arabs overtook me with trains of mules. All that was new were the bent peasant women, trudging down the road with bundles cross-marked on their backs.
As I looked at the budding spring and the little children gathering wild flowers, I knew myself in a place which does not alter, the place where people are always young, and the world is always fresh and full of promise. I had indeed reached Bethlehem on my own birthday.
Some weeks later, on Easter day, as soon as the sun had risen, I came to the Sepulchre, that second birthplace of Christ, and I measured the way from Bethlehem.
The old monk Yevgeny was with me, and we read together the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of St. John. My friend always carried about with him a great family Bible wrapped up in newspaper, and every day he found some one with whom to read and talk. It was with him that I measured the life from Bethlehem, the birthplace of the loving human child bound to be rejected by the world, to the Sepulchre, birthplace of the celestial child above us, no longer subject to our powers.
When the sun went down in majesty on Easter eve, as if answering the behest, “Father, glorify Thy Name,” there came a whisper to my ears, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” Easter eve is a sunset, but Easter morning is a celestial sunrise.
“The story was fresh, fresh,” said Yevgeny, turning over the leaves of St. John dreamily, “but now it is dry, dry as a mummy. Once it was very real; we must not forget that.”
For me, however, it was fresh and real now, for in myself the first pilgrim had just reached tLe City.
Stephen Graham, With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem (1913), from the Prologue