A pilgrimage is reduced to tourism if it does not become a part of the pilgrim himself.
I have been home for a little over 24 hours – most of it in the stupor of “jet-lag.” I have sat down to write several times, only to find that I was too tired to say much. This week may carry some aspect of that until my body is back on Eastern Daylight Time.
But there are far more important things to be done than to get my body adjusted – it is the daily assimilation of where I have been and what I have done. This, too, is not particularly different than the daily task of any Christian. We have heard the gospel of Christ – but hearing must become doing. We have some understanding of the gospel but, in truth, we must become the gospel itself or it remains little more than a book.
I have said before that Christ did not come into the world to make bad men good but to make dead men live. The acquisition of the Holy Spirit (to use a phrase of St. Seraphim) is a daily existential act. We either live our lives based on the reality of the Truth of God in Christ, or we live it based on some other reality. The secular world will offer us many realities, even religious realities, so long as we do not give ourselves to the Truth that God is the only source and sustainment of reality and there is no life that does not come from Him.
Thus in my return home from my pilgrimage finds me back where I started. In many ways, having seen what I have seen, I will have to struggle yet more to say, “God is good,” for the sin of mankind has erupted in dangerous and obvious ways within the Holy Land. Cain and Abel still dwell there.
But I met a man (a monk), whom I mentioned earlier, who said from his heart, “I have no enemies.” God is indeed good and I realize in hindsight that I was standing on holy ground in the presence of a true spiritual struggler. I return home yet more convinced of the Truth and reality of the Gospel. Christ rose from the dead. I have stood where Peter and John stood and seen that the tomb was empty. But the Truth of the gospel in any human life will not stand for long on mere historical evidence. It must stand on the firm rock of Christ within us – Who is “the hope of glory,” according to St. Paul.
I found that while standing in very holy places my heart was as much in need of “guarding” as ever. Evil thoughts, tempting thoughts, thoughts of judging and the like were no more a stranger to me there than at home. Thus prayer was essential to make the pilgrimage and remains at least as essential as I have returned.
The Elder Sophrony taught that every word spoken by Christ was a full of the creative energy of God as the first words, “Let there be light!” Thus to take a commandment into our bosom and there let it dwell is also an act of re-creation – our own transformation. And so the pilgrimage continues. Remember God. Say your prayers. Go to Church. Forgive your brother. Keep the commandments.