Elye and the Chapel of St. Dismas
A long time ago, in an old town, on the banks of an old river that wound through a deep and shady valley, there lived a man named Elye. Elye was old enough to look back upon his innocence, and young enough to hope. He had neither too little nor too much. His house rested in peace by the singing river, and its deep dusty rooms held secrets known only to the Spirit. Elye studied the scriptures, and the writings of those who sought God, so he became wise with the wisdom of the Holy Ones and praised God for His Power and Glory. Every day Elye prayed to the Good God, seeking Him in the Storm, the Fire, and the Silence.
Elye was himself very kind, but knew of sin, and how its long heavy shadows brought suffering and death to the blind heart. He followed the commandant to love one’s neighbor, but was ashamed of their behavior, and their lust for all things shallow and worthless. His was a sorrowful witness to the hurt that man inflicted upon himself, and the willful destruction visited upon others in the name of Good. But one question pressed him and robbed him of sleep driving peace from his nights. Why did the Good God allow Man to suffer and die, with no mercy for either the Just nor the sinner, or caused him to eat the leaven of fear and hopelessness with his hard-won bread? He prayed in earnest for the dying but always felt uneasy in the prayer; that he was somehow praying against an irresistible will, blind and dark. Could it really be God’s meaning, a sign of His loving care, that his children who sought happiness through the round of seasons in hope and hopelessness, temptation and trials, should suffer the greatest of punishments? Elye’s heart could find no rest.
That night, in the silence of the night’s darkest hour, when the hope of dawn is greatest, the candle began to flicker and wave. Elye looked up from his manuscript feeling suddenly uneasy, as there was neither draft nor wind. The candle flickered once more, then guttered and went out. A darkness that rested over the Earth’s great Deep, flowed through the heart of time, and its tide broke upon Elye, enveloping him in a darkness that had never known light. This was not the darkness where one could find rest, nor the darkness one dared to see when consoled by words of faith. Elye fell to his knees and covered his head with his arms as if to find a place to hide.
It was completely silent. Not just quiet, but empty of all sound. Darkness filled the whole space making the eyes heavy with searching as they strained to see even the faintest trace of light. Elye succumbed to the dark and gave his eyes up for seeing, he suddenly noticed something that had been there all the time but could only be seen in blindness. A glowing behind the fabric of darkness itself. A Light Immortal, so unbending, so abiding, filled with a power so powerful that it never had to show itself, a Light that did not conquer but persisted. A Light that shown in every darkness and was part of every darkness, but the darkness being blind, did not know of it.
And from within the Light, an angelic presence spoke- ‘Elye, this night you must follow the Road of the Near and Far. It is long, but I am the Way, and I will sustain you on the journey. The sounds of my coming and going will guide you, for I am the Way upon which all paths wander.
Elye found himself standing by the wall of the town, at a gate he had never seen before. Slowly it moved on its heavy hinges and swung open to a path that wound into the mists of night. And from out of the mists came the sound of all life living, laughter and cries, sorrows and joys.
Elye followed the path for what seemed like days and days, though there was only night. He knew neither fatigue nor hunger. The path soon began to climb upwards into the shadows of a deep forest. At the crest, on the brink of a great gorge, was an ancient chapel built into the side of the mountain. The words, St. Dismas, were barely visible over the heavy lintel. On a stone plaque at the side of the door stood the words- Every soul on the Road to the Near and Far will worship here in their Last Hour.
The arched, ironbound door of the Chapel was standing open and seemed never to have been closed. The Chapel itself, which looked so small from the outside, seemed to grow upwards and outwards in the dim light that filtered from deep windows cut high in the nave. When Elye touched the wall, it was as though it flowed forwards from his fingers down towards a great altar that glowed in the shadows of the apse. Written on the altar in gilded script were the words- Today you will be with me in Paradise. And hanging in the domed space over the Tabernacle, was a huge Cross.
The pale suffering body Christ, arms raised to embrace the whole world, strained over the space of the altar. The blood-stained head hung limply to one side, the innocent face drained by fatigue and unending agony. Elye heard a great wind rising against the mountain. It howled and cried, whipping the trees and thrashing at their long limbs. Yet as quickly as it had come, the heavens calmed. Then the earth itself began to quake and heave, breaking great rocks from the heights that came crashing down to pound into the valley below. Then like the winds, it stopped, bringing a total silence that felt strange and uneasy. Then last, the heavens seemed to flame and burn with an all-devouring fire that cast bright burning light into the deep shadows of the Chapel. That too subsided, and the night returned, bringing a breathless expectation with a longing as painful as the heart’s every loss.
Here where light and shadows meet, where the near and far are One, Elye heard a Voice-
‘I am the measure of all things. Those who strive against the height and depth of my desire, the heart of every purpose, strive against themselves and the measure and the purpose by which I made them. They will suffer in their striving and become blind to everything but their pain. They will think that heaven is far from them and yields neither comfort nor love.
The pain they suffer is the sorrow of striving and the loneliness without the measure and meaning by which they can know themselves and know one another. But their pain pierces my heart, and it is I who receive every blow that falls upon them, every sorrow that breaks their spirit. My own flesh suffers in them, but they do not know. They do not know that their own suffering will cleanse the measure, and perfect the purpose of all that I have Created, both great and small. This they will know when they see me, as you see me here, but they will forget’.
‘But Lord, we are condemned to death. Is that not our ultimate punishment for striving? Is there no pity for our suffering in this life?’
‘Does not a child’s suffering always wound it’s mother? Does not your suffering belong to me? And because your suffering belongs to me, will not your suffering bring great blessings, and will not also your pain mend the broken? For it is I that suffer in you, you my greatest desire, you my deepest longing. Every pain and fear, every weakness you feel, I bear in my own flesh with you my beloved. And so will not your death in mine bring the greatest of all blessings and Love’s innocence rise from the dead?’
‘But Lord’, Elye trembling brought forth, ‘though your words bring comfort I feel helpless and small. I have neither wisdom nor the power to command. How can I stand and see the pain of the world, its sin, and its desperate longings? What should I do to bring solace and be worthy of your promises?’
Elye, Son of Adam, you are worthy because you are my promise- take all who hurt, all the broken, all who grieve, into your heart. For there I will be, there I dwell. Your prayer is my prayer- our prayer praying, bringing healing and comfort to every name.’
Overcome by the weight of God’s word and the hunger of days he could no longer remember, Elye slumped slowly to the floor. And there beside him, in a pool of morning light, was a pitcher of water and a loaf of bread. He ate and drank and fell into a dreamless sleep beneath the great Cross.
Elye woke amongst his books and manuscripts. The candles had all burned down, and sunlight was creeping across the walls. All seemed the same but there was a new feeling to his heart.
From that day on, Elye prayed for the dying from within his own moments of dying. He prayed for the fearful from within his own fears, and the broken and sinful from within his own seasons of darkness. For there the Good God was praying Life’s prayer, blessing every wound, mending every heart, and gathering all to himself. And Elye would say, ‘Praise to the Lord for he is Good, all Good, the only Good, the Lord of the Near and the Far’. Amen.
David Russell OFS, Fyn