by Ares Demertzis (Oct. 2006)
It was the last week of December when the priest arrived in the Desert of the Lions. In reality, there were no lions, and it wasn’t a barren wasteland; it was a compound of unpretentious, austere, whitewashed structures, including an insignificant chapel. The Desert of the Lions was located in the wilderness of a densely wooded pine forest, where those of the Faith who had transgressed were banished. He was sentenced to this remote, inaccessible earthly purgatory to perish.
He couldn’t remember when it happened. It must have been an extremely gradual process, this losing of his faith. That small voice that began as a repetitive, barely perceptible whisper in his ear, which with time grew into a thunderous howl insisting that the suspect words of the Liturgy he was reciting, whose veracity he initially simply doubted, were in fact undisputable lies.
“You do not believe, you only believe you believe. You do not believe, you only believe you believe…”*
He wondered if those around him suspected he was pretending a piety which had ceased being a part of his uncertain soul. The problem for the priest was not so much that the Idols were false, rather that he continued to worship them after he had realized they were false.**
In retrospect, it all began with minor inconsistencies, ostensibly silly considerations really, that now crowded a memory searching for clues to that monumental instant when he guiltily accepted his unrevealed tergiversation. That iniquitous, crepuscular twilight when he knew he would be denied the eternity guaranteed to him by his faith.
Ironically, for the priest it all began with the dogma of a Virgin birth. The Church made the Virgin Birth a requisite test of Orthodoxy, cognizant of the origins of the narrative, where heathen deities consistently derived from virgins to distinguish them from common men in their mythology. There was also the suspicious date of His birth, which coincided with the “Light of the World,” that pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Finally, a supplementary complication was the issue concerning His death and resurrection, which constituted a persistent religious motif throughout antiquity.
The priest concluded that his religion had evolved into polytheism, abandoning the Hebrew concept of Yahweh as a Single, Unique and Solitary Deity. Now there existed a Trinity. Three Gods: Patros, Iou and the Agiou Pneumato. And a surfeit of demi-gods, with others being continually added, all designated as Saints and charged with specific functions in imitation of their granitic predecessors.
He imagined the solemn, majestically attired Fathers of The Church negotiating amongst themselves in the Ecclesiastical Councils the Ex Cathedra Doctrines of their Organization, resembling mirthless corporate power brokers or ruthless Islamic Ayatollahs intent on silencing criticism and alleviating doubt through manipulation, intimidation or outright fear; committing that very same abusive, perverted offence of Authority throughout the centuries, intent on suffocating the unconquerable determination of Man to live free.
“Cogito ergo sum.”
Spring finally arrived at the Desert of the Lions after the long death of a cruel winter. It was during these warming, pleasant days that the burning fevers and freezing chills of Amazonian Malaria descended on the priest with unrelenting frequency; an incurable disease he had become infected with years before as a missionary.
Features flushed, numbing pain. Shaking. Trembling. His scorching brain shouting vulgar, depraved obscenities, he rushed spasmodically into the diminutive chapel. The sculptures of the saints, secure on their pedestals, transformed themselves into fierce gargoyles that attempted to devour him with sharp, protruding fangs and blood soaked, slavering tongues. From their canvases, the Divine and Biblical Apocalyptic figures hurtled themselves into space in an effort to assail him, arms reaching to lancinate his flesh. Wailing; lamenting his offensive apostasy.
Ta Iera Pragmata.
Abruptly, the pipe organ shrieked Handel’s “Messiah,” played with Daemonic Fury, and fiery sulfur spewed maliciously from the bearded mouth of the Lord, gleefully swinging across the high dome on His ornate throne; clownishly convulsed in guffawing, mocking ridicule. An unforgiving, vengeful, treacherously capricious and inscrutable Almighty; replete with jealousy, devoid of compassion.
“Hypocrite!” the priest shouted, hurling an accusation truthfully better suited to himself. “I created You in my image! You are the palliative of Mankind.”
The music paused unexpectedly. The moving image abruptly ceased its contemptuous, humiliating pantomime, remaining suspended motionless in the ceiling of the celestial cupola. Instantly surrounded by cherubim, the Omnipotent One dissolved into an unpredictably peaceful and reconciled Divine Father, stretching an arm toward the priest; His index finger reaching out in a futile effort to touch him.
O Qews Pantokratwr.
The wooden pews spontaneously ignited, the flames and dense smoke obscuring the myriad candles melting from the intense heat. Fearsome eyes of painted Holy Features discharged tears that hissed into billowing clouds of white vapor on plummeting into the probing, searing flames. The masonry collapsed, apparently on command, tumbling down, harshly chastising the priest. The clay tiles of the floor beneath his feet were torn apart, fissuring into a thin crevasse emanating that soft, boggy scent of delicate, perpetual moistness; issuing pungent vapors rising from the fathomless bowels of the earth. He collapsed into that chasm, the aqueous and miasmic passage; that slender access to another dimension. He fell back through the centuries. Back. Back. Falling back through time.
The priest found himself dripping with fevered perspiration, trembling from freezing cold, stumbling within the dark, moist, rough walled cavern of his eternal mother’s divine womb, the Labyrinth of the Sanctuary.
Faintly illuminated by torchlight, Cybelle guided him in the form of a trinity: The Virgin, The Mother and The Hag of Death. Harsh smoke from tripod fires and the piercing aroma of incense made the air heavy, laboring his breathing. He was on this night of the full moon to be initiated into the Mysteries.
Flimsy one dimensional cutouts approached, ecstatic. Dancing, writhing. Whirling. Leaping. Ebbing, flowing. Whirling, leaping. Ebbing. Flowing. Dancing. Writhing. Scourging their flesh. Whipping. Beating. Slashing. Bleeding. Flutes and horns. Cymbals and tambourines. Cacophonic chanting. Shouting. Screaming. Howling. Frenzied wailing that burst his eardrums. The priest struck his bare breast with clenched fists, and tore his disheveled hair, lamenting the infamy of his dishonesty, the certainty of his shameful, reprehensible deed.
“It was Muhammad, a Moslem, who fornicated with a child. You are a Christian! And a priest!” Those were the dreadful words of his angry Bishop.
Undulating hazy figures, clad in long garments, brusquely seized his unclothed albino body, crowned in a wreath of violets. His unexpectedly dwarfed figure was stretched profanely, arms extended, across the altar. Phrygian Attis, born of the virgin Nana, who had emasculated himself under a pine tree, glared covetously down from above with distorted features. Grimacing, his body writhing. Curling. Rotating. Twisting. Turning. Menacing. A gargantuan stone mutant. Torrents of warm menstrual blood, the honey of Aphrodite, the moon-honey, the liquid pledge of fertility, guarantor of the species survival, flowed from the gash where he had mutilated himself, where he had ripped out his genitals. The plunging scarlet liquid assaulting the rough stone altar leapt up, merrily frolicking, transformed into a bountiful harvest of violets. The priest’s sins were being washed away. Bled Upon. Born Again. Baptized. Blessed.
Frenziedly masticating the spongy mushrooms of the god’s flesh, saliva drooling uncontrollably from the numb orifice that was his mouth, the priest left his body and was suspended from a space above. He observed himself plunging the knife between his open thighs to remove his inappropriate genitals; lustful genitals, sinful genitals, not destined for the reproduction of life. The High Priestess lifted above her head in exultation his blood soaked penis and testicles, and dashed them against the altar. The priest screamed.
A sudden intense light blinded him, followed by an overwhelming sense of peace that coursed through his fatigued body. He was content. He had served Divinity with complete dedication and obedience.
The High Priestess dressed him in the long, flowing garments of women’s attire. To warm his shivering body, she pulled the white wool pallium over his head, and in conclusion bestowed the kiss of welcome into the Mysteries.
The priest kneeled before the Bishop, bowing his head in humble acquiescence, reverencing the proffered gold ring with a kiss before departing the elegant chamber. He slipped into the narrow, dimly illuminated, muted hallway, his feet intriguingly floating over the hand woven silk carpet resting on the polished hard wood floor. The Bishop’s voice thundered after him: “It was Muhammad, a Moslem, who fornicated with a child! It is Islamic Law that permits the despoiling of children!”
A bright aura emanated from the priest’s physical presence. Sucked from his body. Experiencing the universal symptoms of his oxygen starved brain. The Bright Light. The Tunnel. The Voices. The miraculous sensation of Peace. Love Everlasting. He died with an insignificant whimper of complaint.
They discovered the priest the following morning, prostate before the altar, his head in a pool of vomit that had discharged from a rigid mouth, the long clerical vestments that robed him soiled by the excretions of his bodily fluids.
Inexplicably, he was firmly clutching a wreath of violets that could not be extricated from his unyielding fist.
“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Reign of Heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Mathew 19:12)
* Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English author and poet.
** Thomas Carlysle, Scottish essayist and historian: “The Hero as Priest.”
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