THE ENDLESS CITY
King Abdullah, Vladimir Putin, and Binyamin Netanyahu found that, having been the spectators of cities ripe for destruction, they now found themselves in what might be described as a decaying city, the like of which they had never seen before in their lives. If any of them had read C.S. Lewis’ book “The Magician’s Nephew”, they might have seen similarities, but this was not the dead city of Charn which was depicted in that book. In that city, and indeed in that world, there was no living creature bar the Empress Jadis, and the two children from London who had been magically transported to that dying world. I suppose that what faced our three leaders was something much stranger, and more real. This was a timeless city, because it was all cities encapsulated in one, in fact it seemed to be a city that had been growing since the first city that was ever built; that city built by Enoch.
The three men saw themselves looking down on the vastest city that any of them had seen. It was splendid beyond belief. They were standing high up on a terrace, which might well have been a larger version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Huge buildings made of massive stones could be seen disappearing into the far distant horizon miles away. Great towers pierced the skies. They were of all shapes and sizes and stretched in all directions, as far as the eye could see. Some looked like great spires of medieval cathedrals, others looked like exotic skyscrapers, but far more beautiful. Others were like huge castle keeps. Great palaces of every conceivable style from Sumerian, to Babylonian, Egyptian to Chinese, Greek to Roman, Mesoamerican to Indian, stretched into the furthest distance. It seemed to be a late autumn day, and there was a chill in the air. The sky was overcast with great reddish pink clouds, and there was atmosphere of great sadness. It was a magnificent city, it was a beautiful city, and it was an unbearably sad city.
“Come!” said a voice and there was John the Baptist smiling, which rather surprised Vladimir, but left King Abdullah and Binyamin perplexed. “You are to make the last journey of this adventure.” said the Saint. “Where will it lead us to?” asked the King. “You will find out, and you will be very surprised.” The Baptist’s smile got bigger and bigger. Binyamin, what little he knew of John the Baptist, was becoming even more puzzled. “Do you know what he is talking about?” he asked Vladimir. “I think I do,” he replied, “but I am not sure, I’ll tell you if I am right.” “We cannot loiter, time is not on your side.” and with those words the Baptist became serious, but he was serene as well. “Here is our transport, our trusty steeds and our old friends, the winged horses. Looking up into the sky the three men could just discern the great horses, who within a few minutes had flown down to their new riders. It was at this point that our three friends realized that they were dressed completely differently to what they had been wearing. Binayamin found himself wearing a long red tunic tied by a belt of gold, and with a simple crown on his head that might have been worn by King David. King Abdullah on the other hand looked the living image of Nebuchadnezzar and much younger. He had shed about 40 years, and this was true of Binyamin who looked about 35. It was all very strange. Vladimir was delighted to find that he was dressed like the first Romanov Tsar. He too was about 35. Before they knew it they all found themselves on their trusty steeds. “Do not begin yet, for I await the chariot of fire” said John almost fiercely. There was a whirring sound and there before them was Elijah in his chariot of fire. Binyamin looked overawed. “What are you staring at?” asked Elijah. “You!” replied Binyamin. “Well don’t!” said Elijah, “I want you to look at everything and understand. Do you understand?” “I think so.” “That won’t do you much good, but it is better than nothing.” said the fiery prophet. “Mind you the way things are going these days in Israel and in some of the churches, you will doubtless find yourselves with the prophets of Baal all over again, and how are you going to deal with them this time?” “I don’t know” said Binyamin rather tamely. “Precisely. You will be no better than Ahab. Nothing changes except one thing.” “What’s that?” asked Binyamin. “You will find out my boy”, and Elijah laughed the fiercest most terrifying laugh imaginable. Both the King and Binyamin looked terrified. However they had not much time to be terrified for their winged steeds rose from the ground rather like rockets, soon they were about six hundred feet above sea level, and they could see the endless city. They saw all the peoples of the Earth, and all the peoples of history milling about, it was a bustling gigantic scene. A considerable minority looked very happy, but many did not. They looked tired and worn, and it did not matter if they were rich or poor, for material circumstances were of no avail here. Now our three friends had been given something equivalent to telescopic sight. They could hone in on individuals, even though they were flying fairly fast. They flew and looked on, amazed at so many faces, so many expressions, and so much grief. every so often the three of them would steal a glance at Elijah in his chariot of fire, with his amazing horses, who were, extraordinary to relate, made of fire!
They seemed to have been flying for several hours, and the city remained vast and never ending. They must have travelled at least 100 miles, and still the scene was the same, and evening had not come. The sky remained the same. It was all very peculiar.
Then something changed. The people for the most part still looked very unhappy, but now the buildings began to change. Another half an hour of flying revealed a city that was derelict, and another hour’s flying displayed a city destroyed by war and the ravages of time. It was like a desert with huge outcrops of rock that you might find in Arizona. The sun was now setting very slowly, and the hearts of the three men were overcome with sadness, a terrible deep, painful, aching, agonizing sadness. “You now feel sin, do you not?” asked Elijah. “Yes!” answered the King in a dead sounding voice. The others hung their heads in sorrow. “Good, well at least that’s a start.” said the great prophet sounding like a rather irritated professor listening to a dull student’s equally dull essay. John smiled, and there was compassion in his smile.
With the coming of dark, the scene changed yet again. It looked like terrible wanton destruction. Everywhere fires were breaking out, and there was the sound of thousands upon thousands, if not millions of voices of people crying, shouting, screaming and groaning. The three leaders found that they were weeping and had not realized that they were. Everywhere there were men fighting with weapons; what weapons, our friends did not know, but people were dying, hating, and despairing. The great towers were all that remained of the gargantuan and colossal city. “This is what pride does. This is the city of the Prince of the World, and what does it do?” asked Elijah, his eyes flashing in the dark. “It rebels against God.” said Vladimir. “You are right Vladimir Vladimirovich. Let us descend so that we can see better.” said the prophet.
The great winged horses fell like stones to about thirty feet above the ground. “Now” said the Baptist, “You will see the havoc wrought by Emperors, kings, princes, presidents, prime ministers, tyrants, dictators and such like.” They continued to fly for miles upon miles over a landscape littered with dead bodies, mutilated ones, burnt ones, the young and old. Children and babies impaled upon spears, headless corpses, limbless corpses; all dead, all silent. Great vultures, wild dogs, hyenas, and other animals ripping away at so many of the bodies, and everywhere rats, everywhere the stench of burnt flesh. Above all there was a terrible sorrow, and over all was the silvery and icy light of the moon, beautiful but deadly. Her beauty simply accentuated the grief and terror; the sense of utter hopelessness. The three men felt cold and alone. They could not talk to each other. Communication seemed impossible, conversation terrifying. They felt that Elijah disapproved of them, so severe was he, but in fact it was a kind severity. Every so often throughout that dreadful night the three men would look furtively at St. John, who would look at them with a look of great brotherliness and their spirits would lift slightly.
Finally dawn came, and with it a change. There were no bodies anywhere. The city was coming to an end, and just as the Sun rose they heard singing which seemed far off, and which came nearer. It was the voices of some of the saints, who had been with them since they had been kidnapped for this pilgrimage towards truth. They were all singing "Alleluia", and were accompanied by about fifty angels. The saints and angels were slightly lifted above the ground and floating close to the the three men. Such was the sadness that gnawed at their stomachs, that even the saints and angels could not take it away.
“We must land now!” Elijah shouted, and with that the winged horses touched down so gently that their riders found themselves slipping off them with the greatest of ease. Before them was a great wall in the distance. It was only a few miles away, and the sand and rocks had given way to a meadow which was as smooth as the grass on a golf course, and as green as moss. A gentle breeze blew. “I must leave you now.” said Elijah and with that he was gone, chariot, fiery horses and all. “You have not long now.” said St. Elizabeth whose kindness was palpable. St. Joseph appeared next to St. John the Baptist, who, as usual, seemed to be in a terrible hurry. Striding forwards, staff in hand, he looked eagerly towards the great gate that could be seen piercing the wall. The wall was not unlike the wall of Heaven that the cats had seen, but it was not remotely heavenly. In fact it was distinctly earthly.
Though the wall was about three miles away, the three men and the saints found themselves at the gates in no time at all. Sadness gave way to a terrible sense of anxiety. Binyamin, Vladimir and Abdullah felt cold and sick at heart. The Baptist went up to the great wooden gates, but Joseph stayed with the men. The gateway was about fifty feet high. John knocked three times on the door and sang, “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, open!”. The gates slowly opened to reveal what can only be called a wall of angels. If the three men felt sad, the look of the angels was one of the most intense sorrow mixed with tender compassion. “Look behind you!” shouted St. John. The three men turned slowly round and gasped in absolute amazement. There was spread out before them, the greatest crowd of human beings that they had ever seen. The endless crowd stretched North, West, and South, for the Wall was in the East. The immense concourse of people looked at the three men, or at the opening gates, with the most intense anticipation. It was as if they were willing the three leaders to enter. The angels in the door sang together like a waterfall of sound, “Enter!”. Vladimir led the way towards the great wall of angels, followed by Binyamin, and then King Abdullah. “Prepare yourselves!” The Baptist shouted. The angels parted just as the gates had done, to reveal a dark and stormy day. The three men gazed and wept, two were shocked at what they saw, but Vladimir was not, but his sorrow was, if anything, more intense. A hand of warm assurance was laid upon his shoulder as the tears flowed down his cheeks. It was his patron St. Vladimir, who was weeping too. In a voice of great gentleness he said to his spiritual son. “There was no other way.”