We begin in the darkness, scores gathered around the clergy, a choir of acolytes and many more in brown robes, like old school friar's habits, some with hoods raised.
These are the catechumens, ready for the waters of baptism, ready by baptism to participate in Christ's resurrection, as Paul taught the Romans.
Huddled against the cold near the walls of the stone church, Monsignor Easton intones a prayer: "O God, who through your son bestowed upon the faithful the fire of your glory, sanctify this new fire, we pray."
A metal basin of dry kindling erupts in flame, which casts the darkness away as Christ does when he rises, trampling down death by death.
The Christ candle is a literal pillar, a massive candle lit from the new fire and borne away from our circle, toward the gothic door. The candle is meant to remind us of the pillar of fire that led the children of Israel in their ancient wilderness pilgrimage.
Our journey back to the sanctuary leads through a 200-foot long chapel, illumined only by the Christ candle and ambient light. I cannot make out any of the faces. Where now are the friends I came with? The procession stops and the monsignor chants, "May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds."
Slowly -- very slowly -- the pillar of fire leads to the sanctuary's entrance, where hundreds not in our procession await its arrival. There are now hundreds of us in procession, too, filling the narrow chapel.
A baptistry is at the chapel's darkened center, a gap in the press of people where no one stands. Light flickers on the surface of the pool for moments and then is gone.
I can just make out the Christ candle and the clergy, paused ahead before the opening to the sanctuary. There are more prayers now, chants which I can hear though the words are muddled by the distance.
I begin to wonder how long I'll remain here in darkness, when, suddenly, the pillar of flame begins migrating backwards, leaping from person to person, as the light is shared from pilgrim to pilgrim. The slender chapel gradually fills with light, making its way back toward us who remain in shadow. The growing light illumines gold-limned icons on the chapel walls; their angels and saints surround us.
The Light of the world has rekindled, never to go out again..."he who gives his light to all creation" is risen. Face after face is lit, as from one person to the next we are delivered from indistinct silhouette to bright, living color.
The joy of resurrection spreads and then I remember, once again, as if for the first time: this fire can never be quenched, this victory can never be undone, this light shines on forever. Christ is risen!