17 December 2014

St. Lazarus and the Destruction of Death



The Resurrection of Lazarus, Francesco Salviati

On this, the Feast of St. Lazarus, it is good to remember the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”  These words are from John 11:35, and they describe the emotion that many of us have felt after seeing a beloved friend or relative in the tomb. No doubt Jesus cried not only at the sight of Lazarus, but because his sacred heart bled in compassionate empathy for Mary and Martha, who were grieving their brother’s death. In the original Greek, first the gospel says that Jesus loved Lazarus as a brother, and that he loved (ēgapa, ἠγάπα) Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  That is the imperfect, indicative third person singular verb for the selfless love, agape. Jesus “agaped” these people, and that is why he wept. He was not just consoling them, he was suffering in love for and with them.

To me, this agape is the hallmark of the priesthood of the baptized, because although we may not all be called to administer the sacraments, or perform the miracles of Christ, we can do more than just console our suffering sisters and brothers.  We can live their suffering in our hearts, which makes us live and love more completely than we could scarcely imagine on our own. 

We see this theme again brought up by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 6, verse 4 in which the apostle rather sharply reminds his readers that we have been buried with Christ through baptism. That is to say, using the old Rosicrucian motto, we are born of God, we die with Christ, and we are raised in the Holy Spirit. St. Paul echoes this idea by stating that "Christ, being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him." This power, according to Paul, extends to us, if we would only believe and live out our conscious love.

This action of conscious loving and following the deathless example of Christ is not unique to the New Testament.   In one of the Nag Hammadi codices, the Treatise on the Resurrection, we see it again.

For we have known the Son of Man, and we have believed that he rose from among the dead. This is he of whom we say, "He became the destruction of death, as he is a great one in whom they believe." Great are those who believe.  The thought of those who are saved shall not perish. The mind of those who have known him shall not perish.
May each of us come to experience the spirit of living compassion that raised Lazarus from the dead.  Although we may shed many tears with our illnesses, friends and family, it is through this action that we raise ourselves up over the lordship of death.  Great are those who believe, and perhaps greater are those who know through the gift of gnosis.  

*** 

30 November 2014

Uncovering Advent


Gate to Paradise by Wilhelm Bernatzik, 1906
Know yourself, offspring of God in mortal clothing.  I pray you, uncover yourself. Separate the soul from the body, reason from sensual desires; separate them as much as you can; and your ability depends on your endeavor. When the earthly grime has been removed you will at once see pure gold, and when the clouds have been disbursed, you will see the clear sky. Then, believe me, you will revere yourself as an eternal ray of the divine sun, and moreover, you will not venture to contemplate or undertake any base or worthless action in your own presence.  Nothing at all can be hidden from God, through whom alone is revealed everything that is revealed. Nothing of yours lies hidden from the mind, the ever-living image of God who lives everywhere.
                 – Marsilio Ficino[1]


Do we recognize the hidden voice of the Divine within us?  Do I appreciate the Sacred Flame within me and treat myself with the respect that dweller deserves? Am I conscious, am I increasing my consciousness through real acts of mindfulness?  These are the questions that help us confront the middle of our spiritual journey.  We cannot be passive in the middle of crossing the river.  We need to remember to keep our mind’s eye on the shoreline, and proceed with prudence to the other side.

Advent, which begins on November 30th, is a good time to think and to act on propelling our spiritual quest forward.  As we wait for the Incarnation, the Nativity of Divine Light of our Christmas vigils, we would do well to remember the words of Father Ficino: "uncover yourself."

For those of you who are regular readers, you already know that the Johannite way embraces the inner-divinity of the human person as a part of the One. This is a path that is not dogmatic and does not depend on scriptures or deterministic mythology, or necessarily linnear eschatology, for its experience and fulfillment.  It requires only that we learn to know ourselves; who we really are, and to treat others as equally important Sparks of the Divine.

As we begin the descent of the days towards the darkest point in the year, what a magnificent time to disrobe ourselves of every superfluous affectation, petty jealousy and deceit.  Stripping off our outer garments, we take comfort knowing that they will burn in the brilliance of our approach to the Sacred Heart of the Divine.  In the darkness of late autumn, we can bask our naked souls in the presence of the Divine Sun, which is pure reason, perfect beauty, and eternal Love.


*** 



[1] Marsilio Ficino. Meditations on the Soul. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1996), 77.

27 November 2014

Prayer of Thanksgiving

The thanksgiving of the person who attains to You is one thing: that we know You. We have known You, intellectual light. Life of life, we have known You. Womb of every creature, we have known You. Womb pregnant with the nature of the Father, we have known You. Eternal permanence of the begetting Father, thus have we worshiped Your goodness. There is one petition that we ask: we would be preserved in knowledge. And there is one protection that we desire: that we not stumble in this kind of life. 

These words are taken from The Prayer of Thanksgiving, which is part of the Johannite Liturgy, as it was for some ancient Gnostic Christians. The text is an ancient Hermetic prayer which appears in Greek, Coptic and Latin liturgical writings, the Nag Hammadi Library and the Corpus Hermeticum, and likely dates from at least 200 - 300 A.D.  It often appears as part of a liturgical ritual that ended with embraces, similar to today's Kiss or Sign of Peace, and a communal meal.

On this and every Thanksgiving, may we be surrounded by the embrace of our loved ones in this world and the next. They are the living, breathing body of the Beloved, whose gnosis we adore.

Happy Thanksgiving!

13 November 2014

Good Times, Noodle Salad & Gregory Palamas




I think it is normal for us to turn to the Divine when tragedy or great anxiety strikes us like a cold punch to the gut.  There is certainly nothing wrong with asking for help when we have a special need or a dear one who suffers. But what about those times in between the tears and pain?  “Good times, noodle salad”, as Jack Nicholson said in the movie As Good as it Gets. What about those days when the sun rises on an inner tranquility that is directionless, but pleasant?

It seems to me that those precious few days which we can enjoy without pain or overwhelming strife should be celebrated, but also used to charge our spiritual batteries for the inevitable return to the struggle of being human.  Unlike some religious communities, I think it is safe to say that Johannites are focused on improving our ability to commune with God right here, right now; not just when we pass into the next dimension of our existence.  Gnosis is not just something that happens to other people or to saints.

It was this very idea which St. Gregory Palamas, who is remembered on November 14 in the Johannite Liturgical Calendar, held so dearly that he risked excommunication.  St. Gregory believed that through mindfulness, contemplation and prayer, we cannot come to know the essence of God, but we can know the energies of the Divine.  Since its feast in August, I have been drawn to the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, when he glowed and hovered in the air with Moses and Elias.  Palamas wrote about the Transfiguration, describing it as the “uncreated light of God”[1], which was seen by the apostles John, James and Peter. 

So this is the thing–That’s a very different way of describing what otherwise seems like a supernatural fun fest.  Think about it–The apostles could see the uncreated light of God for the first time.  They had eyes to see.   Those of you who attend Johannite Mass will remember the words spoken by the deacon or priest before the gospel reading: “Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see the things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear the things which you hear, and have not heard them.”[2]

Palamas asserted that anyone can have these eyes to see the uncreated light, that is, anyone can commune with the energies of the Divine. He taught that there are three requisites for this sight.

(1.) A change of heart (metanoia, to think differently of our actions and our thoughts after contemplating them)
(2.) Spiritual discipline (Make a spiritual routine in your day and stick to it)
(3.) Contemplative prayer (freestyle, conversation, not repetitive for this purpose)

Now that we know how St. Gregory recommends us to fan up the flames of our spiritual lives, he recommends some big guns to help us on the way. 

Hence, as it was through the Theotokos alone that the Lord came to us, appeared upon earth and lived among men, being invisible to all before this time, so likewise in the endless age to come, without her mediation, every emanation of illuminating divine light, every revelation of the mysteries of the Godhead, every form of spiritual gift, will exceed the capacity of every created being. She alone has received the all-pervading fullness of Him that filleth all things, and through her all may now contain it, for she dispenses it according to the power of each, in proportion and to the degree of the purity of each. Hence she is the treasury and overseer of the riches of the Godhead. For it is an everlasting ordinance in the heavens that the inferior partake of what lies beyond being, by the mediation of the superior, and the Virgin Mother is incomparably superior to all. It is through her that as many as partake of God do partake, and as many as know God understand her to be the enclosure of the Uncontainable One, and as many as hymn God praise her together with Him. She is the cause of what came before her, the champion of what came after her and the agent of things eternal. She is the substance of the prophets, the principle of the apostles, the firm foundation of the martyrs and the premise of the teachers of the Church . She is the glory of those upon earth, the joy of celestial beings, the adornment of all creation. She is the beginning and the source and root of unutterable good things; she is the summit and consummation of everything holy.[3]

You really cannot get a better recommendation than that, so if you have a few good days to spare, try making a routine for yourself. Try praying with icons or other souvenirs of the likeness of the Blessed Mother, even if it is just 10 minutes in the morning before you rush into the world, or 15 minutes before you go to bed. 

As St. Gregory wrote, “She only is the frontier between created and uncreated nature, and there is no man that shall come to God except he be truly illumined through her, that Lamp truly radiant with divinity, even as the Prophet says, "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be shaken'(Ps. 45:5).”

Good times, noodle salad.

29 October 2014

Love Letters to the Dead



All Hallows by Wilhelmine

Sometimes we need a little message, a note, or a whisper in our ear to tell us that we are loved and appreciated.  The same holds true for those who exist purely in spirit. 

The feasts of All Saints and All Souls are a pair of days to send those messages and loving whispers to our role models and loved ones who have departed this world.  All Saints Day gives us a chance to learn to channel our spiritual energy from those souls who were extraordinary in their gifts and acts while alive, and on All Souls Day, we focus our positive intentions on the dead who are more like you and me, and may need some help in their journey towards the fullness of being.

The tradition of venerating martyrs, saints and other faithful departed began in the first and second century primitive Church. The custom of separating relics and paying homage to deceased saints was certainly a practice among the early Christian communities in Palestine, Asia Minor, and in Rome by the fourth century.[1] 

It is true that Samhain, the Celtic feast traditionally celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd, has deeply influenced the character of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, particularly in Great Britain, Ireland and the US, but the two traditions are clearly distinct. Samhain was an ancient harvest festival and sacramental slaughter which has developed into its commercial descendent, Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve. For the Celtic world, November 1st was the beginning of the New Year, and a time that harvest bounty was seen in sharp juxtaposition to the coming days of cold and blight.[2]  Perhaps for this reason Samhain was understood to represent a “thin” time, when the living, the dead, and other spirits, could commune less encumbered by the veil of separation.

Still, there is compelling evidence that the establishment of All Saints and All Souls was made independently of the Celtic tradition.  First, the Christian veneration of the dead grew from Palestine and Asia Minor, making its way to Rome and then onto the Celtic west. In the Latin world, the day of the dead was not celebrated in autumn, but in spring. Second, there is archival and liturgical evidence to show that the foundation of November 1st as All Saints Day can be definitively pinned on Pope St. Gregory III, a Roman of Syrian origin, who dedicated the feast upon the completion of a chapel which he had built at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  The feast was then promulgated throughout the Church by the pope’s successor, Gregory IV (827-844).[3]

The purpose of the Feast of All Saints is to remember both known and unknown spiritual leaders; those who went beyond the normal call of spiritual duty and courage to serve the Divine through works of mercy, bravery and humility. 

The Feast of All Souls, also known as the Day of the Dead, which lands on November 2nd, developed out of the early Christian tradition of reading the names of the deceased faithful from a book kept in every parish. The Mass for the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed was established by St. Odilo in the 11th century. Odilo was a Benedictine abbot in charge of the large and influential abbey at Cluny, in Burgundy.  From Cluny, the tradition of marking this requiem Mass on November 2nd spread throughout west, and became part of the Roman Rite.

The intention of the requiem Mass for the souls of the dead has always been to help the departed to spiritually grow out of the limitations that may still bind them in the afterlife.  For this reason, it is both a solemn requiem and an important work of mercy in which the entire people of God can participate.  These feasts are our chance as a community to send our message of love to those who have gone before us. This is the season for sending our love letters to the dead.

***


[1] F. Mershman, “All Saints' Day”, The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1905) Retrieved October 29, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315a.htm
[2] J.A. Macculloch, Religion of the Ancient Celts (New York: Keagan Paul, 2005), 261
[3] Ibid. Mershman, The Catholic Encyclopedia.

01 October 2014

The Martyrdom of the Templars


A very important and hotly contested part of the Johannite legacy is to be found in the monastic order incorporated in 1119 as the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici, meaning "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon." At the time of the First Crusade, the Templars were a small band of nine French knights, and according to their contemporary, William of Tyre, they took their name from the place where they had been garrisoned by King Baldwin II, leader of conquered Jerusalem.[1]  After more than a century, the Order would be ruthlessly suppressed by the jealous and indebted French king, Philip IV, under the Roman Pontificate of Clement V in 1312.  Subsequent research of the case against the Templars, known as Processus contra Templarios, in the Vatican Secret Archives, has revealed that it was the French king and not the pope of Rome who desired to see the Templars destroyed and their considerable wealth and property confiscated.

Agnus Dei, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1635
Notwithstanding the largely false charges of corruption, heresy and homosexual ritual acts, the Templars did discover and use new spiritual ideas in their work.  We can see some of these innovations in the signs and symbols of their trade, which included important Gnostic subjects such as the sign of Abraxas[2]. Whatever we may be able to glean from archaeology and archival research on the Templars, the importance their tradition holds in the Johannite Church is clearly a means of establishing an alternative, apostolic tradition, which inspired many generations to celebrate and continue to practice the primitive, catholic, Christianity established by the Apostle John and his community at Ephesus in Asia Minor.  Thus, the Martyrdom of the Templars is celebrated within the Johannite Liturgy as a way of paying homage to those who have sacrificed so much in order that we might be able to pursue Gnosis in peace and freedom.  The historical details and theories of the Templars are interesting, but should never obscure the fact that the Johannite communion of the 21st century has joined its lines of Apostolic Succession with all other known lineages. The Johannite Tradition stands for the initiation of St. John the Baptist, the unconditional love taught to us by the Master and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and the reconciliation taught to us by St. John the Beloved, the Apostle of Fraternal Love. This is the spiritual legacy of the Two Saints John passed down through the centuries.


Mysterious Beginnings
Although the Latin Rule of the order was officially confirmed by the Council of Troyes in 1129, its members had already been part of the triumphant Crusade, and had been headquartered on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by King Baldwin II.  The order received the Rule from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the prolific Cistercian abbot, who was responsible for carrying the knights’ petition to Pope Honorius II and the Ecumenical Council he convened in 1128.  This left the Templars free to go about their stated business of protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land during the years between the Concordat of Nablus, which established the first laws of the newly created Christian Kingdom in 1120, and their official chartering of 1129.  It was during those years that the knights probably first began to discover the holy relics and other objects of interest. 

Once given charge over the Temple Mount, the knights took possession of many holy relics and other important objects contained in the subterranean passageways burrowed deep inside the famous outcropping.[3] Some of the more esoteric emblems later used by the knights in the movement of treasure back to Europe, were certainly discovered during their sojourn in the Holy Land.  


The Link to the Johannite Tradition
So what do these knights have to do with Johannite spirituality and tradition, and why are they so important?  There is quite literally an entire industry populated with conspiracy theorists, legitimate historians and amateur adventurers, who would like nothing more than sell you their version of the answer to this question.  Without throwing cold water on the lot of them, or penning yet another overwrought hagiography for these knights, it would be prudent to examine the facts provided by both the Johannite Church and its detractors. 

One example are the memoirs of Marquise de Créquy, which state in a rather unflattering way that the Johannite Church’s leader, Fabré-Palaprat, and his brother Masons were part of a Templar plot vowed by Jacques de Molay in 1313, to overthrow the Capetian dynasty and establish their primacy over that of the Bishop of Rome.  Madame de Créquy lived through the French Revolution relatively untouched, apart from a short stay in a convent. Her opinion of Protestants, Alchemists and other “undesirables” clearly illustrates her strong adherence to the traditional class structure and the Roman Catholic Church. Still, her memoirs are a fascinating eyewitness recollection of the inner-workings of France’s royal court, and the existence of the Secret Church of John, which had been hidden in those very same corridors of power.
 

Despite her negative views on Johannism, Madame de Créquy corroborated the story of the discovery of The Lévitikon, and the Johannite Tradition handed down since 1313 by the surviving Templar knights.  In her commentary on The Lévitikon,  Madame de Créquy condemns the “Gnostic and Manichean” ideas contained in the manuscript, nevertheless, she is a contemporary and independent source which confirms the link between the Templar knights and the Johannite Church. The disputed Carta Transmissionis, which outlines the succession from the last Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, to the founder of the modern Johannite Church, Dr. Fabré-Palaprat, is housed at Mark Masons' Hall in London.

The Martyrdom
Whatever might have been said erroneously in the past by Johannites and other Gnostics, the Martyrdom of the Templars was not a head-on collision between the Successor of Peter and the Successor of John. The events that unfolded during the reign of the French King Philip the Fair were certainly sinister, but the black magic of torture and killing was to satisfy the greed and unbridled ambition of Philip, not Clement. This is not to say that the Church of Rome is an innocent lamb; far from it. But again, we are all equal portions light and dark, with the potential to spring off on disparate paths at any given moment. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Philip owed a lot of money to the Templars. Philip wanted to consolidate power in France, and the Templars stood clearly in the way. What is more, Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Order of the Temple was elected to serve as the 23rd leader of the Poor-Fellow Knights on a platform that included reforming the order and its vast economic and military resources. The Holy Land had been largely lost to the Muslim armies, and the Knights of the Temple were returning to France.

Whatever the underlying cause, the fact remains that it was the secular authorities, under orders of Philip, that rounded up the Templars, confiscated their possessions, priories, churches, farms, and fortifications. Philip was successful in pressuring the pope to issue his now infamous bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae more than one month after the arrests and torturing were ordered by the wayward French king. Philip began his sadistic reign of terror on the knights on October 13th, 1307, which is why the Holy Templars are remembered by the Johannite Church on October 13th.

Some say that the spiritual force of the sacrificed knights returned to the living during the 18th and 19th centuries, inspiring the genius of Mozart and Goethe, among others, and opened the way for the public restoration of the Order in 1804, the emergence of the Johannite Church in 1812, and the Gnostic Restoration of Belle Époque Paris in 1890.

For those who do not believe in coincidence, one of the favorite devices used by the Templars was the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), which is often seen in churches that have some relation to John the Baptist, after his declaration of John 1:29. The Lamb holds a cross and a pennant bearing a red cross on a white field, the standard of the Templars. The Paschal Lamb was of course used by Christians as a symbol for Christ, but it originates in the Jewish tradition of the lamb sacrificed at the Temple. In the Latin Rite, the Agnus Dei is sung during the breaking of the Eucharistic bread. This anthem was introduced by Pope Sergius in the 7th century. But in the case of a Mass for the dead, the last few words are changed from “dona nobis pacem”, meaning “grant us peace”, to: “dona eis requiem sempiternam”, which is translated “give them rest eternal.”

Mozart’s famous Requiem is officially divided into eight movements following the strict guidelines of the Roman Missal. The Introitus, Kyrie, Sequenz, Offertorium, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and Communio; but there are actually 14 songs. It could be a freak of probability and chance then, that in his Requiem, the Agnus Dei just happens to be the 13th song.  I like to think that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart set aside the 13th song to memorialize the Martyrdom of the Templars, but either way, the 13th of October remains a lasting memorial to those who have been sacrificed to the demoniacal gods of ignorance and mammon.  


***



[1] Simon Brighton, In Search of the Knights Templar (New York: Metro Books, 2006), 14
[2] Karen Ralls, Medieval Mysteries: A Guide to History, Lore, Places and Symbolism (Lake Worth, FL: Ibis Press, 2014), 24
[3] Bright, In Search of the Knights Templar, 13-15