What is the Apostolic Johannite Church?
We are an esoteric, gnostic, Christian communion within the historic Apostolic Succession.
We fully embrace the beauty and mystery of the living Christian tradition: candles and incense, ancient rites such as baptism and the eucharist and robed male and female priests. At the same time, we share a commitment to freedom of thought and an insistence that the fullness of the Divine is known both in the hidden secrecy of the individual heart and in the loving connection of community.
We hold the same lines of spiritual lineage as older, mainstream churches as well as some less common, mystical lineages like the Gnostic succession of Jules Doinel. We treasure the fullness of mystical Christian teaching whether orthodox or “heretical” as informative.
What does Johannite mean?
The word comes from the name “John” (or “Yohanan” in Hebrew).
Johannite refers to a spiritual tradition carried in part through the initiatory tradition of John the Baptist, exemplified in the relationship between Christ and the Apostle John, brought to fruition in the community addressed by the Gospel of John, the Gospel embraced by early Gnostics, and which produced the Revelation to John the Theologian. We strive to embody this tradition today.
Is the Apostolic Johannite Church a Christian Church?
We are part of the “catholic” (the word means “universal”) tradition as it was understood by the early Christian churches, and we use Christian symbolism, form, and sacraments in our worship. Many of our members consider themselves Christian.
We also welcome members from a wide variety of faith traditions including Wiccans, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Druids and Hermeticists. Respect for the Christian tradition, and all traditions of faith, is central to the Apostolic Johannite identity.
Is there a Parish in my area?
We currently have Parishes, Narthexes, Missions and Oratories across Canada, the United States, and Australia. All current groups are listed on our website (click on “Find Us” in the main menu).
If there isn’t a group in your area, you might consider starting one. For that to happen, someone needs to volunteer as a leader and be approved by the church. Check out our Seminary for more information and email the Formation Director if you’re interested.
How many clergy do you have?
An official listing of clergy and lay leaders can be found on our Governance page.
Do you ordain women?
Yes. As our Statement of Principles puts it:
“We recognize the Sacred Flame to be present in all Beings and therefore our Offices are open to all humanity without discrimination on the basis of gender, race, social status or sexual orientation.”
Further, we are practically committed to gender diversity and non-discrimination in all church functions and activities.
What about gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people?
As you can see in our Statement of Principles, we welcome gay, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people as full members of our church and we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the administration of any of the sacraments of the church, including ordination to the offices of deacon, priest and bishop (and in fact we have serving GLBT clergy). We are delighted to offer the sacrament of matrimony to any two people in a genuine, loving relationship regardless of gender.
So you’re Protestants, right?
No. “Protestant” characterises churches that emerge from earlier Churches in opposition to them (Catholicism, mostly). We share a number of ideas with various Protestant denominations, such as the ordination of women and the idea of a personal and unique experience of the divine. However, we do not define ourselves in opposition to Rome or any other church: we are the continuation of a tradition that shares its roots with all Christian Churches.
I thought Gnostics were heretics, why do you look so conventional?
For centuries, gnostic ideas flourished within the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Countless Catholic and Orthodox Bishops died peacefully in their sleep after lifetimes of preaching and practicing gnostic teaching. These people contributed, debated, and crafted much of what we see of liturgical culture today. The Cathars and Bogomils had bishops. The Valentinians celebrated the Eucharist. Of course the Gnostic Revival of the nineteenth century also embraced the structure and liturgy of Catholicism, with a deep, mystical understanding.
Our approach seems familiar and approachable on the outside, while principles like freedom of thought and a mystical understanding of liturgy and scripture transform the conventional from within.
What does your church do to protect children?
Convicted sex offenders are explicitly barred from holding leadership positions within the Apostolic Johannite Church, and we screen seminarians and clergy through local, national and international background checks, including criminal record checks and sex offender listings. Background checks are conducted every five years for Deacons, Priests and Bishops as a part of licensing.
In addition to this, the AJC also maintains very strict policies ensuring, where possible, that no individuals are placed at risk through the participation of laity that are known to the community to have committed sexual or violent offenses. Should the latter seek the ministry of our Church or clergy, this is done in an environment apart from those at risk.
It is common to being to explore a religious tradition or organisation by asking what its members believe. In the case of the Apostolic Johannite Church, this question can prove frustrating and our answers may seem non-committal. We are a community drawn together more by shared symbolism, common liturgy and loving unity than by intellectual agreement alone.
What do you believe in?
We invite you to read our Statement of Principles. In particular, note:
We affirm that there are many ways in which Gnosis may be experienced. Thus, we promote freedom of thought in pursuit of one’s inward Path towards the Divine, whether that pursuit is modern or ancient in origin, or individual or communal in experience.
The Principles outline the shared experience of the AJC community. Your experience may well be different. We are a diverse community and our Principles are intended to sketch out a shared centre to the Church, if you find them welcoming, we welcome you.
Do you believe in the Bible?
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are sources of our inspiration, as are other works including the Corpus Hermeticum and the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Scriptures. We understand these texts from a multi-layered, allegorical and mystical view, rather than a literal one.
Do you believe in the Trinity?
We affirm the Trinity of the Divine as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We also use the language of Pleroma (fullness), Logos (word), and Hagia Sophia (holy wisdom) and other forms.
How can I learn more about Gnosticism?
We also have several books, homilies, videos and interviews by AJC clergy which can be explored in the Learning section of our website (click the “Learn” link on the main menu).
- The AJC YouTube Channel
- “The Lectern” – a podcast of audio from our video library
- The Gnostic Wisdom Network – an independent gnostic media network sponsored by the AJC
There are also some excellent sources available online:
- The Gnostic Society has provided online access to gnostic texts and interpretation for over a decade.
- Wikipedia has a great deal of information on Gnosticism, mostly up-to-date and accurate.
We also recommend some books:
- Bishop +Stephan Hoeller’s “Gnosticism”
- Elaine Pagel’s “Beyond Belief” and “The Gnostic Gospels” and
- “The Gnostics” by Andrew Philip Smith.
What do you mean by “Gnostic”?
Gnostics affirm the centrality of “gnosis” – transcendent, liberating, experiential knowledge of spiritual truth – and that salvation is obtained via its apprehension. Gnosis exists both within the current of mainstream religious belief and systems and beyond its confines, expressing itself primarily in myth and symbol rather than doctrine and dogma. Gnostics stress mysticism, committed spiritual practice, personal responsibility and practical philosophy.
What does “esoteric” mean?
Ideas preserved by a small group or those specially initiated; from the Greek esoterikos, a compound of eso “within” thus the more inward and mystically oriented. Esoteric is distinguished from exoteric, which refers to that which can be understood by all. Many faiths and schools have both an exoteric (outer) and an esoteric (inner) form.
In our context, it means that we ascribe an experiential reality to the church and its sacraments beyond the ceremonial and symbolic.
What do you think about original sin?
This is not a concept that plays a significant role in the theology of the AJC. Many Gnostics (and for that matter, many orthodox Christian mystics) believe that human beings exist in a state of fallenness – separation from the divine – and believe that our work on Earth is to restore ourselves to an original state of union with God.
You don’t seem to take a lot of positions.
The clergy and laity of the Apostolic Johannite Church represent a cross section of people from many walks of life and nationalities. We count ourselves fortunate and blessed to have differing opinions on politics, social and personal issues, and of course, religion and spirituality.
The AJC has preferred an organic unity to a constructed, legislated or enforced uniformity whenever possible. The Church should, we feel, serve as a sanctuary and a place to connect and learn from each other, laity and clergy alike. In order to do this, the Church does not seek to create dividing lines between its members on matters of conscience.
Our rules, regulations and positions are directed to maintaining an enjoyable, supportive and safe experience for both those who are just stopping by, and those who call it home, as well as making the church efficient and consistent in its operations and work.
Are there “secret teachings” in the AJC?
Each individual’s secret teaching is revealed in their own heart through meditation, contemplation, participation in the sacramental life of the church and conversation, discernment and fellowship in community. The AJC’s minimalist theology tries to stay out of the way of this direct, intimate, experiential relationship with the Divine, while keeping members focused on a broadly common path. If you’ve read our Statement of Principles and this document, you will have a better idea of what we’re talking about.
Liturgy and practice are at the heart of the AJC. Our approach is both simple and, for many Christians, familiar.
Do you practice the Sacraments?
We do honour the seven Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Penance, Holy Orders, Eucharist, and Extreme Unction as part of our Apostolic Tradition.
Are your Sacraments valid?
In brief, yes.
In more detail, the idea of “valid” sacraments comes from Roman Catholic sacramental theology. We don’t define ourselves in terms of Roman practice, our sacraments are typical in style and effective by the standards and norms of the primitive (pre-Nicene) church.
But in the sense meant by Roman Catholics, also yes. As an Apostolic Church our clergy and Sacraments are by our understanding considered valid by The Vatican, in keeping with the declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled “Dominus Iesus,” which states, in part, “The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy.”
Can I attend Mass and take Communion even if I’m not a member?
Yes. We welcome all who come respectfully and openly.
Can I get a copy of your rituals to read at home?
No. Our liturgies are neither pieces of literature nor historical documents that can be examined in a vacuum: they must be understood within the context of a living community and a living tradition. For more information on this policy see here.
Are children welcome at AJC liturgies?
We are happy to welcome children who can be respectful of the liturgy and other members of the congregation. If you have any concerns, it is best to contact the rector of the parish you wish to attend.
What about pets?
Policies on pets and other animals are left to the discretion of individual parishes. Service animals are of course always welcome.
The Apostolic Johannite Church shares commonalities with many other esoteric and spiritual organizations. We don’t police our boundaries the way mainstream churches do. We’re often at pains to point out connection rather than difference, so these similarities can seem to imply a stronger organisational connection than that which actually exists.
Specifically, the history of modern Gnosticism, Johannite Tradition, Freemasonry and the Knights Templar are tangled together in a variety of ways which leave echoes of each in the others.
For each of the organisations and traditions mentioned below we may share some members, ideas and practices, but we are a distinct organisation with our own governance and rules.
Are you connected with the Ecclesia Gnostica?
No. We have the highest regard for Bishop +Stephan Hoeller’s work and the EG, but at this time we have no formal association.
Are you connected to other Gnostic or non-Gnostic Churches or Religious Orders?
The Apostolic Johannite Church strongly affirms the value of dialogue and cooperation with other religious bodies and practitioners; many of our members and clergy enjoy meaningful ecumenical and interfaith relationships.
As an organization however, the Apostolic Johannite Church has no formal relationships or working agreements with any other Church or Order outside of those directly sponsored or overseen by the Apostolic Johannite Church as outlined elsewhere on this site, such as the Order of the Temple and Saint John.
Are you connected with Freemasonry?
No. We welcome Freemasons in our Church and quite a few of the clergy and laity are Freemasons. There is a longstanding connection between Masonic and Gnostic Traditions. However we are not formally associated with any Masonic organization.
Are you a Templar church? What is your relationship to the Knights Templar?
One of the predecessor organisations of the AJC, from whom we derive a great deal of inspiration, was l’Église Johannite des Chretiens Primitifs, founded by Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat. Fabré-Palaprat also founded a recreated version of the Order of the Temple (Knights Templar), and this is part of our history.
Our organisational myth includes the idea that one of the spiritual lineages of John the Beloved was transmitted through the Order of the Temple (via Fabré-Palaprat) to reach us in the present day, so we often pay respect to the heads of the Order during liturgy for carrying that lineage.
We welcome members of modern Templar orders and some of our current members are also vowed members of the AJC’s Order of the Temple and Saint John, which engages the Templar tradition as a part of Johannite spirituality, but we are not a “Templar church”.
What is your relationship with Martinism?
We honour Martinez de Pasqually and Louis Claude de Saint-Martin as gnostic adepts among many other mystics and saints over the last two millennia. We welcome Martinists as members of our church and several clergy and lay people are Martinists. The AJC has no formal association with any particular Martinist organisation.
Do you have links to Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO)?
No. We don’t regulate the memberships of members of the church, so some church members may also be members of organisations like OTO. The AJC has no organisational links with OTO.
I read somewhere your Church was founded by a Satanist. Is that true?
This is sometimes raised as a way of discrediting the AJC.
It is true that our founder some time prior to establishing the Church, was a member of a so-called “left-hand path” (rather than Satanist) organisation as a part of his spiritual journey. As he stated at the time, feeling that this path seemed to provide more opportunity for personality conflicts than genuine spiritual growth and drawn by a growing interest in Gnostic Christianity, he made a firm break with that period of his life. He had no involvement with that organisation or path by the time he founded the church.
For more information on this and other attacks please see the letter from the Patriarch.
What’s The Friary, what relationship does it have to the AJC?
The Friary is an hermetic, initiatory order founded at the same time as the AJC. The two organisations are distinct and membership in one does not require membership in the other, however some of our clergy are also Friars, and the leadership of the Friary is always invested in a Bishop of the AJC. The Friary counts as members, or “Friars”, both men and women. At this time, membership in the Friary is by invitation only.