In later legends, he would be connected with the Holy Grail- bearing the cup to Britain, and with planting his staff in the ground for his rest, the birth of the Glastonbury Thorn.
The connection of Gnostic Christianity to Grail legends is not a new one by any means so I’m not going to explore that here.
The thing I do want to highlight is the note in the gospels of him obtaining the body of Jesus and laying him in the tomb which was set aide for himself.
I’ve often spoken of the Apostles and Saints as models and exemplars- they both embody qualities that demonstrate the commonality of our own failures and desires- be it anger or doubt and they also encapsulate our aspirations and hopes- qualities that we seek to emulate.
Excepting the noble quality of giving up one’s own life for another, what could be more admirable than someone who sacrifices their own legacy and remembrance for a higher purpose, in this story, the resting place of the Incarnate Logos?
We spend a lot of time, as individuals, as families, as friends, as a society- seeking to both prolong life and the remembrance of it when it passes. The former is a common element of human existence, and has been for the length of recorded history. The latter, in many ways, has been the way in which many people, spiritual or not, give meaning to struggles in this life.
If we are remembered, then we are valued, if we made a difference, then we are remembered. So much is done by us to ensure remembrance, if only to convince ourselves of differences made and value achieved.
In a very real and concrete way, these things are given shape in the form of memorials, tombstones, mausoleums, and markers. Adorned with the names of our loved ones, our spouses and partners, the symbols of our faith in life, they seek to grant a lesser form of material immortality, and also to assure us that we too will be remembered when the time comes.
In the story of the gospels, Joseph was a wealthy man and an elder, a pillar of his community and his tomb, like those of comparative stature in the present day, would have served as a mark of his achievement, his respect and attainment.
And he just gives it up.
We need not suddenly rush to halt our dreams, life goals and plans. In our story there is nothing to indicate that Joseph did. These things are part of what makes us who we are. The point here is not to discard the things we do but examine the reasons for doing them.
Would you value your own achievements less if you were not remembered as the one who did them?
Can you take satisfaction in doing something that needs to be done over being the one who has done them?
The answer here is an individual one. It is never simply a matter of throwing away recognition, for recognition can be a step upon which we are given greater opportunity. The answer, the balance, the reasons will always be as unique as you are, and so should the value be that you give to others. I’ll leave that with you to think on.
+ IOHANNES IV
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch
The Apostolic Johannite Church
Like a good meal, Conclave takes some significant time and effort to prepare, and yet passes by quickly but without fail, we always leave full. Also like a good meal, it both refreshes us from the work we have done prior, and fortifies us for the work ahead.
This year’s Conclave restored many, and nourished even more and our cup has truly run over with many great moments of fellowship, education, and connection.
It also fortifies us for the work ahead with many new steps and commitments being made- a baptism, a confirmation, three minor orders, one subdiaconate and two sets of solemn vows. Solid people making solid strides in their own spiritual journeys both individually and together in the Johannite Church.
It was deeply enriching to hear and see the work being done in our Parishes, Narthexes and Missions, as well as the Order of the Temple and Saint John.
Being able to meet, discuss and share our journeys and work, reflecting and learning from each other’s difficulties and successes, is a kind of greenhouse which promotes healthy spiritual and organizational growth. Importantly, it also places our spiritual work in the context of something much greater than ourselves alone.
I want to extend my thanks to our many fine speakers and presenters- Stephen O’Shea and M Isidora Forrest, Father Joseph Wolf, Erik Arneson, His Grace Mar Thomas, Msgr. Scott Rassbach, The Rev. Deacon Jason Campbell, Brother Mark Donato, The Rev. Mr. Jonathan Stewart, and Bro. Benjamin Pierce.
Each of these teachers and seekers have given us much to explore, work on and consider in the journey ahead.
I want to extend additional thanks also to Bishop Steven Marshall of the Ecclesia Gnostica and Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, for welcoming many of our people who were fortunate to attend service on the Friday evening of Conclave.
Lastly and most importantly, a special thanks must go out to our Conclave committee, Msgr. Scott, Sr. Constance and Rev. Jason who made things happen both in planning and in execution- but especially Sr. Constance Crain, who worked tirelessly to organize and move people. She has proved a worthy successor to the efforts and people of Conclaves past and an example for those who will step into her shoes in conclave planning to come. On behalf of the Apostolic Johannite Church, please accept my gratitude for excellent work.
Fresh from spiritual and physical nourishment, we now collectively turn our eyes towards the year to come, and with this last writing from my keyboard on Conclave 2018, I’m pleased to deliver you the first news of Conclave 2019, its location.
We return after more than a decade absence to the True North, strong and free, Canada.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada to be exact.
In the meantime, be good to one another
+ IOHANNES IV
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch
My blessings, good wishes and prayers for all the Johannite Parishes, Narthexes, Missions, and our solitary sisters and brothers, and all those who call the Apostolic Johannite Church home, deepening and sharing their journey here.
My thanks and gratitude on behalf of the Apostolic Johannite Church to the Johannite Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Seminarians , the Grand Master and Initiates of the Friary, the Prior and Oblates of the Order of the Temple and Saint John, the Gnostic Wisdom Network team, and the Conclave Committee of the AJC, for all their hard work and dedication- not only to the people we work on behalf of, but also in their own spiritual paths and in their service to each other.
Blessings and good wishes also from the Apostolic Johannite Church to the many Churches and communities of good will, especially the Order of Ste. Esclarmonde, the Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum and Ecclesia Gnostica, as well as the many Martinist Orders and Lodges, our Masonic sisters and brothers, and also the many individual friends, family, laity and clergy of good will.
May your work be noble, your spirits
+ IOHANNES IV,
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch
“One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, “What ails you friend?” The king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat”. So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, “How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” And the fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty” –Richard LaGravenese, from the movie The Fisher King (1991)
The spiritual journey is not unlike the quests of legend and myth.
Often, as Gnostics, we are inspired by the tales of old but struggle to place ourselves in them fully or to recognize our own journeys in them, missing also at times, even with their lens to assist us, the sight of a discernible impact in the seemingly barren realm around us.
The esoteric schools and churches wisely caution against anything that smacks of enlarging one’s own destiny or placing oneself too much at the centre of things. I have also given this advice so I don’t intend these words to counter it.
And yet, we are the centre point of our own stories and we have the opportunity to play valuable roles in the stories of others even if small- by what we do, where we succeed and just as importantly, where we fail- and these times reverberate across the landscape of multiple lives and settings.
Key in both these settings are our central moments, our spiritual landmarks if you will, and how we respond to them.
In my own spiritual path, I’ve been asked what has been the central moment of my own work and journey.
It would be very easy to think that it might have been when I became a priest or a bishop or to be found in some of the successes I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, thanks to the talent, drive and determination of so many laity and clergy in the AJC.
It is none of those moments, joyous and profound though they may be.
At the heart of many esoteric systems, medieval Christian myth, and modern era fantasy stories lies the Holy Grail.
This object, at times a platter or dish, in others a cup, or still yet a stone, is the object which in the medieval stories, restores the Wasteland to full flower and flourishing. The Fisher King, Amfortas, lies wounded, and that wounding is a microcosm of the Wasteland itself. The land and the King are one, and they suffer together.
In the rich history that is the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, wherein is found the Crusades, the foundation of many notable religious and military Orders, the height of Western church power, the Cathars, a new flowering of devotion to the Theotokos, the appearance of Trobairitz and Troubador, and far too many saints to list- rises the Grail Castle, and with it, the Grail. It’s worth noting that Grail wouldn’t get its title of Holy until the telling of Robert de Boron.
It is also where those who would quest for the Grail would become royal household names. The Knights of the Round Table.
Not unlike the archetypes and symbols found in the diverse personalities and characters of each of the twelve Apostles, the Knights of the Round Table who would quest for this supreme spiritual relic, each have characteristics which can easily render them as symbolic of ourselves at different points in our journeys.
The most notable of them in terms of the legends of the Grail being Sir Percival and Sir Galahad, both of whom, so the story goes, succeed in their quest for this most fabled of objects.
In the tale of Sir Percival, the original hero or successful seeker of the Grail in the myth, Percival fails the first time around in his original test, which would have seen the Fisher King healed and the land with him.
Percival in this telling, is taught prior in his travels and training to not ask needless questions, and as a result fails to ask a necessary question at the necessary time (and fundamentally to distinguish between the necessary question and the unnecessary question) when he encounters the Fisher King and the procession of the Grail.
The question varies upon the telling or version but each of them are, I would like to think, linked in purpose.
“What ails thee?”
“Why do you suffer so?”
“Whom does the Grail serve?”
In this regard, Percival’s initial failure is not unlike many initiates and seekers throughout the ages, myself included.
In our visions, our encounters or our experiences of the Divine which we call Gnosis- that transcendent, liberating and experiential knowledge of the Divine, when we reach that important landmark in our journey as Gnostics, it isn’t the experience which risks leading us astray, for it is that which saves, but rather our response to it- what we do with it.
Gnosis is no guarantee of making the right decisions from there on out, and the spiritual world is full of people who have failed to honour or follow up on their experience.
The purpose of this salvific landmark of the path is not a prize won or attained for its own sake nor is it for personal refreshment or restoration alone, and the heroes of the story do not drink from the Grail.
As I have often reflected in other writings, in the great stories, scriptures and myths of the spiritual path, we as seekers in time and at turns, play many of the characters (and embody their characteristics for good or ill).
In the spiritual story of the quest for the Grail, we are both Sir Percival and King Amfortas
We quest for that which will make us whole, that which will make present the Kingdom of Heaven, that which will bring forth the person of the Christ within us, and make clear his presence in the face of our fellow humanity, that which transforms the Wasteland of the Kenoma into the Kingdom of the Pleroma.
The pursuit and attainment of Gnosis, a grail of sorts to the spiritual path, achieves its richest flowering when we turn it to the service of others.
Did you think the salvation that the experience of Gnosis heralds was that so you could stand on the heap of your history at the end of your path, alone while the wasteland burns?
Healing the wounded King who lies in the Grail Castle of our hearts and minds requires us to also be Sir Percival- when on our quest we are confronted with the wound of another and the Wasteland of the world, we ask the question of necessity. With the experience of knowing comes the obligation of action.
The land and the King are one and they suffer together.
They also heal together.
And our wholeness is intrinsically linked to the wholeness of the realm around us, and the people in it.
When you ask “What ails thee?” or “Why do you suffer so?” you also ask and answer the question of whom the Grail serves.
It serves your sisters and your brothers, those less fortunate than you, those above you, those just like you, those not like you at all.
The Grail carries with it an obligation of service but what service exactly? The answer is encoded in the story. From that point, from that moment, it is no longer about you.
Sir Percival, in asking the question of necessity, doesn’t give Amfortas a lengthy exposition on all his problems or the things he needs to fix in his life- he simply recognizes and gives way- What ails thee? How may I be of service?
I’ve been fortunate to have several experiences that have served as landmarks on my spiritual journey, the points by which I try to be guided and also to assist others, even though it only may be a matter of small value, such as a caring question of concern, an opportunity for another to begin the healing of their own wounds for themselves.
So it wasn’t my ordination or consecration or any such event that moved me the most but rather the opportunity, the duty, and the privilege of which I am in no wise worthy, to give communion in the Eucharist to another, for the very first time.
This wasn’t an experience of Gnosis, but the grail question of necessity applied on your journey opens a path for that experience to flow. Planting a seed is not the same thing as having grown a tree. Liturgy opens a space where the invisible can be made visible- it creates moments and spaces where Gnosis can occur.
Stepping out of the sanctuary, this is true also of being attentive to the wholeness of the world around you, giving way to another, asking the question of necessity and making the connection to another human being.
It isn’t about you saving them, it isn’t about you at all. It’s about opening a space where they can enter into that transcendent, liberating and experiential knowledge of their own accord.
If the wasteland were to take from us all the pointers that we are fortunate to have- our practices, iconography and scriptures- how would we rebuild, how would Gnosis and the Kingdom re-flower?
By the experience of one human being to another.
Through liturgy and practice we have a time honoured means of opening a path to Gnosis, but one of the quickest way to see Christ in the face of our fellow humanity, as our liturgy (itself called the Grail of Undefiled Wisdom) recalls- is to place ourselves at the service of our fellow travellers, and ask the question of necessity, without fear of the answer we may find.
+ IOHANNES IV
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch
The Apostolic Johannite Church