St. Sarah’s Parish: Announcing a Change in Leadership

Effective immediately, Father Tony Silvia will be the new Rector of St. Sarah’s Parish in Boston, MA.

Father Donald Donato will be shifting his focus to denominational work, where he continues to serve as Secretary to the Patriarch. In addition to this role, he will be turning his attention to a range of other projects; translation work, education and seminary mentorship, among other things.

Please join the whole of the Apostolic Johannite Church in thanking Father Donald for his many years of stalwart leadership to St. Sarah’s, where he has cemented a legacy of growth, service and education, and wish him luck in his new endeavors.

The Very Rev. Father Tony Silvia, Dean of the Eastern United States and Executive Producer at the Gnostic Wisdom Network, will be continuing in both those roles, as he undertakes his work with St. Sarah’s Parish.

Services at St. Sarah’s Parish will continue as planned, with the next Mass being on May 13th
at 5pm at the Theosophical Society, 21 Maple Street, Arlington, MA.

+ IOHANNES IV
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch

Easter Sunday: The Return of the Light

“Understand me then as the slaying of a Word, wound of a Word, hanging of a Word, suffering of a Word, fastening of a Word, death of a Word, resurrection of a Word, and defining this Word, I mean every man!” – The Acts of John.

In the story of Jesus in the canonical gospels, he returns to life but not as he once was- illuminating something truly immanent and transcendent.

So too are we reborn through our experience of the Divine- yet we are not as we once were.

The reading from the Acts of John identifies a central interpretation of the Holy Week story in Gnostic Christianity- that it is a mirror for our own paths and lives. Indeed, in central portion of our liturgy, the bread and the wine are shown to those present with the words – “I am a lamp to those that see me, but I am a mirror to those that understand me” which are also based on the Acts of John.

We do not enter, reach or journey to a new landscape, but rather see that which has always been here through new eyes, this is the true voyage of discovery as it has been said.

The promised land is not a place you can travel to, because you never left it in the first place.

The Magdalene encounters and sees the Risen Logos, not as Christ, but as the gardener- something I’ve always seen as a subtle reference to the scriptural character of Adam, the first man. Paradise returns, and the Kingdom of Heaven is made manifest and yet everything looks and appears the same.

But It is only when Jesus speaks that the Magdalene recognizes her teacher.

So it is, with the voice of the Divine- which has always been present- once a low murmur against the hum of electronics, shifting gears, and the popping of cash registers. Existing not in a new world but in a new understanding, we can hear that voice in every passing car, click of pebble on stone, rush of wind in trees, and like the end result of Jesus appearing as the stranger to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can hear and see it in person of our sisters and brothers, stranger and friend alike, should we but listen and see things as they are, and not as we wish them to be.

A world where life itself becomes as the Eucharist in which one thing is seen and another understood, compelling us with the imperative to “Be what you see and receive what you are”.

“Do not cling to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father” says Jesus to the Magdalene, and transcending the images that we place over and in the way of the Sacred Flame and on each other, those images through which we create separation and shadow, we can become that voice to our fellow human beings.

Like Jesus’ instruction to the Magdalene, we can go forth and boldly proclaim the Resurrection, our Resurrection, not with evangelical zeal or the objectification of our fellow human beings as objects to be saved but with the example of our own lives.

+ IOHANNES IV
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch

 

Easter Blessing 2017

Companions of the Sacred Flame,
This night we gather in vigil,

to commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ,
recalling with it, the history of our spiritual path
seeing in it, our own journeys from life to death, and experiencing through it,
the initiation from death to life.

Divine Beloved, out of the tomb of separation you have called us, to rise into the Kingdom of God. The ancient mysteries of sacrifice speak to our journey.

Incarnate in each one of us, the Sacred Flame is transfixed upon the cross of space and time,
May we never fear to descend into our lowest reaches, like the Logos and the harrowing of hell, to reconcile the lower with the higher- that we may rise transformed in this very life, and in the fullness of time ascend into perfect union.

–  Easter Vigil of the Apostolic Johannite Church

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 who labour ceaselessly and with great love, and to the Grand Master and Initiates of the Friary, the Gnostic Wisdom Network team, and the Order of Ste. Esclarmonde, 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 Martinist Orders and Lodges of good will, our Masonic sisters and brothers, the clergy and people of Ecclesia Gnostica and and the clergy and people of the Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum as well as the many individual friends and family, laity and clergy of good will.

May your work be noble, your spirits be humble, and your hearts always full.

+ IOHANNES IV,
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch

Mandatum

Give as few orders as possible,” his father had told him once long ago. “Once you’ve given orders on a subject, you must always give orders on that subject.
– Frank Herbert, Dune
 
Some words are older than others, some carry more weight, some just carry more baggage. This is because meaning changes over time or because we heap our own experience, biases or assumptions on top of them. You do it, I do it. If we meet in the middle, sometimes things get messy. Common terms, uncommon definitions.
 
Maundy Thursday carries a lot of words, one Word especially and a lot of weight.
 
It gets it name from the Latin mandatum- from mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you) found in the Gospel of John and attributed to Jesus.
 
Traditionally, it is the day on which many priests renew their vows and recalls the institution of the priesthood though the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
 
Mandatum means command. Now there’s a word which carries some weight. Sitting with no less weight is the shadow it casts- obedience. Both words tend to make people uncomfortable. This seems to be a deeper shade of true the more time passes. Command and obedience also call to mind such words as duty and obligation.
 
Jesus didn’t give many orders- whether seen as King, Prophet, Teacher, Son of God and so forth- in canonical and non-canonical alike- and if accepted in any of those contexts, he certainly has the place to issue them.
 
In much of scripture, commandments take the form of the many things you must not do. You must not kill, you must not steal, etc.
 
You can fulfill most of those by never leaving your house.
 
The Mandatum, however, is a command for what you must do- it is not a prohibition but an invitation.
 
You cannot fulfill it by doing nothing- it requires you to do something.
 
In the many lessons of the Gospels, particularly the parables- Jesus lays out contrasts and statements, that in many cases seem to be designed to lead the hearer (or readers as we are now) to the right of things. Even his many powerful and direct statements, are not commands so much as expositions.
But this is different- it does not always wait on our own understanding, it doesn’t always leave room for interpretation or nuance, and in its simplicity and practice is a life time of spiritual work.
 
Now, complexity is neither a weakness nor an obstacle to spiritual work and in life, nuance and debate, analysis and exploration are to be cherished and engaged.
 
Yet there are times where simplicity is the challenge we must face- this mandatum, this command though it is simple, can become anything but when it touches our lives and it becomes a complex challenge of its own because we ourselves are a complex challenge.
 
Human relationships are difficult, even with those we know, our friends, family, coworkers, neighbours- it is not easy always in time of disagreement, tragedy or difficulty to love our fellow human beings, especially the kind of love of which Christ speaks.
 
More challenging still is how we approach those whom we do not trust or those who regard us or whom we regard as, enemies. How about those whom we have loved and trusted but have hurt us?
 
Jesus said we have to love our enemies, but he didn’t say we have to like them. It is very hard to like those who have done us wrong.
So what do we do about those we may not like but are those that we are nevertheless commanded to love.
 
What do we do about those whom we have deep affection and regard – when tensions are high, tempers barely concealed or as all too typical this season- you’ve lost the biological lottery or drawing of straws through those sketchy cousins that decided to show up for the family Easter dinner?
 
There’s a reason love is a command and commandment. Christianity and Gnosticism for that matter, comes in all shapes and sizes, and there’s lots of room for debate as to what you must sign on to, what is optional, what is local, what is universal, when it comes to wearing any of these labels – but any Christianity or Gnosticism worth its salt has love at its centre.
 
It is an obligation, a duty, it doesn’t always require our assent but it does require our participation. Often. More times than we like, with more people than we like, and for a lot more than we like them.
 
The spiritual path is a lifelong journey of transformation- that it is punctuated by the experience of Gnosis does not lessen this reality and some transformations are more difficult to undertake.
 
This week, today and the next three days in particular, we recount the stories around the betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus and we discuss and share through liturgy and ritual, the many different perspectives and accounts around the end of Jesus ministry, found both in canonical and gnostic gospels.
 

Today is the day we recall the Mandatum- the new commandment to love.

 

Tomorrow we get to see just how hard it really is, when the Apostles, who just broke bread together but a short time ago, would scatter in the face of trial and difficulty.

(All of them save one, and this is one of the many reasons why we take the name Johannite- because we are at least committed to trying, even if it means we must fail and try again)
 
It is a command because it is neither optional not easy and like the quote which I included at the beginning of this piece- it is one we must continually give (and consequently continually receive) until we get it right.
 
The poet Ovid once wrote- the drop excavates the stone, not by force but by falling often.
 
As Gnostics and Christians, it is our calling to be resurrected, and if you seek to step out of the Tomb of Calvary in the Holy Week narrative of your spiritual journey, you must first remove the stone.
 
Johannites do that by love, and love is only done by trying.
 
+ IOHANNES IV
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch

1314 – A Reflection

Most people are not burdened with knowledge of their own end, or even fewer, those who have the ability to look it in the face and choose it.

There are, to be sure, many people who facing illness and war, have a very real sense of the first one but the latter is still rare.

Many things have the ability to push us past our limitations and what I can imagine is the despair of that first thing above.

Love, duty and even survival instinct, these can push humanity to incredible feats of strength, willpower, kindness and occasionally desperation- the person who lifts the car to save the child, the person who runs into the flames to rescue a loved one, the many women and men who offer themselves to harms way every single day.

For those who make these split second decisions, to save another at the cost of their own life, to defend the innocent and so forth- we don’t know what they were thinking- we don’t know if they, faced with their own demise, willingly take that one more step into both certainty and certain end for the sake of what they hold dear.

Some though, we do, and this moment is a long time in coming. Those split second choices dominate and shadow it seems, every moment of their life up until that day.

March 18th, 1314.

For seven years, de Molay faced both French and Papal inquisition- under both torture and years of solitary confinement.

Did he break, of that I think it is certain. Wouldn’t you break? Are many of us not broken in some way from the inquisition of life and confinement of so many hopes and dreams by the jailers of fear and difficulty. Now imagine his struggle with the same things that we struggle with, and place all this on top of it.

The physical pain and struggle would be hard enough, and he was not a young man to begin with, but greater I think, would be the knowledge that after many years of honourable service, to see that which he devoted his life to, slowly picked apart and picked over, his friends and comrades-in-arms imprisoned and impugned at the hands of his countrymen and his King. Imagine chewing on that knowledge for years.

Some met their ends with exile from service and imprisonment through confessions, certainly false, others had the ability to see out their sentences and sign on with other religious orders. Who can blame those who took that option, not I, faced with my life, well, I’d probably do that with a kind of screwed-up mix of pain, relief and glee. I am not more courageous or even only as brave as the historical figures we look at right now. I admire de Molay in this moment because I do not possess those qualities myself.

De Molay had in fact confessed at one point- Indeed, I suspect, he saw it as a potential means to end the affair for the whole Order of the Temple, and perhaps keep others out of further pain and trouble.

Two of the men with him on this day, over seven hundred years ago, took imprisonment and were taken away to fulfill their sentence.

Jacques de Molay saw his end, looked it in the face, and chose it, he recanted his confession knowing it meant certain death. It could be that this moment wasn’t as courageous as I paint it here or as we recall it each year or even each liturgy through the Litany of the Sovereign Pontiffs. Perhaps it was simple relief, or acceptance, or any number of things.

We know he had a choice, and he made it.

For at least 150 years year prior, the Order of the Temple had used the seal of two men on one horse. There are many interpretations, the most famous of which being that of it being a symbol of their initial poverty.

At this moment though, I think it was something else, or at least I choose to see it in that way.

The Grand Master, it is said, asked for two things at his demise, that he be turned to face Notre Dame cathedral during his execution, and that his hands be freed that he might pray.

This leader of men, of warrior monks, had fulfilled a different interpretation of their famous seal- with one duty, he faced the world as a warrior, and God as a monk.

We are blessed, as Johannites, as spiritual seekers, as human beings, to have much easier journeys than this Grand Master, but it doesn’t mean that there is nothing here to contemplate on or take to heart in our relative struggles.

We benefit both from looking at the struggle and those who gave it to him- because at many moments in our lives- we stand to be either. Either Phillip the Fair, in our greed, in our pride, recalling the words in the liturgy of the immorality of cherishing things and using people. Or de Molay, in accepting where we find ourselves and making the effort anyway, for its own sake.

Neither are these things exclusionary- sometimes they are successive- sometimes we only get the opportunity to stand up for what is right, when we stand down from that which is wrong- that when we choose to do better by our fellow humanity, we stand up for them and ourselves.

It doesn’t need to be torture and isolation to be wrong- it can be a closed fist, a closed mind, or a closed heart- and it doesn’t need to be one invoking the flames upon oneself to be noble- it can be an open hand, an open mind and an open heart.

We don’t get to know our ends, but we do get to face each moment, and we do get to make a choice.

+ IOHANNES IV
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch,
The Apostolic Johannite Church

The Fires of Montsegur – A Reflection


In difficult times, many people look to the past to make sense of their present difficulties, by way of commonality, coherent narrative, human nature and so forth.

In fact, this reaching for the past often occurs in two different forms- we either look to the past for examples of those whose lives and suffering mirror our present (‘this is just like’) encapsulating what, in our despair, we feel is our future, or we reach back to grasp some all-too-non-existent Golden Age or an example of where things were better, more ideal or principled (‘This is nothing like’ or ‘If only it were like this’).

Both of these are ways of framing and understanding our present experience- either through similarity or contrast, or both.

Anybody who has ever studied history, I’d wager, has done this, and any one who has gone through significant struggle and challenge, I’d also wager, has done this, though for those who have not made a study of history- they may reach back to some former time in their own life. I think I can say fairly that this is common to the human experience in some form or another.

In the political, social, and personal landscape, between economies, wars, persecution of minorities, many people, some rightly, a lot more wrongly, have reached back towards histories of persecution or oppression by one group towards another- either for commiseration, context or contrast or in some cases for historical solutions to the problems that we face in our own personal or social spheres in the present.

We shouldn’t forget these histories, these actions by one group against another- they’re still happening and you’ve probably experienced a form of it in your life, or have met someone for whom this is the case, at one point or another.

Our liturgical calendar and our history is replete with these moments- indeed the central Christian story, and often enough in gnostic circles, the Gnostic narrative, is often portraying as one group vs another- whether they end up on a cross or they end up on a stake.

The fires of Montsegur Day, though the evils told of therein are not alien to human history either before or after, are a beacon to any age in history, our own being no exception.

Montsegur Day is less about one group vs another, and more about what happens when we turn on each other- it is the suffering that we inflict on our sisters and brothers.

In truth, the many other days that preceded it, and the many that would follow it- whether it’s the Church vs the Order of the Temple, the Romans vs the Christians, the Christians vs. the Muslims, the Christians vs. the Jews, the Catholics vs the Protestants and on and on- in reality- they are all in truth, Montsegur moments- these other labels are ways to talk about historical conflicts and divides, but it has always been people against their fellow human beings, their sisters and their brothers.

These divides or labels have sometimes enabled us to forget, justify, or explain away these historical events and all-too-human behaviours, and often are just poor excuses for excuses for even poorer actions.

The fires of Montsegur, however, are a moment in time where we are less able to gloss over the heart of the matter. It is a day that lays as bare as can be, the things we do to those that share our humanity. The sides on the Albigensian ‘Crusade’ were as close to each other as anything.

If reaching back to Montsegur should enable anything for us, it should be a beacon fire into our present, and a lamp unto our paths for the future, of the intolerance we must banish and the acceptance we must integrate into our own paths and understanding.

We all share common cause- our very humanity itself- our blood, our breath, our hopes, fears, loves, losses- when you lay side by side the things we have in common with our neighbour against the things that we do not, well- it’s as one-sided as it gets.

It’s time to stop fearing the ‘other’- the other is you and if you keep those you don’t understand out of your hearts, your homes and hearths, eventually you will turn around to find yourself very much alone.

Let the fires of Montsegur be a light against that darkness.

+ IOHANNES IV,
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch
The Apostolic Johannite Church

 

Respecting the Sacred Flame: Primatial Visit and Panel

Respecting the Sacred Flame: Primatial Visit and Panel

The Apostolic Johannite Church, the Archdiocese of Wisconsin and the Parish of St. Sarah the Egyptian are pleased to announce the official visit of the Primate of the United States to the Parish of St. Sarah the Egyptian to celebrate Liturgy and participate in the Respecting the Sacred Flame panel:

“There is no question that our society is in upheaval.  People of color, LGBTQIA community members, women, immigrants, older adults, people living with disabilities, and other groups are feeling even more threatened than they did just a few short months ago.

 

Small progressive religious communities such as ours can and do make a difference in these struggles, but we need to understand what we are facing, internally and externally.

 

St. Sarah’s Parish is therefore organizing a panel discussion on Saturday, March 11th, titled “Respecting the Sacred Flame.”  We are inviting two outside experts: African-American Historian Edward Carson, who will be looking at racism and economic oppression, and Brandeis University Professor Wendy Cadge, who will delve into gender and sexuality.  Our Bishop, The Most Rev. Dr. William Behun, Ph.D., will also be joining the panel as both Primate and Archbishop of the US and our diocese of the AJC, and as a professor of Philosophy and Ethics. 

 

The panelists will be trying to discuss and answer two questions:

 

(1.) What can we do within ourselves and our religious community to address racism, sexism, homophobia and economic oppression? 

 

(2.) What can or should we do as a small religious community to stop these kinds of oppression?

 

This event will begin with the Johannite Gnostic Liturgy at 5:00 p.m. and the Panel and Discussion at 6:00 p.m., at the Theosophical Society-Boston, 21 Maple St., Arlington, Massachusetts. “

 

For more information on the Parish of St. Sarah the Egyptian, please visit http://stsarahs.org/

 

 

Conclave 2017 Featured Speaker- Rev. Dr. John Spangler

Conclave 2017 Featured Speaker- Rev. Dr. John Spangler

The Apostolic Johannite Church is proud to present our featured speaker, the Rev. Dr. John Spangler, who will be giving a two part workshop on Pastoral Care:

The Rev. John D. Spangler, Ph.D., was ordained Deacon by the then Methodist Church (today United Methodist Church) in June 1953 and Elder in 1955.  In preparation for his career in the ministry he earned B.A. (1950) and M.A. (1951), both in mathematics at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; S.T.B. (now M.Div.) (1954) and S.T.M. (1955) at Harvard Divinity School; and Ph.D. (1961) at Boston University Graduate School. 

His career includes 13 years as pastor in local churches in urban, suburban, and rural areas.  In 1964 he was called to the faculty of Candler School of Theology of Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia; he left Emory to join the faculty of Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colorado,  where he served 22 years as chair of the Department of Pastoral Care and Psychology of Religion.  Following retirement from Iliff in 1993, he served as interim pastor in several congregations. 

While in Atlanta, he served as chair of the out-patient division of the Georgian Clinic (a pioneering alcoholic-drug rehabilitation facility).  He is the author of Pastoral Care of Young Drug Users and Their Families.  Other major pastoral concerns are ministry with the aging, the grieving, the dying.  He was a founding board member of the Grief Education Institute, a pioneering agency for formal support of the bereaved.

We’re thrilled to have him on board for Conclave 2017 in Denver, Colorado and we hope you will join us.