I don’t think there are insignificant days on our Liturgical calendar. Each one of them has some lesson or meaning, story or interpretation, which can add perspective to our paths, empathy for others or compassion for ourselves when we look at their stories and symbols.
Excluding Holy Week and Nativity, none have a higher significance or deeper sense of humility on a personal level for this priest than the Feast of St. John the Apostle, the Beloved Disciple.
Years before I would wear a stole in this church or occupy the chair which we traditionally attribute to that of Saint John, my affinity for this most human of saints was strong.
I grew up a protestant but now with so many years later of working in this community, the layers of meaning and personal symbology never fail to multiply or unveil themselves each time I turn to this Son of Thunder with my intercessionary contemplation.
With the forgiveness of our sisters and brothers of the Johannite Church of Australia, its occurrence in the northern hemisphere’s season of the greatest darkness, Winter, even has meaning for me, coming as it does only a matter of days after the shortest day and longest night (I imagine they may think the same of that other remarkable Saint John, the Baptist?). Its occurrence is significant even without this seasonal placement, just with its proximity to the Nativity of the Divine Light.
I’ve written before that the Liturgical calendar is not unlike a musical scale, where, rather than repeating endlessly as such, it begins again but on a higher level, and many events and themes echo themselves in other events on our liturgical calendar.
This is also true in our personal spiritual epochs- where, all too human, we encounter and chip away at the same spiritual issues but with a changing in tone or perspective as reflected in the faces of changing seasons, changing circumstances, and changing examples.
During Holy Week, we recount the story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the gathering of the Last Supper, the betrayal by Judas, and the death and resurrection of the Logos.
In these events and following them, some of the Apostles having starring roles- Judas in his betrayal and remorse, Peter in his denial and fear, Thomas in his doubt and questioning.
Yet there, in the background, heralded neither by self-interest, guilt or lack of faith, but by silence, is the Apostle of Love, the Son of Thunder, John.
He is found present in the garden, keeping watch as best he can (and still falling asleep), at the cross honouring sacrifice with the most powerful form of language there is, and likewise, as he goes to the Tomb to find it bare.
In the Apostles we encounter qualities worthy of emulation or stories from which we can draw understanding. Some for the way they lived, almost all for the way they endured, and some for the way they died. Some for the mistakes they made.
In Peter, we have conviction- he was the first to proclaim the Divinity of Christ, and was willing in the garden to go down fighting to protect his teacher and friend. In Thomas, and in his questioning, a mark of wisdom and reason.
John’s life, endurance and eventual death, particularly when one takes into account the legends of his persecution, carries not only the quality of Love, for which all of us have spoken and discussed so often, but also the quality of presence and patience.
Of the Twelve, only John remains at the Cross in the time of his teacher’s greatest need and trial, a patient ministry of presence.
He is unable to relieve his Master’s suffering, he is unable to carry the burden for him, he is unable to make it pass any faster than life has seemingly ordained, he can heal no wounds, but he is able to be present.
Being a church which calls itself ‘Apostolic’, we count amongst our symbols, lessons and spiritual lineages, many of the Apostles, but there in between the word Apostolic and Church, is the word Johannite, the crown which gives splendor to those two other noble words.
2016 has been a year of great difficulty for our fellow humanity, and great difficulty for our Johannite community- each of you has experienced great loss, great trial and great stress- every single Johannite I’ve been able to talk to over the course of the past year has faced down some great sorrow, some great challenge, or some great obstacle.
The Divine does not desire our suffering, neither is suffering a test or a lesson. It is however, an opportunity, should we choose to take it as one.
It can or may be, an alchemical process where we have an opportunity to make gold out of lead. Whether we like it or not, we have the lead and unless we use it, it risks becoming a weight that can hold us back or down.
Though the gold we make may be small, and the lead from which we make it be great- what we yet make may be the coin with which we can redeem or regain something greater.
The gold of this year has been stamped with this Johannite patience, the Apostle’s very own ministry of presence. I have seen each one of you walk with, bear witness to, and companion on, the journeys of each other, in a fashion which in any experiences of a lesser nature, would take years to accrue that same sense of love and understanding.
Being privileged to witness this as a servant of this community is pretty difficult to overstate, and I’ve been deeply moved more times than I can count, to see this take place.
The Apostle’s role in Holy Week is one from which we can draw out many inspiriations, and see within it, many important lessons for our own paths as seekers who carry the title Johannite, but it isn’t just this story which provides us insight into what it means to be who we are.
Holy Week itself is but an octave on a much richer scale and the Crucifixion is a mirror of that highest of Divine sacrifices- the Incarnation itself- the sacrifice of the Divine into the limitations of matter, the Infinite into the Finite.
I’ve written here and before about the ministry of presence and more often than not this is in the context of suffering. Yet, reflecting today on the power of presence, together with the proximity of the Feast of the Apostle to the Nativity of the Divine Light on our Liturgical Calendar, I am reminded of how often I forget about joy when it comes to this facet of the ministry to which each Johannite has been called.
It isn’t just the event of the cross of calvary that the Apostle, and every seeker who bears the title of his name, is called to bear witness to and be fully present for. Each Johannite is called to bear witness to the Incarnation- the crucifixion of the Infinite upon the cross of space and time, which is at the same time, the Nativity of the Divine Light- the beacon fire of love.
We are called to steward and be witness to that which this birth gives rebirth to- great joy, growth, love and hope. The words of our liturgy recall the words of the Logos – I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I, but that it be kindled.
This is the season of the Nativity of the Divine Light- and following closely on its heels is the celebration of the Feast of St. John. We are called to that ministry of patience, that ministry of presence, to be present for each other not only in great trial but also in the kindling of great joy.
We have the lead, and in time, we will have the gold, but only if we keep watch with and for each other until it blazes. It isn’t enough to be present with each until the darkness recedes, there is a whole stage in the process yet to come, that of the increase of the Light.
Keep watch until it blazes.
+ IOHANNES IV
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch
The Apostolic Johannite church