Yesterday I took a few hours out of my life to investigate another gnostic community, Hagia Sophia Gnostic Parish of Ecclesia Gnostica, in my fair city in the spirit of exploration and religious education. It was overwhelmingly a positive experience with the added benefit that their current meeting place is about three blocks from where I live. As some of my readers may know, I am a member of Ordo Templi Orientis, a Thelemic order “dedicated to the high purpose of securing the Liberty of the Individual and his or her advancement in Light, Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, and Power through Beauty, Courage, and Wit, on the Foundation of Universal Brotherhood” following the teachings of the British occultist and religious philosopher, Aleister Crowley. Within my particular tradition there exists an ecclesiastical branch, Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, which administers to the religious end of the Order and whose central ritual, Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass is said to contain every secret of the order in symbol and in sign. Naturally, as a self-described gnostic, my experience was very interesting to see what gnostics outside my tradition practice. What I found was very interesting.
Upon entering the University Christian Church, I went through the maze of doors, up the elevator and waited patiently outside while their clergy prepared for celebration of the Eucharist. The priest, a very nice man in his mid-forties quickly introduced himself as I sat down to my chair admiring the temple space. It was very beautiful in its simplicity and arranged in much the same format as conventional Christian chapels. The vestments and everything else seemed to be an interesting blend of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism combined with various esoteric symbols, including a beautiful statue of the Sophia above the Tabernacle – something which I personally thought to be a very beautiful sentiment as well as very symbolic. In total there were roughly eight people in attendance including the priest, Rev. Sam Osborne, and his acolyte.
The ordo of the service pretty much followed the conventional missa of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism with some verses changed to reflect a more mystical or gnostic perspective. Starting with the ceremony of the Introit, the priest and acolyte approached the altar and reciting the intention of the day and giving the traditional opening benediction: “In the name of the Father X and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” to which we all responded, “Amen”. Next followed the ascent toward the altar in which the priest approached it with three steps, saying: “Lord of the Past, we hail Thee. Lord of the Present, we hail Thee. Lord of the Future, we hail Thee.” This I found interesting in that it is common to both the pre-Vatican II mass to recite a prayer of ascent upon coming forth to the altar, but more interesting was the similarity to how, in my tradition, upon coming out from the tomb the priest also gives three steps giving the pre-Crowley signs and steps.
I found the asperges to be particularly moving, particularly the prayer calling for the purification of the chapel from the forces of evil and obstruction and to open the hearts of those in attendance to the “indwelling Christ.” I found the kyrie and pronouncement of absolution to be very much reminiscent again of the Latin Rite, but the collects more than interested me for their inclusion of a beautifully paraphrased section from the Chaldean Oracles’ Adoration of the Lord of the Universe:
“Holy art Thou, King of the Universe.
Holy art Thou, Whom nature hath not formed.
Holy art Thou, Who art the living one among the living.
Thou art the Holy One among the Holy;
Thou art God among the Gods.
Thou art the Lord among the Lords.
Thou art the house and Thou art the Dweller in the house;
and Thou art the Alone-Begotten, Light, Life and Grace.
Pour forth Thy Glory upon us. Amen”
Following the collects came the hymn, and the Lessons which included the following from The Great Announcement, attributed to the Simon Magus:
“Of all things that are concealed and manifested, the fire which is above the heavens is the treasurehouse, as it were a great Tree from which all flesh is nourished. The manifested side of the fire is the trunk, branches, leaves, and the outside bark. All these parts of the great Tree are set on fire from the all-devouring flame of the fire and destroyed. But the fruit of the Tree, if its imaging has been perfected and it takes shape of itself, is placed in the storehouse and is not cast into the fire. For the fruit is produced to be placed in the storehouse, but the husk to be committed to the fire; that is to say, the trunk, which is generated not for its own sake but for that of the fruit.”
Followed by a gospel reading from The Gospel of Philip:
“If anyone becomes a son of the bridal chamber he will receive the light. If anyone does not receive it while he is in this world, he will not receive it in the other place. He who has received that light will not be seen, nor can he be detained; and none shall be able to torment one of this kind even if he dwell in the world. And again when he goes out of the world he has already received the truth in images. The world has become the aeon. For the aeon is for him the pleroma and it is in this manner; it is revealed to him alone, not hidden in the darkness and the night but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light.”
Following the readings, my ears perked up substantially during the Act of Faith:
“We know one secret, Supreme and Ineffable Lord, the Father of us all, unchanging in essence, yet ever changing in appearance and manifestation; And the Logos, the Son, the Divine Manifestation of God, the only begotten of the Great Stillness, begotten by an act of consciousness alone, which comes to the flesh to destroy incarnate error; And the Holy Spirit, the giver of life and goodness, the principle of love and compassion, which remains here on earth to guide and care for those still groping in the darkness of matter, which with the Father and the Son, forms the wholeness upon which the manifested universe is erected; We honor one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, the communion of the Holy Aeons and Saints, Custodians of the essential wisdom of the race, who preach the great law, who live and labor unselfishly, dedicated to the advancement of all beings; We acknowledge the infinite wheel of exis¬tence, immutable laws that govern and sustain the universe. We look to the resurrection and ascension of our souls into the Universal Will and thus libera¬tion from the infinite chain of attainment. Amen.”
This interested me due to the many similarities to the Credo of my Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass:
I believe in one secret and ineffable LORD; and in one Star in the Company of Stars of whose fire we are created, and to which we shall return; and in one Father of Life, Mystery of Mystery, in His name CHAOS, the sole viceregent of the Sun upon the Earth; and in one Air the nourisher of all that breathes.
And I believe in one Earth, the Mother of us all, and in one Womb wherein all men are begotten, and wherein they shall rest, Mystery of Mystery, in Her name BABALON.
And I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET.
And I believe in one Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love and Liberty, the Word of whose Law is THELEMA.
And I believe in the communion of Saints.
And, forasmuch as meat and drink are transmuted in us daily into spiritual substance, I believe in the Miracle of the Mass.
And I confess one Baptism of Wisdom whereby we accomplish the Miracle of Incarnation.
And I confess my life one, individual, and eternal that was, and is, and is to come.”
Upon further research, I was more intrigued since the earliest date we have for the writing of Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass is said to have been written in 1913 while Aleister Crowley was traveling through Moscow and was inspired by the Orthodox liturgy of Saint Basil. While I have my own personal thoughts on that particular idea, considering the closer similarities to the Latin and Sarum Rites, I was more interested by the idea that possibly the EGC liturgy may have influenced this particular one since the earliest date for the liturgy of Ecclesia Gnostica is likely of no earlier date than 1953.
The offertorium, censing, lavabo and other preceding rituals to the consecration of the eucharist were not particularly unusual nor different from the symbols and prayers used in the Latin Rite. Once again my ears were perked when the priest recited the Commemoration of the Saints:
“We commemorate those who did of old adore Thee, and manifest Thy glory unto men. First of all, the Holy Virgin of Light Sophia, and Mary ever Holy. Of your blessed companion Mary Magdelena, your Holy Apostles John, Paul, Peter, Andrew, James, Thomas, James the less, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, and Thaddeus; the Holy and enlightened teachers: Simon, Menander, Saturinus, Cerinthus, Basilides, Valentinus, Marcion, as well as Thy Holy Prophet Mani, and the Master of the Templars Jacob Molay, who transmitted the Light of the Gnosis to us, their successors and heirs. Hear Ye, all saints of the true church in every age, now essentially present in our midst, of you we claim heirship, with you we claim communion, and from you we claim benediction and intercession in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus we commemorate all the saints who were, and are, and are to come.”
This very much interested me since it mirrors the words of the priest in EGC during the Consecration of the Elements: “Hear ye all, Saints of the True Church of Old Time, now essentially present…” as well as the Collect of the Saints:
“LORD of Life and Joy, that art the might of man, that art the essence of every true god that is upon the surface of the Earth, continuing knowledge from generation unto generation, thou adored of us upon heaths and in woods, on mountains and in caves, openly in the marketplaces and secretly in the chambers of our houses, in temples of gold and ivory and marble as in these other temples of our bodies, we worthily commemorate them worthy that did of old adore thee and manifest they glory unto men… Oh Sons of the Lion and the Snake! With all thy saints we worthily commemorate them worthy that were and are and are to come. May their essence be here present, potent, puissant and paternal to perfect this feast!”
I found myself very excited at this point at the possibility of a deeper relationship, even if by plagiarism, by the two churches. If plagiarism is not of a particular issue, it begs a great many more questions surrounding the liturgies of other gnostic communities – inclusive of Thelemites, whom many don’t consider gnostic due to issues of apostolicity or other issues such as our whole-scale removal of our church from “Old Aeon” Christian trappings.
Replacing the traditional Pater Noster was a unique version of the same called the Gnostic’s Prayer that I found particularly beautiful, although I’m more of a proponent of the Nepios of the “Thelemic Rite”. Communion itself was reminiscent of the Sarum and Latin Rite and I did feel that it was appropriate that I commune, if only as an act of good faith.
Following communion, Rev. Sam gave a moving – if not ideosyncretic – sermon on the lessons. Sadly, I was not able to stay longer due to a meeting with my own local bishop over coffee, but none-the-less I do intend on attending a few more of their services and talking with members of their community. Overall, I was impressed and feel that there is still much to learn about other contemporary strains of Gnosticism and much work that could be done to improve relations and dialogue between those who seek divine knowledge.