Tag Archives: Gnosticism

Thursday of Mysteries

“When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, the impious Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrayed You, the Righteous Judge. Behold, this man because of avarice hanged himself. Flee from the insatiable desire which dared such things against the Master! O Lord Who deals righteously with all, glory to You!”
– Troparion (Plagal Fourth Tone) of Holy Thursday

the_gospel_of_judas_iscariot_by_testingpointdesign

 

“Knowing that Judas was reflecting upon something that was exalted, Jesus said to him, “Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal. For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve may again come to completion with their god.”
– Gospel of Judas

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“It is not permitted to hold love, as they are called, in the, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches in the house of God.”
– Canon XXVIII, Council of Laodicea

Lastsupper-Chartres

“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats.”
-Exodus 12:5

john the beloved

 

“Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos”

IOHANNES XIII:xxxiv


Agapé

This past Saturday I woke up early after a peculiarly restless sleep anxious about the day ahead. Every first and third Friday the Seattle Johannite community, Holy Paraclete, meets at a local esoteric bookstore for communal prayer and, occasionally, participation in the Eucharist through our friend, Monsignor Scott Rassbach+, of Rose Cross Community in Portland. This time, however, was different and unique. Although the monsignor couldn’t make it to the service, I decided as the narthex leader to try something different from our usual vespers service on account of a special guest coming from out of town and offer them, as a gesture of friendship between our different communities.

Friendship and mutual support is important. Regardless of traditions, we are all being led by the Sacred Flame toward the Godhead in whatever way we imagine it and are all fellow travelers on the spiritual path. I met Pater Craig Williams a number of years ago at the Esoteric Book Conference ,where he was interviewed last year by Occult of Personality. A priest of Ecclesia Gnostica Æterna and adept in Ayurveda and Eastern spirituality, I’ve enjoyed my conversations with him and acknowledge him as a friend and exemplar of what it means to be a modern gnostic. Another guest, friend and soon-to-be deacon of Ecclesia Gnostica was also present, as well as others from different traditions. To say I felt overwhelmed at first would be a gross understatement.

The entire morning I traveled here and there across town to get the things I needed for the ceremony in-between making lunch for my partner and me, ironing the clothes I was going to wear, and packing up my travel bag that I use to bring what I needed to the location. I decided that I would arrive a few hours earlier to clean up the space with my partner, set up what was needed, and then grab a quick drink at a local pub to calm my nerves about an hour and half before Holy Paraclete’s first Agapé Meal.

The Agapé Meal is a ceremony dating back to the earliest ages of the Christian movement and although the Council of Laeodicea effectively marked the end of the practice of the agapé feasts in the transition of Christian worship from home to the adapted Hellenic temples and other buildings granted to Christians for worship and congregation some fifty years earlier by the Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus by declaring, “no one holding any office in the Church, be he cleric or layman, who are invited to an agapé feast, may take away their portions, for this is to cast reproach on the ecclesiastical order[1].” Although it can be certain many still met in the context of their own families and extended friends, this development also marked the codification – or rather separation – between clergy and the laity.

Although eucharistic in appearance, the agapé is principally communal in nature, best described by His Grace, +Mar Timotheos of New South Wales: “[The Agape Meal] a prayerful feast shared in community.. [and] a time for a whole household to come together and give thanks… you can think of [it] as a bridge. It bridges the domestic, mundane reality of the meal with the sacred time of liturgy – so it has a flavour that is somewhat liturgical and somewhat casual. As the liturgy proclaims: there is no separation between these things – but it’s easy to think of sacredness as only being at church or in meditation. Agape is a way to remind ourselves that truly ‘there is nothing mundane in the holy’.”

The above description is precisely what I felt last Saturday in the presence of good friends and spiritual partners. In spite of our many different backgrounds, experiences and even personal practices, we were able to come together, sit at the same table, pray and enjoy our company in a mindful manner. The conversations were delightful and I was overjoyed by the entirety of the experience in spite of my initial anxieties. Waking up the next morning, I felt inspired – the first time in a number of weeks due to personal life stressors – and motivated to move past the things I’ve been letting hold me back to some degree and try out new things.

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[1] Canon 27, Laeodicea


Review of Tony Silvia’s “Sanctuary of the Sacred Flame”

After two years of hard work, Father Anthony Silvia + brings to us an amazing primer in Johannite spirituality in his Sanctuary of the Sacred Flame bringing to light the foundational practices of the Apostolic Johannite Church for all to see including the Logos Liturgy and the ceremony of the Agape Feast.

The Apostolic Johannite Church is a world-wide network of communities united by the pursuit of gnosis and the communal celebration of the Divine. In Sanctuary of the Sacred Flame, Father “Tony” explains the significance of the central spiritual practices of the AJC after many years of personal practice, explores traditional devotionals in an applicable and approachable way, all the while maintaining his own sincere sense of humility and humor.

This text, following six years on the heels of Monsignor Jordan Stratford’s+ Living Gnosticism and three years on the heels of Father Donald Donato’s+ dutiful translation of The Levitikon: the Gospels According to the Primitive Church, is a foundational text for anyone looking to begin their own personal practice in the tradition of the disciples of the Divine Beloved and includes practices innovated by members of this community in the modern age.

Sanctuary of the Sacred Flame is sure to be a text I will myself refer to in the future as I undergo the seminary program toward priesthood in the AJC and am proud to  suggest to anyone looking for a change of pace in their spiritual practices. My only complaint is that it is a little light on ‘in depth’ philosophy, but it makes up for it in the depth of experience of all the practitioners whose work contributed to the creation of such an amazing text.

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Lenten Meditation: Water

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God calls us, even now, reminding us that there is no better moment than the present to begin seeking to remember our divine origins and that we have at this very moment an opportunity that we can freely take advantage of to deepen our knowledge and embody the nature of the Christ. In practicing mindfulness, we can start to see through the watery illusions which we have put about us and start remembering who we were.

The image of water as a concrete means of purification is self-explanatory, however water as a means of spiritual purification, dare I say atonement, and is one of the foundational mysteries of Christian belief – that is Baptism. The outward washing with water symbolizes an inward cleansing of the soul and is practiced to this day by many people of a variety of different faiths. In joining the symbolic path of Christ during Lent, we must wash away the accretions of falsehood from our field of perception so that we may come to better know our divine natures and be recognized for our own inherent divinity (cif. John 9:12, I Cor. 13:12).

As one who may have had more than a passing familiarity with the mystery traditions of the Greeks as well as the Egyptians in addition to his own Jewish heritage, the usage of water in purification rites would have been very clear to Jesus however, during the Lenten season, it is also into the waters that we must descend in order to die to our old ways of viewing the world and become reborn and regenerated in order to gain a more comprehensive idea of “whereto we speed ”.

For the Ancient Egyptian religions, water or mw water played an important role in the lives of the sacral duties of their priesthoods so much so that an entire clerical class, w’b nswt or purification priests, wb were in charge of preparing ritual space but were not allowed to enter the sanctuary where the Divine Image was kept. An interesting parallel here might be to consider the role of John the Baptist in the desert preparing the way for Jesus as the embodiment and instructor of embodying God. Also, interestingly, although the Hebrew letter mem (מ) is believed to be graphically related to the Egyptian n-water ripple this represents only the letter, “n”, the Sefer HaBahir which may be dated to the first century, informs us, “Do not read Mem, but Mayim (water).”

So, what do we find in water? Biologically, the human fetus is suspended in the waters of the womb for nine months before birth and upon exiting the womb encounters a deserted wasteland of pure potentiality but first, the first impetus of many of us at birth is to cry at the cold world we’ve been thrust into before being picked up and placed into the loving arms of our first parent whose voice we quickly learn to recognize and whose heartbeat we already know. On a spiritual nature, we already have the capacity to listen to the heartbeat of God and hear our First Parent or Protogenetiera (cf. Eugnostos the Blessed) speaking Her Wisdom into us (cf. proverbs 8:22-8:31, Wisdom 7:25-7:26) continually fostering our connection to the Sacred Flame.

Water is also emblematic of emotion, specifically connection to our emotions, and is ruled by the Moon as countless folk-legends attest. The first step in our purification then must be to be attentive to our own moods and the their waxing and waning cycles and direct our focus and offer our experiences, through blood, sweat and tears, where we might find “true life through intelligence and love ” and fulfill the great commandment given by Christ to us, that through understanding our own selves and purifying our own fluctuations, we may be able to love one another in such a way as He had loved us, even unto the watery depths.

baptmamshit

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[1] “Je suis descendu du Ciel? Est-ce parce qu’il a habité avec les Grecs, qu’il vient ainsi converser avec nous? Que de commun ce qu’il a appris des Égyptiens, et ce que nos pères nous ont appris?” Palaprat, B.R. Lévitikon: ou Exposé des principes fondamentaux de la doctrine des chrétiens-catholiques-primitifs: suivi de leurs évangiles, d’un extrait de la Table d’or… et précédé du statut sur le gouvernement de l’Eglise et la hiérarchie lévitique

[2] “Μέχρι τοῦ βαπτίσματος οὖν ἡ Εἱμαρμένη, φασίν, ἀληθής· μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο οὐκέτι ἀληθεύουσιν οἱ ἀστρο 4.78.2 λόγοι. Ἔστιν δὲ οὐ τὸ λουτρὸν μόνον τὸ ἐλευθεροῦν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἡ γνῶσις, τίνες ἦμεν, τί γεγόναμεν· ποῦ ἦμεν, ἢ ποῦ ἐνεβλήθημεν· ποῦ σπεύδομεν, πόθεν λυτρούμεθα· τί γέννησις, τί ἀναγέννησις.” ΕΚ ΤΩΝ ΘΕΟΔΟΤΟΥ ΚΑΙ ΤΗΣ ΑΝΑΤΟΛΙΚΗΣ ΚΑΛΟΥΜΕΝΗΣ ΔΙΔΑΣΚΑΛΙΑΣ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΥΣ ΟΥΑΛΕΝΤΙΝΟΥ ΧΡΟΝΟΥΣ ΕΠΙΤΟΜΑΙ, Clement of Alexandria

[3] Kaplan, Aryeh (ed.), Bahir

[4] Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, Eliphas Levi


Dust in the Wind

 

AshCross

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks another return to the liturgical season of Lent, a period oftentimes associated with fasting, self-denial, and penance in many churches. For many post-restoration Gnostics, however, the meaning of this season shifts from one of denial and self-deprecation to an opportunity for engaging in deeper, more attentive, inner contemplation and meditation. Though the external symbols may appear the same, the penitential mood of this season has more in common with alerting us toward our true natures and our frequent inability to remember who we are and “whereto we speed[1]”, as opposed to attaching ourselves to guilt.

Scripture reminds us that we are in fact extensions of the eternal Godhead; immortal, incorrupt, made in the image of eternity[2]. Yet, due to the vast temporal distance from the initial moment of Creation, it is difficult for us to remember this truth and instead wander around in a more or less amnesiac state either bemoaning the gift that has been given us or, conversely, reveling mindlessly in temporal delights without pausing for a moment to recognize that material pleasures are fleeting and not intrinsically meaningful.

During this time of introspection, we are called to make a conscious effort toward remembering our own unique divinity and the divinity we share with the whole of Creation. Far from being a period of denial, Lent is an opportunity for radical engagement with ourselves and the world around us, an exercise to see things as the Godhead intended them to be. By saturating our experiences with meaning, we are able to rediscover the original moment of Creation as continually unfolding around us at all times, in all places and in all things.

The liturgical season of Lent is concrete marker for us to focus on what is ultimately an abstract process that each of us are going through individually in our spiritual process. By infusing this season with meaning, we encounter other markers along the way that can help us better focus our wandering minds. Ash Wednesday changes from penance and the negative religious mood of self-denial to being marked for stronger spiritual training [3]and casting off those things hindering our process and making us mentally and spiritually more capable of putting our experiences into a wider perspective as Jesus did in casting aside the temptations of using his messianic mission for worldly ends instead of offering an example for experiencing and exercising our free will[4].

Echoing my post from the previous year, the primary importance of Lent is to help us grow in our experience toward the divine in whatever form we may honor it. The goal is complete transformation and is unique to each and every one of us and there is no external litmus test for success or failure, only the intent and the rewards of being able to slowly see things as they are and receive being open to experience of our own dynamic divine nature.


[1] Excerpta ex Theodoto

[2] Wisdom 2:23

[3] Asceticism (from the Greek: ἄσκησις, áskēsis, “exercise” or “training”).

[4] Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13


A Mass of Candles (and a little Beeswax)

The Presentation of the Lord

As I noted in my entry last year, Candlemas, also known the Feast of the Presentation, is one of the Twelve Great Feasts and is celebrated by Christians world-wide in commemoration of the gospel account of Mary and Joseph’s presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem to complete Mary’s ritual purification forty days after birth in accordance with the Law of Moses.

The tradition of purification following childbirth was something that, unsettlingly to many in our contemporary culture, survived well into the modern era in the Catholic and Anglican practice of churching new mothers forty days after childbirth wherein a blessing is given to mothers and prayers of thanksgiving are offered for the survival of the child, which with higher infant mortality concerns was a major reason to give thanks.

brighids-flame

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the Feast of Candlemas became deeply syncretized with the Irish quarter celebration of Imbolc which, even in modern Ireland, is considered to mark the beginning of Spring and is a festival fundamentally associated with the ancient goddess Bríg or Brigid, who may be fundamentally considered the same as the Christian Saint Brigid of Kildare whose feast occurs traditionally on the first of February. At this point, it’s hard to say which celebration and traditions influenced one another but in practice they have become so fused that to this day many modern Pagans celebrate it as one of their major yearly celebrations however the tradition of setting lights and keeping vigil are maintained.

Western ecclesial practice for this day maintains the tradition of blessing bees-wax candles to be used in church and by members of the community throughout the year. According to some traditions, the candles used by the faithful put to flight the assaults of evil spirits or faeries and have the additional advantage of warding away the harmful effects of storms. The emphasis on beeswax is something that deeply interests me in light of the current ecological disaster facing many beekeepers with the current die-offs as well as being someone who grew up in an agricultural community where bees are essential to daily life. The connection between liminal (cross-between) times, prophesy, and enlightment and the bee is something I find fascinating, in particular as a modern Gnostic.

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Throughout the ancient Levant, the bee was believed to be the sacred insect that bridged the natural world to the underworld. Tomb decorations, in particular the Mycenean tholos tombs, were even shaped like bee-hives, likely in reference to the ancient goddess Potnia whose name simply means, “mistress”. Her title and epithets were also inherited by classical and Mycenean Greek and applied to many goddesses, including Kore in her role in the Arcadian mysteries of Eleusis.

The bee was also connected in many of these cultures with the gift of prophesy, elements of which are also apparent 1 Samuel 14:24-30:

“He [Jonathan] extended the staff that was in his hand, and dipped the tip of it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes brightened. Then one of the soldiers said, “Your father strictly charged the troops with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food this day.’ And so the troops are faint.” Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land; see how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if today the troops had eaten freely of the spoil taken from their enemies; for now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”

The Biblical connection between honey and prophesy continues in the account of the prophet John the Baptist who was said to wear clothing of camel hair and feed on locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6) as well in the Apocalypse of John (Rev. 10:9-10)

Although the Romantic notion of a connection between a supposed Jesus Dynasty flourishing in France such as those popularized in the fictional books Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the The DaVinci Code, has been definitively disproven, golden bees (or cicadas!) as a symbol of royalty were discovered in 1653 in Tournai in the tomb of Childeric I, founder in 457 of the Merovingian dynasty and father of Clovis and were resurrected in usage by Emperor Napoleon of France in his coat of arms. Interestingly, as Father Donato+ points out in his speculative essay:

“[A] few days before his imperial coronation, Napoleon met with the Roman Pontiff in secret. This was the social and political backdrop of Dr. Fabré-Palaprat’s discovery of the Lévitikon in Paris that same year. The secretive meeting between Napoleon and the pope took place in Paris, but not as a State visit. During their private talks, the pope reportedly pressed Napoleon to sign a document in which Louis XIV “disavowed the articles of the declaration of the clergy in 1682, which was drawn up by Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet as the foundation of the liberties of the Gallican Church… The pope was asking that Napoleon sign a document repudiating the authority of the French Monarch to his extraordinary authority over the established Catholic Church in France, which was claimed – and never relinquished legally – by Louis’ successors. Here, it is important to recall that after Louis XIV, his nephew, Philippe d’Orleans, served as regent for Louis XV. This Philippe is the Duke of Orleans who was appointed Grand-Master of the Order of the Temple, and reformer of its statutes. In name alone, but still by intention, this made Philippe and his successors the Johannite Patriarchs – privy to the secrets and the succession of St. John and everything that entailed. With a renewed monarchy, such as the one Napoleon was about to create, all of these prerogatives would eventually fall into the imperial lap. And the pope knew it.”

Although speculative, for Johannites this connection between the bee and its relevance to the mysteries of John may prove something fun to think about.

symbolique

This Saturday Holy Paraclete Community will be celebrating the Vespers service of the Apostolic Johannite Church, a central part of the ceremony being the lighting of the lucernarium. Traditionally, it would be during the vespers service that the candles would be blessed however, in absence of a priest; I plan on distributing candles to the community out of symbolic solidarity.

For me personally, the morning of Candlemas will be spent in contemplative meditation and participation in Teo Bishop’s Solitary Druid Fellowship’s February Cross Quarter liturgy. Though not pagan myself (in spite of what P. Sufenas Virius Lupus may say), the emphasis on ecological awareness and integration as well as spiritual enlightenment and transformation found in modern druidry appeals to me very much and, in honor of the Brigid’s might not be a bad opportunity to help focus on the Sacred Flame within all people and all paths.

artOfStonehenge_PD204

 

note: in the original post, I had erroneously called Imbolc and Irish ‘cross-quarter’ celebration. As PSVL notes in the comments: “Imbolc is not a cross-quarter day for the Irish, it’s a quarter-day. The whole notion that Imbolc, Beltaine, Lugnasad, and Samain are “cross-quarter days” comes from Wicca, not from Irish tradition. This is the first day of Spring for the Irish, just as Beltaine is the first of Summer, Lugnasad the first of Autumn, and Samain the first of Winter.”


Spiritual Architecture

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On December 26th, the Eve of the Feast of John the Beloved Disciple, the Monsignor Scott Rassbach+ arrived with members of Rose Cross Community in Portland to celebrate mass with Seattle’s Holy Paraclete Community, a mission of the Apostolic Johannite Church. This feast is of particular importance to the world wide Johannite community which describes itself as a spiritual tradition carried in part through the initiatory tradition of John the Baptist, exemplified in the relationship between Christ and the Apostle John. The service itself was well attended for this small community that was granted last year to Monsignor Scott+ and me by His Eminence, +Mar Iohannes IV and His Grace, +Mar Thomas, with people from a wide variety of religious backgrounds – a fine example of the acceptance of diversity that epitomizes this tradition and sets it apart in many ways.

Following the Gospel reading, Monsignor Scott+ announced that our small community had been elevated from its status as a mission community to that of a narthex. In the Apostolic Johannite Church, our communities fall into one of three primary categories: a mission is group of members that meet irregularly and are ministered to by visiting Johannite clergy; a narthex is a local study group under the direction of a lay or clerical leader; and a parish, is a fully functioning body of the Apostolic Johannite Church with regular clergy and services. This news was followed with a wonderful impromptu sermon on the nature of a narthex in the context of the AJC and in history, Eucharist, and our group meeting at a local restaurant for food and fellowship following the service.

In the week following the service, I have been given much to think about as the current lay-leader of Holy Paraclete Community in light of Monsignor Scott’s+ homily and there is doubtless more to think about as I undergo formation in my studies with Saint Raphael the Archangel Seminary on my process toward ordination to the priesthood. Formation, itself, is an interesting terminology to use in this context. As someone with a background in the plastic arts, a fervent love for Sculpey, and an appreciation for ancient and modern architecture I find myself thinking about the development of this community and myself with the same enthusiasm and reluctance as an artist or architect seeking to build something that will outlast the temporal here and now and grow and develop into something that I pray will last years beyond my physical life been extinguished. The whole process, in many ways, can be considered the building of architecture of spirit that is at once deeply personal and communal in nature.

Following the death of Jesus, the disciples traveled throughout the world scattered like seeds in the wind yet each carrying a blueprint of what the master builder had left them for creating a new society. Some, like James, stayed in Jerusalem and continued working on their own personal spiritual development with the community they had known there, while others started laying the foundation for new communities around the Mediterranean and as far away as India. Nearly all of them met violent ends at the hands of the civil and religious authorities of the time except for one, John, who according to holy tradition, was exiled to Patmos off the coast of modern day Turkey and lived to an old age and dying in Ephesus. Saint Paul, the only apostle to have not physically been present during the life of Jesus, mentions of John that he along with Peter in Rome and James who remained in Jerusalem, was one of the pillars of the Church (cf Galations 2:9).

9658-the-revelation-of-st-john-9-st-jo-albrecht-d-rer

As the community that established around Peter became known for its dogged dedication to creating a new temporal society and the church of James in Jerusalem worked gently to bridge the gaps in philosophical and theological disagreements between the Christians and the Jews, the vision of John was nearly entirely spiritual – free from the confines extremes of Jewish religious law and attachment to physical establishment of a new religious community. All three visions of these apostles however, form the supports upon which rest the ethical, moral and philosophical axis of the living church to this very day using the blue prints of Jesus.

By the time of the writing of the Gospel of John, it’s generally acknowledged that the Christian community had been expelled from participation in the synagogues and temple establishment and so most, in particular non-Jewish converts to Christianity, began meeting in the atria of the houses of sympathetic patrons who may or may not themselves have been converts while those who were interested would often wait outside the open area before gaining admittance to the mysterious Christian church. This place, which in Roman architecture of the time was called the fauces, in modern architecture a mud-room, would become the basis of the narthex as these communities would grow and become independent buildings of worship.

Roman-domus-layout

From a spiritual perspective, the narthex remains a mudroom of sorts. Separated from the nave of the church, it is the place where day to day business can be discussed, local gossip and profound observations exchanged, and where newcomers are welcomed. It’s also where we ourselves are at our least focused and meditative and mired in the concerns of the world but where we are reminded of our hope for spiritual purification. In many ancient churches then as now, the narthex would often include a baptismal font so that infants or adults could be baptized there before entering the nave, and to remind other believers of their baptisms as they gathered to worship. As a place of penance, the narthex is at once symbolic of the desert through which the ancient Hebrews wandered with Moses, the outskirts of society where John the Baptist cried like a voice in the deserts, and the wasteland where Jesus meditated for forty days and was tried and tempered. It’s also an oasis, a place of refreshment and hospitality. Then as now, hospitality is the highest law among desert nomads in the Near East and any weary traveler who found their way to an oasis would be greeted hospitably and given aid as they continued their journey. Everyone, regardless of rank or status, must pass through the narthex before entering the nave – the Holy of Holies – of the church.

narthex

As the lay leader of Holy Paraclete Community, a narthex of the Apostolic Johannite Church, I hope this community embodies what it means to be a place of similar welcome and hospitality, rest and refreshment, information and cordial chatter. Myself, I hope also to be tested and reminded about my own moral and spiritual deficiencies whereby I can better see what I need to work on in my own process of spiritual purification and development as well as better learn what I need to learn to be of aid and hospitality to those whom I meet wherever I may be. As a Johannite, I hope it is here that I cannot so much come to be loved as to better learn how to love, not be known so much as know, not so much receive as give, and in dying to old behaviors be reborn daily with my community in the light of holy gnōsis.

nave


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