Divine Guidance

A Homily for Epiphany

by Bishop Steven Marshall

In Matthew 2: 9-11, the ageless story describes a Star in the East guiding three wisemen, or magi, to the place of the divine birth of Christ. Legends of the Celtic peoples tell that their druids and seers, through study of astrology and signs seen in the sacred fires, also foretold this divine birth.

According to medieval legends, the three wisemen were named Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar. Each of them came from a different culture: Melchior was Asian, Balthazar was Persian and Gaspar was Ethopian, thus representing the three races known to the old world. These three priest-kings and wisemen brought royal gifts to the divine infant: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Melchior brought a golden cup, which, according to legend, was preserved by the Blessed Virgin Mary and was the same cup used in the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Balthazar brought a gold box of frankincense. Gaspar brought a curiously chased flask of myrrh, a royal embalming oil.

The gift of gold symbolizes the kingship of Christ, which represents our own true royal Selfhood and our giving of love and service as directed and commanded by that Self. The gift of frankincense symbolizes the Godhead of Christ and our own gifts of honor and reverence to our indwelling Divinity. The gift of myrrh is a prophecy of the death and burial of the earthly body of Christ, which represents our understanding and empathy for the suffering of humanity.

The word Epiphany comes from the Greek meaning “to appear” or “to be shown forth” According to Roman Catholic tradition, Epiphany signifies the first appearance of Christ to the gentiles in the story of the visit of the three wisemen to the divine infant Jesus. As the three wisemen represent all the known peoples of the world, this signifies an appearance to the entire world, not just a few who call themselves Christians. The Christ appears in many names and many guises throughout the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus proclaims: “Other sheep have I that are not of this flock.” Similarly, there are legends of Christ appearing in the Americas and in Northern Europe in their respective cultures and religious symbols. The showing forth of Christ to the gentiles is not about converting everyone to one religion. So great is the gentle humility and compassion of Christ and Sophia that they put on whatever appearance and culture is necessary to be recognized by anyone who sincerely calls out for spiritual assistance.

The Manichaean religion recounts a lineage of many divine teachers and messengers of the Light: Seth, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster and Jesus. The world’s religions represent the spiritual paths and trails blazed by those who have made the journey of the soul before us. They are those, such as can be described by the original title of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, who have been “there and back again.” These Messengers of Light, like the star in the East that guided the three wisemen to the place of the divine incarnation, can give us divine guidance upon our spiritual journey; they can show us the way to the divine and royal Selfhood within us. In choosing a spiritual path and religious practice we must each follow that interior star and witness a light that bids us bring our own inner offerings of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Until we have this light, as well as the conviction and trust in the place to where it leads us, our journeys are in vain.

Epiphany means “to show forth,” “to make an appearance.” We show forth our divine light by living our own spiritual path as we are divinely guided from within, without recriminations or regrets. We are guided to the place of the divine birth, the place of the awakening of our true and royal Selfhood, the Christ within. We offer as gifts all that we have in aiding the divine work of redemption that has been set before us.

Each of us has a unique and essential part in the work of redemption and the restoration of wholeness. The Gospel of Truth advises us: “By possessing Gnosis, he carries out the will of Him who called him and seeks to do what pleases Him.” By possessing the Gnosis of Self-knowledge, we remember from whence we came, to whither we are going and what we are called here to do in carrying out our true will. Increasing the light in ourselves through our own spiritual and religious practices, benefits all others. Increasing the light in our own visible Church and strengthening the secret, universal and interior Church, benefits all other religions and spiritual organizations.

The evidence of the guiding star in our own lives may not be so fantastic as the Biblical story. True magic is a very subtle thing. A still small voice, a teacher in our dreams, a waking vision, or a kinesthetic feeling of numinous presence is all we may perceive in the way of guidance. Very often, these revelations are more disturbing than helpful at the start. Yet these sometimes, very subtle promptings and guidings can lead us closer and closer to the epiphany of the Light within us.

The Valentinians of Alexandria symbolized the appearance of the infant of light in a procession honoring the image of the Goddess Kore. In this Epiphany procession they carried an image of the divine child which they called Aeon. Holding a cup before the statue of the Virgin Kore, they would carry the image of the infant of light around the altar. According to the Panarium of Epiphanius: “In many places they celebrated a very great festival on the night of Epiphany, particularly in the so-called Koreion at Alexandria. There is an immense temple there, the temenos of Kore. After watching all night, singing and playing the flute in honor of the sacred image (Kore), and celebrating a pannychis, they go down after cock crow, bearing torches into a kind of underground crypt, carrying up a carved wooden idol, who sits naked on a bier and has a cruciform seal on his forehead, two more on his hands, and two more on his knees, altogether five gold seals. They carry the god seven times around the center of the temple amid loud playing of flutes and drums and singing of hymns, and then carry it to this underground place. When they are asked what mystery this is, they say that at this hour Kore—that is the Virgin—has given birth to Aeon.”

In this procession, the image of the god is carried on a bier. In the Egyptian mysteries, the image of Osiris is carried in a chest on a bier. The wounded Fisher-King of the Grail romances is also carried out on a bier accompanied by maidens carrying the hallows of the Grail procession. Several modern Gnostics suggest that the image carried around the altar was not that of a god but that of a naked Goddess figurine, such as may be seen in the examples of early Greek or late Egyptian statuary. Whether the image of a god or a goddess, we have in this Alexandrian ceremony a deep and ageless mystery.

In the special Gnostic Epiphany Service, the procession with the image of the Light is begun with a verse from the Psalms of David: “Lift up your heads, O ye Gates, and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in.” The Gate and the Door are both symbols of the divine feminine and are traditional images given to the Blessed Virgin Mary. From the womb of the divine feminine the infant of light is born; she is the Gate through which the King of Glory shall come in. From the Writings of the Gnostic Fathers we hear this most inspiring proclamation. “And this is the most perfect beauty and star of the Pleroma, a perfect fruit, Jesus, who was also named Savior and Christ and Word and All, because he is from the All.”

That Star of the Pleroma goes by many names and belongs to all times, because it is “from the All.” The Star of the Magi does not have meaning or relevance within a geographically limited and historical setting in the past. The ageless story belongs outside of time, illo tempore, where it can still touch us in the present when we enter that mythic realm that is not a time and not a place. Gnosis is not about a belief in historical events but about Gnosis, experience, an intimate acquaintance with a transcendental reality. When we experience the wonder of this transcendent reality, then we can acknowledge the wonder, the glory, and the magic within the various myths and legends of all cultures. We walk onto an inner landscape where Gods walk and legends speak. We find that we are truly a being from above. We apprehend how we are called and who calls us. By possessing Gnosis, we know who we were, and are, and are to be. We enter the Repose.

The Repose of the Gnostics can be likened to passing through a veil suspended from above through which we pass from darkness into a place of light and freedom. The Gnostics have also described this state as an awakening from a fitful nightmare or recovering from a drunken stupor. The term repose is used paradoxically, as the Gnostics considered the bustling activity of worldly life to be a state of sleep or death to the spirit, while the repose of the Fullness they considered to be an awakening into a sublime life of peace and light.

In Jung’s The Seven Sermons to the Dead, he describes the star in terms of a light guiding the soul into this repose. “In the immeasurable distance there glimmers a solitary star on the highest point of heaven. This is the only God of this lonely one. It is his world, his pleroma, his divinity…This star is man’s god and goal. It is his guiding divinity; in it man finds repose. To it goes the long journey of the soul after death; in it shine all things with the brilliance of a great light. To this One man ought to pray. Such a prayer increases the light of the star. Such a prayer builds a bridge over death. It increases the light of the microcosm; when the outer world grows cold, this star still shines.” This star is thus the interior light of the Self, the light-spark of divinity in each of us, the star that guided the wisemen to Bethlehem, the star that guides us to our own awakening and birth of the infant of light within us. So, as we celebrate the season of Epiphany, may that star guide us to that altar within each of us and prepare us for the showing forth, the Epiphany of the Light, “Till you stand where the One Initiator is invoked, till you see your star shine forth.”


Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Seeking the Light

A Homily for the First Sunday in Advent

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. Like Lent, it is a penitential season and a preparation for a new cycle. Traditionally Advent is a time of fasting and praying. For the Gnostic the penitential seasons are a time for quiet introspection and self-reflection in preparation for the great festivals of Christmas and Easter.

Paramahansa Yogananda describes this inner work of preparation as a work of inner cleansing and purification.

“I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation, introspection, and discrimination. I will remodel the cradle with the dazzling soul-qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God, will power, self-control, renunciation and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.”

Seeking the light of Gnosis requires a permeability and openness to spiritual experience that is impossible for a consciousness that has not undergone some degree of purification. One of the keynotes of Christianity was the replacing of the earlier Mosaic laws of outward purification and dietary proscriptions with a practice of the inner purification of our hearts and minds, the purifying mysteries of the light. As described in the Book of Sophia:

“Do not desist from seeking by day and by night, until you find the purifying mysteries of the light, which refine the body of matter and make it a pure light very refined.”

It is important that we not externalize what is an interior mystery of purification in our interpretation of this scripture. The key to this mystery is the word “light,” not the “body of matter.” That which we seek is the Light, and these inner mysteries of purification give birth to the body of light, which is also called the “diamond body” in many of the works of Buddhist literature. The refinement of the body of matter is an interior rather than objective perception. Much of this inner perception of the refinement of the body of matter is not all that pleasant. It looks and feels much like the alchemical process of putrefaction, and is rather gruesomely described in Buddhist meditations where one is to visualize the body of matter as a corpse in various stages of decay. Yet out of the putrefied blackness of the Nigredo, comes the purified whiteness of the Albedo, the crimson of the Rubedo, and eventually the royal Aurora, the “diamond body” of light, shining with all the colors of the rainbow.

The cycle of colors so important in the alchemical literature are not missing in the liturgical seasons of the Church either. The seasonal color of Advent is violet. It signifies the qualities of purification as well as royalty. The Gospel of Thomas describes this quality of royalty, the true royal self-hood within each of us.

Let him who seeks, do not cease seeking until he finds, and when he finds he will be troubled, and when he has been troubled he will marvel, and he will reign over the All.

The All in this logion is related to the Greek word for the Pleroma, the Fullness, but refers more directly to the entirety of our inner universe, in which the external and material world is but a part. Before we can reign over the All, we must be troubled. When we begin to seek the Light, like Sophia who longs for the Light of the Unknown Father, we run into something, we experience a Fall, we are troubled. Our first confrontation with the unconscious causes a distress in the psyche, a wounding of the worldly ego as well as the discovery of the wounds we bear in our instinctual nature. In the Grail legends the Fisher-King is wounded in the thighs when he touches a fish. The fish is symbolic of a creature that comes from the watery depths of the unconscious. This initial contact with the unconscious represents the beginning of the process that C.G. Jung called “individuation.” Even so, Advent, as the beginning of the liturgical year, signifies the beginning of the pathway of individuation as exemplified in the mythic story of the Messenger of Light, Jesus. The path of individuation is the journey of the soul, as it seeks its way to the place of apotheosis and rest, where it reigns over the All. In Advent we celebrate the coming of the Messenger of Light, as the Liberator and Wayshower who can guide us from the darkness of ignorance into the Light of Gnosis.

Besides being the color of royalty and the penitential season, violet is also the color most often attributed to the crown chakra, the crown of our true royal self, the center of our spiritual connection with the Divine Selfhood. Focusing on this divine center directs the psyche upward and inward away from external and material things. Advent signifies a period of introversion and preparation for the birth of the inner light at winter solstice. It is also a time of year that we give thanks for and sacrifice earthly and material things, in giving of gifts, distributing to the poor, and concerning ourselves with righting the wrongs that we can and doing good to others.

The penitence of this season is related to its Latin root meaning “to alter” or “to change.” Penitence is not about wallowing in regrets and guilt feelings, nor relinquishing responsibility for developing our own spiritual connection with divinity; rather it is about working on the changes in ourselves and developing the individual conscience that will bring us closer to our indwelling divinity. Neither by following prescribed penances and morality, nor by projecting our faults onto others can we escape the necessity of dealing with our own evil impulses and shadow elements. Penitence is ultimately about Self-knowledge, knowing ourselves with all of our faults and weaknesses as well as our talents and strengths. Ultimately we must confess ourselves to our own divine Self and forgive ourselves in our own contrition. The priestly absolution aids in releasing from our deep instinctual selves this repressed guilt, so that we can get on with the conscious work of repairing our connection with the divine Self and growing along the path of individuation. When we have forgiven ourselves, we will discover a much greater capacity for us to forgive others as well. The mercy and compassion of the Logos and Sophia become a heartfelt reality within us.

Seeking the light requires that we find the purifying mysteries of the light. Forgiveness is such a mystery of purification, as in order to truly forgive another we must let our old world view and ego structures go. This relinquishment of fossilized perceptions leads to a death and rebirth experience. The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes the Clear Light, which is perceived directly after death. People that have had near death experiences report a brilliant light at the end of a tunnel. The Gnostics describe an inner light, an enlightenment, as the Gnosis of our true royal self. We are a part of and we come from the Clear Light. The inner light of our own being and the Great Light at the end of the tunnel are the same. The Gospel of Thomas states, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you and without you.” When we apprehend that inner light, when we experience the purifying mysteries of the light, we begin to see that light reflected in the external world. We begin to see a quality of magic and light in every being and event that we encounter in life. The time before Christmas is at once a solemn and very magical and joyous season. The veils between worlds are very thin. It is a time in the season when we can most easily see the light in nature and in other people.

Gnosis is not only seeing the light within oneself, but seeing the same light in others. We come to simply recognize others who have beheld that light and we are recognized by them. The Gospel of Thomas reiterates, “If you know yourselves, then you will be known , and you will know that you are the sons of the Living Father.” The light that we perceive within shines into the world, not in ostentatious displays of holiness or evangelism, but in charity and compassion to those who come within our sphere of life. Our light guides us on the quest to heal the wound of the FisherKing. We become masters of compassion, not in dwelling on “do goody” behavior, but in recognizing the Grail Castle when we are in it, and bearing compassion for the wound of the FisherKing when we behold it.

During the season of Advent we are most acutely aware of those less fortunate and in need. As we perceive the pain and suffering in the world, we can often feel overwhelmed with the immensity of the divine work of redemption. The Book of Sophia describes this work of redemption in marvelous simplicity, not as an external projection but as an inner mystery.

“Do to all men who come to you and believe in you and listen to your words what is worthy of the mysteries of the Light, give the mysteries of the Light and do not hide them from them. For he who shall give life to a single soul and liberate it, besides the Light that is in his own soul, he shall receive other glory in return for the soul he has liberated.”

The most precious gift we have to give in this work of redemption in the world is the offering of the mysteries of the Light, however we may attest to them, not by street corner evangelism or door to door proselytizing but by doing what is worthy of the mysteries of the Light to those who seek it and come to us. As one by one the Light is awakened in others, then the pain and suffering in the world can be transformed.

The season of Advent is in many ways a troubling season. Yet amidst the troubling we can find the magic of hope and sharing that brings us to that leap into the rapturous amazement of the Pleroma. We can come to know the totality of the Self within us in our seeking and yearning for the divine light. During this Advent season let us kindle a sense of wonder, an openness and permeability to the divine light shining in the darkness of this world. Let us not hide our own light under a bushel, but let it shine on the All.


Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Color: Green; Intent: The Universality of Revelation

THE COLLECT

We praise and thank Thee, O Eternal One, for the glorious aid and example of all the messengers of the light, and for the continued presence among us of Thy light which ever leadeth us to Thee. Give us wisdom and discernment we pray so that we may ever faithfully follow Thy divine light and recognize its holy messengers. So we ask and thus we pray in the name of the light that shines in the darkness. Amen.

THE LESSON

The Lesson is taken from the words of the Holy Prophet Mani:
From time to time wisdom and good deeds have always brought to mankind messengers of God; in age after age have messengers been sent by the infinite king of light; Seth-el, Zarathustra, the Buddha and the Christ. Zarathustra, the famous master and leader of the Mazdean religion wrote no books, his disciples who came after him remembered and wrote his teachings in the books which they read today. When the Buddha came in his turn to India, and the others who have been sent to the East, the disciples have reported of him that he too preached his hope and taught much wisdom. In an other age men were taught by Jesus who came to the West; for all the earlier religions were true so long as pure leaders were in them.

THE GOSPEL

The Gospel is taken from the Gospel according to St. John:
Then said Jesus unto them again: Amen, Amen, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. By Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine. As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.