The Lectionary of the Ecclesia Gnostica

An Introduction

by Stephan A. Hoeller
Regionary Bishop, Ecclesia Gnostica

It is a time honored practice of sacramental Christendom to make available to its communicants selected passages of sacred scripture, marshalled in accordance with the holidays and seasons of the Church Year. The Roman Missal as well as the Roman Breviary (especially in their pre-Vatican II form) are eminent and admirable examples of such selections. While the Protestant emphasis on a non-selective reading of scripture has robbed some of Christendom of the use of Lectionaries (as such selections are often called) such books retain their value to this day. The Gnostic Church possesses a unique lectionary in the English language which is enjoying an increasing popularity. It is known officially mainly by its descriptive title: The Collects, Lessons and Gospels to be used throughout the Church Year and was issued under the authority of the bishop of the Ecclesia Gnostica in America in 1974.

The Gnostic Church [Ecclesia Gnostica] is a Christian church and considers itself as a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Ecclesia founded by the Logos and His apostles. In view of this, it is evident that the canonical Christian scriptures would be well represented in its Lectionary. The availability of a fairly large number of Gnostic scriptures in our days makes it possible as well as desirable, however, that scriptures of the specifically Gnostic corpus should be included in fair numbers. In addition to the canonical Christian and the Gnostic scriptures, it seemed also desirable to include a certain number of gnostically related writings, such as the Hermetic, the Mandaean and the Cathar scriptures as well as the Chaldean Oracles. The Lectionary is not of a universalistic character and thus it does not include writings from traditions other than the Christian Gnostic, although the closest relatives of this tradition, i.e. the Manichaean, Mandaean and Hermetic documents are represented also. Contemporary scholarship recognizes that Hermeticism with its texts, such as the Corpus Hermeticum, the Poimandres, and others, is but a non-Christian variant of Gnosticism, as is the Mandaean religion. Manichaeanism is in fact more Christian than the former two schools of thought. The Prophet Mani considered himself a spiritual apostle of Jesus Christ, and the Manichaeans used several known Christian scriptures, such as the Gospel According to Thomas. There exists sufficient justification therefore, for the inclusion of all of these variants of the Gnostic tradition.

The various Sundays and Holidays of the Church Year have ascribed to them special intentions. The collects, lessons (sometimes known as epistles in other lectionaries and liturgies) and gospels have been carefully selected so as to express, as far as possible, the intentions of the Sundays and Holidays. Of the collects, 24 are taken from Manichaean sources. (A collect is a prayer manifesting a central keynote or point.) The break-down of the sources of the lessons is as follows: Manichaean: 14; Pistis Sophia: 3; other Pre-Nag Hammadi scriptures: 14; Hermetic Writings: 4; Mandaean Scriptures: 3; Cathar Scriptures: 1; Chaldean Oracles: 3; other miscellaneous Gnostic sources: 4; Canonical Scriptures (both Old and New Testament): 39. The gospels in the Lectionary are taken from the following scriptures: Manichaean: 1; Pistis Sophia: 3; other Pre-Nag Hammadi scriptures: 4; Gospel According to Thomas: 18; Gospel of Truth: 7; Gospel of Phillip: 19; Hermetic Writings: 2; Cathar Scriptures: 2; Canonical Scriptures (both Old and New Testament): 31. The Lectionary comprises 185 pages, including seven pages of occasional collects to be used at the discretion of clergy either within or outside of the context of the Eucharist.

Scriptures for Private Study

Gnostic clergy and communicants ought to be particularly aware of what may be called the primary sources of Gnostic teachings. A primary source is a scripture that comes to us directly from the ancient Gnostics themselves. Among these primary sources we find, first the Nag Hammadi Library, and second, the codices and treatises whose discovery precedes the Nag Hammadi find. The latter are: the Askew, Bruce and Berlin Codices, the Acts of Thomas, Acts of John, and a few others. Less reliable because of their anti-Gnostic bias, and no longer qualifying as primary sources, are the references and quotations of Gnostic content in the writings of certain Church Fathers, Epiphanius, Irenaeus and others, who, for the most part, acted as polemicists against the Gnostic teachers of the early Christian centuries. Although certainly biased and often distorted, the information in these sources is still often quite informative.

To address ourselves first to the most important primary source, we must turn now to the Nag Hammadi Library of Gnostic writings. There are six separate major categories of writings, when they are analyzed according to subject matter. They are as follows:

  1. Writings of creative and redemptive mythology, including Gnostic alternative versions of creation and salvation. These are: The Apocryphon of John (two versions); The Hypostasis of the Archons; On the Origin of the World; The Apocalypse of Adam; The Paraphrase of Shem.
  2. Observations and commentaries on diverse Gnostic themes, such as the nature of reality, the nature of the soul, the relationship of the soul to the world: The Gospel of Truth; The Treatise on the Resurrection; The Tripartite Tractate; The Tractate of Eugnostos the Blessed (two versions); The Second Treatise of the Great Seth; The Teachings of Sylvanus; The Testimony of Truth.
  3. Liturgical and initiatory texts. (These may be of special interest to persons of sacramental and initiatic interests): The Treatise on the Eighth and Ninth; The Prayer of Thanksgiving; The Valentinian Exposition; The Three Steles of Seth; The Prayer of the Apostle Paul. (The Gospel of Phillip, listed under category 6, does in part have great relevance to this category also, for it is in effect a treatise on Gnostic sacramental theology).
  4. Writings dealing primarily with the feminine deific and spiritual principle, particularly with the Divine Sophia: The Thunder: Perfect Mind; The Thought of Norea; The Sophia of Jesus Christ; The Exegesis of the Soul.
  5. Writings pertaining to the lives and experiences of some of the apostles: The Apocalypse of Peter; The Letter of Peter to Phillip; The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles; The First and Second Apocalypses of James; The Apocalypse of Paul.
  6. Last but certainly not least, the scriptures which contain sayings of Jesus as well as descriptions of incidents in His life: The Dialogue of the Saviour; The Book of Thomas the Contender; The Apocalypse of James; The Gospel of Phillip; The Gospel According to Thomas.

This leaves a small number of scriptures of the Nag Hammadi Library which may be called “unclassifiable.” It also must be kept in mind that the passage of time and translation into languages very different from the original have rendered many of these scriptures abstruse in style. Some of them are difficult reading, especially to those not familiar with Gnostic imagery, nomenclature and the like. Lacunae are also present in some of these scriptures. The most readily comprehensible of the Nag Hammadi scriptures is undoubtedly The Gospel According to Thomas, with The Gospel of Phillip and the Gospel of Truth as close seconds in order of easy comprehension. There are various translations of most of these scriptures available; the most complete being the one volume collection The Nag Hammadi Library in English, (edited by J. Robinson) which is readily available.

The Gnostic writings, whose discovery precedes that of the Nag Hammadi Library have been in large part accurately and sympathetically translated by the late scholarly Theosophist, G.R.S. Mead, in such works as Pistis Sophia, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, and his series of smaller books, entitled Echoes from the Gnosis. Mead’s works have been reprinted in recent, albeit probably small, editions. There is also an excellent selection of Gnostic writings of the pre Nag Hammadi variety, entitled The Gospel of the Gnostics, edited by another outstanding scholar and Theosophist, Duncan Greenlees. The same scholar has also edited and published a very fine selection of Manichaean writings under the title, The Gospel of the Prophet Mani. Both of these fine books are out of print, but may be obtained in Libraries of the Theosophical Society for study.

Nearly twenty years have elapsed since the complete translations of the Nag Hammadi Library was completed and published. The exegetical literature based on these writings is slowly growing. Curiously enough, one of the most useful books of this sort is still one which was published very soon after the Nag Hammadi Library: The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. Some other useful authors in this field are: Bentley Layton, Giovanni Filoramo, Simone Petrement, Dan Merkur, Marvin Meyer and Ioan Couliano. An increasing number of books employing the name “Gnostic” in their titles are being sold. The usefulness and authenticity of such literature need to be evaluated and judged by individual students on a case by case basis.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that later varieties and recensions of Gnostic teachings are present in virtually all transmissions of the Occult tradition in the West. Some of these later variations resemble the original model more closely than others. Clergy, members and other persons interested in the Gnostic Church often possess Martinist, Masonic, Rosicrucian, Theosophical and similar affiliations and dedications. All of these schools of thought, whether they acknowledge it or not, are related not only to each other, but by way of historical and mystical descent also to the matrix of ancient Gnosticism. (Certainly some of the leading figures of these movements have acknowledged their relationship to Gnosticism, as H.P. Blavatsky’s numerous writings on the Gnostics exemplify.)

Whatever the other interests and dedications of all of us may be, we are Gnostics. We are Gnostics moreover, not only in the sense of pursuing, or possessing a quality of consciousness that might be called Gnosis, but we are members of a specific tradition. This tradition, the Gnostic tradition, is the one represented by the Gnostic Church. It may be true that the non Gnostic branches of Christendom have or claim a certain kind of Gnosis, which they may call at times “Apostolic” or by any other name. Aspects of the Gnosis have passed into many hands over the centuries. Yet, we must not be satisfied with that which is in part, for we are heirs of the fullness, the Pleroma itself. And this is the principal reason for our interest in and dedication to the Gnostic Scriptures. These scriptures are one of our chief links with our origins. (The other links are the seven mysteries, or Sacraments and the arcane, oral tradition). It is by way of these scriptures that we may in large measure join ourselves consciously with the Fathers of the Gnosis, great sages like Valentinus, Basilides and their company. It is also thus, that through them, we are joined to the Holy Apostles and through them to their and our Master, Jesus Christ, the most precious flower of the Pleroma, the Logos, the Pansother, the fountainhead of all true Gnosis.

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.

Holy Sophia Liturgy – August

THE COLLECT

O High and Lofty Ones who dwell in the eternal realm, whose names are holy, we your children call upon your majesty. O Father Christ and Mother Sophia, as the world goes to rest, hushed are the movements of creatures and of monsters in the deep. And you are the just ones who know no change, the equity that swerveth not, the everlasting that passeth not away. The doors of the rulers are locked, watched by their bodyguards; but your door is open to those who call on you. Grant that the end of our earthly lives be the best of our lives, that our closing acts be our best acts, and may the best of our days be the day when we shall return to your house and into the embrace of your blessed arms. Amen.

THE LESSON

The Lesson is taken from the song of the Mother of all Grace, the Book of Ecclesiasticus:
I bud forth delights like the vine, my blossoms become fruit fair and rich. I am the Mother of the gift of love, of the fear and the knowledge of God, and the just man’s hope. In me is every boon of truth and of the way; in me is all hope of virtue and of life. Come to me all that yearn for me, and be filled with my fruits; My spirit is sweeter than honey, a better heritage than the honeycomb; the remembrance of me is for age upon age. He who eats of me will hunger still, he who drinks of me will thirst for more; he who obeys me will not be put to shame, he who serves me will never fail. They who reflect my brightness will have eternal life.

THE GOSPEL

The Gospel is taken from the Apocryphon of John:
When I, John, heard these words, I fled the Temple; I withdrew to the desert, grieving greatly, and I cried aloud: “How then was the Saviour appointed, and why was he sent to us by his Father? And what did he mean when he said to us, ‘The realm to which you shall go is imperishable?” While I sat contemplating these things, lo, the heavens opened and the world shook and trembled beneath my feet in the light I beheld a youth who stood beside me. Even as I looked he became like an old man, then like a servant. Yet there were not three before me, but one, with multiple forms appearing through each other as though transparent. He said to me: “John, John, why do you doubt? I am the one who is with you always. I am the Father. I am the Mother. I am the Son.”