This article is part of a series on Gnosticism
The Ecclesia Gnostica (Latin for The Church of Gnosis or The Gnostic Church) is an openly Gnostic liturgical Church that is practicing publicly. It is centered in Los Angeles, California with parishes in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City, Utah; Sedona, Arizona; and Oslo, Norway. The church and its affiliate, the Gnostic Society, attempt to "make available the philosophy and practice of gnosticism to the contemporary world."
The organization now called the Ecclesia Gnostica was originally organized in England under the name the Pre-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church in 1953, by the Most Rev. Richard Jean Chretien Duc de Palatine with the object of “restoring the Gnosis - Divine Wisdom to the Christian Church, and to teach the Path of Holiness which leads to God and the Inner Illumination and Interior Communion with the Soul through the mortal body of man.” Born Ronald Powell, Richard Duc de Palatine had served in the Liberal Catholic Church in Australia, before moving to England. Bishop Duc de Palatine was consecrated by the Most Rev. Msg. Hugh George de Wilmott Newman (Mar Georgius I), patriarch of the Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West) who consolidated many lines of apostolic succession.
Bishop Duc de Palatine also received a charter in 1953 to head an organization first called "the Brotherhood of the Illuminati," renamed "the Order of the Pleroma" in 1960. He received other esoteric lines and charters such as: the Templar Order, Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, Memphis and Mizarim Rites of Freemasonry, and the Martiniste Order, and termed the combination with the Ecumenical Apostolic Succession "the Wisdom Religion-Gnostic Mystic Tradition."
In 1959 the organization became active in the United States through the work of Stephan A. Hoeller, who served as a priest of the church in Los Angeles, and was subsequently consecrated as regionary bishop for the Americas in 1967. He became presiding bishop on the death of Bishop Duc de Palatine in 1977, although there was a falling out prior to that.
The Ecumenical Apostolic SuccessionEdit
Most Rev. Msg. H. G. de Willmott Newman (Mar Georgius I) felt that all proper and valid consecrations and ordinations are equally efficacious regardless of the particular line of Apostolic Succession, but also that some degree of irregularity would attach itself to acts lacking ecumenical sanction. And so, to rectify any irregularity, and to overcome any doubts about validity of any line of Apostolic Succession, he sought and received conditional consecration from every part of the One Holy Catholic (Universal) and Apostolic church, bringing into being the Ecumenical Apostolic Succession. This Ecumenical line incorporates Syrian-Antiochene, Syrian-Malabar, Syrian-Gallican, Syro-Chaldean, Chaldean-Uniate, Coptic-Orthodox, Armenian-Uniate, Greek-Melkite, Russian-Orthodox, Russo-Syriac, Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Liberal Catholic, Order of Corporate Reunion, Mariavite; and additional (disputed) lines of Anglican, Nonjuring, Celtic, Welsh, and Restored Apostolic (Irvingite).
All of these lines were passed to bishop Duc de Palatine at his consecration in 1953 and in a subsequent conditional consecration in 1955. They were then passed on to bishop Hoeller at his consecration in 1967.
The presiding, and currently only, bishop of the church is Most Rev. Stephan A. Hoeller, a leading exponent of Gnosticism as living religious practice, a professor of comparative religions, and scholar who has written and lectured extensively on Gnosticism, Jungian psychology, and esoteric subjects. In addition to the bishop there are currently two Archpriests who serve as vicars forane in Portland, Oregon (V. Rev. Stephen Marshall), and Oslo, Norway (V. Rev. Jan Valentin Sæther). Each parish has a priest in charge, the pastor or rector.
While the church has no association with secret initiatory orders, and does not feel that anyone would become a better Gnostic merely by belonging to any, its clergy and laity are left free to join and/or be initiated into any and all organizations, "while they are earnestly requested to keep their activities in such organizations separate from their activities in the Ecclesia Gnostica."
Holy orders are considered one of the seven sacraments practiced by the church. Clergy are of both major and minor holy orders. The five minor orders are: cleric, doorkeeper, reader, Exorcist, and Acolyte. The major orders are: subdeacon, deacon, priest, and bishop. Clergy formation (training) is progressive, with individuals being ordained to and serving in each order in succession. Formation of priests is generally over seven or more years. All levels of holy orders are open to both male and female; married, divorced, and single; and both gay and straight candidates. Clergy are self-sustaining, not receiving a salary from the church.
The Gnostic SocietyEdit
The Gnostic Society, is a secular organization for the study of gnosticism founded in 1928 and incorporated in 1939 by James Morgan Pryse. Currently functioning as an educational organization associated with the Ecclesia Gnostica, the Gnostic Society provides resources on Gnosticism and Gnostic studies such as lectures, as well as, historic and source materials at The Gnosis Archive web site.
Teachings and Doctrinal OrientationEdit
While Christian based on Gnosis not creed/belief, the church considers itself part of the fellowship of Universal Christendom, that is part of the One Holy Catholic (Universal) and Apostolic Church.
The church does not proselytize. There is not an exclusive claim of salvation; salvation is not dependent on participation in the church. Salvation is also understood differently from salvation in mainstream Christianity: salvation is achieved through Gnosis, described as "an inner 'knowingness,' a change of consciousness."
Gnosticism is grounded in the experience of Gnosis, which is the salvific and revelatory experience of transcendence. The experience of Gnosis receives expression in the Gnostic Mythos which allows the Gnostic to amplify and assimilate the experience of Gnosis and also makes further experience of Gnosis possible.
The aim of instruction is not just one variety of the Gnostic Mythos, but the entire heritage of the Gnostic tradition, which includes: primary sources such as the Nag Hammadi scriptures, with consideration of the less reliable accounts and recensions of teachings found in heresiological texts, the Hermetic writings, and the teachings of the Prophet Mani.
Understanding of the Gnostic TraditionEdit
While recognizing the very pluralistic and creative elements of ancient Gnostic teachings they are seen as embracing a set of common assumptions which form the core of the Gnostic tradition. The "brief and inadequate outline" of this core given by bishop Hoeller is further summarized below:
There is an original and transcendental spiritual unity which came to emanate a vast manifestation of pluralities. The manifest universe of matter and mind (psyche) was created by spiritual beings possessing inferior powers, one of their objectives being continued separation of humans from the unity (God).
The human being is a composite, the outer aspect being the handiwork of the inferior creators, while the "inner man" has the character of a fallen spark of the ultimate divine unity. Though these sparks slumber in their material and mental prison, there is a constant effort directed toward their awakening and liberation from the unity. Particularly honored for such aid is the emanation called Sophia (Wisdom). The awakening of the inmost divine essence is effected by salvific knowledge, called Gnosis.
Messengers of light have been sent by the unity for the advancement of Gnosis in humans. The greatest of these messengers in our historical and geographical matrix was Jesus Christ. Jesus was a teacher, imparting instruction concerning the way of Gnosis, and he was a hierophant, imparting mysteries. These mysteries (sacraments) are mighty aids toward Gnosis entrusted by Jesus to his apostles and to their successors. By way of the spiritual practice of the mysteries (sacraments) and a relentless and uncompromising striving for Gnosis, humans can steadily advance toward liberation. The ultimate objective of this process of liberation is the achievement of salvific knowledge and with it freedom from embodied existence and return to the ultimate unity.
The church does not require the acceptance these teachings as a matter of belief. Yet states, "it is obvious that these teachings represent the distinctive contribution of the Gnostic tradition to religious thought and persons functioning within the tradition would find themselves in general agreement with them."
Worship and Spiritual PracticeEdit
Ecclesia Gnostica services consist of different liturgical celebrations usually based on traditional Western forms of Christian liturgy. Like ancient Gnostic groups, the Ecclesia Gnostica blends several disparate traditions. The church performs its sacraments "in accordance with the tradition of the Ancient Mystery Schools" and attempts to present them "in their original meaning as archetypal acts of ceremonial communion with the timeless realities of the soul."
The Gnostic Holy EucharistEdit
The celebration of the Gnostic Holy Eucharist is offered every Sunday in Los Angeles (and most other parishes). The Eucharist is central to the practice of the church, and is celebrated with high formality as congregants prepare to commune with "the indwelling and cosmic Christ." The service resembles an old-fashioned Roman Catholic liturgy in style, complete with elaborate vestments, burning candles, incense, and bells.
The service contains the Post-Eucharistic Benediction, "The peace of God which passeth all understanding, go with you. There is a power that makes all things new: It lives and moves in those who know the Self as one. May that peace brood over you, that Power uplift you into the Light, may It keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and Love of God, and of His Son, our Lord the Christ."
The Ecclesia Gnostica recognizes five initiatory sacraments as listed in the Gospel of Philip: Baptism, Chrism or Confirmation, Eucharist, Redemption (sacrament) and Bride-Chamber, with the additional two sustaining sacraments of Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick. (The sacraments of Penance and Matrimony are considered to be secondary sacraments having been substituted for those of Redemption and Bride-Chamber.) The initiatory sacraments of Baptism and Chrism or Confirmation and the two sustaining sacraments are offered by the church.
Devotional Service to the Holy SophiaEdit
In addition to the forms of liturgical service in the tradition of the Christian church, there is also the devotional service to the Holy Sophia that is unique to the rite of the Ecclesia Gnostica.
Liturgical Calendar and LectionaryEdit
The church follows the traditional Western liturgical calendar with additions and emendations. These changes include the addition of observances of Gnostic church fathers and martyrs of the Gnostic tradition, and the re-dedication of the Marian feasts of Assumption and Nativity to the Assumption and Descent of the Holy Sophia.
The Lectionary, the book of collects, lessons (instead of epistles), and gospels, of the church was written, edited, and collected by bishop Stephan A. Hoeller and issued in 1974. Scriptures were collected from the Old and New Testament; the Pistis Sophia and other scriptures known before the Nag Hammadi find; the Nag Hammadi scriptures of the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, and Gospel of Phillip; Cathar, Hermetic, Manichean, and Mandaean sources; and the Chaldean Oracles.
Both the calendar and the lectionary have been adopted for use by a number of other Gnostic church bodies.
Parishes & ChapelsEdit
- Sophia Diocesan Center, Los Angeles, CA. Most Rev. Stephan Hoeller, Presiding Bishop. Rev. John Goelz, Rev. Robert Peterson, Rev. Donna Owen, Rev. Laurel Tropp and Rev. Gilberto Morales, Priests. Rev. Bryan Campbell, Rev. Gerry Szeman, Rev. Maria Clark, and Rev. Amber Tidwell, Deacons.
- Saint Sophia Gnostic Seminary, Sedona, AZ. Rev. Charles Wells, Priest & Rector. Rev. Scot Soller, and Rev. Kriss Sprinkle, Priests.
- Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, Portland, OR. V. Rev. Stephen Marshall, Archpriest & Rector. Rev. Ed Smith, Priest.
- The Holy Gnosis of Thomas Chapel, Salt Lake City, UT. Rev. Troy Pierce, Priest & Rector. Rev. Lance Owens, Priest.
- Hagia Sophia Church, Seattle, WA. Rev. Sam Osborne, Priest & Rector. Rev. Andrea Turner, Deacon.
- Capella Santa Sophia, Oslo, Norway. V. Rev. Jan Valentin Sæther, Archpriest & Rector. Rev. Terje Bergersen, Deacon.
The Chapel of Serge and BacchusEdit
Services at the Chapel of Ss. Serge and Bacchus focus on the special needs and concerns of the GLBT community. Beginning in the summer of 1999, Rev. Michael Lafferty held Chapel services on the first Sunday of every month and was the celebrant on most occasions. Starting at the Bodhi Tree Annex in West Hollywood, he later moved them to the diocesan center in Los Angeles. Although, Rev. Lafferty died in 2008, other members of the clergy have continued this ministry. All are welcome to attend any service of the Ecclesia Gnostica or the Chapel of Ss. Serge and Bacchus.
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