Saturday, September 01, 2007

Questions: becoming a Gnostic & Baptism

Sometimes questions come in around the same time whose answers are interrelated.
I want to become a Gnostic officially in the Gnostic Church. How do I do this?

I have been thinking about baptism for the last three weeks. ... In thinking through this I had to ask myself what happened. The answer is that I am aware that my ego has to die in order to be reborn. ... I would like to be baptized.
A Gnostic is someone who is following the path of Gnosis: someone with Gnosis and who is seeking Gnosis. There isn't really an official membership status in the Ecclesia Gnostica, no membership lists, it is more a matter of participation.

While we do not become a Gnostic through any external means, the ancient mystery of baptism can initiate and solemnize a personal commitment to attaining Gnosis. As such, it is a rebirth and an initiation (a beginning). The conscious choosing of a baptismal name (whether new or reaffirming one's current name), and the conscious choosing to solemnly begin (again) a process of transformation and liberation can have a profound effect. Being willing to begin yet again, is a willingness to be transformed. We are always beginning. Yet, many people refuse to begin, which is in a way a refusal to really live.

Approaching transformation often looks like death. The caterpillar is broken down into goo before it becomes a butterfly. It seems like death, it may even feel like death, but it is a re-constellation a restructuring of a living being. In the spiritual path the ego does not really die while the body lives. What happens is a process of decentering and disidentification. The ego continues to perform its function, but it moves from the center of our inner experience and we identify with it less and less. The first movement from the center is a big work, and the next movements are almost as big. It is not a process of ego death, per se, but a process of the ego taking up its rightful place as a faithful servant to that which is worthy of devotion and service.

In this there is a sense of compassion and respect for the ego. For if it has done its job well, then it is firmly rooted in the center of our inner experience when we begin the path. It will resist each act of shifting it, and the closer it is to the center, the stronger it is at resisting. It is a servant who thinks itself sovereign. Yet beneath this false order is a true and transcendent one. There is a true sovereign that the ego will serve. It needs to recognize, to have Gnosis of, our true center that is connected with the transcendent; and the ego needs to recognize that it is separate from that center.

If the ego can be thought of as a tree, the true center might be thought of as a bubbling spring whose depths are deeper than the world. The tree grows over and protects the spring, but also believes that it is the spring as well, the source of the water. Moving it meets with resistance. But once moved, gradually more of us is nourished by this transcendent center and the whole inner garden is transformed.

We hold open services and offer open communion. There are no requirements for attending or participating, services are offered as a service to those who wish to participate, to the extent that they wish to participate. There is no pressure to participate, and there is no mechanism of membership. So, those considering baptism will need to make inquiries of their own initiative, and eventually ask to be baptized. As you will not be asked under most circumstances, though you may be presented with the possibility.

In the Ecclesia Gnostica, baptism is offered as an initiatory mystery and isn't thought of as replacing or rectifying a previous baptism. It is an opportunity to consciously chose and consciously undergo this ancient mystery/sacrament. There are no requirements as such, just a deep affinity for the Gnostic tradition, and a sense that it is the "right time" to undergo the mystery. Familiarizing yourself with the Gnostic Catechism, to see if you are in general agreement or have a general affinity, is highly recommended and a good indicator to your officiating priest that you know what you are doing. An interview with the officiating priest is required, but this doesn't have to be in person. It is not uncommon for people to contact a parish, then travel there to be baptized.

Traditionally, baptisms take place on Holy Saturday, or alternatively on the Epiphany. There are also times when baptisms are not traditionally performed. We tend to view these as secondary to kairos which is Greek for "the right time." It is the candidate's sense that it is the "right time" for baptism that is most important.

As for scheduling, take a look at the liturgical calendar and see if any particular holiday makes particular sense as the right time. Usually it is best to have a few weeks before the decision and the event. Another consideration is a baptismal name. It is optional, but can be symbolic of one's intention of transformation, and also of devotion or affinity either to a figure such as a saint, or even something more general or abstract, as seen in such ancient names of Epiphaneus and Theophilus. This is usually stated as a middle name by the priest in the baptismal ceremony, but it can be "said" silently and kept as a private intention.

I should note that I have used the term "priest" as the officiant of the baptismal ceremony as this is the usual case. However, by tradition, baptism does not require a priest, although a priest is preferred. In cases of emergency or extreme need, any baptized person may perform a baptism. A case of offering an initiatory mystery they themselves have already received. There is a beautiful account of a simple yet moving baptism performed by Philip K. Dick for his son in the novel VALIS. Yet, for the full experience of the mystery of baptism in all it's symbolic beauty and transformational symbolism, seek out a parish and make arrangements.

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