A Homily for the Day of All Saints
by Bishop Steven Marshall
One of the traditions that fell out of favor with the rise of Protestantism was that of prayers to the Saints, and so went the Day of All Saints from the mainstream culture of the USA in favor of Halloween. Halloween or All Hallows Eve is the eve of this feast day and from the Day of All Saints Halloween got its name. In almost every other Christian nation people celebrate the Day of All Saints and the Day of the Dead following, as occasions of great meaning in their spiritual life. This loss of the tradition of Saints has resulted for most of us in a breakdown in one of the intermediary levels of contact with the numinosity of the Divine. The Saints are those souls who have gone before us into the Pleroma, and can therefore provide spiritual guidance and assistance to those who seek the light of Gnosis. Because they were at one time incarnated human beings with all the limitations that such suffer, they are one rung closer to us than other intermediaries.
This all begs the question of why do we need intermediaries? Certainly this was the impulse of Protestantism that believed that the human soul neither possessed nor required any such intermediaries between itself and God. This is one of those statements that may seem true on a purely theoretical level but tends to fall down on the practical and experiential level. A tradition of Saints and other intermediaries is particularly important to the Gnostic, as the Gnostic realizes how very far we are from the Pleroma in this world and how spiritually blinded we are in this embodied existence. For this reason Gnostics have everywhere described vast numbers of intermediary realms and beings to aid humanity to the light of Gnosis. One level of this higher and divine aid is that of the Saints, those human souls who have made it out of the chain of death and rebirth and into the Pure Light of the Pleroma. The paradox is that intermediary beings and sacraments can aid us in achieving a direct and unmediated experience of God that we could not otherwise attain.
A tradition of the Saints provides several factors essential to a workable spiritual and initiatory practice. First it provides a historical connection and a continuity with the past. Even if it is a mythological pseudohistory based on legend rather than fact, it is nonetheless a source of great psychological power and is very real at the soul level. On a psychological level the tradition of the saints provides a bridge between the conscious and the higher unconscious. That which is more ancient has more power in the transformative processes of the unconscious. The continuity with the past, in a sense a connecting of past, present and future, represents a contact with the timeless realm of the unconscious. For the Gnostic, the connection with the past opens up a subtle channel to the Gnostic art of memory. One of the messages throughout the literature of the Gnostics is the injunction to “remember.” The inwardly or outwardly manifested figures of saints who bear this bridge to the backward and forward flowing stream of time can help us to remember our own history as a spiritual being and perhaps even a being who is beyond history. As the place of the Saints is described in the Book of Enoch, “There shall be light interminable, nor shall they enter upon the enumeration of time…”
The figures of the saints are the cultural images through which we can access the archetypal realm. Many of the saints directly relate to the gods and goddesses of pre-Christian religion. St. Barbara corresponds to the Voudon god Legba in Santeria, St. Brigit embodies the archetype of the Celtic goddess Brigid, and St. Michael directly relates to the archangel by that name. The tradition of saints is not a Christian phenomenon only. Indeed, one of the most popularized of the Buddhist saints is Quan Yin. Even Wiccans and Neopagans have saints in their background. Gerald Gardner, the source for all of the popularized movements of Wicca and Neopaganism in America, describes the “mighty dead” as those souls in the Craft who have gone beyond the wheel of death and rebirth and who can provide spiritual assistance and teaching to those in earthly embodiment.
Another role of the Saints is that of the inner and outer teachers of the Gnosis. In this fashion they serve the Logos in bringing into the world the message of the Gnosis. In the Book of the Gnosis of the Light, Mani proclaims, “The Father sent a creative Logos to us. The Logos means “the Word,” and yet it encompasses much more than the written books and letters of the Holy Bible; it includes all the wisdom teachings of all the Messengers of the Light, the spoken and the written. The Logos is the archetypal mediator between the Divine and Humanity, transmitting and interpreting the prophetic effulgence of God; it is the collective hypostasis of mediating influences of which the saints are a part. The Book of Wisdom describes saints as those who “will flash like sparks through the stubble.” This description conjures up images of lights flashing in the darkness, reminding one of the description of the Logos in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” The holy prophet Mani, almost as if he were recording a vision, describes these lights that are given to the Logos. “Then lights, which are the means of Gnosis were given him, and he was given authority over all the secrets, so that he might distribute them to those who had striven.” The saints are the lights which are the means of the Gnosis. They are those who in life have taught and distributed the secrets of the Gnosis—those who had striven to receive them—who “fled before the evils of the Aeon, putting it behind them, and took the promise of the Father unto them.”
Now the Aeon here refers to the world, so what Mani describes are those who have renounced the world and its rulers, the archons. By renouncing the power of the archons over us, as Valentinus expresses it, “by dissolving the world and not letting the world dissolve us, we are lords of all creation and destruction.” The context in which creation occurs here is the context in which we need to understand the creativity of the “creative Logos” described by Mani. Its meaning far transcends the popularized phrases of “create you own reality,” or references to the creativity of our egos. We must in some way distance ourselves from the world and its attachments before we can experience a creativity that is truly freedom from the limitations of the world. The saints are the deceased among us who have broken these attachments and gained the freedom of Gnosis.
The saints are the heroes who have served the Logos and fought the good fight against the archons of the world. Although we might interpret the Renunciation as a psychological confrontation and repentance of our interior archons, the world created by them is truly alien to our essential being. We are “strangers in a strange land,” as the title of Heinlein’s novel indicates. The world of the archons is not our home. In this fashion the example of the saints reminds us that we must put away our attachments to worldly things and worldly ways of thinking and perceiving, if we are to hear the message of the creative Logos and come closer to the ineffable light. One of the analogies of these worldly limitations in the Gnostic mythology is that each of the planetary archons fashioned a garment with which to limit and enslave the human spirit. We must strip off each of these garments and release them back to the archons who fashioned them. As Jesus responds to Mary’s question: Whom are thy disciples like?
“They are like little children who have installed themselves in a field which is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, ‘Release unto us our field.’ They take off their clothes before them to release it to them and to give back their field to them.”
The good fight of the saints also reminds us that once we have received the treasure of the Gnosis we must guard against the world, its archons, and its attempts to lull us back into a condition of forgetfulness and ignorance. “Therefore I say: If the lord of the house knows that the thief is coming, he will stay awake before he comes and will not let him dig into the house of his kingdom to carry away his goods. You then must watch for the world, gird up your loins with great strength lest the brigands find a way to come to you, because they will find the advantage which you expect.” On a very deep psychological level this is another injunction to “know thyself.” We must recognize and confront our own archons of vacillation, falsehood, lust, pride, anger, greed and slander, all of which we find manifested in the Gnostic description of the demiurge, before we can be alert to the psychological forces that attempt to keep us in unconsciousness and ignorance.
Lastly, the saints serve as an example of how we can overcome the hold of the archons by releasing the field of the world and becoming laborers in the vineyard of God. Our taking up the work of the saints is aptly described in the familiar parable of the servants and the division of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-29) The inequities in this parable seem very unfair—not everyone is given the same amount—yet this is the way it is in the world and even in the spiritual realms transcending it. The parable describes the currency of the Kingdom of Heaven, not material wealth on earth. The differences in the money allotted to each expresses the differences in consciousness and capacity for Gnosis in different people. The Gnostics recognized different measures of consciousness in different classes of people—the hyletic, the psychic and the pneumatic. Even a casual observance of the human population reveals that not everyone has the same capacity for Gnosis. Some are hardly conscious of a spiritual dimension at all—the hyletics. Others are aware of it but do not know what to make of it, and so formulate it into rules of conduct and dogmas of theology—the psychics. Still others, the pneumatics or Gnostics, consciously perceive a spiritual dimension. Such are capable of knowing the things that are real. We do not need to be psychic or clairvoyant; we simply need to know the things that are real. We need to realize our connection with the greater realities of being.
In the parable, the one who buries his coin in the ground shows the least degree of consciousness. The clue to this is his thinking that “the lord was a hard man.” It seems that the Lord he knew was the old “tooth for a tooth” and “an eye for an eye” Jehovah of the Old Testament who would forbid us to use and increase our consciousness. The point of the parable is “use it of lose it.” We must invest our consciousness in experiences that can augment and increase our consciousness in seeking the Kingdom of Heaven, not hide it in the ground. If we do not show responsibility in a small sphere onsciousness how can we be given charge over the expanded field of consciousness beyond this world.
Sometimes the risk of obtaining greater consciousness is pain or grief, yet if we allow fear of loss and suffering in the world to make us bury our consciousness and freeze our capacity for Gnosis, then we shall lose the greatest treasure, the treasure of increased consciousness and Gnosis. The Gnostic does not fear making a mistake or missing the mark, for every effort towards Gnosis, in the appropriate direction, takes one further to the goal than if no effort had been made at all. This is most possibly the basis for Carpocrate’s doctrine of the need to experience sin (the missing of the mark), as even an arrow that goes wide of the bull’s eye is closer to the goal than the arrow that has never left the bow. The difference between sin and Gnosis in ones experience is whether there is the lack or the inclusion of consciousness in it. We can increase our capacity for Gnosis by using the capacity that we have been given. We must take the opportunities for achieving Gnosis when they come to us. “Let there be among you a man of understanding; when the fruit ripened, he came quickly with his sickle in his hand, he reaped it.” (The Gospel according to Thomas)
Opportunities for Gnosis are opportunities for using our light of consciousness to increase that light. Increasing the light of consciousness within us increases our memory of that Light from which it originated. We remember our way back to the Light.
The saints are those who have made the journey of transcendence and therefore can help us remember the way back to our origin in the Light. Part of this is the difficult struggle of remembering who we are and for what purpose we were sent forth into the world. The example of the saints can serve as awakeners of that memory within us of our individual promise to the Light and the spiritual currency that we have been given from the Light to bring with us into the world. The Community of the Saints reminds us that there is a greater consciousness beyond this world, a community of consciousness that continues to offer us its assistance. When we commune with the saints we find that there is more grace, more forgiveness, more compassion beyond this world than we could have ever imagined. They have made the journey through this world with an understanding of the struggle, and have gone to the Light still beaming forth compassion for all those yet suffering in the world. The joy of the saints truly increases when one of us remembers our divine purpose and puts our God-given currency of consciousness to work in the world for the liberation of souls. In this fashion we become reapers of the harvest and workers in the vineyard of the Logos. “Jesus said: The harvest is indeed great, but the labourers are few; but beg the Lord to send labourers into the harvest.” (The Gospel according to Thomas) In response to such works of consciousness the joy of the saints streams down upon us who have put our hand to the plow and the sickle, who have not buried our currency of consciousness in a hole.
The saints are those men and women who took the opportunities for Gnosis when they were offered, who came with the sickle in their hand and reaped the fruit of Gnosis. Their example for us is that when we have the opportunity for Gnosis, we must take it, it might not come again. Do not put it off by telling ourselves that we are not ready or not worthy, or concern ourselves with what others might think. The opportunity for Gnosis is the opportunity to raise ourselves into the communion of the saints, to raise our souls into the immortal spirit which is beyond time, death and rebirth. If we take the opportunities for Gnosis that come to us, our consciousness is increased, and it is this light of consciousness which can never die, which will not taste death. “The saints shall exist in the light of the sun, and the elect in the light of everlasting life, the days of whose life shall never terminate, nor shall their days be numbered, who seek for the light and obtain righteousness with the Lord of spirits.” (The Book of Enoch the Prophet)
Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.