Friday, December 27, 2013

Saint John the Evangelist's Day

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist and in Masonry, we strive to educate ourselves, so let us look at this historical figure. He is also known as the Beloved Disciple or John of Patmos. Saint John, son of Zebedee and Salome, was born in Bethsaida, near the Sea of Galilee. He is brother to James the Greater, another disciple of Christ. Salome is said to be the younger sister of Mary, the mother of Christ, and thus John and James were the cousins of Christ.

He was a fisherman who worked on the 
Lake of Genesareth, or Sea of Galilee, and while mending nets he met Christ during the first year of His ministry and would become a very faithful disciple of the Savior. He is credited with writing the Fourth Gospel, three Epistles, and the Book of Revelations. There is some uncertainty as to whether it was all one person who authored these books and some believe that Saint John may have hired scribes to assist him.

He was the only one of the Twelve who did forsake him during his Crucifixion, but was present at the foot of the Cross as well as observing the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. For the love he showed the Blessed Redeemer, he was entrusted to care for Mary after the Ascension of Christ.

After Christ's Ascension, he moved around Asia Minor establishing many churches. Much of his time he was in Jerusalem and then in Ephesus, with some time exiled on Patmos, a Grecian island in the Aegean Sea near Turkey. It is believed that he wrote Revelations during his exile on this island.

Tradition states he was brought to Rome by order of the Emperor, Dometian, who attempted to kill him by throwing him into a cauldron of boiling oil at the Porta Latina (Latin Gate), but came forth uninjured and was banished to the island of Patmos for a year. After the assassination of Dometian, he was allowed to return to Ephesus where he lived to be 94-years old, dying around 100 AD (the 3rd year of Emperor Trajan). Traditions say that in his final years he could no longer walk so he had to be carried by his followers to the church, where he would leave with the words, "Little children, love one another." Over his tomb was erected a church, but after the rise of Islam, it was converted into a mosque.

Saint John the Evangelist is considered the Patron Saint of many things such as against poison, art dealers, authors, bookbinders, booksellers, burns, editors, engravers, painters, paper-makers, printers, publishers, theologians, typesetters, writers, Asia Minor, and many others. He is often symbolized by a cup or chalice, an eagle rising out of a cauldron, a serpent entwined upon a sword, an eagle on a closed book, the scroll of the Apocalypse, or John seated on a tomb with a book, an orb, and a sword.

Maybe it is because he was considered the "Beloved Disciple" that he is honored with a feast day just two days after Christmas Day. To commemorate this Saint, wine is often used as one tradition tells us that he was served poisoned wine by a Priest of Diana (a Roman goddess), but as he put it to his lips the poison rose from the chalice in the shape of a serpent. Another tradition of this story states that the pagan priest denied the divine origin of the apostolic miracles and challenged Saint John to drink a cup of poison to prove he is protected by God, so after making a sign of the cross, Saint John emptied every last drop without injury. The toast given asks for those participating to "Drink the love of Saint John." It is thought that drinking hallowed wine on this day would secure one from all danger of poison throughout the next year. In Germanic areas, there was an old ceremony known as "Johannissegen" (or John's blessing) where a Catholic priest blessed wine brought to him by the parishioners. They would then go home and make a toast similar to that above and which was supposed to bestow health and prosperity.

These days were started around the 6th century, but were not very widespread until the 16th and 17th centuries where Europeans would celebrate with large quantities of wine. The celebration of Saint John in the Masonic system came around the end of the 16th century. The earliest known record of the mention of the Evangelist is in Edinburgh around 1599 and in fact, the Lodge of Scoon and Perth is also referred to as the Lodge of Saint John, but there are earlier mentions of other fraternities using this Saint as early as 1430. During the Great Schism, the Premier Grand Lodge of England favored Saint John the Baptist while the Antients favored the Evangelist. It is interesting to note that the United Grand Lodge of England was established on December 27th, 1813.

Many jurisdictions require that their Lodges install their new officers by December 27th and which marks the beginning of the Lodge year.

This day also falls around the Winter solstice which marks the shortest day of the year and the end of the solar year. This is in contrast to the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist which falls on the 24th of June, around the Summer solstice which designates the longest day of the year. If one remembers that the Saints John are connected with the Point within the Circle. The perpendicular parallel lines that support the circle represent the Saints. From this, we see them on opposite sides of a circle, a symbol that represents cycles, just as their Feast days fall upon the two solstices, the two extremes of the sun's appearance during the Earth's rotation. For such reason, these two show us balance and remind us of the lessons taught by Freemasonry.

Lodges today are dedicated to the Holy Saints John and it is sad to see that many Lodges do not hold anything to celebrate this day. Forgetting our past we lose a piece of our heritage. I hope everyone enjoys this day and remembers the man for who we commemorate.


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