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Page last updated:
22 July, 2012

An Introduction to
the Ecclesia Gnostica in Seattle
& the Holy Gnostic Eucharist

Gnosticism | The Gnostic Church | Attending | Eucharist Overview | Eucharist Specifics

This brief work, borrowed (and slightly revised) from Fr. Troy Pierce+ of Holy Gnosis of Thomas Chapel, is intended to serve as an orientation and introduction to the Ecclesia Gnostica in Seattle, WA, as well as the Gnostic Holy Eucharist and other liturgical services. It is necessarily broad in scope, and the majority of the information applies to all parishes of the Ecclesia Gnostica. For more information contact the rector, Fr. Sam Osborne+, at: sosborne1393 (at) gmail (dot) com.


What do Gnostics believe?

Faith is but the starting point for Gnostics, and although we do not believe in a dogma that one must profess, we do generally hold the following central points of view:

  • Humanity is endowed with an essential spark of the Divine Light, and our true home rests in the Divine. As we live in this world, we are a mixture of good and evil, and can become forgetful of our origins — Our divine nature serves as a compass to guide us to our true home in the Pleroma (Fullness).
  • Evil exists. While our sparks — our souls — are divine, evil exists in the form of archons (rulers) or limiters that strive to keep us in ignorance of our divine heritage.
  • There is a way out that involves the remembrance and return of the soul to its divine origin. A true desire for freedom upon the part of the individual soul may eventually open the way for him or her. There are intermediary beings and powers that can assist us to the Light. These Messengers of Light serve to guide us and open the way for us.

What is Gnosis?

Gnosis is not esoteric, secret, or occult information only available to an elite few. It isn't a knowledge one gains from books or learning, and it is available to all — most simply don't choose to pursue it. It is a very deep knowing, an experiential knowledge that you are, rather than a knowledge that you have. The Gnostic Catechism, quoting one of the ancient Gnostic Fathers, explains: “Gnosis is the revelatory and salvific knowledge of who we were, of what we have become, of where we were, of wherein we have been thrown, of whereto we are hastening, of what we are being freed, of what birth really is, and of what rebirth really is” (IV:59).

The path of Gnosis is a transformative path in which you slowly grow and become more of who you truly are. It is a path of liberation, Gnosis is the means or method of the path, and the goal of the path is the ultimate divinity. More information on Gnosis, Gnosticism, and the tradition of the Ecclesia Gnostica is available in the Catechism.

Am I a Gnostic?

The experience of a Gnostic coming to Gnosticism, is best described as realizing that there is a term for what you are — a Gnostic. It is a deep recognition of an affinity. A home-coming.

In a general sense, the term “Gnostic” applies to anyone following the path of Gnosis, using the means or method of Gnosis, and the tools of ancient Gnosticism, to seek to achieve liberation and reunion with the Divine as our ancient forbears did.

Not everyone who benefits from our tradition, or Gnosticism in general, is a Gnostic. Gnosticism accepts our experiences, it recognizes the presence of the Divine within everyone, it is poetic and symbolic, while also being practical. In a world that can often misuse our spiritual impulses, Gnosticism offers a means of following them to liberation.

A key difference is that someone who is not a Gnostic, but uses material from Gnosticism, tends to get stuck on the ideas. They may use them for liberation, but only to a point. For example, the Divine experienced as feminine is a continuous part of the Gnostic tradition, but it is not the point of it. If contemporary women (or men) find this aspect of the tradition useful in overcoming the limitations of society, it has served well; but if the process of liberation stops there — it is not Gnosticism.



The Gnostic Church

A Gnostic Church?

There is no shortage of uninformed opinions about Gnosticism, and some are surprised at the very idea of a Gnostic church, saying it is contradictory or even impossible. This would be quite a surprise to the historical Gnostics, who were almost always associated with a church (ecclesia), and considered themselves very much a part of the Universal Church.

When we think of “church” today, we think of a form of church organized around a large set of beliefs and dogmas that individual members are expected to accept and follow, which often leads to the frustration of those who fail to live up to the standards. Many come to the conclusion that church is not for them, and declare, “I'm not religious, I'm spiritual!” However, that form of church is an orthodoxy, literally “correct beliefs,” and it developed in opposition to the Gnostic forms. A church of that dogmatic form, even if the beliefs are based on Gnostic scripture, is an orthodox church, rather than a Gnostic one. In contrast, the Gnostic church is a support structure for the spiritual journeys of individuals who seek to follow the path of Gnosis. Spiritual practice, study, and mutual support bring us together — not obligation. The church is there as a service: to offer the Sacraments to those who desire to receive them.


The Ecclesia Gnostica

Instituted in Britain in 1953, and established in the U.S. in 1959, the Ecclesia Gnostica (EG) is the oldest publicly practicing, overtly Gnostic, sacramental church in North America, with roots in the Old Catholic and Liberal Catholic Rites. Centered in Los Angeles, the EG is presided over by Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephan Hoeller, noted author, lecturer, professor of religion, and senior Gnostic Bishop in the Americas. In addition to the Los Angeles diocesan center, the EG has parishes in Portland, Oregon; Sedona, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; Oslow, Norway; and here in Seattle, Washington. More information on the history of the EG is available at: the Ecclesia Gnostica Home Page. (See also the Wikipedia entry.)

In addition to the Eucharist, we offer: devotional services, the sacraments of Baptism, Chrism, and Absolution; and a process of formation as clergy through inner focus and outer service. Additional services include the usual sick calls, weddings, funerals, etc. Although the formation process in the EG spans approximately seven years or more, and involves personal transformation, in addition to more academic study, one should never trade one's own judgment for any kind of official “seal of approval.”


Spiritual Practice & Gnosis

The methods for progressing in Gnosis that are referred to in ancient scriptures, and that we use today in the EG, are richly poetic and symbolic forms of personal transformational experiences that are either focused upon an individual, or are generally participated in by a group. They produce changes in consciousness, and have both initiatory (pivotal) transformative effects, and also gradual transformative effects from regular participation.

They involve participating in the sacred stories (myths) of the tradition, and applying them directly to yourself by having a form through which to experience them, and thus gain Gnosis of them. In our practice, many aspects of these myths are revisited every year. There are also times in one's life when there is a more direct need for a deeper experience of some of them. And there are traditional methods for this as well.

These methods are what we engage in as a church. They are richly symbolic liturgical services, that primarily consist of the Mysteries, also called Sacraments, that are listed in the Gospel of Philip (Baptism, Chrism, and Eucharist). The regular transformational method we use is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The methods we employ as a church are the Sacraments, and other liturgical rituals. We take care to follow the traditional forms and traditional requirements for conveying these Mysteries. The services are real transformational methods — our services are public group spiritual practice.

In addition to public liturgical practices, individuals may choose to take on personal practices, to enhance their spiritual life — Morning and Evening Prayers, Examens, meditation, and the Holy Gnostic Rosary, to name a few. A printed copy of a longer Morning and Evening prayer practice is available from the clergy upon request, for those interested.


The Gnostic rite of baptism is not intended to replace or rectify any prior baptism the candidate may have received, but can be received sub conditione. It is a Mystery to be entered into consciously and knowingly. Therefore it is not a rite intended for infants, although there is a blessing service available for them.

To become a candidate for baptism, it is recommended that you attend services for a period of months, familiarize yourself with Gnosticism, and the Ecclesia Gnostica, and read the Gnostic Catechism by +Stephan Hoeller, to see if it makes sense to you. When you feel that baptism is something that you wish to pursue, speak with the priest or other clergy. The sacrament of baptism is regularly offered at Epiphany (January 6) and the Easter Vigil, but is also available upon request.

Other Services of the Clergy

Fr. Sam Osborne+ may be available for weddings and funerals, done on an individual basis. He may also be available for individual conversations: informational, social, or in the form of spiritual direction and assistance in spiritual growth.

Parish Activities

Members of the parish often meet after services to socialize, discuss, and (of course) eat! Feel free to stay after the service. Parishioners often bring a dish to share after Mass, but no one is expected to do so, and there is usually plenty of food and drink to go around. Non-Ecclesiastical activities in the parish go in cycles, based on season and interest level. There have been book discussion groups, movie nights, social evenings, and holiday parties. Any, all, or none of which may be occurring at any time.



Attending Services & Activities


Visitors and Participation

Visitors are always welcome. Services are provided for all who may benefit from them. We ensure a safe environment for all.

We have no provisions for child care, but children are more than welcome. It is not recommended that you bring children to services who will be uncomfortable or distressed by sitting quietly for a long period of time.


All are Welcome?

No state or condition of life has any bearing on the Gnostic path, nor is it a barrier to any level of participation in the Ecclesia Gnostica. We don't care about your ethnicity, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, or membership or participation in any ethical spiritual or transformational organization or path. Whatever your circumstances, you have the Divine Spark within you, and we are all in this together. What you are is of no importance next to who you are.

However, in providing a safe environment conducive to spiritual growth, individuals may be barred from participation for acts contrary to this such as: violent or threatening behavior, verbal attacks, recruitment or proselytizing, hate speech, or otherwise interfering with the environment or purpose.


Fear and Proselytizing

The Ecclesia Gnostica provides liturgical services as a service to those who may benefit from them. You will not be solicited to join a church. There isn't a mechanism for joining in the usual sense (membership is based on formation and participation). We know that you cannot give someone else Gnosis, and that this particular path isn't for everyone. If you wish to avoid introducing yourself, sneak out as the candles are put out — we won't mind.

If you are interested: there is an email list for service announcements; a small group of people who socialize after many services; and other parish activities.



Though we do not actively solicit donations at our services and activities, they are vital to our continued operations. We do not receive outside support, and must be self-sustaining in our activities. Clergy receive no compensation, and all donations go to operating expenses and improvements. If you have the means to support this effort, we greatly appreciate your help.



Eucharist Overview

Visitors and Participation

Visitors are always welcome, and there are no barriers of any kind to participate in our services. The Eucharist is celebrated for all who may benefit from it. The only requests we have of those attending are:

  • That you keep casual conversation to a minimum when you are in the chapel
  • That you maintain a respectful silence during the service, if you do not wish to join in the responsive readings
  • That you stand briefly, if you are able to do so without difficulty, for the reading of the Gospel (you will be asked at the appropriate time)

Otherwise, the level of your participation is left solely to your own discretion. Communion is open to all who wish to receive it, and there are no barriers around our altar. Visitors are welcome to receive communion regardless of creed.

The Eucharist service begins after the lighting of the candles, and ends after they have been extinguished. A brief homily follows the service, and is concluded by a final blessing and recessional.


The Mystery of the Eucharist

The Eucharist is a Mystery instituted by Christ, and developed over a thousand years. It is not any one thing, nor any collection of things. A mystery cannot be defined, it can only be experienced. As the late Benedictine liturgist, Aidan Kavanagh, said: “The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate, but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.”

Our form of the Eucharist dates back to around the eleventh century, as used in Western Christendom, while the contents are largely drawn from ancient Gnostic scriptures. The Eucharist is timeless, touching upon the Eternal, and each service has a particularity, both from the Sunday or Holy Day in the liturgical year, but also from the qualities of the participants. Its purpose is not to change from week to week so as to entertain, its purpose is to remain what it is, and to change us in the process. Like a daily walk along the same route there are constant changes, and more importantly, you change. It is a long slow process — like anything real; but rewarding, as only something real can be. Click here to read an article on the Gnosis of the Eucharist, by +Stephan Hoeller.

It is our hope that you experience the depth and richness we feel. It may be difficult to participate at first, like learning a new language — or one that is so similar it may be confusing. It takes patience and listening: both to the service, and the experience of it within you.


Liturgy as Poetry

In the Gnostic view, liturgy is poetry, theurgy, sacred drama — not theology. The same can be said for scripture in general, including the scriptural passages that are read during the Eucharistic service. The words are not statements of belief — they are not there as an end, but as a means. No belief is required to participate, and unexamined beliefs are actively discouraged in our tradition.

For more information the the inner meaning of the Eucharist and other sacraments, we recommend The Science of the Sacraments by the Liberal Catholic bishop +Charles W. Leadbeater, as well as +Stephan Hoeller's slim volume, The Mystery and Magic of the Eucharist. The latter is out of print, but a lending copy may be available from the clergy.


Validity of the Sacrament

The priests of the Ecclesia Gnostica are duly ordained in the traditional manner, in the Apostolic Succession of universally recognized lineage, after an approximately seven year formation. The structure of the Gnostic Holy Eucharist is that of the Eucharist used throughout Western Christendom since the eleventh century. The Canon of the Mass (the Consecration) remains unaltered from a much earlier time.



Eucharist Specifics

Receiving Communion

All who wish to receive Communion may do so. Receiving Communion is an personal matter, and is solely the choice of the individual. The Ecclesia Gnostica does not require that one receiving Communion possess any set of beliefs or attitudes, nor does receiving Communion imply the possession or adoption of any beliefs or attitudes.

Communion is usually given in both forms, through intinction (wafer soaked in wine), and is placed by the priest on the communicant's tongue. Communion of one type (wafer only) may be requested. To receive Communion, open your mouth about half-way, and put your tongue forward onto your lower lip. Use your tongue to pull the Host into your mouth.


Reading the Missal

Not all of the words spoken will be found in the Eucharist book (the Missal). So, don't feel lost when following along. There are both Pre-Eucharistic and Post-Eucharistic prayers, often taken from the Odes of Solomon. There are also readings that change depending on the week or Holy Day of the liturgical calendar: these are the Collects, Lesson, and Gospel. These readings, as well as the liturgical calendar for the year, may be found in the online Lectionary. A brief homily follows the body of the service, preceding the Post-Eucharistic prayer.

Responsive reading is encouraged but not required. Sections of text that begin with a “C:” or an “A:” signify those to be read aloud by the congregation.

Much of the Mass is sung or chanted in our parish, and most of the musical settings are available in a booklet, upon request.


Liturgical Gestures

Those who wish to participate more in the service, yet do not have a background with such things, may benefit from the following instructions. Again, they are not required.

Crossing oneself in our tradition is done in the manner of Western Christendom. With fingers together touch brow, navel, left shoulder, right shoulder (and optionally your heart). A “+” in the service book indicates times when it is appropriate to do so. This is often done in receiving a blessing, either before or during the blessing. One also crosses oneself after receiving holy Communion, when receiving the “Peace be with Thee” (Pax tecum) blessing. One doesn't respond with “Amen” after receiving Communion in our tradition.

It is traditional to kneel when receiving Communion, however, those who are unable to kneel are welcome to stand.

There is another liturgical gesture that is commonly made before the reading of the Gospel, while saying “Glory be to Thee, O Lord.” This is done by making a small cross with your thumb over your forehead, lips, and heart. Traditionally, this action is accompanied by a silent prayer that the Lord might keep the Gospel in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts.

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