Saturday, October 21, 2006

Self-Ordination?

There was a recent discussion at the Palm Tree Garden forums regarding the possibility and validity of self-ordination to the Gnostic priesthood, an issue which received a wide range of responses from a wide range of backgrounds, and one that I feel will be raised again (given the general liberal attitude of Gnostics and Gnosticism), so I will share my thoughts on it now.

The original question was about if it is possible to be ordained by the grace of God and not another priest or bishop, and from thenceforth commence a priestly life, officiating the Sacraments, etc.


Is it possible to be ordained by the grace of God? Yes, of course it is. Indeed, any true and genuine ordination is an ordination by the grace of God. However, I feel there is another layer to this question that needs exploration: how can we be sure it is by God’s grace that we are to be ordained, and not by our own desires? If the person in question had a revelatory experience of Gnosis that looks a bit like God’s grace, then that’s an obvious sign (though not a guarantee), but I feel a large part of this question is about self-dedication to the priesthood, not based on an actual message from God calling the person to Formation and Vocation. I think a lot of people feel a “calling” to the priesthood, but for the most part, there is a certain level of self-delusion regarding the real reasons for this want. Like with the common saying associated with ceremonial circles (“when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”), if the person in question really feels a Calling, then the options for such will be revealed, and if not now, such will be revealed later – and the person should still feel that Calling then, if it were more than a transitory desire. If they really want it, they will get it, even if it means travelling or waiting a few years. Such a small sacrifice is little indeed in comparison to the monumental life decision joining the priesthood actually is.


I feel that having a “long” (it is no longer than most systems of initiation/formation) process of Formation helps avoid people feeling a calling on Monday and ordaining themselves that Friday, performing the Eucharist on Sunday, and then quitting the Work the following Monday. If there isn’t a procedure to chart the candidate’s suitability and progress, then it will bring with it all the flaws of self-initiation that are found in ceremonial circles, with many people not even remotely coming close to doing the work, but claiming the title/s, grade/s, etc.

I do support, generally-speaking, self-initiation when it comes to ceremonial work, but here is, I feel, a big difference between self-initiating into the Current of the Golden Dawn and self-ordaining yourself into the Priesthood. Firstly, the Priesthood could be seen as the equivalent of Adepthood in the G.’.D.’., so to self-ordain yourself into the Priesthood is not the same as self-initiating into Neophyte. So, of course, the question of Formation (i.e. the equivalent of the pre-Adept grades) comes into play, which will be addressed later.


Indeed, exactly how is someone to self-ordain themselves? If you were to self-initiate into the Golden Dawn, you would use an altered form of their initiation rituals. What ordination ceremony would be used for self-ordination, and would any ecclesiastical denomination really approve of someone using their ceremony like this (if, indeed, their ceremony was even allowed to be viewed by someone outside of their group or outside of the clergy)? If you belong to a certain church or order, you are expected to follow their structural and organisational procedures, including that of initiation/ordination and gradework/formation.


The question of why the candidate wants to “self-ordain” would then come into question. Is it because they do not agree with the procedures of the church? If this is so, then more than likely they should not be a part of that church. Is it because they do not live in an appropriate location? If so, then some flights for the ordination ceremonies themselves can be done and the formation process can be done long-distance with appropriate mentorship (at least, this is a procedure in place in the AJC). If self-ordination is desired because the person wants status and wants it now (i.e. wants to skip the whole Formation period), then obviously that person shouldn’t and can’t be a priest (i.e. they are most definitely not ordained by the grace of God, as they will not have a priestly character and are not a priest at heart). If you can think of more reasons why self-ordination might be sought, please share them with me (add a comment) so I can see the totality of the issue and not just what I have outlined here.

Now this leads me to the final topic, which is one of the most important: Formation is an important and integral part of becoming a priest. The ordination itself is but the culmination of that process (and the beginning of a new, equally difficult, but also equally rewarding process), the icing on the cake, as it were, and it does not make you a priest, just as the icing is not the cake and does not make the cake – ordination is a ceremonial recognition of what you have become through Formation, and thus the real work is done in those many years spent before ordination. Indeed, I am always disturbed by the large growth in online ordinations, where people pay their $10, receive a certificate, and go on their merry way as a “priest”. While there are indeed some people who use this method in a genuine fashion, and some who have undergone Formation (in some manner) and possibly have taken a course in Ministering, the sheer fact that anyone who pays can be ordained renders the system extremely open to abuse. Of course, not all who undergo the traditional process of Formation and ordination come out well, as all systems and approaches can be abused, but, I feel, this limits that considerably, especially in the sense of those who are not as dedicated as they think they are, those who are doing it for a title, and those who do not have the appropriate teachings and experience to provide the necessary ministering required. Formation also offers a substantial spiritual transformation and self-discovery for the Formationer, in the same vein as those offered by various esoteric orders, and this is necessary if the new priest is to then be able to help with the spiritual transformations and self-discoveries of their parishioners.


The road to ordination is a long one, and one that should transform the driver. The priestly “driver license” does not make them a good driver, nor does it prepare them for the trials ahead. The driving lessons undergone in Formation will give them the necessary education and experience to travel the road responsibly, and allow them to drive passengers in a safe and productive manner, helping them on their own journeys. Many people can drive, but there are substantially less who are good drivers, and less again who having driving in their heart. So it is with the priesthood, and if we are to be considerate of the safety of the other people on the road, especially to our passengers, we need to recognise this, train our applicants, and help transform them into priests worthy of the title. If we do not do this, the roads may become very dangerous.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

:) I like how you used "drivers license" in this..its very true!!

Andrea said...

"The road to ordination is a long one, and one that should transform the driver. The priestly “driver license” does not make them a good driver, nor does it prepare them for the trials ahead. The driving lessons undergone in Formation will give them the necessary education and experience to travel the road responsibly, and allow them to drive passengers in a safe and productive manner, helping them on their own journeys. Many people can drive, but there are substantially less who are good drivers, and less again who having driving in their heart. So it is with the priesthood, and if we are to be considerate of the safety of the other people on the road, especially to our passengers, we need to recognise this, train our applicants, and help transform them into priests worthy of the title. If we do not do this, the roads may become very dangerous."

Very well said! Last Sunday I told my Priest that I've decided to take the scenic route on the way to becoming a Priest. I think it's also important to enjoy the journey towards ordination. I've learned that what's important is the here and now and living in the moment. Also I found from personal experience that there are some things in my life I have to address before going to the next level of the ordination process. It's a conintual journey of self discovery, growing and learning. If I'm as balanced as I can be when I make it to the priesthood, then I have no business of becoming a priest.

Growth does not stop when one becomes a priest. The spiritual journey continues, one just has more responsiblities. So I think for myself, I need the formal ordination process.

Thank you for an enlightening post!

Andrea

Dean Wilson said...

Thank you both - glad you liked the analogy :)

Andrea,

You are too right in regards to enjoying the journey (even though that journey will undoubtedly include some very painful moments that are needed for the growth process). If we think only of the destination, we will either never make it (you need to plan the trip itself or you'll never get there) or reach the location, but it won't be what we expected or wanted, as our expectations and wants haven't changed on the journey, and we're left with a picturesque view of the end product. Spiritual growth must definitely be enjoyed just as much, if not moreso, than spiritual "rewards" at the "end" of the road.

Excellent points :)

-D