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The Scarlet Letter
Volume III, Number 2 | December 1995
Column: Heretics for Tea & Crumpets
Church Every Sunday
By Fr. Dionysos Soter

By etymology, the two terms of the phrase "religious fanatic" exchange the meaning that they find in usage. "Religious" is taken to mean "pertaining to the divine or sacred," and a "fanatic" is one committed to a cause beyond reasonable bounds. But "religion" is derived from a Latin root that means "to bind," i.e. the practices and ethos that commit the individual to a community. And "fanatic" is from the Latin fanaticus, meaning "divinely inspired" or pertaining to the fanum or temple. It is only after a philological exercise like this one that I can feel fully comfortable confessing myself to be a religious fanatic.

I'm not an evangelical believer, even though the idea of handing out copies of Liber Oz on the steps of the Capitol is sometimes alluring. My enthusiasm (i.e., fanaticism) is channeled largely into work within a community (i.e. religion) of confessed thelernites, Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. Perhaps it is an idiosyncratic pathology of mine, ingrained by weekly worship of the mainline American Protestant variety that I was exposed to as a child, but I love going to church every Sunday. I really doubt that such a course is appropriate for everyone. But it is fascinating to see what elements in our Sanctuary make it not only possible, but especially rewarding for me to be getting that weekly fix.

First off, we're big enough. There are over 30 baptized members of Circle of Stars Sanctuary, and the roughly 50 initiates of Scarlet Woman Oasis make for a large pool of potential officers and congregants. Recent surveys place the average size of a Christian congregation in the US. at somewhere between 40 and 45 members. In fact, at our size, its almost neccessary to have weekly Mass, and it's a good thing that we're not all religious fanatics. Unlike Christian religious services, the Gnostic Mass seems to demand a certain level of intimacy that becomes difficult to maintain when the congregation gets much beyond 30 people. Of course, "celebratory" Masses where only the Priest communicates can be managed with much larger congregations, but we Gnostics tend to want more direct access to the sacrament for our time and bother.

Another great advantage is the variety of participatory roles for Sanctuary members. I could go to Mass seven times in a row and have a different perspective and different responsibilities each time: Deacon, Novice Priest, Positive Child, Negative Child, Steward, Musician, and Carefree Congregant. Of course, not all of these jobs are open to everyone without additional preparation, and I won't be a Priestess in a Sanctuary Mass, but anyone who cares to vary their involvement in the Mass has lots of options. The fact that members do avail themselves of these options also keeps Mass alive and exciting. Our surfeit of novice clergy keeps variety in the ritual, as well as creating the pressure to schedule at least four Masses each month.

The diversity of perspective within the congregation is another source of gratification. The maxim of the A.'.A.'. that "Mystery is the enemy of Truth" seems delightfully apt. In that our Creed devoted to the "Mystery of Mystery" leaves no abstract dogma in a position ofTruth. We join in the present experience of the ritual, and we each remain unique and sovereign in our apprehension of that Mystery.

Tied to the absence of Truth is an invaluable spirit of cheer and amusement. The ecclesiastical work here combines gravity and levity in a profound way. Because of the thoroughness of our preparations and the high standards of ritual production to which we hold ourselves, it is always clear that the Mass and the Church are seriously important to us. But the genuine sense of jubilation and the ability of Sanctuary members to acknowledge one another's humanity (not to mention divinity) keeps us free of ponderous formalism.

Accessibility to non-members has been key to the vigor of the Sanctuary. The fact that members are welcome to bring guests to all Masses unless otherwise specified means that I can look forward to meeting new people at almost every Mass. It's always so much fun to get the reactions of newcomers. And those reactions are also an important feedback mechanism to make sure that our Masses speak directly to the spiritual sensibility of those who are interested but not proficient in our ritual. Needless to say, our size is attributable to our accessibility; among other things.

Finally, the addition of ancillary rituals for baptism, confirmation, and Deacon ordination provides additional spectacle and a way for fanatics to express their religiosity (or is it for religionists to express their fanaticism?). Our Sanctuary is very indebted to Bishop T Apiryon for the work that we have been able to do along these lines.

All of these items are assets above and beyond the beauty and integrity of the original ritual of the Mass as set forth in Liber XV With these factors to its credit, Circle of Stars Sanctuary really fits the bill when it comes to assuaging my religious fanaticism. Please take this little rant as a sincere thanks to all of the Stars in the Circle. May they blaze forever among the joyous company of heaven!

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