St. John the Evangelist

Date: Sunday, December 19, 1999 3:11 PM


The Craftsman Dec 1866

On the twenty-seventh day of this month Freemasons, 
throughout the world, will assemble to celebrate the festival 
of one of their patron saints, the loving Evangelist. In the 
earlier history of the Craft, Freemasons were specially 
remarkable for their observance of these anniversaries. A 
hearty appreciation of the full significance attached to them, 
made the times and seasons, the new moons and the full 
moons, the solstices and the equinoxes, occasions not 
merely for the interchange of fraternal greetings, but oppor-
tunities for the acquisition of solid Masonic knowledge, and 
for the cultivation and strengthening of those great precepts 
of Freemasonry, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. That the 
celebration of the festivals of our patron saints, while still 
very generally observed, has lost much of its value, is as 
true as it is unfortunate. Nothing can tend more to the 
diffusion and prevalence of a pure Masonic spirit than the 
right appreciation of the characters of the two Saints John; 
nothing can better stir us up to the acquisition of that right 
appreciation than the due and proper observance of their 
annual festivals.

Whether the Saints John were really Masons or not has 
been a subject of controversy, and is still a matter of doubt. 
Tradition tells us that they belonged to the sect of the 
Essenes, according to Josephus, one of the sects into which 
the people of Judea were divided, and among whom it is 
said, John the Baptist was brought up, acquiring among 
them that sturdy force of character, and that simplicity of 
dress and diet for which he was remarkable. Those Essenes 
were a secret association, by many held to be the same as 
the ancient Masons who built the temple, but who at this 
time had become rather a body of philosophers than of 
operative architects and builders, and in this respect more 
closely resembling the speculative Masons of the present 
day. Although less numerous than either of the others, the 
Essenes were regarded as being quite as much "a sect" of 
the Jews as the Sadducees or Pharisees. Josephus tells us 
that they lived the same kind of life as do those whom the 
Greeks call Pythagorians. They were a distinct brotherhood, 
holding their property in common for the common good. The 
same authority tells us that before any one was admitted to 
the sect, he is obliged to take tremendous oaths, that in the 
first place he will exercise piety towards God, and observe 
justice towards men; do no harm to any one, either of his 
own accord, or by the command of others; that he will 
always hate the wicked, and be an assistant to the righteous; 
that he will ever show fidelity to all men, and especially to 
those in authority; because no one obtains the government 
without God's assistance; that if he be in authority he will at 
no time whatever abuse his authority, nor endeavor to 
out-shine his subjects either in his garments or other finery; 
that he will be perpetually a lover of truth, and reprove those 
that tell lies; that he will keep his hand from theft, and his 
soul from unlawful gains; that he will neither conceal 
anything from those of his own sect, nor discover any of their 
doctrines to others. No! not though any one should compel 
him so to do at the hazard of his life. Moreover he swears to 
communicate their doctrines to no one any otherwise than as 
he received them himself; that he will abstain from robbing, 
and will equally preserve the books belonging to their sect, 
and the names of their angels or messengers."

The Saints John are said to have been not only members of 
the Essenian fraternity, but to have been priests and rulers 
among them; and hence it is, according to some writers, that 
they became patrons of the order of Freemasonry. 

Another writer tells us that under the reign of the Caesars, 
Freemasonry though surviving, languished; there was no 
system and but little coherence. At this juncture, our 
traditions tell us, the fraternity feeling the want of a head, 
under whom, the Craft might be united, called upon St. John, 
the Evangelist, to act as Grand Master. He replied, that 
though well stricken in years, being then over  four score 
years of age, as he had been in early life initiated into the 
Order, he would consent to serve, and since his day, 
Masonic Lodges which were dedicated to King Solomon, 
have been dedicated to the Saints John, both of whom, we 
learn by our traditions, were patrons of the Order, and hence 
arises our custom of holding our anniversaries upon the 
festivals of these two Christian Saints.

According to the more generally received opinion among 
learned Freemasons, however, among whom we may 
mention Brother Mackey, the festivals themselves are more 
ancient than the Christian era. They belong to a period 
antecedent even to the time when, in the oak forests of 
Germany and Britain, the old time Druids and Druidesses, 
presided over similar festivals. According to such writers, 
these festivals have an astronomical signification, and the 
symbol of the parallels, with which all Freemasons are 
familiar, although now generally referred to the Saints John, 
have a similar origin and signification.

The symbol, as our readers will remember, is the circle 
bounded by two parallel lines, representing, according to 
ancient traditions, the limit of the sun's apparent course to 
the northward and southward of the equator, constituting the 
winter and summer solstices, or the shortest and longest 
days of the year. These days fall respectively, upon the 22nd 
December, and 21st June. Freemasons, professing the 
Christian religion, being anxious to continue the celebration 
of those festivals which had become landmarks, and finding 
that the anniversary of the natal of those two saints fell near 
those clays, and being desirous to connect their names with 
an institution, whose delight it was to emulate their virtues, 
they naturally, by allowing the lapse of a few days, came to 
celebrate the anniversaries of those two saints, and 
eventually to adopt them as their patrons.

But important and interesting as are these inquiries to the 
studious antiquarian in Masonic lore, with Masons generally 
it is sufficient to know that fn their patron saints, however 
they came to be recognized as such, we have exemplars 
whom it is our highest interest and our most bounden duty to' 
emulate. In St. John the Evangelist, whose anniversary we 
shall in a few days be called upon to celebrate, we have the 
very embodiment of love, and of brotherly fellowship. No one 
can read his epistles without feeling in the presence of a 
great and loving teacher. How strikingly does he portray the 
great duty, the first cardinal duty of the Mason, brotherly 
love. He that with he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is 
in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother 
abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling 
in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and 
walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goes, 
because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. And again, 
This is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that 
we should love one another. Throughout all his writings the 
same pure spirit is manifested, the same soft, almost 
womanly affection, that earned for him the well deserved 
name of the beloved disciple.

But not only do we imbibe from the Evangelist the spirit of 
brotherly love, we have also the great duty of fidelity, and 
bold unflinching courage in the maintenance of the right, 
presented to us in his character. When this holy and intrepid 
man was singled out by the bloody tyrant Domitian, for 
proscription and exile, how calmly and boldly did he face his 
destiny, his spirit undaunted, his spiritual vision undimmed, 
his faith reaching from earth to heaven, mounting upon the 
wings of hope to the realms of immortality. His place of exile, 
the island of Patmos, was just the spot that a cruel mature 
like that of Domitian would select for the exile home of the 
good old man. Situated in the AEgean sea, between two 
continents, it was a picture of sterility and desolation. The 
winds sang a mournful dirge amid its barren hills. The ocean 
surge foamed and hissed around its dreary coast. Yet even 
here the brave, the truly great man improves calamity for his 
own and his fellow's good. He converted his dreary island 
home into a temple, wherein became audible to his prophetic 
ear the voice of the ever living God. 

Remote from man, with God be passed his days,
Prayer, all his business - all his pleasure praise:'

And thence we have those bright visions of a future 
immortality which are revealed in the revelations of St. John.

How grand an example have we in this truly great and good 
man. How well entitled was he to be selected as the patron 
saint of an institution whose highest teachings are but a 
reflex of his own, whose highest ambition is but to emulate 
his virtues. How worthy the earnest effort of every man and 
mason, to follow in the footsteps of the holy Evangelist. 
When we celebrate the festival of his natal day, may we all 
remember his bright record, and learn to live more and more 
to attain to the perfection of his exalted virtues.

  <<>>     George Helmer FPS          <<>>
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