My home Lodge, Jackson Lodge #146, is famous for hosting a fabulous Feast Of St. John The Evangelist, usually on a Saturday evening in December closest to the Winter Solstice. Many things in Masonry are like that… having to do with the natural course of things, elements of our planet, the science of our Universe, and a never-ending quest for knowledge of ourselves, each other, the world in which we live, and also in the world(s) to come.
Because of it’s proximity to the Winter Solstice, this is the one Masonic “Event” that many associate with Christmas. As such, there is a FEAST to be had, and always a great group of Brethren to enjoy it with. Even still, with all of the modernization of Freemasonry, the Feast of The Holy St. John is a tradition that doesn’t occur anymore at every Lodge. If this be the case at your Lodge, I would encourage any who have neglected this tradition to please- consider hosting it again!
Many Masons and indeed, Non-Masons often ask, “Why the Holy Sts. Johns… why are supposedly non-Christian- or rather, non- Sectarian Lodges dedicated to the recognition and celebration of otherwise Christian figures?” For me, the answer has always been one of symbolism, and has not only to do with the duality of Masonry, but also of the very ideals that Masons seek to live out and exemplify in their daily walk.
Just as we traverse the carpets and tiles of our Temples, so to do we traverse the many avenues and streets of our individual lives. While we do each of these, there must be certain guideposts, boundaries if you will, and no other boundaries are better designed or mentioned more often than that of the circle ascribed by the compass, and bordered by the Holy Saints Johns. They are symbols for the pillars of stability and righteousness which helps to guide our footsteps, ensuring that our pathway is clearly marked. These are represented by what we as Masons know and love: Allegory and Symbols.
St. John the Baptist is celebrated on the summer solstice, and St. John the Evangelist is celebrated on the Winter Solstice. But why do THEY symbolize these polar opposites of our seasons here on Earth? Many different explanations abound and are offered freely for these symbolism and celebrations, and most are at least fairly accurate… If nothing else, they serve to offer up good conversation, and to assist Masons in understanding their Fraternity.
However, for all of the explanations out there, floating freely in cyberspace and beyond, perhaps it is really very simple? We learn and the teach what was first taught to us.
While it is true that Masonry is non-Sectarian and promotes no religion in particular- our Institution does promote certain ideals… directives to be followed in life. It is also true that our founders, at least the authors of modern Freemasonry, were mostly men of Judaeo-Christian descent and/or influence. During the time in which our Ritual was developed, Biblical text was very prominent and readily available; indeed, most learned men memorized scripture, philosophy, as well as the known truths of the sciences and physics. They knew these just as we memorize the lectures they produced!
In this way, it should be no surprise that many symbols of the Fraternity have Biblical as well as Natural origins. As such, they were fused together to make up the Masonic Liturgy of today.
A very good example and more in depth explanation follows in a presentation given to the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, December 2015.
““The Holy Saints John”
Why the Holy Sts. John? Why John the Baptist and John the Evangelist?
Simple answer because of the values they upheld and personified. John the Baptist was an
extremely moral and righteous man. His zealotry for morality was what made him famous in his
own time. `The Jewish people and other cultures of the time had ceremonies of ritual washing
so his baptizing was not what made him well known. Here was a man who held himself to the
highest standards, standards he was unwilling to compromise. John the Baptist spoke out in
public against any lack of morals in society and even condemned the king publicly for his lack of
morals. Later he would condemn both the king and queen to their face for their lack of morality.
For calling out the king and queen John was imprisoned. He was given the chance to recant his
accusations, knowing that his death would be certain he refused. John the Baptist preferred
death than compromising his morality, his virtues, not unlike a certain widow’s son.
John the Evangelist dedicated his life to charity and brotherly love. He spoke and wrote about
caring for the widow and orphan, brotherly love, and charity. The traditions surrounding John
the Evangelist are all ones of giving to the less fortunate and forgiving and upholding others.
Therefore our lodges are dedicated to virtue and brotherly love/charity. Masonically these men
represent two extremes of our nature. John the Baptist our desire for a correct moral and
upright walk. (The common gavel, square, and plumb.) John the Evangelist our desire for
brotherly love and to be of service to our fellows. (The twenty-four inch gauge and the trowel.)
Both men zealots for their passions.
In our lectures we talk about a point, within a circle, bounded by two parallel lines representing
these two men. This lecture uses these two men because of their passions. As Masons we
should touch upon morality and we should touch upon charity. Both of these it is easy to
become overzealous about. The circle represents the due bounds in which we should attempt to live. Warning us to emulate the virtues of both but to guard against the zealous nature of them both. The Holy Writings serving as a guide for employing both in due measure.
Written by Wor. Brother David Ritchie for the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin Education Committee
Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin”
In closing- “Keep It Simple”!!! & Have a Merry Christmas, a wonderful Celebration of Saint John the Evangelist, & A Happy New Year!