St John's Day — June 24th
On June 24 we observe the festival of summer sun and on December 27 we observe the festival of the winter sun. The June festival commemorates John the Baptist and the December one — John the Evangelist.
These festivals bear the names of Christian Saints, but ages ago, before the Christian era they bore other names. Masonry adopted these festivals and the Christian names, but has taken away Christian dogma, and made their observance universal for all men of all beliefs. St John's Day, June 24, marks the summer solstice, when nature attains the zenith of light and life and joy. St John's day in winter, Dec. 27, symbolizes the turn of the sun's farthest journey — the attainment of wisdom, the rewards of a well spent life, goodwill toward man.
St John the evangelist, the disciple of Jesus, the apostle of love for all Mankind, the exemplar of life in full maturity, the teacher of spiritual truths beyond the material veil, is the legendary author of the Fourth Gospel of John, the Three John Epistles, and the John Revelation. St John the Baptist is called the stormy prophet of righteousness, the martyr of the search for light and truth. The Baptist's day is that of his allegorical birth — The evangelist's is that of his allegorical death. Here we have parallels and contrasts of Masonry and life ; birth and death, light and darkness, power and control, strength and establishment — Boaz and Jachin. The Baptist signifies light to be attained, the Evangelist at last attained.
These festivals have been observed by Speculative Masons for more than 200 years; also by earlier Operative Masons, by members of medieval guilds of Europe, by the Comacine masters of Italy and by their forerunners of the Roman collegia of architects, by the builders of the mansions of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar and Pericles long before the festivals received the names of the Christian saints.
The festivals hark back to ancient builders in India and China, in Germany, in Scandinavia and Britain. The solstitial observances belong to all lands and to all ages. They originated in man's adoration of the sun and in pre-historic worship of the light. They are festivals as old as man, adapted by the Christian Church, and adopted by non-sectarian, non-clerical Masonry.
The solstices of the sun in June and December, together with the equinoxes in March and September, from time immemorial have been guides for seed time and harvest. Ancient festivals attended these changes of the seasons, set by astronomers-priests who alone knew the secret; hence the festivals were religious as well as worldly. Calendars, as we know them, were unknown to the ancients. The sun, at four stages, foretold the seasons, and was the God of worship.
In Masonic usage, the festivals are idealistic and allegorical. Masonry has no saints.
The Baptist is the older in Masonic observance. In Christian Theology he was the prophet of the coming of the so-called Christ, and and the Evangelist, of Divine, was the apostle of his revelation. The Baptist was the fiery preacher of repentance, baptism, and purification who was executed by Herod Antipas; the Evangelist was the accredited author of the mystical and allegorical Fourth Gospel, which presents the belief that future life depended upon loving God and man, that beauty, truth, goodness, and infinite personality and spirits exist as eternal attributes of the Divine Power, and that truth depends not on factual accuracy but on the strength of the ideas and experiences allegorically symbolized.
The first Grand Lodge organized in England in 1717, on the day of the Baptist. It reorganized at the reunion of 1813, on the day of the Evangelist.
The day of St John the Baptist is truly a day of beginnings, as the day of the Evangelist is that of endings. It is observed alone with the later adopted Evangelist's day, for Masonic festival, throughout the World.
But the great Masonic festival in England is that King George, a national rather than a religious Saint, on the Wednesday following that anniversary. The great Masonic festival in Scotland is St Andrew, November 30. Minor festivals are held in those countries on the St John days. Other church festivals, not observed by Masons which relate to the pagan observance of the equinoxes, are the festivals of Annunciation, March 25, and of Michaelmas, Sept. 29. The Church has a calendar of more than 100 saint days, ten of them in December.
For nine years after the so-called Revival in 1717 the Baptist was honored with the annual feast of Masons in England, but in 1727, the day was changed to that of St George. In 1737 Masons in Scotland changed from that of the Baptist to that of St Andrew. Let us remember, then, that Lodges in Scotland and America are dedicated to the Saints John, England to Solomon. In Scotland the Three Degrees are frequently designated as St John's Masonry.
We do not know by record of history why Masons chose the St Johns as especial patrons. St Thomas is probably a more fitting symbol of architecture and building, Since he is the Christian patron of those arts. (Dec 21 is the ecclesiastical St Thomas day. However, we know by deduction why the Masons chose the two Sts John: they symbolize perfectly the doctrines and teachings of Masonry.
The Comocines of Italy, said to be the link between the Roman Collegia and the art and trade guilds of the Middle Ages, dedicated their Comacina Island in Lake Como, to the Baptist, which dedication continues today in an annual festival. They dedicated their TEMPLES TO THE Baptist and Evangelist, alternately.
The early formulators of Masonry after the REVIVAL of 1717, who were Clergymen, attached Christian Dogma, which was largely eliminated in subsequent formulators, including Mackey and Pike in America. The response then used to be the questions why lodges were called St John stated " He (St John) was the baptizer and forerunner of our Savior, and announced him as the Lamb of God, which taketh the sins of the World".
Still later the obligation was formulated to contain the following: "In the presence of God and this right worshipful and holy Lodge, dedicated to God and the Holy St John, so help me God and Holy St John. There was also introduced the lines parallel, the theological ladder, the prayer "Vouchsafe Thine aid", and the substitute word of the Third Degree. The Ritual then read "This circle embordered by two perpendicular lines, represented by St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist, who were perfect parallels in Christianity as well as in Masonry. This oration was not acceptable to all Masons, and out of subsequent discussions there grew the Royal Arch Degree, the separation of the Master's Word from the Third Degree, the schism of the rival "Ancients and Moderns", the multifications of Scottish and Chivalric degrees in France, and the resultant systems of the Royal Arch, Knights Templar, Scottish Rite, and Royal and Select Masters. In England at the Reunion of 1813, substitute lectures were adopted, which eliminated the St John dedication and substituted that of Solomon, and changed the parallel lines to Moses and Solomon. These changes encountered such opposition, when it was made clear the St John idea had an unbroken line of descent from the Revival of 1717 to the Reunion of 1813 in all Rituals and systems, both "Ancient" and "Modern", and particularly in America, where a strong foothold of St John dedication had been established, that the change to the Solomon formula had no support.
When we now say "From the Lodge of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem", we do not mean literal truth, but symbolic, living truth. Its meaning is mystical, in that the Craft associate the two Saints John with its fellowship, as Masters, if not Grand Masters — the one a prophet of righteousness, the other an evangelist of love, which are the basic principal and purposes of Masonry.
Of course there is no historical evidence that either St John was ever a member of the Craft, but they were adopted as its Patron Saints, after the manner of former times, and they remain so in Christian lands.
So naturally, there came the idea, or ideal, of a sacred lodge in the Holy City presided over by the Saints John, but, in fact, no such Lodge ever existed. Actually it is an ideal, and without such ideals our life would be dim and drab. The thought back of the question and answer, then, is that we come from an ideal or dream lodge into the actual work-a-day world, where our ideals are to be tested.
Our journey is ever toward the East, back toward the Ideal, which seems lost in the hard, real world about us. Still, we just plod on, following what we have seen, ever trying to find the ideal in the real, or to bring the ideal to the interpretation of the real, which is the whole secret and quest of human life. He is wise, therefore, and must be accounted as brave, who keeps his memory or vision of the Lodge of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem. The Baptist is the fiery prophet of the avenging truth, exposing sham, denouncing wrong, hastening to a hero's death. The evangelist is an Apostle of the love of humanity, speaking with the grace and fullness of wisdom, his life mature and nearing a peaceful end, the bringer of comfort to those in grief, strength to the weak, relief to the oppressed.
These men exemplify the purpose of Masonry : IE, struggle and attainment, construction and completion, manifestation and disappearance, loss and recovery, activity and repose, labor and refreshment. Together they make operative Masonry a high and noble science, a repository of wonderful symbolisms of mystical religion and philosophy. They make Masonry a proving ground for those who, duly and truly prepared, learn revealed truths, old-time mysteries, ancient wisdom, by methods that conceal from the uninitiated. They use symbols, opposite as the poles, as summer and winter, as rough learning and cultured scholarship. It has beautifully been said that the Evangelist completed by his learning what the Baptist had accomplished by his zeal. More than any other writer, sacred or profane, the Evangelist has told us that God is Love. This is the first principle of our fraternity, and the Evangelist has likened its fulfillment to the attainment of light. In light, Masons see the revealed word of God, in the square, the emblem of righteousness, in the compasses, the emblem of self-restraint.
What would the two Johns say of our festivals? Would they rebuke us for smug contentment, for indolence, for worship of the past, for unreal ritual? Have we the vision of reality, of deeds to be performed? Is our altar light but a flicking candle? Have we a zeal for right living, for love of humanity?
In the performance of our daily living, the vision of the Evangelist and the spirit of the Baptist will enable us to do good work, true work, to build Temples of enduring worth.
It is to the everlasting credit of Freemasonry that it never breaks with the past. It has a proud history of men and deeds, but more, it is the story of preservation of ideals, of truths, of spiritual Wisdom. With all our so-called changes we witness today, including the decline of moral standards, with attitudes which have little to commend them except that they are different, the principles and teachings of Freemasonry remain the strong bulwark of a nations greatness. "To follow the crowd" is the easy way out, but it never solves the problems of the day. Ours is a sophisticated world, but we cannot afford to enter any new era in time without the Light of the Past.
Masonry, in teaching men of every age, to look above themselves, to eternal and Supreme Being, renders a service to mankind that is almost infinite in its scope. Isn't it about time we tightened our belts, drew a long breath, and plunged into the task of re-establishing and reaffirming our inherited beliefs in an America under God, one Nation (or more rightly, the one Nation) with Liberty and Justice for all?