Christian initiation (also called Christian Gnostic initiation) is a path of spiritual training based on the intense emotional reliving of the Passion of Christ, as described in the Gospel of John. In this way, above all the mind soul, i.e. the part of the intellectual or mind soul that is oriented towards a healthy sense of truth, is richly trained. Since this path of training demands a temporary separation from the outer everyday business, it is no longer practicable for many people today due to the demands of our consciousness-soul age. For them, the Rosicrucian path of spiritual training was inaugurated, on which the anthroposophical spiritual training is also oriented.
The Gospel of John as a model of the Christian initiation path
In chapters 1-12, the Gospel of John first describes John's initiation experiences on the astral plane; from the 13th chapter onwards, the experiences of John-Lazarus, who was resurrected after three days, are reported in the devachanic world. The scene of the washing of the feet, which is described right at the beginning of the 13th chapter, at the same time marks the first stage of the Christian initiation path.
„The one who founded Christianity could not be readily recognised if one had only the ordinary mind directed towards the sensual. This included what the Christian mystics often expressed in such grand and beautiful words. Angelus Silesius also meant this when he said:
If Christ be born a thousand times in Bethlehem.
And not in you: you will still remain eternally lost.
There is an inner experience of Christ, there is a possibility of recognising that which confronts us externally in the events that took place in Palestine between the years 1 and 33. The one who came into this world from higher worlds must in turn be understood from a higher world. And the one who describes him most profoundly had to rise to the two higher worlds that are under consideration here, the astral and the devachanic or mental world. This elevation of John, if we may call it that, was the elevation to the two higher worlds. This is what the Gospel of John presents to us in its messages.
The first twelve chapters of the Gospel of John contain John's experiences in the astral world. From the thirteenth chapter onwards they are John's experiences in the devachanic or mental world, so that the one who has written this down says of Christ - the words are to be taken quite comparatively -: Here on this Earth He lived, here He worked out of powers that are divine, out of occult powers. He has healed the sick, He has gone through everything from dying to resurrecting. To comprehend these things with the mere mind is impossible. Here on Earth there is no science, no wisdom by which one can understand what has happened. But there is a possibility of ascending to the higher worlds. There one will find the wisdom through which one can understand the one who has walked here on Earth. So the writer of the Gospel of John rose up into the two higher worlds and was initiated. It was an initiation, and his initiation is described by the writer of the Gospel of John, the initiation into the astral world and the initiation into the devachanic or mental world.“ (Lit.:GA 94, p. 190f)
Meditation on the first five sentences of the prologue of the Gospel of John
The extended meditation on the first five sentences of the prologue of the Gospel of John precedes the initiatory path and is able to open the spiritual eye to the astral world:
„1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through the same thing, and without the same thing nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not taken hold of it.“
The content of the meditation should be imagined as pictorially as possible. For example, the first two sentences of the prologue should be meditated upon in such a way that one builds up the image of an immensely large sphere within which all substance is in such motion that it forms and shapes itself according to the meaningful meaning of the "divine word" that resounds through it. (Lit.:GA 267, p. 266)
„John now also indicates what had brought him into such a spiritual state, what had led him into perception on the astral plane. The formula he used as a meditation formula is at the beginning of his Gospel: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and a God was the Word. This was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through the same thing, and apart from this Word nothing of what came into being came into being. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shone into the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not."
In these five sentences lie the eternal truths that conjure up the great visions in John's soul. This is the meditation formula. He for whom the Gospel of John is written must not merely read it like any other book. He must look at the first five sentences as a meditation formula, then he lives John, then he seeks to experience the same thing that John experienced. That is the way to live after him, that is what it is meant to be. John says: Do as I have done, let the great sentences "In the beginning was the Word" and so on work in your souls, and you will find verified what is said in my twelve first chapters.
This is something that can only contribute to the understanding of the Gospel of John. That is how it is meant, and that is how it is to be used. Now what the "word" means, I have also mentioned this several times. In the beginning - let us grasp correctly what that means. "In the beginning" is not a good German translation. The translation should actually read: Out of the primordial forces sprouted the Word. That is what it means: the Word came forth, out of the primordial forces. In the beginning means: out of the primordial forces.
When man enters this state of sleep, he is no longer in the sensual world. He enters a spiritual world, and in this spiritual world he experiences the truth about the sensual world. There the truth of the sensual world dawns on him. He goes back from the derivative words of the sensual world to the primordial forces and ascends to the words of truth. Each truth has seven meanings. For the immersing mystic, however, it has this meaning here: The knowledge, the word that rises, is not something that is valid yesterday and today, but this word is eternal. This word leads to God because it has always been with God himself, because it is the very being that God has put into things.
But there is another understanding, and this is acquired by returning again and again every day to the significant word: "In the beginning was the Word." When one begins to understand it not only with the intellect but with the heart, so that the heart becomes completely one with this Word, then the power arises, then the state of which John speaks already begins. He describes it with great vividness: "All things came into being through the same word, and apart from this word nothing of what came into being came into being."
What do we find in this word? We find life. What do we recognise through life? Through the light? We must take the religious documents quite literally if we want to ascend to a higher knowledge. Where does the light shine when man comes to it? Into the darkness of night. It enters those who are asleep. It enters everyone who is asleep. But the darkness did not understand it - until the ability arose to perceive it on the astral plane. The fifth sentence is also to be understood literally in this way. The astral light shines into the darkness of the night, but people do not usually see the light, they must first learn to see.
Since all this became reality for the writer of John's Gospel, the light also dawned on him who he was, whose disciple and whose apostle he was. Here on Earth he had seen him. Now he discovered him again on the astral plane, and he recognised that he who walked on Earth in the flesh was only distinguished from that which lives in his own deepest inner being by one thing. In every single human being lives a God-man. In the distant future, this God-man will rise from each individual. As man stands before us today, he is in his outer expression more or less an imprint of the inner divine man, and this inner divine man is continually working on the outer man.“ (Lit.:GA 94, p. 194ff)
The four virtues to be acquired
Four virtues must be acquired before one can walk the Christian path of initiation:
- No pleasure in religious exercises
- The renunciation of attributing anything to one's own efficiency.
- Surrender to destiny.
„Four things are decidedly necessary for Christian yoga to be possible at all. The first is simplicity. This is a Christian virtue. One must realise that in life one has such experiences in manifold ways through which one loses one's impartiality. Almost everyone is biased. The only unbiased answers to questions are those of children. But they are also foolish in doing so, because children do not yet know anything. But one must learn to be wise and unbiased, childlike unbiased with experience. In Christianity, this is called simplicity.
The second virtue that one has to acquire is that as a Christian mystic one has to get rid of what many people have, namely the inner well-being of religious exercises. One must no longer devote oneself to the exercises out of self-gratification, but because the path of practice demands it. All well-being in religious exercises must remain silent.
The third virtue is even more difficult. It consists in absolutely renouncing to attribute anything to one's own efficiency. On the contrary, one must learn to attribute everything to divine power, to the merit of God who works through us. Without this, one cannot become a Christian mystic.
The fourth virtue to be attained is patient surrender to whatever may befall man. One must put aside all worry and fear, be prepared for everything, the best and the worst.
If one has not developed such virtues to a certain degree, one cannot hope to become a Christian mystic. This preparation enables one to go through the seven stages of the Christian mystical path.“ (Lit.:GA 97, p. 23)
The 7 steps of Christian initiation
The Christian initiatory path comprises seven steps, each of which takes months to settle into before progressing to the next:
- Foot washing - one develops comprehensive gratitude towards the kingdoms of nature that are beneath one. Everything higher owes its existence to the lower: Plant to stone, animal to plant, the higher human to the lower. Finally, the vision of the washing of the feet unfolds and the feet feel as if they are washed by water.
- Flagellation - one develops a feeling of forbearance: I will bear upright in patience all the pains and sufferings of life; gradually one sees the vision of the flagellation and feels burning, itching pain all over the body.
- Crowning with thorns - one develops stout-heartedness and learns to endure how even the holiest things are showered with mockery and scorn; in the vision one sees oneself with the crown of thorns and feels a stabbing external pain on the head.
- Crucifixion - one's own body is felt as alien, as a cross one has to bear; one works in this way right into the physical body to make it so alive that it develops an attraction to the phantom body of the Christ who rose from the grave on Golgotha at the resurrection. On the body, the stigmata (wounds) show from slight redness to really bleeding wounds.
- Mystical death - I want to learn to live in that in me which is not body, over which death has no power. The body is now experienced as a mother and the transformed lower self as a disciple, to whom the Christ - as the higher self in us in the sense of the Pauline word: "Not I, but the Christ in me!" - says, "Behold, this is your mother." The image of the wedding at Cana is also connected with this stage (see below). One feels enveloped by black darkness and then suddenly the curtain that veils the spiritual world is torn, one encounters the Guardian of the Threshold, becomes clairvoyant on the astral plane and experiences the descent into hell, such as is indicated in the Gospel of Nicodemus or in Dante's Divine Comedy.
- Entombment (and resurrection) - one feels united with the whole earth nature and deeply united with the Christ who said: "They that eat my bread trample me under foot."
- Ascension (resurrection) - to experience this stage, one must have learned to think without the tool of the physical brain. This feeling of ascension follows of itself from the previous ones; there are no human words to express it. It means, by now growing beyond the astral plane, the complete conscious absorption into the actual spiritual world, the Devachan.
The Mystical Death and the Mystical Wedding
Mystical death, the mystical union of the soul with the astral world, which is reached after three days on the fifth initiation level, is occultly also called marriage or mystical wedding. The Gospel of John refers to this in its description of the Marriage at Cana. The relationship of the physical body to the astral body is like that of mother to son:
„Now read how this process is figuratively, symbolically described in the Gospel of John 8:58–59: "Jesus said to them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. - Then they took up stones to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out into the temple, passing through the midst of them", through the hindrances. This is the end of the eighth chapter. This is the process of the astral body coming out of the physical body. Usually such a process, a final act that leads to this emergence, in order to make the human being completely sighted, takes three days. When these three days are up, the human being attains the same consciousness on the astral plane as before on the physical plane. Then he unites with the higher world.
In occult language, this union with the higher world is called the marriage of the soul with the powers of the higher world. When one has emerged from the physical body, the physical body stands opposite one, just as the child, if it could have consciousness, would stand opposite the mother from whom it was born at birth. Thus the physical body faces one, and the astral body can quite well say to the physical body: This is my mother. When it has celebrated its wedding, then it can say that, then it looks back on the union that existed before. After three days this can happen. Such is the occult process for the astral plane. Chapter 2:1, it says, "And on the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there." That's the figurative expression for what I just said. On the third day it came to pass.“ (Lit.:GA 94, p. 198)
- Rudolf Steiner: Kosmogonie, GA 94 (2001) English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Das christliche Mysterium, GA 97 (1998) English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Die Theosophie des Rosenkreuzers, GA 99 (1985) English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Das Johannes-Evangelium, GA 103 (1995), ISBN 3-7274-1030-2 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Seelenübungen, GA 267 (2001) English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
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Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
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steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.
- In some lectures the resurrection is not mentioned as the 6th, but as the 7th stage, in which case the ascension is not mentioned.