Passion Week Initiation
Pascha (or the Easter period) and its corresponding customs is a religious festival of the utmost importance. In Ancient Greece, it was the Lesser Mysteries or the so-called Anthesteria that used to take place every year during the same period. Nowadays, Easter is a traditional calendar feast reflecting the rotation of the earth round the sun, the relation of the earth with the moon and finally the relation of man with god. It is worth noting that Passion Week along with the Resurrection coincides with the astronomical vernal equinox and the first full-moon following it.
The study of world religions shows that every year at that particular time, the central hero-god dies to be then resurrected, a fact symbolizing not only the religious hero’s revival but also that of life on the planet. The religious festival along with its ritual symbolically depicts man’s presence and trial on the physical plane and his crucifixion in the world of matter. By gathering experiences and through personal and self-induced efforts, individual life manages to offset passions and all dependence from the senses. Awareness of the eternal, heavenly spiritual life is called resurrection. It is only then that the hero, previously crucified by his own passions i.e. his choices, is being resurrected and becomes god, in other words, only then does he regain his initial eternal divine nature.
The term “Pascha” comes from the Aramaic “pasha” and the Hebrew “pesah”. Scholars also trace “pesah” in the Assyrian “pasahu” or the Egyptian “pash”, meaning “remembrance”, while “pesah” means “blow”. The Bible associates “pesah” with the verb “pasah” meaning either “walk with a limp” or “perform a ritual dance around a sacrifice” (1, Kings 18:21,26) or, figuratively speaking, “escape”, “pass”, “spare”. In the Old Testament, we come across passages showing that Pascha’s origin had predated Moses’ time as well as the Exodus from Egypt.
Owing to its great significance, the celebration of Pascha affects the Religious Calendar of the Orthodox Church for as many as 40 days prior to its advent (the Great Lent, Triodion or Pre-Lenten Season) and also for the 50 days following it (Pentekostarion). The early Christian communities did not observe festivals in a yearly cycle. Initially, the remembrance of Christ’s Resurrection used to be celebrated on Sundays or “on one of the Sabbaths”. Pascha and Pentecost were the first yearly feasts established in the 2nd century. Every local church would celebrate the date of Pascha on a criterion of its own. Ultimately, the First Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) took a final decision to fix a Pascha celebration date common for all, a date observed with slight variations to this day.
All nations have their own exoteric and esoteric religion. The former addresses the large masses of people whereas the latter addresses the few elect; esoteric religion is called initiation. The word “initiation” comes from the latin verb “initiare” which means “to begin”, “to enter”.It means entering a new way of life, one pertaining to occult life and its hidden knowledge, something that can be attained with the help of an able teacher.
To initiate means to introduce one to the mysteries, to indoctrinate (catechize), to teach and educate, to keep mouth and eyes shut, in other words, to turn off all senses. A mystery is the mystic and religious ritual during which the candidate about to be initiated, by first sealing the openings of his physical senses, aims at the opening up of subtler senses in order to conquer his higher self-consciousness which will allow him a wider understanding of the causes that create phenomena and the spiritual state of life.
Initiated is the one who has been accepted to the mysteries and to whom hierophants have revealed the sacred secrets. An hierophant (compound word from “ta hiera”, meaning “the holy” and the verb “phainein», meaning “to show”) is the one who gives out the hidden secrets. He is the presenter, the initiator and the pedagogue (trainer) of the souls.
Testing law of human life is steady evolution, progress and elevation of individual consciousness in a constant transition from life to death and rebirth during which stages man culls experiences by trying every possible impression and challenge. All of those become causes for a firm progress to the better and better till the need for discontinuation of the probation-cross will allow the individual to listen to the voice of Conscience and consequently of redemption from the turmoil of ignorance, separativeness and egotism. Then and only then is man ready to meet, as a neophyte, the mysteries’ initiator and hierophant to become initiated, to wide-open his heart and mind onto some other spiritual state of life and perception. By so doing, he may conclude his voyage in the universe and return to where he had once started, as a new-born infant bearing no self-consciousness at all; because self-evolution belongs to the law of evolution and can be conquered a) by the passing of the monad through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara and b) till it acquires individuality first by natural impulse and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts checked by Karma, thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant to the holiest Archangel. 
All such esoteric reality is conveyed to man through the rituals’ sacred symbols, both religious and initiatory – they are actually similar – that aim at the awakening of the divine archetype indelibly recorded in the human soul.
Consequently, mysteries and their established religious feasts are not the work of man. They represent a higher need springing from the law of Evolution, a need established on earth by the Hierarchy of the Masters who supervise and lead mankind’s mental and spiritual development as well as progress.
During the ancient mysteries, the drama of esoteric life was enacted with the hierophant standing for the Third Logos and revealing to the neophytes the mysteries pertaining to universe and therefore to human nature. On the other hand, for the masses watching the mystic rite from another level, the esoteric event would take on the form of an exoteric religious ritual which aroused in them religious emotions with the resulting spiritual elevation through symbols, chanting and sermons.
Initiations and great religious feasts are held during solstices and equinoxes, periods when the earth takes its position at the edges of the cross formed by the 4 zodiac signs, Aries-Libra (equinoxes) and Cancer-Capricorn (solstices). They are the two axes – vertical and horizontal – that make up the cross with its 4 right angles on which and according to which planetary life moves. 
As a symbol, the Cross is common throughout the world; it is the geometrical figure that predominates in all religions and initiations. It symbolizes the trial to which the spiritual spark is subjected in the depths of the universe till all shadows of matter are shaken off. The vertical bar represents spirit and the horizontal one, matter. Once the two bars are intersected, we get the cross that represents life in the depths of the universe.
With regard to humans, it stands for the severe trial they plunge in due to their attachment to passions and material needs of which they get rid once they become aware of the purpose and target of their evolution. Crucifixion, symbol of trial but also of redemption from the throes of illusion, is the most important ceremony of initiation and religion. Let’s see how H.P.Blavatsky describes it in the following passage:
“To crucify before (not against) the sun” is a phrase used of initiation. It comes from Egypt, and primarily from India. The enigma can be unriddled only by searching for its key in the mysteries of Initiation. The initiated adept, who had successfully passed through all the trials, was attached, not nailed, but simply tied on a couch in the form of a Tau (in Egypt) of a Svastika without the four additional prolongations …plunged in a deep sleep, the “Sleep of Siloam”, it is called to this day among the Initiates in Asia Minor, in Syria, and even higher Egypt. He was allowed to remain in this state for three days and three nights, during which time his Spiritual Ego was said to confabulate with the “gods”, descend into Hades, Amenti, or Patala, (according to the country) and do works of charity to the invisible beings, whether souls of men or Elemental Spirits; his body remaining all the time in a temple crypt or subterranean cave. In Egypt it was placed in the Sarcophagus in the King’s chamber of the Pyramid of Cheops, and carried during the night of the approaching third day to the entrance of a gallery, where at a certain hour the beams of the rising Sun struck full on the face of the entranced candidate, who awoke to be initiated by Osiris, and Thoth the God of Wisdom.” 
To the Christian world, Passion Week is the Cross initiation effected through the liturgical rites of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Prior to these great religious moments, there occurs a 40-day purgatory preparation that renders man physically and psychically fit to share the trial of earthly life, to look for and embrace Resurrection in the eternally pure, moral and spiritual life.
As well-known, in almost all creeds the central hero dies to be then resurrected in the vernal equinox, as in the case of Kadmilos of the Cabeiri, of Adonis of the Phoenicians, Krishna of the Hindus , Dionysus in the Greek religion and of Jesus in Christianity. Life comprises and belongs to everything that exists in universe; while death belongs to what exist temporarily, signifying transformation in its real essence. Consequently, the Cross symbolizes the incessant transformation of each and every being, a transformation attained with the help of the law of Evolution.
The allegorical depiction of the transformation and of the following resurrection and ascension in heaven is vividly represented with a series of rites during the so-called “Passion week”, Jesus’ crucifixion, Resurrection and his Ascension, all of which rites occur before the summer solstice. The “apotheosis” (deification) of the initiate occurs during the summer solstice.
In the Eleusinian Mysteries, the vernal equinox was symbolized by the liberation of Persephone from Pluto’s realm. Dionysus the Liberator would bring her to Mount Olympus where Persephone would be transformed into a celestial deity. The vernal equinox symbolizes the death of the titanic (lower) human nature and its spiritual revival. The death of the titanic nature signifies the death of passions and the discharge from the fallacies of the personal self. That is the prerogative of redemption from the world of illusion, while such discharge is symbolized through crucifixion and the resurrection that follows.
THE LANGUAGE OF SYMBOLS
A sacred symbol is the means with which Idea infiltrates matter, watches over it, organizes and develops it according to the divine standards. We might say that it is the shape Divinity assumes to communicate with the humans. It is its seal onto matter by means of which it declares Its presence and secures Its predominance.
The cycle, the vertical line, the cross, the triangle, the quadrangle, the five-pointed and the six-pointed stars are the symbolic shapes used by religions and esoteric traditions of all nations. They are sacred symbols as being the ones closest to divine nature. They are also called seals and are used to express theogonies, sacred texts, hymns and rituals. Ancient Wisdom asserts that symbols have been used parallel to planetary life which dates many millions of years. Research and syncretic study of religions and creeds, initiations and traditions proves that sacred symbols are common with all nations, older and younger ones, and that their implementation intends to activate the esoteric archetypes and bridge our finite human nature with our eternal spiritual one.
Through the rituals where sacred symbols are constantly being reiterated, dormant Ideas are awakened; that is what religion and initiation aim at. All rites and also what is heard while sacred symbols are being reiterated restore the stream of communication between the Creator and his creature. This produces an intense religious emotion as a result of the awakening of religiousness. The latter is the inherent divine power existing deep inside every soul-monad and is the only ring that links the ephemeral with the eternal. 
The symbol, be it a number, a geometrical shape or a sound, used to be the parlance of gods and the initiated. A symbol renders whole meanings which pages and volumes may fail to do. So, model geometrical shapes become sacred symbols while the archetypal sounds become powerful words, called hymns in the West and mantrams in the East. The reiteration of a powerful word and the focusing of the mind on it can bring man into unison with the spiritual cause –idea of the phenomenon. A mantram is a number of sounds, syllables or words whose reiteration may affect one’s surrounding atmosphere and which can either facilitate man’s communication with more spiritual spheres or create phenomena on the plane of senses. In either case, what matters is the correct utterance, personal development and the intended purpose.
The symbol is what awakens the parentage and history of every monad-soul during its voyage in universe, while descending from its root downwards to the depths of the universe. But the symbol is also the link joining the monad-soul with its source as it concentrates all the differentiations which, springing from the One homogenous primary essence transmuted into elements and forces, remind the monad-soul of its origin and encourage it in its pursuit and ultimate return to its initial cradle.
Reiterating sacred symbols in ceremonies, chanting, prayers as well as religious rituals and rites keeps open the door of communication between the worshipper and his esoteric Self. The symbolic representation is the enacted process which awakens the indelible self-contained spiritual images the soul carries along wherever it may be. When exoteric religious processes are attuned with the immortal and eternal archetype, religious emotion overwhelms man and some kind of force urges him to look up to the real Self and entreat for his union with it.
The awakening and expression of the divine universal archetype by every monad-soul is the only purpose of evolution. Such purpose is attainable:
- With the presence of the monad-soul in universe
- With the soul’s downwards / upwards voyage in universe for the necessary acquirement of experience through self-induced choice and activity
- With religion
- With initiation; the degrees of initiation being as many as the planes of consciousness since every plane needs to develop and acquire its own powers that correspond to the inherent divine powers of the monad-soul.
That is the reason why rituals and rites pertaining to religions and initiations resemble one another; in fact, they are the same, the symbols being universal and specific.
Along with the myth and the symbols, the hymns and the ceremonies, hierophants convey to mankind the basic ideas of mysteries and religions; the purpose being to awaken man’s dormant remembrance of his divine origin, of the “birth and death” cycles and of the spiritual target of life as it evolves.
The cycle of individual life or the pilgrim’s voyage is strewn with thorns till man is able to tame his titanic nature. Passions, psychological identifications and dependencies as well as mentally crystallized views keep him bound to the world of form and dense matter. This sort of situation is symbolized by crucifixion while the liberation from the bondage of senses is rendered through a transformation which starts with resurrection i.e. with the awakening and the passage onto a higher spiritual state of self-consciousness.
In the Christian world, the obstacles and struggle towards fulfilling the spiritual target are allegorically symbolized by Passion Week culminating in Jesus’ Resurrection. In almost all religions, the religious hero dies and is then resurrected. Death is the symbol of the transformation that results from every experience. “Death is life and life is death”, used to be repeated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, paving the way for a detachment from the realm of passions, rebirths and spiritual poverty.
Resurrection is the triumph of the soul over personality. It is the predominance of the noble higher forces over the lower, egoistic, antagonistic and selfish human nature. It is symbolized by the sacrifice of the hero-god, the Redeemer, who is crucified not due to his own passions but to the passions of mankind, since he descends to teach mankind – through his self-sacrifice – the way to attain its own resurrection.
Esoteric philosophy teaches that everything lives and is conscious, but not that all life and consciousness are similar to those of human or even animal beings. 
Each plane of consciousness creates a different plane of illusions. Life and death are illusions. Time is only an illusion produced by “the panorama of successions of our states of consciousness”. Enlargement of our consciousness may be accomplished only by self-induced and unselfish efforts checked by Karma. 
Initiation, being the widening of consciousness and therefore the human Ego’s passage from its present state onto a higher level, requires such physical, psychical and mental conditions as would make it fit to be attuned with the frequencies of the higher level. Broadening of consciousness begins with exoteric life’s experiences, knowledge and disappointments but is perfected and solidified when aided by initiation and resulting self-knowledge. A basic prerogative of redemption is the elimination of such qualities of the personal Ego as conceit, doubt and egotism. When the three latter are checked and gradually done away with, then the seeker may cherish the hope, he may look for and expect to meet the esoteric Teacher and Hierophant.
In the days of old, the Eleusinian Mysteries were divided into a) the Lesser Mysteries –held at Agrai and b) the Greater – held at Eleusis. Referring to the Mysteries, Iamblichus says:
“Ceremonies of this kind were chosen during the Mysteries so as to free us from our want on passions, upgrading the quality of viewing while defeating all negative thinking in an atmosphere of supreme sacredness that embraced such rites.”
Even though persons of both sexes were allowed to the mysteries and participation in them was even obligatory, very few indeed attained the higher and final initiation in those celebrated rites. Proclus is giving us the gradation of the Mysteries in his 4th volume on Plato’s Theology.
“The perfective rite precedes in order the initiation and the latter precedes the final apocalypse, the epopteia”.
Theon of Smyrna, in his “Mathematica” divides the mystic rites into 5 parts:
- The catharsis (purification)… since it is necessary that such as are not expelled from the Mysteries should first be refined by certain purifications.
- After the purifications follow the sacred rites.
- Then comes epopteia or reception.
- The fourth which is the end and design of the revelation is the binding of the head and fixing of the crowns …after which the initiated person becomes “a torchbearer” or an hierophant of the Mysteries ; also described by Pythagoras when explaining his feelings after the initiation adding that he was crowned by the Gods in whose presence he drank “the waters of life” which in the Hindu mysteries were the fount of life, and soma, the sacred drink.
- The fifth grade, culmination of all previous ones, is friendship and inner communion with God.
Being initiated in those Mysteries, which are lawfully called the most blessed of all mysteries, we are freed from the molestations of evils which otherwise are in store for us in the future. Likewise, in consequence of this divine initiation, we become spectators of entire, simple, immovable and blessed visions resident in pure light. This veiled confession, says Taylor, shows that the most sublime part of epopteia or final revealing, consisted in beholding the gods (higher Planetary Spirits) and of the immortal spirits invested with a resplendent light. . On the other hand, Proclus mentions that in all the initiations and mysteries, the gods exhibit several aspects-forms of their self and appear in a variety of shapes. Sometimes, this light resembles a human figure; at some other times it appears under a different shape.
According to Theosophy, there are successive degrees of initiation, usually as many as 7. The first 3 are preparatory and pertain to the discipline of moral, mental and physical being. In case the neophyte abides by the rules in real life, something that lasts long and is proven mainly through his conduct (it may take several incarnations) he enters the 4thdegree of initiation, first step of the Arhat ladder. At this stage, inner divine nature becomes partly active in the initiated person’s everyday life. He can then conquer esoteric knowledge through observation and experience, knowledge he had previously only heard of. The 4th degree constitutes the initiation of the Cross; it is so called, since the initiated person sacrifices his titanic nature to his spiritual one. Typical of this initiation is absolute dedication to the Purpose. In the 5thdegree of initiation the candidate encounters his spiritual Ego and that state is called Theophany, meaning the appearance of god. In the 6th degree he is called Theopnefstos, (God-inspired), which means he has now become the vehicle of the esoteric god and has therefore acquired spiritual and mental potentialities of the Higher Self. In the 7thgrade, he becomes a glorious Christ and that state is called Theopatheia, where his personal self is steadily at one with the esoteric deity. In the East, the equivalent term is “Buddhahood” or “nirvana”.
Inner reality appears in various shapes as far as human beings are concerned; in religion and rituals, in myths and symbolic accounts, in initiation, incantations and occult arts, or even in dreaming and delusional perception of things. All of the above exist most of the times exoterically, because man cannot pierce through form to enter the causes of phenomena. The doctrine revealing the causes of things is the spiritual knowledge known as Atma-Vidya, which embraces all scattered bits of knowledge, reaches their depth i.e. their causes and brings forth the correct interpretation of objective phenomena.
“Of the four Vidyas…namely, “Yajna Vidya” (the performance or religious rites in order to produce certain results); “Maha-Vidya”, the great (Magic) knowledge, now degenerated…”Guhya Vidya”, the science of Mantras and their true rhythm or chanting of mystical incantations, etc., it is only the last one, “Atma-Vidya” or the true Spiritual and Divine wisdom, which can throw absolute and final light upon the teachings of the three first named….A good deal can be given out and explained from the three first-named sciences. But unless the key to their teachings is furnished by Atma-Vidya, they will remain for ever like the fragments of a mangled text-book, like the adumbrations of great truths, dimly perceived by the most spiritual, but distorted out of all proportion by those who would nail every shadow to the wall.” 
The preconditions required for the development of spiritual powers, actually preconditions for the meeting with the Spiritual Self, are poetically described in the following passage from the “Voice of the Silence”:
“Thou seest well, Lanoo. These portals lead the aspirant across the waters on to the other shore. Each Portal hath a golden key that openeth its gate; and these keys are:
- DANA, the key of charity and love immortal.
- SHILA, the key of Harmony in word and act, the key that counterbalances the cause and the effect, and leaves no further room for Karmic action.
- KSANTHI, patience sweet that nought can ruffle.
- VIRAG, indifference to pleasure and to pain, illusion conquered, truth alone perceived.
- VIRYA, the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal TRUTH, out of the mire of lies terrestrial.
- DHYANA, whose golden gate once opened, leads the Naljor (the saint) toward the realm of SAT eternal and its ceaseless contemplation.
- PRAJNA, the key to which makes of a man a god, creating him a Bodhisattva, son of the Dhyanis.
Before thou canst approach the foremost gate thou hast to learn to part thy body from thy mind, to dissipate the shadow, and to live in the eternal. For this, thou hast to live and breathe in all, as all that thou perceivest breathes in thee; to feel thyself abiding in all things, all things in SELF.
So shalt thou be in full accord with all that lives; bear love to men as though they were thy brother-pupils, disciples of one Teacher, the sons of one sweet mother.
Of Teachers there are many; the MASTER-SOUL is one, Alaya, the Universal Soul. Live in that MASTER as ITS ray in thee. Live in thy fellows as they live in IT.”
- The Secret Doctrine, I, 17
- S. A. Mackey and the Zodiac cycles of Dendera http://www.blavatsky.gr/books-projects-online/63-sa-mackey-and-the-dendera-zodiacs.html
- The Secret Doctrine, II, 558
- The Symbols, by A.Papadomichelaki, http://www.blavatsky.gr/articles/47-various/218-symbols-html
- The Secret Doctine, 49
- S.D. I,17
- CW, vol.XIV, § Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, note p.63
- C W, vol. XIV, The Objects of the Mysteries p. 275-277.
- S.D. I, 169-170.