Holy Order of Mans
HOLY ORDER OF MANS
HOLY ORDER OF MANS was a prominent New Age spiritual community whose radical transformation into an Eastern Orthodox Christian brotherhood during the 1980s illustrates the instability of charismatically led religious communities during their founding generation. As the renamed Christ the Saviour Brotherhood, the community has shrunk to a few hundred members unified primarily by a commitment to Orthodoxy and a shared odyssey through late-twentieth-century America's pluralistic religious marketplace.
The order had its origins in the cultural ferment of mid-1960s San Francisco. Its founder, Earl W. Blighton (1904–1974), was a retired electrical engineer and social worker whose spiritual explorations in California's alternative religions subculture led him to such organizations as the Theosophical Society, the Subramuniya Yoga order, the Spiritualist church, and the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis. Together with his wife, Helen Ruth Blighton, he opened a prayer shrine in 1966 to minister to the young people who were wandering the streets of San Francisco in search of spiritual enlightenment. The committed core of disciples who gathered around the Blightons evolved into an intentional spiritual community organized according to traditional Christian monastic rules. The Holy Order of MANS (there is some controversy surrounding the meaning of the acronym, which was purportedly revealed only to initiates) was incorporated on July 24, 1968.
Blighton's order developed a unique system of initiatory spirituality that included elements of qabbalism, Rosicrucianism, New Age millennialism, New Thought philosophy, and Tantrism. The mission of the order was to prepare the earth and its peoples for an imminent golden dawn of spiritual enlightenment by initiating the masses into the "ancient Christian mysteries." These mystical teachings, Blighton maintained, had disappeared from view once Christianity became a powerful, wealthy institution. In the New Age that was dawning, these esoteric teachings were being revealed again to the world. The order ordained priests under the auspices of the Great White Brotherhood, a hierarchy of advanced spiritual masters who were believed to be responsible for humankind's evolution. Blighton claimed to have received the power to ordain these priests from Christ through revelation. The priests were empowered to perform "solar initiations" that represented stages of the soul's evolution to "mastery." The order's initiations were believed to be re-creations of the sacramental initiations of the early Christian church, whose true function had been forgotten with the passage of time.
In the first initiatory rite, baptism, aspirants declared their dedication to the path of spiritual regeneration under the order's guidance. Blighton taught that the rite triggered an infusion of the "Christ force" into the disciple's body and purged the body of the effects of past errors. The second initiation, "illumination," implanted and sealed the "new body of light" in the aspirant. The rite included an awakening of the kuṇḍalinī energy at the base of the spine and an activation of the aspirant's chakra currents. The third initiation, "self-realization," was a neoshamanic rending of an etheric veil that was believed to cover the indwelling spark of divinity at the core of the aspirant's being. After this rite, the disciple could receive interior revelation from the Godhead and was considered a functioning "God-Being." The order also administered a daily communion rite, which was understood as a work of spiritual alchemy in which the wine and bread were transmuted into Christ's body and blood. Communicants believed that they were being infused with the attributes and experience of the Master Jesus, who had taken on the being of the Cosmic Christ during his earthly sojourn.
Between 1969 and 1974, Blighton's order spread quickly throughout the United States. It established mission stations and "brotherhouses" in over sixty cities in forty-eight states. Like traditional monks, order members took vows of obedience, service, poverty, purity, and humility, practiced regular fasting, wore clerical robes, and held all assets in common. Unlike traditional monasteries, however, order centers were coeducational, elevated women to the priesthood, and embraced spiritual practices from non-Christian sources. During this early period, the order also expanded its organization to include a lay discipleship movement and lay families (Christian Communities) that were interested in practicing the order's path of esoteric spirituality. Blighton also established two suborders, the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Mary and the Brown Brothers of the Holy Light, to provide intermediate training for renunciate members. Members of the suborders performed community service and special Marian devotions, and they engaged in missionary teaching. In 1971 the order opened Raphael House, a shelter for the homeless and for victims of domestic violence. This service outreach would spark a movement across the United States to establish anonymous shelters for battered women and children.
Blighton's sudden death in 1974 precipitated a four-year leadership crisis for the order. A succession of "master-teachers" (the movement's highest level of spiritual attainment) took charge of the group and attempted to impress upon it their own personal interpretation of Blighton's teachings. This period of instability did not impede recruitment, however. The movement reached its height of membership, three thousand, in 1977. Also during this period, international centers opened in London, Bordeaux, San Sebastian, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In the spring of 1978, Andrew Rossi was elected director general of the order. Rossi was an erudite former Roman Catholic preseminarian whose résumé included a stint as a Chinese-language specialist with the Intelligence Section of the U.S. Navy. In his first public statements, Rossi embraced Blighton's Gnostic and New Age vision of the order's mission. He proclaimed that Jesus was calling all peoples to a new understanding of his teachings and divinity, an understanding based on "living Revelation" and unbound by past symbols, dogmas, and scriptures. Though he was the "very form of God Incarnate" and was due the greatest respect and honor, Jesus was not to be worshiped as God himself. The order's mission, according to Rossi, was to present Jesus' teachings in a universal and inclusive way in the dawning millennial age. This new way would lead Christians beyond religion, beyond form, and beyond the figure of Jesus himself, to a state in which all would find their true being in the "Father-Mother God." In obedience to this mission, the order would redouble its efforts to remove the barriers that separated humankind, especially those that had been erected in Jesus' name.
On November 18, 1978, the first reports of the Jonestown mass suicide-murder reached the national media. Within a short time, the cultural context in the United States with regard to new religions changed from one of tolerance and acceptance to one of suspicion and outright hostility. The anticult movement used the national mood of shock and revulsion at the Jonestown events to intensify its efforts to convince politicians and judges to regulate "dangerous cults." Soon, increasingly hostile public scrutiny was brought to bear on the order, which heretofore had enjoyed a positive public image because of its service outreach in local communities. The order also appeared on the "cult lists" of such leading countercult groups as the Christian Research Institute and the Spiritual Counterfeits Project. To make matters worse, the order community began to experience increasing member defections and a steep drop in recruitment rates.
In response to this crisis, Rossi initiated a strong defense of the order in various public forums. The culmination of these efforts was Rossi's 1980 article in the order's journal, Epiphany. Titled "By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them: Proclaiming the Spiritual Authenticity of the Holy Order of MANS in a Counterfeit Age," the article laid out a carefully reasoned apology that defended the order's Christian pedigree, as well as its ecumenical and nonsectarian foundations. Rossi declared that the brotherhood's purpose was to develop a Christian community built around the worship of God, discipleship to Christ, and service to the world. The order, he claimed, lived "within the norms of the Christian Tradition." Rossi also inaugurated a search by the order's membership for precedents in the history of Christianity for what the movement was attempting to accomplish in the world. This would allow members to explain the order to mainstream Christians in terms that were comprehensible and familiar to them.
These initiatives began to move the order's public and private identity away from its New Age and Rosicrucian/Gnostic origins and towards mainstream Christianity. After flirtations with Protestant evangelicalism and Roman Catholic traditionalism, Rossi directed the group to study Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and in particular its tradition of light mysticism. This directive followed Rossi's secret personal conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy during the early 1980s. At the same time, the order's director general consolidated the group into ten large communities in the United States and Europe and began to jettison its system of esoteric initiatory spirituality. Between 1982 and 1986 the brotherhood focused its energies on the preservation of "authentic cultural traditions of ancient Christianity," the celebration of seasonal festivals, and the creation of alternative schools for its children based on traditional Christian principles.
With the assistance of a defrocked Russian Orthodox monk, Herman Podmoshensky, Rossi orchestrated a gradual conversion of order members during the mid-1980s to Orthodox monastic spirituality. Blighton's core teachings and practices were replaced with Orthodox doctrines and rituals. Following several years of negotiations with various Orthodox jurisdictions, the order community was received into the autocephalous Archdiocese of Queens, New York, in 1988 by its metropolitan, Pangratios Vrionis. The brotherhood's remaining 750 members were rebaptized and renamed as Christ the Saviour Brotherhood. They proclaimed their new mission as "bringing the light and truth of Orthodox Christianity to the spiritually perishing peoples of these darkening and crucial times."
The order's decision to become Orthodox led to a steady loss of both members and vitality during the 1990s. Its cohesiveness as a community disintegrated with the disbanding of its renunciate (monastic) brotherhood and the consolidation of its membership into nuclear families. Another problem was the nonrecognition of Pangratios's archdiocese by the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), the main legitimating body for Orthodox jurisdictions in North America.
In the late 1990s, following documented proof of Pangratios's conviction for sodomy with minors, Christ the Saviour Brotherhood member communities distanced themselves from the Archdiocese of Queens and negotiated acceptance into SCOBA-approved Orthodox jurisdictions throughout the United States. Although some members have joined the Serbian Orthodox Church or the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia, most Christ the Saviour Brotherhood parishes have been received into communion with the Orthodox Church in America. Some of the brotherhood's remaining members have set up small Orthodox missions throughout the country that sell Orthodox books and periodicals and sponsor periodic Orthodox liturgies.
The order's legacy is best realized in three initiatives pioneered in its early history. The first is the Raphael House movement, which has led to a growing national awareness of domestic violence and the need for anonymous shelters for battered women and children. The second is Rossi's Eleventh Commandment Fellowship, which was instrumental in the creation of the North American Conference on Christianity and Ecology and in the raising of ecological awareness among mainstream Christians. The third significant initiative is the order's early advocacy of spiritual equality for women and its ordination of women to its priesthood. Many mainstream denominations now ordain women, including the Episcopalians and the Lutherans. Women also now play an increasingly influential role in Roman Catholic parishes, serving as parish administrators and liturgical leaders among other roles. Ironically, Christ the Saviour Brotherhood now accepts Eastern Orthodoxy's traditional proscription of women priests.
The order's history also provides persuasive evidence that the glue holding new religious communities together can be primarily affective in nature rather than ideological. In short, the many shifts in doctrine that characterize new religious movements in their first generation do not necessarily threaten group cohesiveness if that cohesiveness is based on strong feelings of group solidarity and affection. Finally, the order's history stands as a paradigmatic example of how new religious movements are shaped by their surrounding cultural environment. Blighton's eclectic, nonsectarian, and universalist movement reflected the innovative, tolerant, and experience-seeking mood of the 1960s and 1970s. In a similar manner, Rossi's exclusivist and traditionalist Eastern Orthodox brotherhood reflected the conservatism and yearning for "traditional values" of America in the 1980s.
Holy Order of MANS. The Golden Force. San Francisco, 1967.
Holy Order of MANS. Uniting All Faiths. San Francisco, 1973.
Holy Order of MANS. History of the Great White Brotherhood and its Teachings. San Francisco, 1974.
Lucas, Phillip C. The Odyssey of a New Religion: The Holy Order of MANS from New Age to Orthodoxy. Bloomington, Ind., 1995.
Lucas, Phillip C. "From Holy Order of MANS to Christ the Savior Brotherhood: The Radical Transformation of an Esoteric Christian Order." In America's Alternative Religions, edited by Timothy Miller. Albany, N.Y., 1995.
Lucas, Phillip C. "The Eleventh Commandment Fellowship: A New Religious Movement Confronts the Ecological Crisis." Journal of Contemporary Religion 10, no. 3 (1995): 229–241.
Lucas, Phillip C. "Enfants Terribles: The Challenge of Sectarian Converts to Ethnic Orthodox Churches in the United States." Nova Religio 7, no. 2 (2003): 5–23.
Rossi, Andrew. "By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them: Proclaiming the Spiritual Authenticity of the Holy Order of MANS in a Counterfeit Age." Epiphany 1 (1980): 2–40.
Phillip Charles Lucas (2005)