The Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Symbols of Our Life




Arches in Chapel

The arch figures prominent­ly into the architecture of the monastery, and it is a repeated motif at Emery House as well.  Arches are structures with deep spiritual and psychic resonance.  They embody and symbolize many things: strength and support, lightness and openness within density, a beginning and an end.  Arches are entry points into liminal space.  In mythology, arches or door­ways are understood as thresholds in time and space (chronos, the temporal world) through which one passes to enter another kind of time and space (kairos, the spiritual world).  Arches are iconic: while grounded in the present, they draw one’s gaze upwards to a higher ideal or tran­scendent reality.  In the New Testament, the arch is also a fundamentally Johannine symbol.  In John’s gospel we hear Jesus saying, “I am the way,” “I am the doorway to the sheepfold.”  This may well have figured into the archi­tect Ralph Adams Cram’s extensive use of the arch throughout the monastery. 


The arch symbolizes our identity as a community: our discipline of prayer and worship, our ministries of spiritual formation and spiritual direction; our teaching and retreat leading, our advocating for and empowering those who live in poverty.  We find the arch a strong and inspiring image, yet the arch is also a paradoxical image which is built on weakness.  Many centuries ago Leonardo da Vinci wrote that “an arch is nothing else than a strength caused by two weaknesses; for the arch in buildings is made up of two segments of a circle, and each of these segments being in itself very weak desires to fall, and as one withstands the downfall of the other, the two weaknesses are converted into a single strength.”  This redemption of weakness is a reality we brothers continually exper­ience.  We know one another very well, not just our strengths but also our weak­nesses.  We often witness God’s strength being perfected out of weakness, both in our life together as a community and as we minister to others – individuals confiding in us their own experiences of suffering, grief and loss, and their longing to know God’s real presence amidst God’s seeming absence. 




The Brothers' CrossThe Brothers' Cross

We find a profound significance for our own lives in what the Gospel of John tells of the Beloved Disciple's friendship with Jesus and his call to be a witness to the mystery of the Incarnation. We bear the name of Saint John the Evangelist to show the church what is the source of our inspiration and our joy. The brothers' bronze cross bears an intricate weaving of images from the Johannine writings of the New Testament:

  • The mandorla shape of wings surrounding Christ is drawn from images in the Revelation to John and from the Book of the Prophet Malachi (4:2): "The sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings."
  • The vine and grape motif (at the base) recalls Jesus' words about abiding in him: "I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:4-5).
  • Bearing the scroll at the feet of Christ is an eagle, the traditional symbol for Saint John the Evangelist, taken from the images of the four living creatures described in the Revelation to John (4:6-8).
  • The scroll bears the inscription et verbum caro factum est, "And the Word was made flesh" (John 1:14), recalling the dedication of SSJE to the mystery of the Incarnation.
  • In the arms of the cross, the letters IPEV are an acronym (in Latin) for "In the beginning was the Word," from the Prologue to John's Gospel.
  • The letters SSJE are imprinted in the circle around the cross.




Altar Bread

Sift together into a large bowl:
8 cups whole wheat flour
8 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons salt

Mix together:
1 cup milk
1 cup oil (vegetable, canola, or other light oil)
1 cup water
16 oz. honey (1 small jar)

Pour liquid into dry ingredients and mix till thoroughly blended; dough should be stiff and moist, but not sticky.

Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead briefly, using additional flour as necessary.

For ease of handling, divide into two portions and work one at a time.
Roll out on lightly floured board about 3/8” thick.

Cut into rounds of appropriate size (no larger than 6 1/2” diameter).

Stamp firmly with floured mold or incise with cross, using sharp, thin knife dipped in cool water.

Place on a heavy, light-colored, oiled (or use vegetable spray) cookie sheet and bake at 400° F for 12 to 14 minutes, depending on your oven’s temperature.

Cool loaves on wire rack and wrap well before refrigerating. May be reheated in microwave – ever so briefly to avoid drying – before use.

This recipe yields several large (approx. 6”) and medium (approx. 3” diameter) loaves for a total of 16 to 24, depending on size.

Some Advice for Bakers beyond the Monastery:

Practice! Don’t expect your first batch to be ready for prime time. You, your oven, and your kitchen all bring something to the process, so sort that out before you forge ahead to make the loaves to be used on the Altar for Easter morning when the Bishop is there and the sanctuary is full. Besides, the birds will find your ‘practice runs’ to be a special treat!

Before rolling out the dough, divide it into four portions rather than just two. Your home kitchen is probably smaller than the monastery kitchens, and you may find it easier to work with less dough on your kitchen counter.

Try to roll the dough as evenly as possible and try rolling to 1/4” rather than 3/8” – experiment with different size rounds and depths, so that you can find the combination that works for you and your oven.

Don’t incise the cross too deeply & don’t drag the knife across the dough, rather lay it on top and lightly imprint the dough with the knife.

Rather than a greasing the cookie sheet, parchment paper works well and does save the effort of cleanup. Also, ‘airbake’ cookie sheets help to keep the bottoms from getting too dark.

The goal in baking is to get a lightly golden brown top, but not toasted. You should find that once the bread has cooled and you break it apart, it is moist and slightly sweet inside.

The loaves can be frozen in tightly sealed containers (such as Ziploc freezer bags) well in advance. Allow 24 hours for them to defrost so that they are room temperature at the time of the service.

Finally, remember that these aren’t just any loaves, but rather they will be made sacred when they are consecrated at the Eucharist. As you go along, take the time to notice the smells, textures, and colors of the dough and loaves. The process of preparing them is both mundane and holy and it involves all your senses. It is a very special way of sharing in the liturgical and spiritual life of your community.

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