Official Visit to Doric Lodge No. 91

Worshipful Master, Distinguished East,
Past & Present Grand Lodge Officers,
Brethren All

The Great Light in Masonry

One of the first lessons we learn in the Entered Apprentice Degree is that:

� Masonry unites men from every country, sect and opinion and promotes true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained perpetually at a distance.

That is a pretty strong statement, considering the nature of man. Our national or political allegiances and the religious beliefs to which we subscribe may well set us at odds with our brethren from other countries and other faiths.

But when we consider the first Landmark in Masonry which admits:

1.  A belief in one living and true God, the Great Architect of the Universe, and Father of all men.

and the fact that no man can be made a Mason unless he confirms this belief, we find that the harmony we so earnestly seek has it�s roots in the explanation the Worshipful Master gives the newly obligated Entered Apprentice immediately after he is brought to light:

I particularly direct your attention to the Great Light in Masonry, the Volume of the Sacred Law. Howsoever men may differ in creed or theology, all good men are agreed that within the covers of the Sacred Law are found those principles of morality, which lay the foundation upon which to build a righteous life.

Freemasonry, therefore, opens this Book upon its Altars, with the command to each of its votaries that he diligently study therein to learn the way to everlasting life.

Adopting no particular creed, forbidding sectarian discussion within its lodge rooms, encouraging each to be steadfast in the faith of his acceptance, Freemasonry takes all good men by the hand and leading them to its Altars, points to the open Volume of the Law thereon, and urges upon each that he faithfully direct his steps through life by the Light he there shall find and as he there shall find it.

To this is added another Landmark:

The Equality of all Masons

Which implies that, as children of one great Father, we meet upon the level in the Lodge; where genuine merit, virtue, and knowledge take precedence over wealth and worldly rank. Outside the Lodge, however, each will again resume that social position and rank to which he is entitled.

We admit that the Book of the Law is to the speculative Mason his spiritual trestle-board; without which he cannot labour. Whatever he believes to be the revealed will of the Grand Architect constitutes for him this spiritual Trestleboard and must ever be before him in his hours of speculative labour to be the rule and guide of his conduct.

In our almost exclusively Christian jurisdiction we take it for granted that the Volume of the Sacred law is the Holy Bible and indeed this is what we find in our Lodges. In other jurisdictions, another � or several other � monotheistic religions prevail and I was curious to find out what practice their Lodges follow.

A prime role of the Holy Writings is to provide an acceptable medium for taking and sealing our Obligations so that our candidates will consider such Obligations to be solemn and binding upon them.

Depending on the Faith of the candidate we may find no fewer than eight sets of Holy Writings in use:

   The Bible (Old Testament) for Hebrews.
The Bible (Old and New Testaments) for Christians.
The Dhammapadra for the Mahayana Sect of Buddhists.
The Gita for Hindus.
The Vedas for Brahmins
The Granth Sahib for Sikhs.
The Koran for Muslims.
The Zend Avesta for Parsees and Zoroastrians.

Of course, all of these Sacred Books Allude to a Supreme Deity.

In one article I found on the Internet, the actual practices of Lodges where the dominant Faith is non-Christian are described in more detail:

It is a universal practice in Lodges to have the Old Testament of the Bible on the Altar (either open or closed � the custom varies). It is generally considered necessary to have a separate Bible open at the New Testament since Christian Masons accept the whole volume as one Sacred Book.

In Israel, where the Old Testament alone is the Holy Writings for the majority, a New Testament is also open if there are Christian members present.

Lodge Singapore No. 7178 (E.C.) has all seven volumes always on the Altar, of which six are open. The Bible used contains both Testaments and is open only at the Old Testament.

The Square and Compasses are normally placed on the Bible, but when a candidate is taking an Obligation on another Book, a separate set of Square and Compasses is placed on that Book.

The Koran is normally kept closed until required for an Obligation and must not be handled by the bare hands of a non-Muslim. Brethren, therefore, wear gloves as part of the Lodge regalia, and the Koran is usually covered with a white cloth.

The Grand Lodge of India has six Sacred Books upon the Altar, with five open � again the Bible is opened at the Old Testament only. Since there are no Buddhist Masons in India, the Dhammapadra is omitted. The Square and Compasses are placed on the Holy Writings to which the MWGM owes allegiance. In installations, they are placed on the Book of the MWGM- or WM-Elect's faith.

Constituent Lodges under the Grand Lodge of India follow the same procedure. Lodges under other Grand Lodges but residing in India place the Bible on the Altar and, usually, the other Sacred Books representing the faith of their members. Some Lodges display only the Bible on the Altar, but provide other Volumes when required for an Obligation.

The Lodges of the Grand Lodge of Israel have the Old Testament always open on the Altar with the Square and Compasses thereon. If Christian and Muslim Brethren are present, the New Testament and Koran are added and one large set of Square and Compasses covers the three Volumes.

There are also several variations to the usual method of taking Obligations, kneeling with the hands on the Bible, as we are accustomed. In Singapore, Muslims kneel, but have the Koran held over the head and use the words "hereby and hererunder" rather than "hereby and hereon."

In one New Zealand Lodge, the Charter is held over the head of the candidate, at the beginning of the Obligation, and the words "hereby and hereunder" are used.

Brethren in Israel of the Orthodox Jewish faith take their Obligation standing, with their hands on the Old Testament and with the head bowed towards it. Since the destruction of the Temple, Jews do not kneel, except on the Day of Atonement. Jewish Brethren, also, usually have their heads covered with the Kippa (the skull cap which reminds Jews of the presence of God.) when in the Lodge.

The method of sealing the Obligation also varies from area to area. Christians, Jews, and some Muslims seal their Vows by kissing the Holy Writings. Other Brethren may touch the Book with the hand or forehead, or salute with the hands before the face, palms together, and bowing.

It is most interesting to note that the many problems, which could have arisen from the meeting of Brethren of various creeds, have been anticipated and procedures have been adopted, to promote Peace and Harmony within the Lodges and the welfare of Freemasonry in general.

While other Holy Writings may be introduced in various Lodges as occasion demands, the Old Testament Scriptures still perform their traditional function as a Landmark of our Order which has united men through the fundamental belief that above all things, there ever reigns Supreme but one Grand Architect of the Universe.

The Great Light in Masonry, is opened upon our altars. Upon it lie the other Great Lights � the Square and the Compasses. Without all three no Masonic lodge can exist, much less open or work. Together with the warrant from the Grand Lodge they are indispensable.

The Volume of the Sacred Law on the altar is more than the rule and guide of our faith. It is one of the greatest of Freemasonry's symbols. Let us remember that in our Lodges, the Bible is here as a symbol of all holy books of all faiths. It is the Masonic way of setting forth that simplest and most profound of truths which Masonry has made so peculiarly her own: that there is a way, there does run a road on which men "of all creeds and of every race" may travel happily together, be their differences of religious faith what they may. In his private devotions a man may petition God or Jehovah, Allah or Buddha, Mohammed or Jesus; he may call upon the God of Israel or the Great First Cause. In the Masonic Lodge he hears humble petition to the Great Architect of the Universe, finding his own deity under that name.

A hundred paths may wind upward around a mountain; at the top they meet. Freemasonry opens the Great Light upon her altar not as one book of one faith, but as all books of all faiths, the book of the Will of the Great Architect, read in what language, what form, what shape we will. It is as all-inclusive as the symbols which lie upon it. The Square is not for any one lodge, any one nation, any one religion � it is for all Masons, everywhere, to all of whom it speaks the same tongue. The Compasses circumscribe the desires of Masons wheresoever dispersed; the secret of the Square, held between the points of the Compasses is universal.

Countless references in our ritual are taken from the Old Testament. Almost every name in a Masonic lodge is from the Scriptures. In the Great Light are found those simple teachings of the universality of brotherhood, the love of God for his children, the hope of immortality, which are the very essence of Freemasonry. Let it be emphasized; these are the teachings of Freemasonry in every tongue, in every land, for those of every faith. Our Great Light is but a symbol of the Volume of the Sacred Law . Freemasonry is no more a Christian organization than it is Jewish or Mohammedan or Brahmin. Its use of the collection of sacred writings of the Jews (Old Testament) and the Gospels of the New Testament as the Great Light must not confuse the initiate so that he reads into Freemasonry a sectarian character which is not there.

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