ESSENE CHURCH OF CHRIST TIMELINE
1898-1901: The pseudepigraphic Gospel of the Holy Twelve, which claimed Jesus was a vegetarian, was published in installments in the Lindsey and Lincolnshire Star newspaper.
1923: While studying in the Vatican library. Edmund Bordeaux Szekeley claimed to have found several Hebrew and Aramaic texts that demonstrated Jesus was a vegetarian, and preached vegetarianism.
1958: David Owen was born in San Diego, California.
1966: Young David, age eight, saw an apparition of Mary Magdalene.
1960s: Malachi, an Essene master of Lebanese descent, entered the United States from Mexico.
1965: David Owen, age seventeen, picked up Malachi as a hitchhiker, and learned about vegetarianism.
1970s: Malachi established an Essene Garden of Peace somewhere east of San Diego.
1970s (mid): Day joined Malachi at the Essene garden and spent seven years learning from this teacher.
1970s (late): Malachi’s Garden was sold to make way for a parking lot.
1976: Day interviewed Malachi. A cassette recording of this interview was the only evidence of Malachi’s existence.
1997: Day embarked on a Holy Qara to Jamaica to introduce the Holy Megillah.
1998: Essene Church of Christ received tax exempt status.
2011: Supreme Master Ching Hai, a spiritual leader who started a chain of vegan restaurants, filmed a three-part documentary of the vegetarian Essene Church of Christ.
2019: Day embarked on a second Holy Qara, beginning in Ashland, Oregon
The Essene Church of Christ has claimed direct apostolic lineage to the ancient Essenes, a Jewish sect of antiquity often associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls. The church currently is run by Brother Day, born in 1958 as David Owen. [Image at right] Day has said he always felt a spiritual connection to Mary Magdalene, and she used to appear to him in dreams and visions when he was a child. Growing up in San Diego, Brother Day identified as a “surfer boy,” and often skipped school to go to the beach. It was in this context that he met an Essene teacher who would guide his spiritual transformation.
Day met Malachi when he was seventeen years old and Malachi was an old man of undetermined age. Malachi was meditating on the side of a highway in Southern California. Brother Day offered him a ride and Malachi asked him to drop him at a vegetarian restaurant. He asked Malachi if vegetarian food tasted good, to which Malachi replied, “It tastes much better than dead cow.” In Day’s recounting of the meeting, this statement was transformative for his seventeen-year-old self, as he had never considered that burgers were slaughtered animals before. Brother Day joined Malachi for the meal and was surprised at how good it tasted. He became Malachi’s student.
Malachi had been sent by his own Essene teacher from the Middle East to train a disciple to found a modern Essene Church in America, the only place in the world, he was told, with freedom of religion. Malachi built a commune and planted some gardens in the ruins of an abandoned hotel near San Diego. In the commune-surfing era of the 1970s, many people came through Malachi’s Essene Garden of Peace and stayed for short visits. Day stayed for seven years, rising at dawn and working in the gardens. Day has insisted that he became the next teacher of the Essene Church because he stayed long enough to become Malachi’s disciple, and not because of any exceptional ability.
There is no way to prove or disprove this foundational narrative. Malachi and his commune no longer exist. The owner of the hotel had allowed him to build the garden on the defunct property, but after he passed away, the descendants turned the hotel into a parking lot. Consequently, there are no remains of the garden. Malachi has also passed away, and because he entered the country illegally through Mexico, there are no records of him either. In 1976, Day interviewed Malachi, and kept a cassette recording of the event. This cassette is all that remains of Malachi.
The Church headquarters, the Essene Garden of Peace, are located on a country road near Greenleaf, Oregon. The church runs a mystery school called the Essene Academy of Higher Learning. The Essene Church of Christ has also recently opened churches in Santa Cruz and San Francisco, California. Day of Greenleaf
The Essene Church of Christ takes its name from an ancient Jewish sect called Essenes. The meaning of the word is obscure, but one proposed etymology is the Aramaic “assaya” (healer) (Goranson 1984:483-98). The Essene Church of Christ accepts this translation. Maintaining healthy bodies and encouraging environmental healing are central tenets. A vegetarian diet is an absolute requirement for membership, and some members hold to a vegan or fruitarian diet. Vegetarianism and environmentalism inform the group’s broader apocalyptic outlook: the church believes that humanity is living on the cusp of a new age, in which we court environmental disaster. It is the role of the Essene Church of Christ to guide humanity through this transition (Kreps 2018:156-61).
The Essene Church of Christ has twelve central doctrines, which are contained in the Essene Book of Doctrines, and summarized in “The Sacred Creed,” a poem composed by Brother Day, based on Essene scripture, divine revelation, and personal experience.
The church preaches a syncretic theology that joins Hebrew mysticism with eastern notions of reincarnation. Members believe in a Godhead “I AM,” which is neither male nor female, who created the “Elohim” the male and female deity. From the cosmic sexual embrace of the male and deity sprung all creation. All creation is composed of divinity, parts of both male and female deities. These deities conceived the Yashua ha Meshiakh (Jesus the Christ) and the Shekhinah (Holy Spirit), who are both the divine parents and the only begotten siblings of these divine parents. The cosmos is a school for souls who transmigrate through multiple heavenly and hellish realms based on laws of karmic retribution. Those who follow the way laid out by the Essene Church of Christ can be resurrected as angelic bodies and reside in heaven. These angelic bodies can return to earth as needed for service to humanity.
The church locates its own origins in primeval biblical history. It maintains that after the fall of humankind, which occurred after the first humans ate from a tree in Eden that grew meat-fruit, male and female Christ figures established a hidden religion to preserve the truth in an increasingly corrupt world. These Christs established the Nasarean Religion of the Essene Way as the Earth branch of an intergalactic Christ Family, active across the universe. The church believes that the Lord and Lady Christ instituted the Essene vegetarian diet at this time. The Essene movement primarily worked underground for most of human history. It was a hidden movement, which would surface from time to time, only to be violently repressed. The church interprets major biblical figures, such as Noah, Abraham, and Joseph as Essene leaders.
The church finds, in the historical Jesus, an example of the cyclical surfacing and suppression of the Essene church. In their narrative, Mary Magdalene and Jesus grew up as Essenes, eventually married, and had a child. [Image at right] Mary and Jesus preached an Essene message of peace that unnerved Roman and Jewish authorities, and ultimately led to Jesus’ torture and execution. Adopting the controversial claims of Baigent and Leigh’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the ECC holds that the Lady Christ, and her child, escaped to France after the crucifixion. This child became the first priest of the Essene Order of the Blue Rose, an esoteric order that Mary and Jesus founded the night before he died. The Essene Order of the Blue Rose would remain underground and become public when the time was right. The Essene Church believes that humankind is now living in the time of restoration; members are the public manifestation of this hidden church.
The primary holy text of the Essene Church of Christ is their self-published Holy Megillah: The Nasarean Bible of the Essene Way. [Image at right] The church claims these texts were originally contained in ancient Hebrew scrolls. Malachi bequeathed these scrolls to Brother Day when he passed. They are being translated piecemeal when historical circumstances prompt the church to do so. Thus, although the church has published several of the scrolls in their English Holy Megillah, the possibility remains that new revelatory texts may be introduced at a later date. Their Bible is structurally modeled on the canonical Bible. The Megillah is divided into two sections: an Old Testament currently comprising thirteen books, and the New Testament, a single Godspell. They attribute this text to Jahleel, the adopted daughter of Mary Magdalene. They also circulate two educational tractates, the Essene Book of Doctrines, and the Introduction to the Order of the Blue Rose. Much of the information in these volumes can be also be found on their website (www.essene.org).
While the church considers the Holy Megillah to be the pure, unadulterated divine revelation, members consult many texts for spiritual edification. They consider the pseudepigraphic Gospel of the Holy Twelve, and Szekeley’s Essene Gospel of Peace, authoritative but corrupt. These texts preserve the vegetarian teachings of Jesus but rejected the theology of a divine mother goddess. They also believe that portions of divine wisdom can be found fragmentarily in sacred texts across cultures, from the Lotus Sutra to the I Ching. They reject the writings of the apostle Paul, and teach he was a false apostle who corrupted the true teachings of the Church.
The “Holy Qara” is a Nasarean Essene ritual that brings the Holy Megillah forth after it has been suppressed for a time. With two drummers, the current steward of the Essene sacred scriptures travels from town to town preaching and distributing copies to interested folks. Day embarked a Holy Qara in 1997 to Jamaica, and a second Holy Qara in 2019, which began in Ashland, Oregon.
Potential converts submit a mail order form to receive the Essene Bible (the Holy Megillah, the Essene Book of Doctrines, the Introduction to the Order of the Blue Rose, and the Forty-Nine Petals of the Blue Rose), the introductory study course for entry into the Essene Church of Christ. By sending away for this study material, one must pledge not to put any content of the Holy Megillah on-line for any purpose. One works through the home study course and sends written assignments to the church for evaluation. Once these assignments are completed, one is eligible to become a member of the Essene Order of the Blue Rose.
To be a member in good standing of the Essene Church of Christ, one must fulfill four requirements: send a small monthly donation to the church (donations are tax exempt); subscribe to The Essene Path quarterly journal; practice good citizenship as outlined in their “Precepts of Zahyen”; and maintain a vegetarian diet.
Members are baptized by immersion upon entry to the church, and they are given personal Essene mantras or Hebrew Words of Power, at various stages of their spiritual path. [Image at right] Disciples who advance to the highest level of the Order of the Blue Rose go through a baptism by fire. Devotees are encouraged to practice any form of yoga, which are considered to be branches of Essene yoga, the original yoga Jesus Christ taught. Other rituals include tree hugging, Sufi dancing, meditation, and chanting. Members avoid using Greek words like Jesus in favor of Hebraicized terms (Yashua). (Kreps: 161-3)
The Essene Church of Christ also hosts an annual summer gathering at Breitenbush Hot Springs, a holistic retreat center in Oregon.
The Essene Church of Christ is organized as in esoteric circles. The church considers itself the current manifestation of the Nasarean Religion of the Essene Way, established in the Garden of Eden. The Nasarean Religion of the Essene Way possesses a hidden arm (Zeroah Nistar) and the Revealed Arm (Zeroah Niglah). The Hidden Arm remains underground, maintaining control over the ancient scrolls and chooses which to make public and when. Revealed Arms, such as the Essene Church of Christ, appear at various points in history when it is safe enough to do so.
The Essene Church of Christ is headed by Brother Day, the High Priest. They view their leader as a human vehicle for restoring the church; he is not to be worshipped.
To become a member of the Essene Church of Christ, one must read a portion of the Holy Megillah, the Book of Doctrines, and the Introduction to the Essene Church and the Order of the Blue Rose. The Precepts of Zahyen, a section of their Holy Megillah, outlines the basic structure of their mystery school, the Essene Mountain of Peace. There are two paths an initiate must follow: the Scholarly Path, which involves study of scripture, and the Social Path, which comprises righteous social behavior. One rises and falls in standing within the community based on how one progresses on these paths.
If a potential convert is not willing to take a vow of vegetarianism, one can remain connected to the community by participating in Friends of the Essene Church of Christ. To access the more esoteric doctrines of the church, one can complete additional coursework to join the Order of the Blue Rose within the Essene Church. The Order of the Blue Rose was established on the night before Jesus died. Jesus gave Mary Magdalene a Blue Rose, a symbol of loyalty, and she founded the order to preserve the true teachings when the male disciples rejected her leadership and the grail child. [Image at right] As one progresses in coursework, one advances from novice of the first degree, to second degree, and third degree. By completing all coursework, one becomes an Adept.
Two additional esoteric circles exist within Order of the Blue Rose: The Order of the Red Rose, and the Order of the White Rose. The Order of the Red Rose is also called the Lions of Zahyen and the Family of the Holy Grail Family. It was founded by Joseph of Arimathea, upon the instructions of Jesus to protect Mary after his death. The Lions of Zahyen is the religion’s “army of peace and love”; they do not use conventional weapons, although they do study martial arts. The Order of the White Rose is also called the Nasarean Order of Wizards. This order is also the upper division within the Lion of Zahyen. They represent the bridge between the Hidden and Revealed Arms of the Nasarean Religion of the Essene way.
The Essene Church of Christ emphatically rejects mainstream Christianity as a Pauline corruption of the true religion Jesus taught. In their reading of Paul, he rejected vegetarianism, the divine feminine, women’s rights, and accepted slavery (Kreps:159).
The church is also careful to distance itself from other modern Essene movements. On one hand, they are conscientious of the fact that most people find their own movement absurd. The introduction to the Holy Megillah states, “Our silence [on the provenance of their texts] will cause some to mock. However, the Holy Spirit has informed us that She will Herself reveal the authenticity of this manuscript to each soul whom has eyes to see and ears to hear. And they who mock this Bible have neither.” [Megillah: i]. On the other hand, the church is careful to distance itself from other Essene groups, whom they consider deeply misguided. The Book of Doctrines acknowledges other Essene movements exist, and cautions that “some of these individuals and groups are nice folk attempting to do good work. On the other hand, some are actually crazy and teach very wrong things in the name of the ‘Essenes.’” [Book of Doctrines:7]
Although it maintains a website, the church is generally hostile to technology. The church prohibits the on-line publication of the Holy Megillah because they believe that in the end times, the computer and internet will be used as a form of mind control and they do not want their scriptures corrupted [Megillah: ii]. Portions of their Bible make predictions about technological advances that signal demonic forces at work: the internet, computers, IVF, and other scientific advances are the antithesis of Essene natural living. [To respect the group’s wishes, the citation of their scripture here is omitted.]
Image #1: Brother Day, High Priest of the Essene Church of Christ.
Image #2: Mary Magdalene.
Image #3: Cover of Holy Megillah.
Image #4: Essene Baptism.
Image #5: Cover of Introduction to the Essene Church and the Order of the Blue Rose.
** Unless otherwise noted, the material in this profile is drawn from the Essene Church of Christ Website (www.essene.org) and Brother Day’s personal testimony as recorded in the documentary The Essene Church of Christ and the Order of the Blue Rose, available on YouTube.
Baigent, Michael, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. 1982. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. London: Jonathan Cape.
Day, Brother [Nazariah]. 1998. The Book of Doctrines of the Essene Church of Christ. Elmira, Oregon: Essene Church of Christ.
Day, Brother [Nazariah]. n.d. Introduction to the Essene Church of Christ and the Order of the Blue Rose. Elmira, Oregon: Essene Church of Christ.
Essene Church of Christ. Holy Megillah: The Nasarean Bible of the Essene Way. Elmira, Oregon: Essene Church of Christ.
Essene Church of Christ. n.d. The Forty-Nine Petals of the Blue Rose: The Primary Study Course of the Order of the Blue Rose with an Introduction to the Mystery School known as Essene Mountain of Peace. Elmira, Oregon: Essene Church of Christ.
Essene website. n.d. Accessed from www.essene.org on 19 March 2020.
Goranson, Stephen. 1984. “Essenes: Etymology from ‘sh,” RevQ 11:483-98.
Kreps, Anne. 2018. “Reading History with the Essenes of Elmira.” New Antiquities: Transformations of Antiquity in the New Age and Beyond, edited by Dylan Burns and Almut Barbara Ranger, 149-174. Equinox, Sheffield. Reprinted in the International Journal for the Study of New Religions 9(1): 5-31.
Szekely, Edmone B. 1977. The Discovery of the Essene Gospel of Peace. International Biogenic Society.
Szekely, Edmone B. 1976. The Gospel of the Essenes: The Unknown Book of the Essenes, Lost Scrolls of the Essene Brotherhood. Essex, England: C.W. Daniel Co. Ltd.
28 June 2021