Annually in the Orthodox Church there are commemorations of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. There were seven of them. This Sunday, July 14, 2019, I served as a substitute priest at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Bellingham, Washington for Fr. Michael Tervo. The Greek Orthodox Church focused on the Fourth Council — the Council of Chalcedon — and its Definition of Chalcedon, as penned by Pope Leo the Great. The key statement of this Council involved the hypostatic union — that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. These two natures (divine and human) exist in the one Person of Jesus Christ in an indissoluble union. These two natures, while in union, are, at the same time, never in confusion. This definition is in response to the false teaching of Nestorius. This heretical bishop essentially made Jesus into two separate persons: one divine and one human. There could be no union of the two natures in his mind. Nestorius tried to give the Church a Christ with a multiple personality disorder. His view was rightly rejected and judged as heresy. Jesus is NOT an “either-or,” he is a “both-this-and-that.”
The gospel reading put forward by the Greek Archdiocese comes from Mt 5:14 – 19. Verse 14 grabbed my attention which quotes Jesus: “You are the light of the world…” Elsewhere, in St. John’s gospel, Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8: 12). Both statements from the Scriptures are true. It is not an either-or proposition, it is “both-this-and-that.”
Taylor Guitars is one of America’s premier guitar makers. Their guitars stand shoulder to shoulder with Martin, Gibson, Larrivee, and other great North American guitar manufacturers. They are known for their quality of build and playability. I have owned three Taylor guitars, but have sold all three. I bought them all for their playability. I sold them all due to tone. To me they all were “strident”, and this tone quality always put me off from them. They were set aside, all to be sold to a guitarist who loved that well known “modern Taylor tone.”
I follow the guitar industry. I strive to keep abreast of what is new, and who is doing what. What are the innovations? What are the new models? Of course, Taylor came out with its “V-Class” bracing in 2018. Bracing — you might as well try to discuss particle physics with me (and I’d probably appreciate particle physics more than bracing). “Big deal!” I thought of this innovation. Then, this year (2019) came the new Taylor news — a new type of dreadnought guitar with V-class bracing that offered a completely new Taylor tone. Okay, I might be interested, but I doubted it.
In mid-April I made another trip to Tacoma’s Ted Brown Music. In the store’s properly humidified acoustic guitar room, there is a wall of Taylor guitars. In a corner hung a Taylor Grand Pacific 317e. Okay, I’ll bite. I sought to compare it to a Yamaha A5R dreadnought, and my own Faith Legacy Mars dreadnought which I happened to have with me. I compared the Grand Pacific to a Grand Auditorium 414ce, then a Grand Orchestra model. Was there a difference in tone with the Grand Pacific? An emphatic “Yes,” was stated. I have become a fan of Yamaha’s A5 series guitars. They are very playable with great clear tone and fantastic electronics. The Grand Pacific was equally playable, and its electronics, when played through a Fishman Loud Box Mini Charge (by the way, a fantastic acoustic amp!), was equal to the Yamaha system. The 317e was then compared to my beloved Faith Legacy Mars drop shoulder dreadnought. The 317e’s blended tone with strummed and arpeggiated chords held up to the Faith dreadnought, and the quality of tone was equally pleasing. Contrasting the Faith Legacy Mars to the Grand Pacific, the Faith has a more muscular tone, while the Grand Pacific had an airier, but very pleasing tone.
My go-to songs of the Beatles, Kinks, and others were a pleasure to play. The playability is typically Taylor, and of equal ease to the Yamaha A5 and the Faith guitars’ own playability.
Like the Faith and Yamaha A5 dreads, the appearance of the 317e is simple, tasteful, and classy. The tested Grand Pacific model has a gorgeous bear claw spruce top which puts forth a lovely gloss finish. The sapele back and sides are of a satin finish, as is the mahogany neck. It has an ebony fretboard and bridge. The nut width is 1.75 inches. The lower bout is 16 inches in width. The rounded dreadnought body is not new, but follows Breedlove’s (and now Bedell’s) rounded dreadnought design — this shape is nothing innovative as Taylor may claim. By the way, the case is eye candy. I feel I should by a case to protect this case!
I was pleased and impressed with this 317e. It is truly a new Taylor sound with all the Taylor quality one is to expect. The Grand Pacific was purchased a week later. This Taylor dreadnought is a “keeper.” Finally, there is a Taylor guitar that rings true to me, and will do so for a new group — yet a more traditionally minded group — of guitarists. Well done Andy Powers and Taylor!
Keep on playing!
The third Sunday of Lent is known as the Sunday of the Cross. Its gospel reading comes from Mark 8:34 – 9:1. Mark 8:34 reads, “And after receiving the crowd together with his disciples he said to them, ‘If someone wills to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.’”
We do not do this alone, our Lord always leads us in the way. A few verses earlier he states, “…it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer much, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes and to be killed and after three days to rise again (8:31).” Following Jesus’ words, Peter rebukes him, then Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get behind me Satan…” Peter had the way of world in mind: SELF PRESERVATION.
Psalm 84:1 – 3 (LXX 83: 1 – 4) reads,
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars.”
Regarding the sparrow and the swallow, the Psalmist’s observation may be taken as a side observation, taken at a glance and to be dismissed by those with the more serious mind of faith. This would prove to be an error. This “off hand” verse comes from the eye of informed, mature, and loving faith.
I named a palm tree (Big Leaf), and have spoken to it on more than one occasion. Wait! Please, wait! Don’t send for the “nice men” quite yet! Please, read this posting before you make the call.
This “insanity” all happened one Wednesday morning while on vacation in Mazatlan, Mexico’s Emerald Bay resort. I had finished an abbreviated Matins (Orthos) on the balcony overlooking a gorgeous infinity pool and the Pacific Ocean. I then began reading Psalm 84 (LXX 83). There was a steady breeze off the ocean which moved a broad, tough leaf of a palm tree between the spokes of the balcony’s railing. The large leaf was moved to the left, to the right, but always paused in a middle position in front of me before the back and forth motion resumed. I read this, “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God (Ps 84: 3)” I thought of God’s care and love for all of his creation, and that as Christians we are to care for, and bring dignity and blessing to every creature.
Christian salvation is far more than a juridical proclamation of innocence: it is relational. Our salvation is an ontological union with the Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. This union with Christ imparts to us our destiny in Christ. St. Paul writes of our union in Christ:
Therefore, if you were raised together with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Think of the things above, not upon the things on earth. For you died [together with Christ] and your life has been hidden together with Christ in God. Whenever Christ, who is your life, might be revealed, then also you will be revealed together with him in glory (Col 3: 1 – 4).
Our lives are to correspond to this reality, and we are to “Put to death, therefore, the ‘earthly’ aspects of your life: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). This list is not limited to these sins — St. Paul expects us to get the idea.
We are to have an additional response which requires positive action. As we are to eliminate corrupting habits, we also are to acquire new habits, new virtues:
Therefore, clothe yourselves, as the elect of God holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfection. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which you were called in one body. And become thankful (Col 3: 12 – 15).
Confession: I suffer from G.A.S. (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome). I’m not in denial, but I don’t see it as a problem. No one does except my wife (wives must always, in some way, be opposed to their husband’s interests). In fact, those to whom she expresses her misplaced concern see no problem with my G.A.S. (I love enablers!). In this posting is reviewed my latest acquisition: Yamaha’s A4K Limited, as well as its sibling, the A5R ARE. They are both dreadnoughts with built-in electronics, and are all solid wood, and very well made guitars.
The dreadnought A4K Limited is an all koa guitar — solid top, back, and sides. As you may know, koa is a hard wood, and comes principally from Hawaii. Koa, in my opinion, gives a bright , crisp, and clean tone which is quite pleasant. Other materials of this guitar are mahogany neck, and ebony fretboard and bridge. The binding appears to be mahogany, as is the case for the A5R ARE. The lower bout is a generous 16.25 inches (41.3cm), and the nut width is a typical 1 11/16 inches (43mm) of a dreadnought.
The A5R ARE sibling has a solid sitka spruce (torrefactioned, or ARE as Yamaha describes the process), and solid rosewood back and sides. It too, has a mahogany neck, with ebony fretboard and bridge. The body and neck dimensions are identical to the A4K Limited.
Both models have identical electronics which consist of volume, treble, bass, and blend (you can mix mic and under saddle piezo pickups to you taste). The controls are laid out on the upper bout on the bass side of the bodies. A plastic “dear dummy” applique surrounds the controls and labels them for the player. The packaging that comes with the guitars contains smaller decals which are to be applied for identification at each knob. Both models have an attractive pick guard (surprisingly rare these days on many dreadnoughts).
In his epistle (letter) to the Church in Galatians, St. Paul writes,
But knowing that a man is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we believed in Christ Jesus, in order that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law, because by works of the Law no flesh is justified (Gal 2: 16).
Here, St. Paul writes of the Mosaic Law — the Law given to Moses by God in the Sinai wilderness. This Law helped define the Jewish people, and set them apart from their Gentile counterparts. However, through much of his ministry St. Paul battled the Judaizers. These were Jews who came to faith in Christ, but insisted Gentile converts to Christ become subject to the Mosaic Law, chiefly circumcision. In brief, St. Paul countered their argument by stating, “if you Jews cannot keep the Law, why do you want to impose it upon Gentiles?”
St. Peter had a life changing encounter with Christ one day along the Sea of Gennesaret. Christ was teaching the crowd a short distance off the shore in St. Peter’s boat. After he concludes his teaching, he instructs St. Peter to put out in the water and drop his nets. St. Peter reluctantly agrees. The result was an incredible, miraculous catch of fish. His response to Jesus was an emphatic: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5: 8). Jesus does not leave. He remains in the sinner’s presence and says to him, “Fear not! From now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5: 10).
St. Peter’s response should be the response of all of us. We are to acknowledge our sinfulness in the understanding of the holiness of God Incarnate — Jesus of Nazareth. Sin cannot exist in the presence of an all holy God. Darkness can have no fellowship with light. Psalm 5 informs us of this truth. Its words speak to St. Peter’s self understanding at the moment he encountered the presence of holiness, “For you are not a god who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with you” (Psalm 5: 4). But, we have Jesus’ words: “Fear not!” For Christ did not come into the world to judge it, but to save it. We find this famous verse in St. John’s gospel: “For thus God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life” (John3: 16).
The name Faith Guitars is little known in the United States. I discovered the brand just a few years ago. I must admit the name Faith drew my initial interest. Now, I can have a lot of fun with the name since I am a priest in the Orthodox Church, but I’ll spare the world such plays on words. This is my third review of a Faith guitar. Here reviewed is the Mars Legacy.
This third part of my commentary on St. John chapter six may seem out of sequence — I should be writing about Christ’s “Bread of Life Discourse” which begins with St. John 6:25. However, I have put things in this order to counter an objection made by evangelicals and others who employ a single verse in their attempt to negate Christ’s own teaching about the Eucharist — that his Body and Blood are real food and drink to be consumed for eternal life and union that is to exist with him and the believer. The verse which they employ is St. John 6: 63, “It is the Spirit which brings life, the flesh counts for nothing: the words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” This verse is used by evangelicals, and other Protestants, to state that Jesus did not mean what he said, he was just speaking symbolically, and we do not really consume his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. It is a very weak argument, but much confidence is falsely placed in its usage. Examination of the context of this verse with the whole of St. John’s gospel reveals the exact opposite: those who reject this teaching have only carnal understanding and cannot understand the ways of the spiritual life of faith in Christ.
“Oh! Who can be ever tired of Bath?”, writes Jane Austen. I think I get it. The highlight of a recent vacation in August, 2017 to the UK and Ireland was hands down Bath, England. Bath is some distance west and a bit to the south from London. Prior to my time in this city, I knew Bath for its famous Roman Baths, its cathedral, the lovely Avon River, and of course, Jane Austen (and, yes, there is a Jane Austen museum). I had seen photos and videos of all the above, its Georgian architecture, and surrounding countryside, but nothing compared to the actual experience of three days in the city.
This year, per the calendar, the seventh Sunday after Pentecost was quite full in terms of its readings. The Church commemorated the Fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils, and the Great Prince Vladimir of Kiev, Equal to the Apostles. Great Vespers put forth six Old Testament readings. There were three epistle and three gospel readings set for the Divine Liturgy. I did not count all the scriptural verses read, but St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans chapter nine, verses 1 – 7 held my attention, especially Romans 9: 7, “Welcome one another, just as Christ welcomed you unto the glory of God.” This verse is eucharistic at its core.
This Sunday’s gospel reading, the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, comes from St. Matthew who records the healing of a paralytic. The paralytic was brought by friends before Christ on his pallet to be healed. Their faith brought them to Jesus: “And Jesus, observing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Take courage child, your sins are forgiven’” (Mt 9: 2).
The gospel text two weeks prior to this Sunday put forward the the account of Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s paralyzed and suffering servant (Mt 8: 5 – 13). In this reading, Jesus observed the remarkable faith of the gentile centurion. In both cases Jesus observed faith, and his observation led to his healing action.
There are often obstacles to the exercise of faith. The centurion had no obstacle placed before him. His access was immediate. The paralytic and his companions had a different situation. Jesus statement, “your sins are forgiven”, is met with the Jewish scribes objection: “This is blasphemy!” The scribes of the Law tried to shut things down by their supposed authority. However, it is Jesus who has true authority! He then speaks to the scribes: “In order that you might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, “Get up! Take up your pallet and go to your own home” (Mt 9: 6).
The paralytic and his companions had faith. By that faith which Christ observed, he acted to bring healing without any regard to the scribes’ powerless barrier which they put up to stop our Lord.
We too have our own infirmities and paralyses which are primarily spiritual. We approach Christ with our faith no matter how weak or feeble our faith may seem to us.
The account of the healing of the centurion’s servant as recording in St. Matthew’s gospel (Mt 8: 5 – 13) is a demonstration of great faith by the gentile Roman. The exchange between Jesus and the centurion occurred as Jesus was entering Capernaum: “A centurion approached him urging him to heal his servant saying, ‘Lord, my servant has been placed in my house paralyzed and is suffering greatly’” (MT 8: 6). Jesus agrees to come to heal the servant. However, the centurion objects and gives his famous response: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under the roof of my house, but only say the word and my servant will be healed” (MT 8: 8). Our Lord marveled at this and gives his commentary: “Truly, truly I say to you in no one in Israel have I found such faith!” (Mt 8: 10).
In this gospel passage we have an account of a great demonstration of faith manifested before Christ, his disciples, and the crowd that followed along that day. Such great demonstrations of faith are rare. In fact, Jesus also marveled at lack of faith (Mk 6: 6). Therefore, we dare not have fantasies that we will be able to make such a great demonstration of our personal faith, and have such an outcome as did the centurion. Such an opportunity may come our way, but would we able to respond in a way that would please our Lord? Honestly, we may fail.
This Sunday’s gospel reading comes from St. Matthew 4: 18 – 23. Here, Jesus calls his first disciples: Simon (Peter) and Andrew, James and John. All four men were by occupation fishermen. Our Lord calls them as we read in Mt 4: 19 – 22:
And he says to them [Peter and Andrew], “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother in the boat with their father Zebedee repairing their nets, and he called them. And they immediately left their boat and father and followed him.
These and the other Apostles, and the whole cohort of Jesus’ first disciples, became fishers of men. Their apostolic ministry gathered Jews and Gentiles alike to Christ, that all may be in Christ, and all may exist in the Ship, the Nave, which is the Church. And it is in this Ship that we are transformed into the image of Christ. (It is interesting to note that though we are likened to fish, yet we are to become like the Fish — the Ixthus — the Greek word for fish which became an acronym meaning “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”)
As stated in Part One of this series of postings on the sixth chapter of St. John’s gospel, the entire chapter is to be taken as a whole — every verse relates to all other verses. Looking at the entirety of the chapter, it represents St. John’s teaching about the Eucharist. Hence, the second miracle found in this chapter is part of the whole, and gives meaning to Christ’s words found later in it. This second miracle found in chapter six is St. John’s account of Jesus’ walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee.
Both St. Matthew and St. Mark record the miracle of Jesus walking on the water sequentially following the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. (However, St. Luke does not follow their chronology.) In his account St. John omits some details found in, for example, St. Mark’s account (Mk 6: 45 -52), but adds others not included in the other gospel recordings. However, the act of Jesus’ walking on water is meant to have common interpretation.
As an introduction, the entirety of the sixth chapter of St. John’s gospel is to be taken as a whole. It is not to be fragmented into isolated parts that have no connection with one another. This can be stated because an inclusio holds the chapter together: the Greek phrase meta tauta (“after these things”) begins the chapter, and the same phrase begins chapter seven of this gospel. This phrase brackets the chapter together. Taken all as one, St. John’s sixth chapter is his teaching about the Eucharist.
The first event recorded by St. John in the sixth chapter is the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand as recorded in verses 1 —15. This miracle is recorded in all four gospels. However, St. John interprets it, and presents it, differently than the accounts found in the three synoptic gospels. He sees this miracle as a New Testament type of the Eucharist.
Fishing can be a wonderful past-time. It can also be frustrating. Though getting “skunked” presents its disappointment, nothing is more frustrating than the inexplicable, insoluble, and massive knot that can come off the bail. There is no time to undo the undoable. You cut, retie as quickly as possible, and cast again. Fortunately, God has patience with such messes.
The Fall produced its own insoluble knot. Pride, deceit, disobedience, cowardice, and capitulation destroyed the simplicity and clarity of the Garden. The “No!” shouted out by our first parents drew all of humanity and all of creation into the massive tangle of the knot of sin, death, darkness, and alienation. All of human history existed in this tangle of misery. However, we weren’t left in this twisted prison: “But when the fulness of time came, God sent his Son, born from woman…” (Gal 4: 4).