We read of a wealthy ruler’s encounter with Christ in St. Luke’s gospel. He begins a conversation with him by his question, “What shall I do that I might inherit eternal like?” By their dialogue we learn that he kept all the rules. However, Jesus moves deeper: “Yet, there is one thing you still lack. Sell everything you have, and give to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me” (18:22)
This wealthy man had to give. But, he had to give from the core of his being. His whole identity was in his wealth. He was defined by his wealth. His wealth sheltered him, clothed him well, fed him well. By it he was able to move through life with status, privilege, ease, and comfort. But the cost was too dear.
We are asked to give — usually not to the same extent — but we are to give. We can write a check, contribute on-line, or drop some cash in a box. Quite easy, and we don’t break a sweat. But, as was the wealthy ruler, we are sometimes asked to give from a deeper place, a costlier place. What might this mean? Let’s look to Jesus for the answer. He gave himself, he emptied himself — all done that he could receive us to himself in relational union with him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
What prevents us from giving in this manner? Self preservation. I refer to Jesus’ words found earlier in St. Luke’s gospel: “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it” (St. Luke 9: 24). It seems then, that ultimately we must give from that place we keep locked up tight and secure for our self preservation. It is from this vault that we need to reach into when called upon from time to time.
Again remember our Lord: he was self-giving, and other-receiving. This transaction of self is eucharistic. In the Eucharist, Christ gives himself anew to us via the bread which becomes his Body and the wine which becomes his Blood. In the Eucharist we have Christ welcoming us to himself as we move to his Banquet Table. We, by consuming his Body and Blood, have Christ entering into our being, and we are joined more fully to Christ. Thus, when we give of ourselves to and for others, and we receive others to ourselves, we extend to Eucharist to all and all things. Ultimately by this type of giving we receive Christ more fully into our lives.
I am reminded of the words of St. Francis: “It is in giving that we receive…” The wealthy man, had he given, would have received far more in return than that which he had to give up. He would have received Christ in return. Let us give eucharistically that we may gain Christ more fully.
St. Luke’s gospel gives us the account of Jesus’ healing of ten lepers (17: 11 – 19). They stood at a distance as he passed by — they were unclean, excised from society by their disease from all relationships and cultural participation. They were exiles in their own land. Yet, by faith, they boldly call out for God’s mercy to come upon them. And Jesus responds to their plea: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” St. Luke comments, “And as they went they were cleansed.” Their bodies were restored, and their stigma was washed away. They were restored to family, community, and communal worship.
All obeyed. They did precisely as they were told. Let me be clear, obedience to God’s command and will is always good! But, we should be honest with ourselves: sometimes it is minimal and superficial. It can be as a child’s response, “If I have to!”
As the text moves on we read,
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now, he was a Samaritan (17: 15 – 16).
The tenth, now healed, leper awakens to his salvation, and he responds to his healing with praise, worship, and thanks. This foreign leper responded to Jesus eucharisticallly. Jesus observes the contrast and remarks,
…Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? And he said to him, Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well (17:17 – 19).
Let’s consider obedience and duty in the context, first, of the worship of God in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. We have responded to the call to worship when we assemble within the walls of the church. This is good — neither did we sleep in on a Sunday morning, nor stay home to relax, or watch the game. This is good. But as stated above, sometimes our obedient assembly can be minimal and superficial. We need to be mindful that by our presence in the Divine Liturgy we’ve assembled to worship and praise the Triune God, and to give thanks to our God. We read this dialogue between priest and the faithful from the beginning of the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy:
Priest: Let us lift up our hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord.
People: It is proper and right.
The priest then continues,
It is proper and right to hymn You, to bless You, to give thanks to You, and to worship You in every place of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us Your kingdom which is to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that you have bestowed upon us. We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands…
From this we learn that we are to give thanks to God not only during our assembly for worship, but also “…in every place of your dominion.” Now, in this second context, we are to give thanks to God everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances in which we find ourselves. St. Paul instructs us from his first letter to the faithful in first century Thessalonica: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all things; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thes 5: 16 – 18). By this attitude and these actions we extend our worship of God from the context of the Divine Liturgy to the context of our every day lives. We are to rejoice, pray, and give thanks to God in every situation: the pleasant and the uncomfortable; the exciting and the mundane; the happy and the sad; in ease and in frustration.
By living doing so we live eucharistically. By doing so we are transformed more fully into the image of God — Christ is form fully formed in us. By doing so we manifest Christ into the circumstance and transform it. By doing so we live as the thankful tenth leper.
In the fifth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, we learn about the calling of St. Peter (along with Sts. James and John) in Luke 5: 1 – 11. Upon witnessing the miraculous catch of fish, Peter falls at Jesus knees and states, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Jesus replies, “Do not be afraid; from now on you’ll be catching men.” Then Peter, James, and John leave everything and begin to follow Christ.
Thus, St. Peter and all the Apostles were to gather together a scattered, lost humanity into the “boat” (nave) which is the Church. This is a picture of Recapitulation: all and all things are gathered into union with Christ (Eph 1: 9 – 10). Christ founded a Church built upon St. Peter and his confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt: 16: 15 – 20). It is in the Church that we hear the Scriptures, move through the liturgies of the Church, worship God, and participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Here we are cleansed and nourished by the Eucharist. By all this, by faith, Christ is formed in us.
Now comes a change of imagery. I will shift from the catching of schools of fish to the gathering together of charms of finches, murders of crows, and the gathering together of chickadees, nuthatches, pine siskins, and humming birds to name a few. Several years ago I began feeding birds. First I began feeding crows peanuts, then humming birds, and finally finches, and other birds that will gather at feeders. There are a number of bird feeders and bird baths around the back patio of our house. The birds are nourished, and many nesting groups are prospering in this environment (this is especially important today with the loss of habitat for many avian species). We now hear a fantastic array of voices, and observe their amusing behaviors.
But, unfortunately, there have been a small number of casualties when a bird slams into a window. A few days ago in mid-September, a gold finch was rescued. The finch slammed into the window, and I witnessed it dropping to the concrete. I immediately went outside to assess the situation. The finch was still alive, but clearly stunned by the impact. I picked up this member of my “flock” and cupped it in my hands to keep it warm. Prayers were said, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on your creature.” Its sides were gently stroked to stimulate it. Prayer and warming continued for some time. Then, I took the finch into the house. The alien surroundings aroused the bird to full consciousness. I took it back outside, and within a few moments the finch flew away from my hands to the branches of a walnut tree to rejoin its charm.
This finch happened to be rescued by a priest, and this experience soon began to be seen as an image of pastoral care. For, we too can become injured and stunned by our collisions with the events of life in this world. Upon such injuries we have two options: remain isolated, or enter into the care of the Church for spiritual revival. In the Church the injured come into the care of bishops and priests who stand as Christ for the flock — a bishop or a priest is alter Christus (“another Christ”). By such faithful and loving ministry, it is ultimately Christ who administers the needed healing within the Church which he founded.
Hence, when so injured and stunned do not isolate yourself. Come to the Church and be ministered to by its life and Sacraments. Thus, you will receive the healing care of Christ the Great Physician. You will be restored and return to flight!
The following link offers a corresponding homily:
The birth of Mary is celebrated every year on September 8. A hymn from the Liturgy of the day reads,
By your nativity, O Most Pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna [Mary’s parents] are freed from barrenness; Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, you people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: the barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life!
Given the words of that hymn, the world, and many of our Christian brethren must think us fools and mad! But, we Orthodox Christians commemorate the birth of Mary, the mother of our God, without apology and with confidence. We honor her, we do not worship her. We acknowledge her as the New Eve: her obedience in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel releases the knot of Eve’s disobedience. By Mary’s obedience, God the Son (who is the New Adam) can rescue, release, and save all of humanity. By Mary’s “YES”, God becomes fully human — a creature — and by his Incarnation gathers all of humanity and all of creation in himself in a relational union (Eph 1: 10)!
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.