“Big Leaf” Gets a Blessing

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.

Big Leaf

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.

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We Must Do to Become

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).

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Guitars Reviewed: Yamaha A4K Limited and A5R ARE

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.

A4K Limited

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.

 

A5R ARE

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).

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Moving from Law to Love

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).

Moses

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?”

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ST. LUKE 5: 10 — “FEAR NOT!”

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).

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Guitar Review: Faith Mars Legacy Drop Shoulder Dreadnought

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.

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Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part Three: A Misused Objection is Countered

Christ the Bread of Life

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.

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A Light in Bath: St. John of Kronstadt Orthodox Church

Avon River at Bath

“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.

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Romans 15: 7 — Welcome One another

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.

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Faith’s Approach to Christ (The Healing of the Paralytic)

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.

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Faith Great and Small (Matthew 8: 5 – 13)

The centurion before Christ

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.

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Fishers of Men – the Second Sunday After Pentecost

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.”)

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Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part Two: Walking on Water

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.

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Loosing the Knot of Human Sin: Mary’s Yes to God

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).

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On St. Patrick’s Day: An Irish Trip Remembered

The River Liffey at sunset

I am told I come from Irish and Welsh ancestry. These ancestors likely fled to America to escape famine and poverty. Thus, with the last name of Williams, I have no reason to doubt the claim. I do recall two very ancient great aunts who were from Ireland visiting my father’s and uncles when I was a small child. They spoke an unintelligible form of English, and they scared me quite a bit. Yet, I never thought that much of my Irish/Welsh heritage until much later in life — not until my theological conversion from evangelicalism to all things catholic, and then becoming an Orthodox Christian and priest — was any importance realized. This posting is not much more than a sharing of my photos, experiences, and thoughts of too short a time in that lovely country.

During late August, 2017, my wife (Janice), my cousin (Charlie), his wife (Renee), and their daughter (Charlene), and I were in our final days of a wonderful vacation to England, Wales, and Ireland. Our first experience of Ireland was in the wonderful city of Dublin. I was coming down with a head cold whose grip began to be felt while flying from Glasgow to Dublin — some of my energies were spent concocting the perfect “cocktail” of prednisone, decongestants, and antihistamines (no worries…I am also a pharmacist!). However, the remaining energies were devoted to our Irish experience.

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The Second Sunday of Lent: St. Gregory Palamas and the Healing of the Paralytic

St. Gregory Palamas

St. Gregory was born in Constantinople in the year 1296. He was born to an aristocratic family. His father was in service to Emperor Andronicus II Paleologos. His father died while Gregory was relatively young, and is then raised by the Emperor. His intelligence and abilities were recognized, and he received the finest education available to him. Though the Emperor hoped Gregory would serve his government, the young man desired to serve Christ instead. His monastic life began when he was about 20 years old on Mt. Athos at the monastery of Vatopedi.

His monastic disciplines grew at various monasteries under a variety of teachers, as did his spirit in Christ. Then, in 1326, he and other brothers escaped Turkish invasion and fled to Thessalonica where he was ordained a priest. After some time, he gathered together a small community near the city. In 1331 he returned to Mt Athos and began to write theological works (he was in his mid-thirties). During this decade all changed for Gregory.

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GUITAR REVIEW: Faith Blood Moon Neptune Acoustic/Electric (FNCEBMB)

Neptune Blood Moon

Trembesi. Interesting name. So, trembesi is not the site of a battle during the Napoleonic Wars. Neither is it a monument, or square, of historical interest in London. It is a tropical hardwood native to Java. It has been used for furniture for years, but recently has been used for guitar tone woods. Britain’s Faith Guitar company now uses trembesi in two of its guitar series: the Trembesi Series (possessing a spruce top), and the Blood Moon Series. The Blood Moon Series consists of three body styles: the Neptune (mini-jumbo), Saturn (square-shoulder dreadnought), and Venus (concert-style body). The Neptune and Venus bodies come with cut-aways and Fishman electronics. As the title indicates, this posting reviews the Neptune model.

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The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Lent is coming! In preparation for it, the Orthodox Church gradually enters into the season (we don’t dive directly into the deep end!). We prepare with three Sundays whose themes ready our hearts and minds for Lent. The Church’s first pre-Lenten Sunday examines Jesus’ parable about the Publican (or tax collector) and the Pharisee. The gospel text comes from St. Luke 18: 9 – 14:

Now he spoke this parable towards those who consider themselves to be righteous and despise others. “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or like this tax collector. I fast two times a week, and I tithe from all that I acquire.’ But the tax collector stood afar. He did not wish to lift his eyes up to heaven, but he beat his chest saying, ‘Have mercy on me a sinner!’ I say to you, this man went down to his home having been justified rather than the other one, because every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted!”

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The Synaxis of the Holy Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John

January 6 marks the Feast of Theophany for the Orthodox Church. Theophany commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. The Third Antiphon of the feast proclaims the day’s theology:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, and called Thee his beloved Son! And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.

St. John the Baptist

The following day focuses on the holy Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John. Such a day is called a Synaxis — the Church gathers together to commemorate the the feast’s “supporting actor(s). In his gospel, St. Mark writes of St. John’s purpose and ministry:

Behold, I will send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way: a voice crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John was baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark: 1 – 4).

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