“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).
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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).
Any tradition must be living to be valid — otherwise tradition becomes dead “traditionalism.” That is, there must be “creative faithfulness” to the established, ongoing tradition. Hence, each new generation must both live within the established tradition, and express the tradition with a new, excited, winsome voice.
The Orthodox Church, which I serve as a priest, isn’t the only bearer of tradition — the acoustic guitar also stands within a sound and revered tradition. The acoustic guitar of 100 years ago is still recognizable today: there is a neck, body, sound hole, bridge, saddle, tuners, and strings. And the acoustic guitar of the twenty-first century has the very same features. The twenty-first century guitar, however, is constructed in its factory or workshop very differently than the one made 100 years ago. Here, the creative faithfulness, in fact, has produced superior acoustic guitars which stand solidly within this venerable tradition. Such creative faithfulness to the production of the acoustic guitar is alive and well, and taken to the next level, in the RainSong brand of guitar!
Within the salvific model of Christus Victor there is the wonderful aspect of recapitulation. I have written several postings about Recapitulation and refer to it frequently. We have a New Testament declaration of this subject. It is found in St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians:
Having declared to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he intended for him [Christ], for the purpose of the fulness of time: to gather together all things in Christ, those things in the heavens, and those things on earth (Eph 1: 9 – 10).
St. Paul is declaring that all that was lost and scattered into the exile of sin, death, darkness, and alienation by Adam’s disobedience and capitulation has been gathered together into relationship, light, life, and holiness in Christ. All that is of creation — all that is imaginable — from the smallest subatomic particle to the most bizarre, remote and distant extraterrestrial thing is gathered together, and contained within, the God-man, Jesus Christ: this is Recapitulation. St. Paul writes again of Recapitulation in his epistle to the Colossians:
He is before all things, and in him [Christ] all things stand in proper order…Because in him [Christ] all the fulness [pan to pleroma] was pleased to dwell. And through him to reconcile all things to him, making peace through the blood of his cross, whether those things upon the earth, or those things in the heavens (Col 1: 17, 19 – 20).
November 5, 2017 marks the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. This Sunday I have the blessing and joy to serve Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Spokane, Washington. This wonderful parish is pastored by Fr. Andrew Welzig, who was away to California to attend a wedding. The epistle reading comes from Galatians 6: 11 – 18. I emphasize two verses,
May it not be for me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world was crucified to me and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor is uncircumsion, but only a new creation (Gal 6: 14 – 15).
St. Paul is dead to the world system, and the world system is dead to him. He knows of a new reality, a new existence, and he knows of a new creation. He knows of a new life of which is has life — life in Christ, and Christ alive in him. We read from Galatians 2: 20, “I was co-crucified with Christ: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” St. Paul’s natural life is no more. He is a new man, a new creature, who now is alive to Christ who imparts his life to him, and exists within him.
October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses against the contemporary expression of the Roman Catholic Church. Granted, many of his objections were justified, but Luther could not maintain control of the forces of the Reformation. Because of other radical personalities of the day, the consequences of his actions — ultimately — led not to a reformation, but a deformation of the Christian faith.
The resulting theological assumptions of the Reformation include, among others, Sola Fide (meaning justification/salvation by faith alone). In this posting I will only discuss “by faith alone.”
“The Only Living Boy in New York” is my favorite song by Simon and Garfunkel. It was one of their final songs as a duo being recorded in late 1969. Its origin comes from Art Garfunkel’s departure from New York to Mexico to film “Catch 22” (“Tom, get your plane ride on time / I know your part’ll go fine / Fly down to Mexico…”). It is a great acoustic guitar song, with wonderful melody and lush vocals. The song’s bridge in its final presentation is fantastic fun to play, but it’s the lyrics of the bridge that win my attention:
“Half of the time we’re gone / But we don’t know where / And we don’t know where.”
The Tower of London. It has quite a name. It is quite a place. From it you see the London Bridge and the Thames and a great deal of modern, bustling London. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a tourist destination. However, its name for most denotes imprisonment, pain, and death. That was not its initial purpose. It was built to show the wealth and power of William the Conquerer. In actuality, few met their deaths within its walls, but it did serve as a prison and a very dark place for many. Among those imprisoned and tortured in the Tower was St. Henry Walpole.