In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul informs us that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” St. Paul writes of the saints of the Old Testament, and those — perhaps even recently martyred by the Empire — of great faith in the early Church. This cloud of witnesses has expanded over the centuries of the Church. No matter in which country or era, the saints have one thing in common — a heroic faith in Christ that allowed them, by the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, to deny themselves, and strive to have Christ formed in their lives as they grew in the Christian faith.
Their holiness didn’t come about by binge-watching a Netflix or BritBox serials ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The formation of Christ in their lives came with difficulty, great struggle, and many frustrations, as they moved to ultimate victory in our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the thirteenth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel we read this: “And someone said to him, ‘will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Struggle [agonizesthe] to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not able to enter.’” (Luke 13:23 – 24). The Greek verb found in the text, agonizesthai, can be translated “to struggle”, “to fight”, to “compete” (as an athlete). Think of great athletes and musicians who succeeded in accomplishing their goals. There were tears of anguish, setbacks, failures, aches and pains. But they continued in discipline and struggle that others wouldn’t (or couldn’t) attempt. Their rewards were their recognized victories.
As we move on in the gospel text, Jesus continues,
When the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us.” He will answer you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!” There you will weep and gnash your teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south and sit at table in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13: 25 – 29).
Jesus speaks against those who presume — in this case many Jews of his day. But such deadly presumption is found elsewhere and among others today, perhaps even in ourselves. No matter who we are, where we live, or what we do, we cannot presume that all things will “be just be fine.”
Again we must struggle and fight — against such lazy presumption — to grow in faith, purity, and love. We must all struggle in accordance with the measure of faith given to us. Also, we must understand that while we compete in this struggle we will fall down and fail many times. When this happens we have the sacrament of Confession by which God lifts us up and cleanses us to continue on our way through the narrow door. We are also given the Liturgy’s movement to the Eucharist where, by the Body and Blood of Christ, we are, by faith, nourished spiritually, cleansed and forgiven, and we receive our Lord’s Light, Life, and Victory to continue on through the narrow door. We must know that, by faith, God empowers us by his presence within us: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God who is working in you to will and to work in behalf of his good pleasure” (Phil 2: 12 – 13).
Additionally, we are also struggling and competing together — not against one another — but for one another. We encourage and help each other by our prayers and presence while we struggle to enter through the narrow door to enter into the Kingdom of God.
My quest for the perfect capo continues. I search because the two primary problems with capos still exist: string buzz a loss of tune upon application. A few months ago my first capo review involved a comparison of three G7th capos: G7th Nashville, G7th Performance, and G7th Performance 3 ART. String buzzing when a capo is applied was the problem addressed. The G7th Performance 3 ART makes the claim that its Adaptive Radius Technology provides “…buzz-free use.” The claim was held up when compared to the other G7th capos. With G7th’s most recent product, there was only one buzz recorded which contrasted to multiple buzzes with two other capos made by “The Capo Company.” The string buzz contest was settled, in this posting maintenance of tuning is addressed. Two capos which boast the ability to keep your guitar in tune when applied to the fret board are compared this day: the Shubb Capo Royale, and G7th’s Performance 3 ART.
Let’s begin with the claim set forth by G7th:
The Performance 3 is the culmination of years of designing, tweaking, and improving — but most importantly, listening to guitarists and their views on what a capo SHOULD do. Now, coupling our Unique Tension Control system with the ground-breaking ART [Adaptive Radius Technology] string pad mechanism gives a near-perfect capo experience.
The ART system within the top bar of G7th Performance 3 capos adapts to the true curvature over your strings and fretboard, exerting completely even pressure across all the strings — setting a new standard of in-tune, buzz-free use. It gives you the maximum tuning stability with the minimum possible tension in EVERY position, on ANY guitar neck.
Next, we have the Shubb claim:
The Shubb Capo is designed to reduce tuning problems. Its custom material presses the strings just like your fingertip. Its unique design closes onto the neck just like your hand. Its pressure is totally adjustable. The result: no retuning is necessary.
Similar claims, but will there be similar results? I put the capos to the test on five different guitars using one Snark electronic tuner. All five guitars were tuned (standard tuning) using the Snark tuner. Then, each capo was placed on frets 2, 5, and 7 on all five guitars. Each guitar was retuned before repositioning each capo at the above mentioned frets. “Distuning” was noted for each capo at each position by the number of “minute” increments (flat and/or sharp noted by -1, or +2, for example) from the “12 o’clock” position on the tuner. Here are the results in terms of total “distuning minutes” at all three fret positions (again 2, 5, and 7).
Breedlove Pro Series D25/SRH acoustic dreadnought:
Shubb: +9 (all sharp), G7th ART: +6 (all sharp)
Faith FG1RE PJE acoustic dreadnought:
Shubb: +20 (all sharp), G7th ART: +10 (all sharp)
Yamaha A5R ARE acoustic dreadnought:
Shubb: +13 (all sharp), G7th ART: +16 (all sharp)
Taylor Grand Pacific 317e acoustic dreadnought:
Shubb: 0, G7th ART: +4 (all sharp)
Ibanez Talman Prestige solid body electric:
Shubb: +4 (all sharp), G7th ART: +9 (all sharp)
Shubb: +46 minutes sharp, G7th ART: +45 minutes sharp
In conclusion, I was pleased with the tuning stability provided by both capos. I will NOT run the results through a Chi Square statistical analysis, but I would guess by the results there would be no statistical difference between the two. Further, the minor distunings at all five fret positions would not be audibly noticeable to the vast majority of players except, perhaps, to someone blessed with perfect pitch. My experience with tuning issues with other capos allows me to express the opinion that both capos live up to their respective claims. However, I would give the Shubb Capo Royale the nod given its price of $20.85 (Amazon) compared to the G7th ART’s price of $49.99 (Amazon). Plus, with its slim gold-plated presentation, the Shubb just looks cooler!
Keep on playing!
In his letter to the Church in Galatia, St. Paul wrote these incredible words: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal 2: 20). This declaration comes after his arguments are made against the teachings made by certain Jews who came to faith in Christ. These Jews demanded that Gentile Christians take on circumcision and live according to the Law of Moses. St. Paul firmly states the opposite: salvation only comes through faith in Christ, not by adhering to the Law: “…a man is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ…” (Gal 2 16).
St. Paul, after the above statement, continues,
For I, through the Law, died to the Law, in order that I might live to God. I was crucified together with Christ: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith through the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal 2: 19 – 20).
“I was crucified together (sunestauromai) with Christ…” These words imply union. When Christ died by crucifixion on the cross St. Paul was also there in that moment. He too was suspended on that wood. And so are we who live today. His and our union with Christ’s crucifixion is brought about by the sacrament of Baptism. We read this in St. Paul’s letter to the ancient Roman church:
Therefore, we were buried together (sunetaphemen) with him through baptism (dia tou baptismos) [this phrase in the genitive case shows that baptism is the agent by which this union is brought about for us], in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
We can walk in newness of life because Christ is living in us through faith and by sacrament.
St. Paul is speaking of a true relational, ontological, union: We are in Christ; Christ is in us. This is an abiding relationship. It is the ultimate good for humanity and creation: we are to be in Christ! Yet, we cannot leave this as simply a theological truth. If left as such, this profound existence becomes a meaningless abstraction. Being in Christ must have a goal. This goal is to have Christ manifested to the world by our lives! This is a lofty goal; a tall order.
This expression cannot be brought about by vain human effort. Christ manifested by our lives can only come about by the fact that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit resides in us by faith and sacrament. By God working in us is this accomplished. We cannot be passive. We must cooperate with the God who dwells in us. We must do to become.
Let me give a physical illustration. I play the guitar. Simply buying a guitar did not make me a player of the instrument. I struggled (and still struggle to be better) to acquire the needed skills. New neuromuscular connections and pathways had to be created, and are still being created by practice. Whatever the goal, we must work and struggle. This leads to PRAXIS — what one does, because this is who you are.
St. Paul gives this command to us: “…with fear and trembling work out your salvation, for God is the one working (energon) in you both to will and to work (energein) in behalf of his good pleasure. The word in italics, work, implies the divine work of God himself in us — it is his energy. This is possible because the Triune God indwells, touches, and transforms us when we cooperate with this will and working of God.
To my Protestant brothers and sisters let me be clear: we Orthodox Christians do not teach that we merit the salvation given to humanity by all accomplished by Christ when he walked this earth. Salvation is a free gift from God. But, Christ’s salvation and life is to be worked into us that Christ might expand in us, live in us, and be recognized in us by what we do in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
This day’s second gospel reading records two questions. The first was posed to Jesus by the Pharisees; the second was posed by Jesus to the Pharisees. Let’s examine the second question first. Jesus’ question to the Pharisees is this: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”
The Pharisees give their answer: he is the son of David.
Jesus replies, “Then, why does David in the spirit call him Lord, saying, ‘the Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I might place your enemies beneath your feet’. Therefore, if David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
Our Lord’s reply asks for some clarification. David would NOT call any biological son or descendant LORD! As the King of Israel, in fact, he would not address any man as Lord. The Pharisees would not answer because they understood the significance of their answer: The Messiah is more than human, indeed he is God. Our Lord is not being too subtle here, he makes a bold declaration about himself.
There are other places in the gospels where Jesus declares himself to be God. We find this in example St. John’s gospel account of Jesus walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee. We find this in St. John 6: 19 – 20:
Therefore, after they had come twenty-five to thirty stadia, they observed Jesus walking upon the sea and coming near the boat, and they were afraid. But, Jesus says to them, “I am (ego eimi): do not fear.”
The Greek phrase ego eimi is to call the reader to another event in Exodus: God’s self-revelation to Moses in the Burning Bush. The Septuagint text of the Old Testament when translated reads, “And God said to Moses, ‘I am the One who Is’ (ego eimi ho on), and he said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, The One who Is has sent me [Moses] to you’” (Ex 3: 14). Additionally, Jesus also declares his deity to the Jews in St. John 8: 58, “…Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham existed, I am (ego eimi).
Though the Pharisees were unwilling to answer Jesus’ question, we can conclude that Jesus is God. He is the Son of God, the Son of Man, and Creator. He is our Savior. With this information there are implications to be considered.
Let’s now turn to the first question. Jesus is asked by one of the lawyers in testing:
“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered him,
You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second one is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets (Mt 22: 39).
Personal love for God is not an intellectual exercise, or abstraction. It is manifested not only by acts of devotion and the praise of God through worship. Our love for God is perfected by our love for others — by what we do and say to one another. The converse of this is equally true: if we hate our neighbor, then we declare hatred of God.
Our present condition is more than challenging. We live in divided, polarizing times. Here is this most obvious example of our present day. We attack one another based upon opposing political opinions. We have witnessed vicious attacks, not just in the secular media, but also in settings that are somewhat more personal. In this latter context he outlet is usually, almost exclusively, observed in the supposed anonymity and false safety of the latrine of social media. Conservatives are ravaged by liberals, and visa versa. In a word, all of this is pathetic. On Facebook and other sites everyone must have the last word and show oneself to be more intelligent and have greater insight than the one who is taken on as adversary.
However, in our context of our common faith and life in Christ, we should embrace the words of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…grant that I should seek not so much to be consoled, as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love…”
There is no truth or salvation found in politics. Every Christian is to understand that we are all citizens of a Kingdom. The primary sign of such citizenship is love — love for one another, love for all our neighbors, and love for the entirety of creation.
Finally, there is this to be considered. In the Orthodox Church, icons are everywhere, and everywhere venerated. We pass honor to the one portrayed by the icon whether it is Christ or a saint. An Orthodox Christian would never dishonor or defile an icon. Let me add this: humans are also icons! We all, all, bear the image of God! Hence, we are to honor one another and our neighbors. We are to love our image bearing neighbors as ourselves. If you dishonor an icon, you dishonor, the Maker of the icon! So, since Christ our Lord is God, let’s love our brothers, sisters, and all our neighbors as ourselves. By this we demonstrate true love for our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
The following is a sermon that corresponds with this posting:
In this eighth week after Pentecost, we have as the Gospel reading St. Matthew’s account of the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 (Mt 14: 14 -22). This miracle comes after the execution of St. John the Baptist. Upon hearing the news of his cousin’s death, Jesus, by boat, departs to a deserted place alone with his disciples. But his solitude did not last long — a large crowd followed him from the surrounding towns and villages. Looking at the crowd’s condition, Jesus has mercy on them and heals their illnesses.
The hour grows late, and the disciples ask Jesus to dismiss the crowd that they might buy food in the surrounding villages. But, Jesus has something different in mind. He offers a surprising and perplexing suggestion to them: “You give them something to eat!” Only five loaves of bread and two fish were in in the disciples’ possession. This limited supply did not hinder our Lord’s next action: in that grassy area he commanded the crown to sit down. Jesus not only healed their illness, but intended to feed them to their satisfaction. He served them not only the simple staples of bread and fish, but gave of himself (in typological fashion) to those reclining to be filled and sustained. The five loaves of bread point to him because Jesus the Bread of Life. Additionally, the two fish also refer to him: the Greek word ichthus (fish) was understood by the early Church to serve as this acronym, Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.
With what is laid out at this point, I ask one to think of the Last Supper (which serves as the institution of the Eucharist). Jesus’ actions are similar in this miraculous feeding. He takes the gifts offered to him, and after he looks up to heaven, he blessed them, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute to those awaiting a meal. I find in agreement with this understand of this miracle in the words an apostle who was with Christ that day. St. John, in the sixth chapter of his gospel, sees this parallel and alters Jesus’ actions in the Feeding of the 5,000 to correspond directly to his actions in the Last Supper. If one examines St. Mark’s account of the Last Supper, one will note that St. John has Jesus’ words and actions to correspond to his actions and words found in St. Mark’s recording of the Last Supper (refer to another posting of mine which details this subject in detail Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part One: The Feeding of the 5,000 (6: 1 – 15)). With the above in mind, we can imagine Jesus saying quietly to himself: “Take, eat, this is my Body which will soon be broken…”
The Eucharist offers its own similarities: the actions of bishops and priests are the same with the Bread which has become his Body for our holy consumption. We have this from the Divine Liturgy in the part of the Anaphora knowns the Fractioning: “Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God: broken yet not divided; ever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake thereof.”
There are other parallels. As that crowd assembled from differing places to be before Christ, so do we assemble before Christ from differing places. We assemble together to come before Christ as the Body of Christ. Here, in and as the Church, the assembled ONE Body of Christ will receive by faith the ONE Body and Blood of Christ. We assemble together before Christ: young, old; male, female; tall, short; working, retired; of varied races, ethnicities, and life experiences. We share the Peace of Christ together as ONE Body to receive his ONE Body and Blood.
Let’s examine St. Paul’s epistle which was read and heard today (1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 18). In this reading we learn that in ancient Corinth there were divisions stemming from the question, who was baptized by whom? The faithful in that city were missing the big picture: no matter who baptized them, they were all baptized into Christ. St. Paul calls them out on their divisions as he would call us out on today’s cultural, societal, economic, and WORSE — political divisions. Such divisions, especially political divisions, have no place here, and will ultimately be of no importance when we stand before Christ enthroned!
Recently at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church two of our deacons’ sermons have addressed divisions, opinions, and the need to uphold and support one another in our common life together in Christ. We are all in Christ, and make up his one Body, the Church. So, whether assembled together for the Eucharist, or scattered back to homes and work places, we are to uphold one another in spite of differences. This is our calling, that we, the ONE Body of Christ can, in love, peace, and strength, always come together to receive in love and peace the ONE Body and Blood of Christ who is our Lord, God, and Savior.
The following is a link to the corresponding sermon:
There are only two kinds of guitar players in the world…Well actually there are many types of guitar players in the world, but allow me to break it down to what applies to me. There are only two types of guitar players in the world, those who can move between acoustics and electrics with ease, and those who cannot. While my two sons occupy the first position, I, sadly, occupy the latter. I’m an acoustic player. While I appreciate the wonderful tones that come from an electric guitar when played through effect pedals and amplifiers, I am far, far, more comfortable with an acoustic guitar. Part of that comfort comes from the fact that acoustic guitars were the first guitars I owned, and upon which I learned the instrument. Another aspect is that with an acoustic guitar no set up (and take down) of amp, cables, or pedals is part of the music making experience. You pick one up and play. One more admission: I have a relatively “heavy hand” and I find an acoustic far more accepting and forgiving of my touch. So, my three electrics generally languish in their cases and my amps collect dust.
In my explorations, I have tried various acoustic-electric hybrids such as the Taylor T5 and Godin’s Ultra-6 to name a few. Their necks and touch are far too electric in feel, and thus, never purchased. Then early in 2019 I learned about Godin’s new Multiac Steel hybrid. I tried one out at a local store comparing it with a Taylor T5. Hands down the Multiac Steel was the winner. Though heavier, it felt and played far more like an acoustic than an electric. Yet, there were many features that make it also an electric guitar.
It is an attractive instrument having the appearance of a Les Paul. It is solidly built guitar. It makes a statement of quality. This Multiac has a solid spruce top, mahogany neck with a synthetic fretboard of Richlite (used on some Martin guitars as well), and a chambered wooden body. It has a 25.5 inch scale length and a nut width of 1.72 inches which together add to the acoustic feel I prefer. There are both acoustic LR Baggs pickups and a Seymour Duncan lipstick pickup (this single coil is located just below the fret board). There are two sets of controls and two outputs jacks that allow you to dial in a mix of both acoustic and electric qualities, acoustic only tone, or electric only tone. The control knobs on the body are the true captains of the tone. When you plug into the acoustic output you can blend the acoustic and single coil pickups: the volume knob adds in the single coil to taste while the tone knob dials in the single coils tone (neck to bridge tones). When the single coil output is accessed alone no acoustic blend can occur — it becomes purely electric in character. However — since it is a hybrid — you can plug into both outputs and play through both an acoustic and an electric amp.
The guitar without any amplification when played has the sound of a hollow body electric when such a guitar is not amplified. But, of course it needs to be amplified to demonstrate its true qualities. The Godin was first played through a Marshall AS50D acoustic amp through the acoustic output jack. Through this amp the Multiac sounded like any amplified acoustic guitar until you blend in the lipstick single coil with the volume control knob. Here, the tone is quite unique.
Next, I went for the pure electric aspect of the Godin. I plugged into a Blackstar HT Club 40 amplifier. The tone produced was truly that of a electric guitar whether played clean or on overdrive. A variety of tones were selected from the amp, and this guitar handled all of it quite steadily.
I truly have the best of both worlds — I now have an electric guitar that has the comfortable feel of an acoustic guitar.
Keep on playing,
Today is the sixth Sunday of Pascha, and we read from St. John 9: 1- 38, and learn of Jesus’ healing of a man born blind. This restoration of sight is the sixth sign that is reported in St. John’s Gospel. This miraculous sign occurs “that the works of God might be manifested in him.”
His healing takes place in a sacramental manner: Jesus “anoints (chrismates)” him from clay made by the mixing of Jesus’ saliva (the saliva of God) with clay on the ground (we have the union of divine and material). Jesus then instructs him to have his eyes “baptized” by washing off the anointed clay from his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. “He went and washed and came back seeing” (9: 7). With his new vision he encounters Christ:
Jesus heard that they cast him out [of the Synagogue], and when he finds him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And he answered and said, “And who is he, Lord, that I might believe in him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” And he said, “I believe, Lord!” and he worshipped him (9: 35 – 38).
English author Richard Adams is best known for his worldwide best seller, Watership Down first published in 1972, and was subsequently made into an animated movie 1978, and animated television series in England, then recently butchered by Netflix-BBC two years ago. Adams was involved in a number of movements directed toward animal welfare, and was, for a time, director of England’s RSPCA. In Watership Down, Adams’ rabbit characters remark about humanity’s indifference, and even hostility to animals and the environment in general. Perhaps the most striking lament by Adams comes from Chapter 21, “For El-ahrairah to Cry.” Here, Holly (the Bard of the band of rabbits) states:
It [evil] comes from men…All other elil [enemies] do what they have to do and Frith [the rabbits’ god] moves them as he moves us. They live on the earth and they need food. Men will never rest till they’ve spoiled the earth and destroyed animals
The Sunday after Pascha (Easter) is known as Antipascha Sunday, or also as Thomas Sunday. The day’s gospel reading gives the account of the coming of St. Thomas to faith in Jesus. Thomas doubted the word of the Apostles who saw Jesus when he commission them and he demanded proof.
“Unless I should see the impression of the nails, and put my finger into the impression of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I shall never believe. “And after eight days the disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. And while the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace to you.” Then he was saying to Thomas, “Bring you finger here and see my hands and bring your hand and place it into my side, and stop being faithless but faithful.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God.’”Jesus was saying to him, “Because you have seen me you believed? Blessed are who do not see and believe!” (John 20: 25 – 29).
Thomas had to see and touch. It was this irrefutable encounter that brought Thomas to faith and his own declaration of his faith in Christ, “My Lord and my God!”
In just over 30 days Jesus would be taken back into the heavens, and his glorified physical body would very, very rarely be seen again by human eyes. Thus, all who have placed their faith in Christ over the centuries have done so without seeing physical proof of Christ’s resurrected body.
Yet we believe. But, in all honesty, sometimes we must acknowledge that faith can be fragile — especially in this age of skepticism. In this generation faith is mocked, and it is called delusional. When terrible things happen in the world the faithless ridicule and ask, “Where is this God?” Yet when great good happens, God is never acknowledged as an Actor in the good.
Miracles still happen, and lives are changed by God’s grace (his energies) at work in our lives, yet…the faithful doubt at times. And the faithful can even come to a point of crisis where faith can be abandoned and they join the ranks of the secularists which abound these days. On occasion — via confession or a conversation — such doubts and questions are brought to my attention by someone (and all the clergy of this parish). What is my answer? I give an axiom: “To prove God is to live God; to live God is to prove God.” In other words, actively engage your faith in your surroundings — among those around you, in the quiet of your home, and among all of God’s creatures and creation.
I can give ordinary examples from my life regarding this psychology. if I feel tired and drained after a day of work, I find that if I exercise that fatigue is overcome and I feel strengthened and renewed. If I am feeling depressed, the depression is overcome by an act of self-giving for the good of another, however small — my good mood is then restored.
Now I offer faith’s parallel. With what ever amount of faith we possess, ACT in a manner contrary to doubt and the corruption that still abides in us. ACT in a manner contrary to the doubt of fallen human nature. CHOOSE to ACT in a manner that imitates Christ and his saints. I put forward another axiom: “We must do to become.” Think of the musician or athlete — that which is practiced is formed within the musician and athlete. The parallel of faith is this: if we practice Christ, Christ is formed and made alive in us. He is “PROVEN”! And we move from faithlessness’ death to faith’s life.
We also have this saying: “The saints prove the faith.” For my own benefit the ultimate “saint-proof” is manifested by those saints who are INCORRUPT. This is the miracle where nature’s decay following death is overcome by the divinizing energies of God which worked in them by their acts of faith. We read this from St. Paul: “Work out your own faith with fear and trembling, for God is the one energon (working) in you, and to will and to energein (to work) in behalf of his good pleasure” (Phil 2: 12, 13). It is in this verse that we learn of the “energies” of God (his grace) that God works into us for our salvation. Hence, it is by faith’s chosen actions that the reality of God is encountered and touched.
Thus, without seeing do, and by doing become, and by becoming prove Christ to yourself and to the faithless world that surrounds us.
Christ is risen!
The following is a corresponding sermon:
This is a Pascha (Easter) unlike any other. No Orthodox Christian living in the western world has a memory of a Holy Week, Holy Saturday, or Pascha such as we have experienced this year. We are in isolation, and unable to gather together to worship our Lord. The services of Holy Week and Pascha were faithfully and truly celebrated by the mandated few. Yet, this year there was no communal experience of the victorious declaration of his resurrection with the illumination of the darkened nave as the lighting of candles dispersed the night’s gloom. There was no communal joyous Paschal Matins. There was no communal hearing of the Paschal Gospel (St. John 1: 1 – 18), no communal exchange of the peace, no common movement toward Communion of his Body and Blood, no singing of the Paschal Troparion together as the assembled faithful — his Body.
I must confess to occasional pouting and sulking like a preteen this past week through yesterday. But, our risen Lord is constant even in inconstant times (even when I pout). He is truly “risen from the dead trampling down death by death…” He is constant and faithful even in this isolation caused by an unseen viral enemy. He is working in our lives in spite of absences and disruptions which are put upon us for the common good of all. He is working his Light and Life into us even in these strange days.
So, let our faith and joy “go viral!” Keep this hymn in our hearts and hold it as our prayer during this Pascha day and its season:
Thy resurrection, O Christ our Savior, the angles in heaven sing! Enable us on earth to glorify thee in purity of heart.
Christ is risen!
Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part Four: The Poetic Parallelism of St. John 6: 50 – 51Posted: March 29, 2020
Ancient authors wrote differently than modern authors of poetry, prose and narrative. The ancient authors wrote using fixed forms that aided in imparting meaning and emphasis. These forms were also employed to aid in memorization of their works. These fixed forms abound in the Christian Scriptures — both Old and New Testaments. One such literary form is parallelism. Parallelism is found throughout the poetry of the Old Testament, and then especially in the Psalms. These poetic structures can also be found in the New Testament, and one such example can be found in St. John 6: 50 – 51. Before examining this text, let’s first consider the three basic types of parallelism found in the Scriptures: synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic/stair-step (although scholars can define other types in addition to these three). I quote from Psalms — Reading and Studying the Book of Praises by W. H. Bellinger, Jr. (Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 13.
Synonymous parallelism. The second line enhances the thought of the first by way of closely related statement:
What is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him? (Ps 8:4)…
Antithetical parallelism. The second line may complete a thought by presenting a contrast to the first line:
For the wicked shall be cut off;
but those who wait for the Lord shall possess the land. (Ps 37:9)…
[Synthetic] Stair-step parallelism. The second line may continue the thought of the first and take it a step further:
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods. (Ps 95:3)
Well over a decade ago I encountered a man who was rejecting the Church (though he was not a parishioner of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church which I serve as an assisting priest). He quoted a verse from St. Luke’s gospel to justify his departure from the Church. The verse that was shoved in my face comes from St. Luke 17:21, “…The Kingdom of God is within you.” Knowing Greek I tried to offer a correction to his misapplied verse. It did not work. Justifying himself he left the life of the Church and will not return. His conviction was that since the Kingdom of God was within him he needed no one to instruct him, and had no need to follow the ways of Christ within the context of the sacramental life and teachings of the Church. He wanted spiritual autonomy simply because he wanted to continue in an adulterous affair.
This verse from St. Luke’s gospel has been and is misused by many to justify many things — none of them come to any good. With this posting I offer a much better translation and interpretation of St. Luke 17:21. Let’s begin with the context. Jesus has gathered around him both Pharisees and his disciples: he is in the midst of this gathering. Given this setting we read this,
Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, He answered them, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ Behold the Kingdom of God is in your midst (he basileia tou theou entos humon estin).
Quests. Some are factual, some mythical. I have one of my own: the quest for the perfect capo. Some say it doesn’t exist. I have a collection of a variety of capos. Some work well on some of my guitars, but not on others. With any capo there can be the problem of skewing the guitar’s strings upon application of the capo. Then there’s problem of the guitar staying in tune after application. And, of course, there is the issue of a buzzing of strings when the capo is applied. Thus, we guitarists have the never ending quest for the perfect capo.
There have been developments is capo design. One involves application of specific pads which correspond to the guitar’s fretboard radius. This likely solves the problem, but is impractical (I would never take the time to change the pads). Recently I read of the marketing of a new G7 capo in Acoustic Guitar magazine. The new capo is called the G7th Performance 3 Guitar Capo (clamping mechanism). It involves G7’s technology called “Adaptive Radius Technology” (ART). Per G7:
Revolutionary new active string pad infinitely adapts to match any guitar perfectly. The ART mechanism delivers unrivaled tuning stability by applying even pressure across the strings. Suitable for ALL ACOUSTIC and ELECTRIC 6 string guitars.
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.”