Psalms created on Truth – Orthodoxy & her Psalterion

Introduction
The Psalms are among the most hauntingly beautiful songs and prayers that this world possesses; they are poems whose appeal is permanent and universal.
As an anthology of 150 gems the Psalter is
a work of consummate art,
a thing of beauty which is a joy for ever;
its loveliness increases.
The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God
which made David dance“,
said the late C. S. Lewis.

The Bible is a presentation of the Divine Drama in which we are all taking part.
The theme of the Drama is
the great acts and interventions of God,
past, present and future.
The Psalms are a distillation of the Old Testament and especially of the teaching
of the Hebrew Prophets.
They sum up
the whole Theology of the Old Testament.
They are the quintessence of the faith and devotion of Israel.
Yet they express the feelings and reactions
not only of one nation but of all mankind.
They reflect timelessly the universal hopes and fears, love and hate, joys and sorrows
of the human heart.
Individually they are the outcome of someone’s personal experience, though not perhaps all of them.
They reveal the varying moods of the human spirit from awestruck wonder at God’s mighty acts and the marvels of creation to groping perplexity at the apparent prosperity
of selfish scoundrels, from calm trust and deep certainty to cries of frustration
and desperation bordering on despair.
In these ancient poems we see the fundamental unity of mankind
and of the Old and New Testaments.
The unity is that of Promise and Fulfilment.

If the relic of a Saint or loved one is dear to us,
how much more precious is everything
connected with Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life.
The Psalter was both His Prayer Book and Song Book.
While dying on the Cross,
the only portion of Holy Scripture
that Christ quoted was the Psalter.
Of His seven last words, four of them are echoes from the Book of Psalms:
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
[Psalm 21: 2; Matth.27:46; Marc.15: 34];
I thirst” [John.19: 28; Psalm 41: 2; 62: 2; 142: 6];
It is done, accomplished, finished” [Psalm 21: 32; John.19: 30];
“Into Your hands I entrust My spirit” [Psalm 30: 6; Luc.23: 46].

Fullness and Fulfilment
We only realize the full significance of the Psalms
as we read them in Christ, the Truth,
through His eyes, and in His Spirit.
Faith is vision. Unbelief is blindness.
If the Good News is veiled,
it is veiled only to those
who have lost their way.
When the Old Testament is read,
a veil lies over their minds.
Only in Christ is the veil removed.
The minds of unbelievers are so blinded by the god of this world
that the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ
cannot dawn upon them.
God Who told light to shine out of darkness
has shone in our hearts with the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [2Cor.4-6].
So let all Israel know for certain
that God has made Jesus Whom you crucified
both Lord and Messiah [Acts 2: 36].

Israel failed to respond to the Divine call
and commission to give God’s light and love to the world.
The vine lifted out of Egypt (Psalm.79: 9; Matth.2: 15) is Jesus; the True Vine [John.15].
As the true Israel He fulfils Israel’s mission,
so that from the Cross and Resurrection
the New and True Israel is the community of those
whose hearts receive by faith the Divine Word spoken in Him [Hebr.1: 2].
His life is offered that it may flow in our veins as the Blood of the New Covenant,
the fruit of the vine [Marc.14: 24],
the love that conquers death [1 Cor.15: 54-57].
When the risen Lord walked and talked
with Lucas and Cleophas:
He began with Moses and all the Prophets
and explained to them the passages
which referred to Himself in every part of the Scriptures
“.
And at Emmaus He added,
This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses
and in the Prophets and Psalms was bound to be fulfilled

Luc.24: 27, 44

The songs of Israel find their full meaning only in the New Adam.
The Psalmist’s voice is his Master’s voice.
It was the Spirit of Christ in the Prophets foretelling the sufferings in store for Christ and the Glories that would follow.
And it was revealed to them
that it was not for themselves
but for you that they were administering those very Mysteries,
Which have now been announced to you through those who preached the Gospel
to you in the Power of the Holy Spirit [1Petr.1: 11].
Christ’s Birth, Sufferings and Death,
His triumphant Resurrection and Ascension, and His coming in Judgment,
are all clearly portrayed in the Psalms,
not merely as historical events but as perpetual and saving realities.
The eternal Spirit transforms history into Theology.
Saint Athanasius the Great says that the line of the Psalmist,
Open your mouth wide
and I will fill it
[80: 11] refers
to receiving the Gift of the Holy Spirit
“.
The outpouring of the Spirit is the fulfilment of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms.

Correspondence and Recapitulation
The Christian Church accepted the
Old Testament as sacred Scriptures.
The Apostles and Christian preachers and teachers cited passages of the Old Testament
as Prophecies of the events of the Gospel.
They also saw correspondences between things and events under the Old and New Covenants.
The Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law and the Covenant have their counterpart in the redemption of mankind through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the giving of the New Covenant in His blood [1Cor.11: 25]
and the new commandment which fulfils the Law [John.13: 34; Gal.5: 14; Rom.13: 10].
The temple at Jerusalem has its counterpart in the temple of the Church
composed of living stones [Eph.2: 20-22; 1Petr.2: 5].
The Heavenly Manna has its counterpart in
Jesus as the heavenly bread of life [John.6: 32-58].
The Creation of the earthly man has its counterpart
in the New Creation born in the death and Resurrection
of the Heavenly Man Who is the Lord from Heaven
[John.12: 24; 1Cor.15: 47-49; 2Cor.5: 17].
Adam, the head of a sinful race of mortals,
has his counterpart in Christ, the second Adam, the New Man,
the head of a race of immortals [1Cor.15: 45-49].
In all these ways the New Covenant recapitulates the Old Covenant.

Similarly Christ was seen to be both [High-]Priest and Victim [Hebr. 8: 1 – 9: 15].
He is the Sacrificial Lamb and also the Victorious King [John.1: 36; 18: 37].
He is the Good Shepherd and also the Lion of the tribe of Judah [Psalm. 22; John.10: 11; Rev.5: 5].
He is the Son of Man foreseen by the Prophet Daniel [7: 13,14] destined to receive an eternal Kingdom
and also the Son of God foreseen by the Prophet David [Psalm 2] destined to reign over all Creation.
Jesus fulfils the role of Israel by attaining
the Triumph of His kingdom and Exaltation through Humiliation and Obedience to the point of death [Marc.14: 21; Hebr.2: 5-9; Isaiah 53].

The Church also understood that Jesus was the Word
(John.1: 14; 1John.1: 1; Rev.19: 13].
He was Himself the utterance of God’s Love and Grace,
Light and Truth in the world.
The utterances of the Old Testament had been
partial, incomplete, fragmentary, preparatory, Prophetic.
In Jesus we have the fullness and finality of the Divine utterance.
Jesus embodies the Divine utterance both in His teaching and in Himself.
The Word and the Person are completely identical.
The Word Who became flesh [John.1: 14] was in origin and originally God [John.1: 1),
ever at work with the Father and the Spirit in the creation of the world [John.5: 17],
ever giving life and light to men and angels [John.1: 9].
And so we see that the Word is a Person.
Life is not something but Someone [Gal.2: 20; Phil.1: 21].
The whole pageant of the past is recapitulated
in the Gracious Personality of Jesus the Messiah.
He recapitulates in His Person the whole destiny of mankind [Eph.1: 10].
God has predestined men to become
conformed to the image of His Son [Rom.8: 29].

The Church and the Bible
Under both Old and New Covenants the Church preceded the Bible.
The essential role of the Church, as of the individual Christian,
is to bear witness to experience, to what has been seen and heard
[Acts 1: 8; 4: 20; 22: 15].
Man’s vocation and destiny are supernatural
[Hebr.3: 1; Rom.8: 29; 2Tim.1: 9; 1Cor.1: 2].
Scripture is a communication of Divine Light
to guide us in the way of perfection [Matth.5: 48].
To know Christ (Truth) is to love Him and be free [1John.4].
So a supernatural Revelation of God’s Nature, Will and Purpose is essential.
Such is the Word of God contained in the Bible.
It is a love-letter written by our Heavenly Father
and transmitted by the sacred writers to the human race
on our pilgrimage towards our Heavenly country [Saint John Chrysostomos].
Readers of the Bible have the Church to guide them.
No Prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private interpretation,
nor can it be understood by one’s own powers.
For no Prophecy ever originated in the human will,
but Holy men of God spoke as they were prompted by the Holy Spirit [2Petr.1: 20].
It is the Church’s mission to interpret the Bible.
People who live humbly and honestly in the fellowship of the Church
have their minds conditioned
and attuned to understand the Scriptures
as the Revelation of the mind of God
[1Cor.2: 16; Phil.2: 5; 2Petr.3: 1]

The Nature of the Psalms
It would be a mistake to think that the Psalms
are a beautiful expression of nature Mysticism,
inspired by the natural beauty of the countryside
and the soothing sounds of softly murmuring streams.
They are rather the war-songs of the Prince of Peace,
the vigorous shouts and cries of the whole man,
responding or reacting with his whole being to the One Who comes to him in all the circumstances of life.
Jesus Himself tells us that we shall never see Him
until we say in every situation:
Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord” [Luc.13: 35].
In this matter of the Sanctification of the total man
made to love God with His whole nature
” [Luc.10: 27],
Israel was unlike the religions of the world.
The New Israel, the Church of Christ, inherits and continues this Tradition and
should develop it in an even more thoroughgoing manner.

The Jews prayed and worshipped with spirit, soul and body.
They beat their breasts, clapped their hands, stretched out their arms,
fell prostrate on the ground; they sang, they shouted, they danced;
they used drums, tambourines, cymbals, castanets, bells, horns, trumpets, pipes,
and various stringed instruments.
We find these features in the Psalms.
Saint Isaac the Syrian says:
Every prayer in which the body does not participate
and by which the heart is not affected
should be reckoned as an abortion without a soul
“.

Varieties of prayer are found in the Psalms:
Worship and Bowing Down, Love and Adoration, Meditation and Contemplation,
Stillness and Watching, Waiting and Listening, Hope and Desire,
Acts of Faith and Trust, Praise and Blessing,
Exaltation and Magnification, Repentance and Confession,
Weeping and Groaning, Exultation and Thanksgiving, Joy and Gladness,
Vows and Affirmations, Exorcism and Adjuration, Surrender and Submission,
Petition and Intercession.
We need to learn afresh the Christian use of the Psalter.
One reason for the neglect of the Psalms
in our devotional life is the disproportionate attention given
to critical and historical research in modern biblical study,
to the almost total exclusion of the Vital meaning
and Purpose of the Word of God.
To be ignorant of Scripture is not to know Christ“, says St. Jerome.

Practical Use of the Psalter
The Church never merely studied the Psalms.
They were her chief book of devotion.
Her divine Founder had quoted them,
had used them in prayer,
had explained them to His disciples,
and had died with them on His lips.
The Apostles ordered the faithful to use the Psalms both in their personal lives
and in community worship [Jac.5: 13; Col.3: 16; Eph.5: 19].
Saint Jerome tells us that at Saint Paula’s funeral in 404,
the Psalms were sung now in Greek, now in Latin, now in Syriac;
and this not only during the three days that elapsed before she was buried,
but throughout the rest of the week.
He also says that the Psalms sung in churches were also sung in the fields:
The toiling reaper sings Psalms as he works,
and the vine-grower, as he prunes his vines,
sings one of David’s songs. [so what are we doing during our daily work???]

At first the Psalter was the only hymnbook available.
Many both of the clergy and laity knew it by heart.
Saint Germanus in Constantinople and Saint Gregory in Rome
refused to consecrate as bishops men
who were unable to recite the Psalter.
A disused canon so ruled.
Even when the Church Services began to be compiled,
the Psalter was the Church’s first Service Book,
and it retains that position to this day.
All the services draw heavily upon the Psalms.
The Psalter is a quarry and treasury of Christian prayer and devotion.

Poetic Characteristics
The Psalms are poetry and this version retains the original poetic form
by printing the lines as in the Septuagint.
Much is lost when the Psalms are printed as prose.
Hebrew verse does not rhyme except occasionally and accidentally.
It is based on what is called parallelism, and is mostly in the form of couplets.
The second line of the couplet may be a repetition of the theme in different words,
or a contrast, or a heightened emphasis.
There is rhythm, but little metre.
Often there is a play on words, or assonance, or alliteration, or some figure of speech.
These are not reproducible in translation.
But the parallelism is clearly retained.
If the line endings occasionally rhyme,
that is quite incidental as in the original Hebrew.

It must not be thought that the parallelism of Hebrew poetry
merely means that the second line of every couplet
simply repeats the thought of the first line in different words.
Far from it. It may enrich or amplify the thought of the first line,
or it may modify it in other ways.
For example, the Prophet Isaiah writes [55: 7]:
Let the wicked forsake his ways and the sinful man his thoughts.
Or take the opening words of that wonderful outburst of praise
which the Holy Spirit put on Mary’s lips [Luc.1: 46]:
My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
“.
This does not mean that soul and spirit are therefore identical [cp. 1Thess.5: 23].
Rather it indicates that the second half of the couplet is a result of the first.
With my soul I magnify the Lord
[soul including understanding, intellect, memory, imagination, desire, will].
As a result of my growing consciousness and realization of the greatness
and goodness and glory of God,
my spirit is filled with joy and I exult in God my Saviour.
So the inspired lines are found to contain a simple technique
for the praise of God.

Divergences
Every new translation of the Psalter
has been made primarily for use in the Services
of the Orthodox Church.
It will be found to follow closely and often word for word previous versions made from the Hebrew.
It will also be found to differ widely in many places.
This is because the Orthodox Church
is committed to the Septuagint version of the Bible,
which was the Bible of the whole Christian Church
during the first thousand years of its existence.
It is also the version of the Bible that was used
and quoted by our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles, though they also occasionally referred to the Hebrew.
That is why it will be found that this version of the Psalms tallies in almost every instance
with the Psalms quoted in the New Testament whereas the Hebrew Psalms are often widely divergent.
For example, Psalm 4:5,
Be angry, yet do not sin, is quoted word for word by the Apostle Paul [Eph.4: 26].
The Hebrew gives quite a different reading.

If it is asked why the Septuagint often differs
so totally from the Massoretic text,
the answer probably is that Hebrew was a kind of shorthand,
entirely without vowels when the Psalms were written.
It is easy to see that a word like brd could be rendered
bread, bird, bard, brayed, broad, beard, bored, breed,
broody braid, bride, bred, buried.
It is not surprising that there are variant readings.
What is surprising is that the Septuagint
reproduces a vast amount of the Hebrew text almost verbatim,
so that we can often check the Massoretic.
Another reason for differences in the Septuagint
may be that the Seventy translators used a Hebrew version
that differed in many respects from the Massoretic text.

We cannot give footnotes to explain
how we arrive at every puzzling rendering of the Greek,
as it is not within our scope.
If we take a single instance, it will be seen
how lengthy and complicated such explanations could be.
In Psalm 101: 27, change them like clothing could be rendered,
roll them like clothing.
Actually there is a variant reading at this point,
some texts reading roll, others change.
As the thought suggested is
that of a person rolling or stripping off a worn-out garment,
we believe that the word change
faithfully conveys the sense of either Greek word
and also the meaning of the Hebrew original.
In fact, the idea of change and renewal and the rebirth of the soul
as a New Creation is a basic concept throughout Holy Scripture
[cp. John.3: 3-5; 2Cor.5: 17; Gal.6: 15; Eph.2: 10; 4: 24].

Songs with a Difference
The Psalms provide food for the fed up
and Heavenly bread in the wilderness.
But what about the stone-age ethics?
How does King Og aid
our Sanctification or help our prayer?
In some of the Psalms we seem to be thirsting not for God
but for our enemies’ blood.
Sometimes we seem to be howling war-cries with a tribe of savages.
How can we speak the Truth in love with Hebrew tribal’s
who even sink to sacrificing their sons and daughters to demons? [Psalm 105: 37]

 

The purpose of God’s written word of which the Psalms are a part is
to make known to men the saving Truths
that God has revealed to us about Himself in His eternal Being
and about His action in time and place and His plan for the new world order.
Christian Theology is essentially the knowledge of God
and His will revealed to man through God’s action in history, which is truly His story.
Orthodox Theology as a unity of knowledge
is a means to an end that transcends all knowledge.
This end is Union with God.
The Psalms sum up the whole Salvation history and theology of the Old Covenant.
The Lights and shadows of the total panorama are all here.

So the Psalms are unlike the sacred books of the world religions.
The Bible is the record of the life of a community
offered by the Church as divine revelation.
We see the living God in the movement of events.
It is not merely the history of a progressive revelation,
but history as Revelation.
The meaning of the events lies in man’s meeting with God.
The Prophet, like the Priest, is a public person.
His encounter with God is not merely private experience,
like that of the mystics and sages of the world religions.
The pressure of public events
is the normal occasion of the Prophet’s meeting with God.
The Truth which the encounter reveals to his mind is public property.
God’s Choice of the Prophet is not an act of favouritism,
but an invitation or call to special responsibility [cp. Amos 3: 2].
The word of God which gives the vital meaning to history always has a twofold action:
– it is the word of crisis and judgment,
– and it is the creative word of renewal and regeneration.
If anyone is in the Truth, there is a New Creation [cp. 2Cor.5: 17].
Judgment is followed by the New Heavens and New Earth [2Petr.3: 13]
and the Universal Restoration of all things  {Acts 3:21].
The Light that judges us, Transfigures and Saves us” [John.12: 47].
In Your Light we see light” [Psalm 35: 10].
The supreme message of the Psalter is that the Vision of God,
to know and love Him, to trust and obey Him;
and to offer Him the Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving
is eternal life and happiness [John 6: 40; 17: 3; Luc.10: 25- 28; 1Petr.1: 8f].

The Divine Initiative
The Psalms are the Bible in miniature.
By a kind of Divine tom-tom
they drum into our consciousness the Truth
that we meet God in the world of persons, things and events.
Here and now we are to pass through the visible
and transient to the Invisible and True.
Yet the initiative always rests with God.
The word of God comes out of the everywhere into the here
and breaks into our life from beyond us.
The Bible is a record of God’s search for man.
The people of God are not those
who have a special bent or natural genius for religion.
Far from it.
All the saints would agree
that they had a natural bent for unbelief and waywardness,
but for the Grace of God. “We love because He first loved us” [1John 4: 19].
When we were still sinners Christ died for us [Rom.5: 8].
It was when we were sick and powerless to help ourselves . . . . . when we were enemies
that we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son
” [Rom.5: 6, 10].
His was the first Birth out of death [Col.1: 18].
Last but not least, the Psalms remind us of our response
to God’s love which means life from the dead.
It is the response of obedient love and loving obedience.
“I love You, O Lord, my Strength [Psalm 17: 1].

In the Psalms David speaks as if he were not going to die,
as if God would not leave him in hell or allow him to see corruption [15: 10].
Yet David died and his Kingdom vanished.
Now hear the Apostle Peter at Pentecost:
Men and brethren, I can speak freely to you about the Patriarch David:
he died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
But being a Prophet, he foresaw and spoke of the Resurrection of Christ,
when he said that his soul would not be left in hell,
nor would his flesh see corruption.
This Jesus God raised to life
and we are all His witnesses
” [Acts 2: 29f].

The Psalms were the utterances of both David and Christ.
God Who spoke in David and Who became incarnate as the Son of David
was speaking of His own coming into visibility
as the Divine Messiah and of His plan of Salvation.
This plan is only fully revealed in its fulfilment,
when men are filled with the Holy Spirit of God.
The incarnation of the Word
as the visible image of the invisible God [Col.1: 15]
is the supreme demonstration of the Divine Initiative and Intervention.
It is the Climax of God’s search for man
and the discovery and redemption of the lost image
and likeness in the Saviour’s death and Resurrection.

The Messiah
A striking and mysterious figure looms larger and larger
and gradually takes shape, as we read and re-read the Psalms.
He is the Son of God, appointed King on Zion to rule the nations [Psalm 2].
He is addressed as God, His kingdom is to last for ever,
His Reign is gentle and just, yet strong as iron.
He is lovely with a Beauty beyond the sons of men
and because of His love of justice and goodness
He has a joy surpassing His fellow men [Psalm 44].
He is a King and Judge Who shares the Throne of God.
He is a Priest, not in the Levitical line,
but an Eternal Priest-King like Melchizedek [Psalm 109].
His reign will bring lasting Peace and Justice,
all kings and nations will worship Him,
He will take special care of the poor and destitute
and in Him all the families of the earth will be blessed [Psalm 71].
Yet this Sovereign Ruler of nations
Whom all mankind will worship will undergo terrible sufferings,
will be treated as an outcast, a worm
and not a man, will endure outrageous handling by men
who have become more like wild beasts: bulls, lions and dogs.
And they will strip Him and pierce His hands and feet
and will then stand and gloat over Him [Psalm 21].
Yet when He comes in Judgment to claim His Kingdom,
it will be a world-wide assembly, including rich and poor alike,
who will all worship Him and partake of
a sacrificial meal in His honour [Psalm 21, 93, 95].
Such is the King Messiah, portrayed especially in
5 Messianic Psalms: 2, 21, 44, 71 and 109.
They foretell the advent, Kingdom, Priesthood, sufferings, death,
Resurrection and Ascension of the coming Redeemer.
But different facets of the same Face and Person
are sprinkled throughout the Psalter
and we need them all to get the full Portrait.

Figures and Symbols
The Psalms foreshadow in figure and symbol,
the way of life and freedom
• fully revealed only in the New Adam
[Rom.5: 12f., 1Cor.15: 21f.],
the New Noah, father of the new race
• who rise from the baptismal waters [1Petr.3: 20f; 2Petr.2: 5],
• the Prophet like Moses [Deut.18: 15, 18; John 1: 21, 46; 6: 14, 32; Acts 3: 22].
• So He explains the miracle of the bronze serpent
which Moses fixed to a sign-post or standard
and which brought a change of heart [Num.21: 9]:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life [John 3: 14].

But the crucial and decisive event of
the old Covenant history was the Exodus from Egypt,
which the Psalms mention so frequently.
Just as the Christian remembers and relives the Sacrifice of Christ
by the celebration of the Liturgy, so the Jew recalls and re-enacts the Exodus
by the celebration of the Passover.
This act of Worship is not just an escape from the present into the past,
but a means of actual experience.
The Passover ritual says:
In every generation it is a man’s duty to imagine
that he himself has escaped from Egypt” [cp. Ex.13: 8].

As Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egyptian bondage
through the Red Sea towards the Promised Land
and celebrated their escape or deliverance by the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb,
so Christ the True Lamb of God by His Sacrifice on the Cross
leads men through the red sea of His life-giving blood
out of the real slavery of sin
into the Glorious freedom of the Children of God,
Which is Heaven on earth or the Promised Land.
The Great theme of history is the conflict between belief and unbelief.
Human societies like human beings live by Faith
and die when Faith dies [Rom.1: 17; Jac.2: 20].
Faith is the light in which we see God.
As we grow in faith and love,
the Mystery and Unity of the Exodus
and Christ’s Passover becomes more and more
a matter of personal experience.
Yet the experience is not the essential reality,
but only an effect of the reality
which is infinitely beyond experience, namely God in us:
Christ in you [Col.1].

By faith in Christ [John 5: 24]
and by the New Birth [John 3: 3-5]
we enter a new dimension of life and become amphibians, living at once in time and eternity.
We are at the same time in the wilderness and in the Promised Land.
Our life is in Heaven [Phil.3: 20].
God has enthroned us with Christ in Heaven [Eph.2: 6].
The Songs of Zion will tell us again and again that by faith
we are Christ’s Body in this world [1Cor.12: 27]
and that He lives in us [Col.1: 27; 2: 6; Gal.2: 20].
– Be what you are! they keep saying.
– Be forgiven, be reconciled, be friends with God,
– be clean, be free, be filled with the Spirit,
– be whole, be Holy, be Children of God,
– be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven! [Phil.3: 20].

Some Difficulties
Some people object to parts of the Psalms
because they seem to contradict
the Divine Law of Love taught by Christ.
But the Mystery of the Divine wrath and vengeance
reveals the total incompatibility of evil with the Divine Nature.
You who love the Lord, hate evil” [Psalm 96: 10; Rom.12: 9].
Judgment and vengeance belong to God and must be left to Him [Deut.32: 35].
God’s Judgment is His Appearance, Manifestation, Epiphany [Psalms 49: 1-4; 79: 2; 93: 1].
In its Fullness this appearing or manifestation refers to the Incarnation,
when Christ becomes the visible criterion in Whose Light we see light [Psalm 35: 10].
All the evil and malice of the world culminates in the Crucifixion of Christ.
When vengeance is left to God,
it takes the form of the agony and death of the God-man.
God takes His own medicine.
With Christ we are to hate the reign of evil, the vile spirits and passions
that prevent the reign of Christ in our hearts and in the world.
As we hate and forsake sin, we become free
to love and pray and labour for God’s Reign and Rule on earth.

Spiritual things must be spiritually understood.
People contrast spirit and letter.
But what letter is there in the Word of God
Who says Himself, My words are spirit and life? [John 6: 63].
Truly the letter kills [2Cor.3: 6].
To a literalist the message and meaning of the Bible
is bound to elude his most meticulous search.
The resident aliens whom God’s people are to drive out of Canaan
are the enemies of the human soul.
The harsh Psalms are the strong weapons used by the Church to exorcize
and drive out evil spirits from the souls and bodies of men.
The weapons of our warfare are not material,
but are powerful with God for the overthrow of the enemy’s strongholds [2Cor.10: 4].
The Word of God which is the Sword of the Spirit [Eph.6: 17]
is given us to expel evil and idle thoughts and replace them
by the Divine Light of the Beauty of Holiness and Truth.
Let the word of God dwell in you richly [Col.3: 16].

Other people object that they cannot sincerely say with some of the Psalms
that they are blameless, innocent, faithful, holy; it seems hypocritical.
Still others say that they do not share the agony and suffering of the Psalmist,
that their knees are not weak from fasting,
and how can they give thanks for joys and victories
they have never experienced?
The trouble with all these people is
that they have lost the sense of solidarity and unity with all mankind in Christ,
still less do they have a sense of the unity of all being in God.

After Pentecost when the Spirit restored men to unity, we read,
The whole Body of believers had one heart and soul, and none of them called any of his possessions his own, but everything was shared as common property“. Acts 4: 32
We cannot repeat too often that the Psalms refer to Christ and can be applied fully only to Him.
“But it is Christ in you Who is the hope of Glory for you”. Col.1: 27
He ever lives to make intercession in you,
with you, for you“. Hebr.7: 25
The Psalms teach us to enlarge our hearts or consciousness to embrace all mankind.
Remember those who suffer as if you shared their pain“.
Hebr.13: 3

Today we hear much of the priesthood of the laity.
The Psalms, if used aright, compel us to exercise our priesthood
and act as the voice of all mankind in Christ,
the one Mediator Priest and Intercessor.
We even act as the mouth of all dumb creation
to thank and glorify God for His Goodness.
The Angels in Heaven and all God’s creatures are invited to join the Divine praises.
To Him Who loves us and has washed us from our sins in His own blood
and made us a Kingdom of priests to serve His God and Father,
to Him be Glory and Triumph throughout endless ages [Rev.1: 5].
As we pray with and for all mankind,
we get a vision of hidden realities visible only to the eyes of faith
and we actually begin to see God’s New Creation taking shape.
When He appears, we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is [1John 3: 2].
If we are faithful, God will keep us till the end.
So Saint Athanasius explains Psalm 93:14 thus:
The Lord will guard His people in their troubles and afflictions
and He will direct and guide them until His Justice returns in judgment,
that is, until Christ judges the world;
for God has made Him our wisdom, our righteousness
,
our holiness and our redemption [1Cor.1: 30].
But disobedience always incurs God’s Judgment” [Jer.44].

The Cross is the Key
Og, Sehon, Pharaoh are so many troubles and trials.
“There is plenty of suffering and misery on earth”. 2Tim.3: 12
We make use of it aright when we offer it in union with the sufferings of Christ.
In union with Christ our sufferings assume infinite redemptive value,
just as a drop of water thrown into a great river does all that the river does“.
cf. Col.1: 24
In this way our sufferings are transformed into Light and Power and Joy.
We find true happiness by dying
because we can only enter Heaven
by dying to earthly things

cf. Acts 14: 22
That is why the Cross is the key to the Psalms, as it is the key to the Kingdom.
“Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies,
it remains alone, merely a grain of wheat”.
John 12: 24
It is when Christ is lifted up that He draws all to Himself into the Unity of the Spirit.
It is by dying that Jesus has drawn all into the triumph of His Resurrection.
So Caiaphas prophesied “that Jesus would die for the nation
and not for the nation only, but to re-unite into one family
the scattered children of God
“.
John 11: 51, 52

Importance of the Psalterion
All the Psalms have as their aim the Glorification of God.
They were sung in the Temple, in the Synagogues, and in Jewish homes.
Today they are used by both Jews and Christians, uniting us in praise.
The Psalter is the hymnbook of the universal Church.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Book of Psalms.
The Hebrew poets took these timeless religious experiences
and made them the theme of their songs.
The Psalms are poems intended to be sung.
The Hebrew title means Songs of Praise.
But they can be read with a song in the heart,
they can be prayed in Spirit and Truth.
The inspired poets of Israel reflect the spiritual experience of the human soul.
So the Psalms belong to all mankind.
As there is no book in the New Testament corresponding to the Book of Psalms,
the Psalter belongs to both the New and Old Covenants
and forms a bridge linking the Old and New Testaments.
It is eloquent proof of the Unity of the Bible.
The Psalms constitute one of the most vital forms of prayer for men of all time.
Their Inspiration is expressly stated [2Sam.23: 1-5].

At the time when the Psalms were written they were not of such use
to those among whom they were written as they are to us,
for they were written to foretell the New Covenant among those
who lived under the Old Covenant [Saint Augustine].
The one great theme is Christ in regard to His inner life as the God-man
and in His past, present and future relations with the Church and the world.
The Psalter is the expression of the heart of the True man.
It is the Prophetic portrait [Icon] of the mind and heart of the coming Saviour.
God speaks to men in human words.
What wonderful Beauty there is in the words,
Let the lifting up of my hands be an evening Sacrifice [Psalm 140],
when applied to the one great Sacrifice of our Redemption
which was offered in the evening of the world
and on the eve of the Passover by the stretching out of the Saviour’s hands
to embrace all mankind on the Cross!
This we sing daily at Vespers.
What profound significance we can see in the words,
I will not die but live and proclaim the works of the Lord” [Psalm 117: 17],
when we refer them to the morning of the Resurrection and that first Easter Day
and the commission to the Apostles to make disciples of all nations!
This we sing daily at Matins. On Easter Day itself we sing.
This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it!
” [Psalm 117: 24].
And every day is the New day fresh from the and
in addition of the living God, so let us keep festival [1Cor.5: 8].

Inspiration
The inspiration of the Psalms as an integral part of inspired Scripture
is vouched for and guaranteed by Christ the Truth, Who asked the Pharisees:
How is it that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls Christ Lord, saying Psalm 109: 1:
The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand till I put Thy enemies under Thy feet’“.
If David calls Him Lord, how can He be his son? [Matth.22: 43-45].
Christ classes the Psalms,
the chief book of the Chetubim or Hagiographa,
with the Law and the Prophets [Luc.24: 44].
Inspiration is explicitly defined in 2Tim.3: 16 and 2Petr.1: 20, 21.

Date and Authorship
The title of Psalm 89 attributes it to Moses.
The psalm itself recalls how the first generation of Israelites
were doomed to die in the wilderness
for their infidelity and disobedience.
So about 1280 B.C. some of the Psalms were probably being sung.
The titles ascribe 84 of the 150 to David, who lived about 1000 B.C.
So the earliest of the Psalms are well over 3000 years old
and the compilation covered perhaps 1000 years.
There are indications of editing at different dates.
For instance, after Psalm 71 an editor has added:
The songs of David the son of Jesse are ended.
But later we meet more Psalms attributed to David,
evidently inserted by other editors [90, 92, 93 etc.].
The Book of Psalms was perhaps completed
for the Jewish canon by about 300 B.C.
The Greek translation was made in Egypt
about 250 B.C. by Jews of the dispersion.

We cannot summarize the matter of authorship
better than by quoting the words of Saint Gregory the Dialogist:
Who was the author?
A very useless question as soon as we believe
that the book was the work of the Holy Spirit
Who dictated what was to be written.
If we received a letter from a Great Personage,
would we be curious to know what pen he used to write it?
“.

Historical Coverage
Besides studying the past, we can sing songs about it.
That is what the Psalmists did.
The whole History of the world as recorded in the Old Testament,
from the Creation of the universe till after the Babylonian Exile,
is put into poetry by the Psalmists.
Psalm 136 looks back to the Babylonian Exile
as a thing of the past [cp. also Psalm 125].

Unity and Divisions
The Psalms form a single book.
So our Lord refers to them [Luc.20: 42]
and so do His Apostles [Acts 1: 20].
The Orthodox Church has divided the Psalter
into 20 kathismas or sessions
[perhaps because it is customary to sit during the reading of a kathisma].
Each kathisma is further divided into 3 sections, marked by a Glory.
At each Glory it is customary to stand and sing as follows:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and
to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Glory to You,
O God.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Glory to You,
O God.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Glory to You,
O God.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever, and to the ages of ages.                                                                                            Amen
“.
Mp3:  Romanian Orthodox Chant – Psalm 1,2,3 at Putna Monastery

Effect of the Psalms
People talk of haunted houses.
The Psalter is a house of prayer haunted by the Spirit of Christ
Who inspired the Psalms.
Used aright, they cannot fail to lift us above and beyond ourselves.
They confront us with God and we find ourselves haunted
by His presence and gradually brought face to face with Him.
They bring our hearts and minds into the presence of the living God.
They fill our minds with His Truth in order to unite us with His Love.
The Saints and Holy Fathers of the Church,
like the Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel,
were haunted by the living reality of the Redeemer
revealed to the world in the Psalter.
He is the Word of God hidden in these words of God.
As you persevere in praying the Psalms,
you will be drenched with the Holy Spirit
as the trees are drenched with the rain [Psalm 103: 16],
you will be rapt in God and penetrated from time to time
with vivid intuitions of His action,
your mind and heart will be purified.
The pure in heart know God as the Father of mercies
Who has so loved the world as to give His only Son for their redemption [John 3: 16]
and they see Him making all things New [Rev.21: 5].
They see and know Him not merely by faith, still less by speculation,
but by Interior and incommunicable Experience.
As we sing His Glories, we are led by Faith to see His vast activity in every aspect of life.
By beholding the Glory of the Lord, we are transformed into His likeness
from Glory to glory by the Spirit of God [2Cor.3: 18].
But this will only happen if we see Christ
as the way, the truth and the life of the Psalms [John 14: 6],
the Great God in Whom we live and move and have our being [Acts 17: 28].
As we persevere in seeking His Face, we find that the Psalms stir and arouse in us
the will to Believe and the will to Love.
By Faith and Love we pass into the realm of Eternal Reality
and new vistas of experience open before us [John 5: 24].

The Voice and The Voices
The Church functions as a voice.
Its ministers are servants of the word [Luc.1: 2].
The Word of life was made visible. Life is a Person.
The eternal life that was with the Father was made visible to us.
What we have seen and heard we declare to you,
that you may share our fellowship,
the life we share with the Father and His Son in the unity of the Spirit,
that our joy may be complete [1John 1: 1-4].
In one who is obedient to His word,
the Divine love has indeed reached perfection [1John 2: 5].
In the Psalms many voices are audible:
• sometimes it is the Psalmist Who speaks,
• sometimes a fool, sometimes Israel,
• sometimes the soul, sometimes evil spirits,
• sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son, sometimes the Spirit;
• sometimes the Messiah seems to be identified with Israel,
as in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.
With these swift transitions,
it is often difficult at first sight to tell who is the speaker.
As in the Psalms, so it is in our lives:
• “Be still and know I am” [Psalm 45: 11].
• “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening” [1Sam.3: 9].
The good Shepherd says,
• “My sheep hear My voice” [John 10: 27].
• The voice of the Psalmist is the Voice of Christ.
• The Voice of the bride is the Voice of the Bridegroom.
“He who hears you, hears Me” [Luc.10: 16].

Come you also
– And the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’.
– And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come’.
– And let everyone who is thirsty come,
– and let everyone who has the will to do so take the water of life as a free gift [Rev.22: 17].
– Here the Spirit of God and the Church with one voice
invite every living soul to come to the only fountain of life and happiness.
– Then every listening soul is told to cry out of the depths of his hunger and need, Come!
Finally the thirsty and needy and willing are told to come
and receive the Water of Life freely.

Here we have two comings:
– the final coming of Christ to the world and
– the coming of each soul to Christ.
In fact, Christ comes to us continually in all the changes and chances of our lives,
supremely in the Mystery of Communion [1Cor.11: 23-30; John.6: 31-58],
and in many special Manifestations of His real Presence [John.14: 19-23].
The Psalms tell us that we cannot find
satisfaction in sin or work or riches or culture or honour and glory.
But in Jesus we find here and now Satisfaction and Happiness, Pardon, Purity and Peace:
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for Righteousness [Christ],
for they will be satisfied [Matth.5: 6).
Pardon: In Him we have the forgiveness of our sins [Eph.1: 7].
Purity: He has washed us from our sins in His own blood [Rev.1: 5].
Peace: My peace I give you (Jn. 14:27). He is our Peace [Eph.2: 14].

And so we watch in eager expectation
for the coming of the Son of God in power and glory,
praying and working for that golden age foreseen and foretold
by the holy Prophets where God’s Will of perfect Love is done on earth
as it is in Heaven.
Let us take as our motto the words of the Psalmist:
I will live to please the Lord in the land of the living [Psalm 114: 9],
the Promised Land, the honeycomb of the earth [Ez.20: 6 LXX],
peace beyond all understanding [Phil.4: 7],
the joy of the Lord [Matth.25: 23],
Heaven within you [Luc.17: 21],
Divine life in the soul of man [2Cor.5: 15],
sharing the Divine Nature [2Petr.1: 4].
He who has the Son has the Life [1John 5: 12].
Come, Lord Jesus, come [Rev.22: 20].

Panegyric on the Psalms [from Saint John Chrysostom – Extract]
If we keep vigil in Church, David comes first, last and central.
If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last and central is David again.
If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep,
or if virgins sit at home and spin,
David is first, last and central.
O amazing wonder!

Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart.
Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous;
in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land,
he excites the praise of God.
In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies,
David is first, last and central.
In the convents of virgins, where are the communities of those who imitate Mary;
in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world,
who live their life in Heaven with God,
David is first, last and central.
All other men at night are overcome by sleep.
David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into Seraphic bands,
he turns earth into Heaven, and converts men into Angels”.
cf. Father Lazaros Moore – 1st printed 1966

Orthodoxy & the visit at the home of the two sisters

“Trust in the Lord at all times;
people, pour out your heart before Him:
God is a refuge for us”.
Psalm 61: 8

In the Gospel of Lucas,
Jesus visits the home of two sisters
named Mary and Martha,
living in an unnamed village.
Mary is contrasted with her sister Martha,
who was “cumbered about many things
Luc.10: 40
while Jesus was their guest,
while Mary had chosen “the better part“,
that of listening to the master’s discourse.

Though they are not specifically named as such in the Gospels, the Orthodox Church counts Mary and Martha among the Myrrh-bearing Women.
These faithful followers of Jesus stood at Golgotha during the Crucifixion of Jesus
and later came to His tomb early on the morning following the Sabbath with myrrh,
according to the Jewish tradition, to anoint their Lord’s body.
The Myrrh-bearers became the first witnesses
to the Resurrection of Jesus, finding the empty tomb
and hearing the joyful News
from an angel.

Orthodox tradition also relates that Mary’s brother Lazaros was cast out of Jerusalem
in the persecution against the Jerusalem Church
following the Martyrdom of Saint Stephanos.
His sisters Mary and Martha fled Judea with him,
assisting him in the proclaiming of the Gospel in various lands.
The three later moved to Cyprus,
where Lazarus became the first Bishop of Kition [today Larnaca].
All three died in Cyprus.

You are the only one who makes the choice
Have you ever met an individual that just seemed to have God all over them?
It seemed that they possessed a walk with the Lord
that was head and shoulders above anything you have ever experienced yourself
and you wondered how they accomplished it.
Well, I have been there! I think the answer lies in what they have discovered.
It just seems to me that some people have learned
to abide at the feet of Jesus as they go through life
and this translates into peace of heart,
Power of life and Purpose before God.
I want that kind of life for myself! How about you?
I would like to be constantly and consistently filled
with the Holy Spirit of God
and I would like to be found at the feet of Jesus.

The Gospels mention a woman named Mary.
She was the sister of Lazarus and Martha
and she is mentioned 3 times in the Gospel account.
Every time Mary is mentioned, she is always found
at the feet of Jesus.
Her experiences there can teach us
all some valuable lessons about our own walk with the Lord.
Today, we want to take a few minutes
and join Mary at the feet of Jesus.

1.]. a place of stillness [Luc.10; 38-42]
Martha opened her home to Jesus and did her best to be a good hostess.
Mary, on the other had opened her heart to Jesus
and tried her best just to love the Lord.
She found a place where:
a.] She Could forget her Cares –
while Martha was “cumbered“,
Mary was sitting, calmly listening to the Words of Jesus.
When we come into His presence, [i.e., in prayer, Bible reading, worship, etc.],
the burdens of life tend to grow amazingly light.
It would do many Christians good to learn to sit in His presence and forget about the cares of the whole World.
Learn to love the Lord more than your worries
and you will be able to find that calm place
in His blessed Presence.
When we focus our attention on Him,
other things tend to become very shadowy [Phil.4: 6-9]

b.] She could feed her Soul
– Martha was worried over physical nourishment
while Mary was more concerned
with getting her soul fed.
In His presence, we will find food for our souls and strength for our journey.
It is no wonder that many Christians are weak and lacking in spiritual vitality.
They never take the time to just come into His Presence and feed on Him!
We need soul food, or we will dry up spiritually! [2Tim.2: 15; Job 23: 12; 1Petr.2: 2]

c.]. She could focus her priorities
– Looking in on this scene at Martha’s home,
we can tell what each sister’s priorities were.
Martha was concerned with preparing the meal and serving her guests.
Mary, however, was more concerned with being in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Often, the level of spirituality we are able to achieve in life is directly related to the time we are willing
to spend in His presence.
If everything in our lives takes
precedence over being with the Lord,
then we are in danger at the heart of our experience.
Even being overly busy in His work,
to the point where we have no time
to spend at His feet, is a bad thing.
[your first love – Rev. 2: 1-7]
The more time one spends at His feet,
the easier it is to make it a priority in life.
The larger He gets in our eyes, the smaller other things seem to become.
Ask yourself this question:
Is sitting at Jesus’ feet a priority in my life?
We need to seek this Place of stillness before the Lord!

d.] She could find herself
– In sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary found fulfilment and contentment.
What she found at His feet was worth more than all the money in the world can buy.
In fact, in just sitting at the Lord’s feet,
Mary found something that millions live their entire lives and never discover.
She found acceptance and true contentment.
Those things alone are worth spending time in His presence.
If we as Christians could learn the value of spending time in at His feet,
a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists would have to go out of business.
God has promised us that we can find rest at His feet [2Tim.1: 17].

At the feet of Jesus we can see:
that next to a Place of stillness
and a Place of supplication [John 11: 32]
we can see:
That our Lord’s has interest in the need of His People
– When Jesus arrived in Bethany,
Martha ran out to meet Him.
In their conversation, Jesus demonstrated a great concern for and interest in their need.
After speaking with Martha, Jesus apparently calls for Mary.
He is concerned about the grief and pain that they are experiencing.

Every ‘child of God’ needs to understand
that Jesus cares about our need.
He is interested in what we are experiencing [Hebr.4: 15].
Never think for an instant that God does not care for you.
– That is the devil’s lie!
Jesus is extremely interested in everything
you are facing in life:
Though the Lord is high,
and He respect unto the lowly
“.
Psalm 137: 6
The word “respect” means “to see, discern, behold“.
This tells us that the Lord is looking down at our lives
and He misses nothing that affects His children:
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?
and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear you not therefore,
you are of more value
than many sparrows
“.
Matth.10: 19-31

Our Lord’s Invitation To His People
– Jesus called for Mary
to come unto Himself.
She responded and came.
There, she was able to place
her burdens upon the Lord.
The Lord has invited
all His children to come unto Him and experience what He can do in a time of crisis
Cast your burden upon the Lord
and He shall sustain you:
He will never suffer
the righteous to be moved
“.
Matth.11: 28; 1Petr.5: 7; Isaiah 55: 22

Isn’t it amazing that the Person
Who can do the most, the quickest
is often the last One we turn
in a time of need.
=> Resources are to be used persistently,
without question in time of need.
Doctors are to be sent for in sickness.
Lawyers are to be consulted when property
or character needs defence.
The help of all friends is to be sought.
But still after all,
the first thing to be done is to cry to the Lord Jesus for help.
Whether or not you come to Him in a time of trouble,
His invitation is stands.

Mary heard that Jesus was calling her,
she ran to meet Him. What a lesson for God’s children!
When the time of crisis comes, Jesus is always near.
Run quickly to Him and He will meet your need!

Apolyticion        Tn 4
Today is the beginning of our Salvation,
The revelation of the eternal Mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace,
the Lord is with You!

Orthodoxy & the departed Saints pray for us

This done, in like manner
there appeared a man with gray hairs
and exceeding glorious,
who was of a wonderful and excellent majesty.
Then Onias answered, saying,
‘This is a lover of  the brethren, who prays much for the people
and for the holy city, 
to wit, Jeremiah, the Prophet of God’“.
2Mac.15: 13-14

This was the vision which was seen by the courageous Judas Maccabee.
The first to appear to him from the other world was Onias the high priest and after that the holy Prophet Jeremiah.
Just as Moses and Elijah were seen in Glory by the apostles on Mount Tabor,
thus, at one time Judas Maccabee saw the Prophet Jeremiah in Glory.
Not even before the Resurrected Christ did God the Merciful
leave men without proof of life after death.
In Christian times, however, those proofs are without number and without end.
Whoever, even after all of this, doubts in life after death,
that one stands under the curse of his sin as under his grave stone.
As inanimate things cannot see the light of day,
so neither can he see who doubts life which is and to which there is no end.

But, behold with what kind of Glory is
the Prophet Jeremiah wedded in the other life! “Gray hairs and exceeding glorious“;
– around him a certain indescribable dignity,
– a certain bright aureole,
– a certain inexpressible pleasure
– and beauty.
He who was dragged and beaten by men
to whom he communicated and imparted
the will of God
– and who was a captive in prison
– and a martyr in a fetid hole
– and who was ridiculed as folly
– and was tried as a traitor
– and finally, as a transgressor,
was stoned to death.
However, one is the judgment of sinners,
another is the judgment of God.
The most humiliated among men became wedded with angelic Glory before God.

And yet behold how Heaven calls one,
whom the earth called false,
a traitor and a transgressor!
– “Lover of the brethren“;
this is how Heaven called him.
– “Lover of the brethren“;
who prays much for the people.
Finally, see how the Saints in Heaven pray to God for us!
Not sleeping, they are praying for us
– while we are asleep;
not eating, they are praying for us
– while we are eating and have over-eaten;
not sinning, they are praying for us
– while we are sinning.
O brethren, let us be ashamed before so many of our sincere friends.
Let us be ashamed,
let us be ashamed of so many prayers for us
by the Saints and let us join with their prayers.
O Lord All-wonderful,
forgive us our sinful slothfulness and dullness.
To You be glory and thanks always.
Amen“.
Saint Nicholai Velimirovich

When particularly dedicated Christians
consistently demonstrate throughout their lives
a great love for Christ and their fellow-man
and when they live and die in unusually vibrant Hope and Joy in Him,
they are remembered with special fervour
by their fellow Christians left behind on earth.
Accounts of their good deeds, their wise words, and very often,
miraculous events associated with their lives, are spread by word of mouth.
Miracles often occur at the graves of such individuals.
An excellent biblical account of such an occurrence
can be found in 2 Kings 13:20, 21.
Here, a man was raised to life merely
by coming into contact with the bones of Elisha.
In addition, miracles often occur in respect
to the earthly possessions of the Saints.
We are told in the New Testament that even Saint Paul’s handkerchiefs became instruments of God’s healing [Acts 19:11,12].
An example of such an event in recent times occurred at the death of Saint Nectarios.
Just after bishop Nectarios died, the nurses changing his clothing
threw his woolen undershirt onto the bed of a paralyzed man in the same room;
the invalid was healed, immediately standing up
and walking for the first time in many years [Chondropoulos, p. 265].
Knowledge of such events is further spread
when accounts of them are recorded and circulated.
This encourages more people
to ask the person for his or her Heavenly intercessions

[even though it’s not tolerated by a local archpriest,
who is behaving to be a staretz himself].

Thus the devotion to the person spreads in a very organic, spontaneous way.
Such developments usually lead the Church
to formally honour such particularly holy persons
through the process of canonization

[often called “Glorification” by the Orthodox]
.
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church,
which has a very detailed, step-by-step procedure for canonization, the Orthodox Church simply recognizes officially the popular devotion which has spontaneously surrounded the memory of the holy man, woman, or child.

[It is good to remember
that the canonized saints
are of all ages and from all walks of life,
from soldier to monk/nun,
from bishop to family father/housewife
]
.
Usually this is done at a regional or national level, where awareness of the saint’s life tends to be greatest, but the other Orthodox Churches may announce their recognition of the canonization as well.
All this is done so that the popular piety
surrounding the saint is channelled and safeguarded
under the protective mantle of the Church
and so that those living beyond the local area
where the saint lived can become aware of him or her.

We can say is that it is clear that the Jews of the diaspora;
1.]. believed the Saints were alive,
2.]. believed the Saints were able to hear their prayers, and
3.]. believed the Saints were able to respond.
Therefore, it is not much of a stretch to understand how the early Christian church, being comprised mainly of Jews,
did not have any problem with intercessory prayer to the Saints.

Historical Witness
A belief in prayer to the Theotokos appears to be a quite early development.
The John Rylands Papyrus 470 is a fragment dated to around 250 A.D.
and containing the following prayer to the Theotokos:
Under your Mercy we take refuge, Mother of God!
Our prayers, do not despise in necessities,
but from the danger deliver us, only pure, only blessed‘.
Tribe and Villiers 2011

Notice, if you will, the dating of this fragment
– well before the time of the edict of Milan in 313 A.D.;
this papyrus dates to the time of Emperor Decius,
under whose reign there was a persecution of Christian laity across the empire.
This prayer, dating from a time of great persecution,
is still contained in the Greek Orthodox “Book of Hours”,
where it is one of the concluding prayers of the evening services;
also, the Orthodox sing this Hymn as the last dismissal Hymn
of daily Vespers during Great Lent. [Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia 2011]
The prayer is also used in the Roman Catholic Church,
where it is known as the ‘Sub tuum praesidium‘.
Mathewes-Green 2007, 85-86

Shawn Tribe and Henri de Villiers provide us
with the following theological analysis of this prayer.
Three fundamental Theological Truths are admirably synthesized:
– The special election of the Theotokos by God [“only blessed”].
– The perpetual Virginity of the Theotokos [“only pure”].
– The Divine Motherhood [“Theotokos”; “Mother
may be considered as a poor translation of Genitrix.
Tribe and Villiers 2011

We should also add the idea that the Theotokos hears our prayers
and, in some sense, answers them.
Thus prayer to the Theotokos,
along with a belief in her remaining ‘ever-virgin’,
is an expression of ante-Nicene Christianity,
rather than [as some suggest] a syncretic grafting of paganism
onto Christianity by a post-Constantine, apostate church.

Witness of the fathers [& others]
Saint John of Kronstadt waxes lyrical on this topic.
Pray, my brethren, to the Mother of God
when the storm of enmity and malice bursts forth in your house.
She, Who is all-merciful and all-powerful,
can easily pacify the hearts of men.
Peace and love proceed from the one God, as from their Source, and Our Lady
– in God, as the Mother of Christ the Peace, is ardent,
and prays for the peace of the whole world,
and above all of all Christians.
She has the all-merciful power of driving away from us
at Her sign the sub-celestial spirits of evil
–  those ever-vigilant and ardent sowers of enmity and malice amongst men,
whilst to all who have recourse with faith
and love to Her powerful protection,
She soon speedily gives both peace and love.
Be zealous yourselves also in preserving faith and love in your hearts;
for if you do not care for this,
then you will be unworthy of the intercession for you
– of the Mother of God;
be also most fervent and most reverent worshippers
[excerpt from the diary of Saint John of Kronstadt].
of the Mother of the Almighty Lord;
for it is truly meet to bless Her–the ever-blessed;
the entirely spotless Mother of our God,
the highest of all creatures,
the Mediatrix for the whole race of mankind.
Strive to train yourself in the spirit of humility,
for She Herself was more humble than any mortal,
and only looks lovingly upon the humble”.
He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden” [said She to Elisabeth],
of “God, Her Saviour.”
Saint John of Kronstadt 2010, Kindle Locations 3050-3059

The Sub tuum praesidium [written between 250 and 280]
precedes by several centuries
the Ave Mariain Christian prayer.

On the papyrus, we can read:
.ΠΟ
ΕΥCΠΑ
ΚΑΤΑΦΕ
ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕΤ
ΙΚΕCΙΑCΜΗΠΑ
ΕΙΔΗCΕΜΠΕΡΙCTAC
AΛΛΕΚΚΙΝΔΥΝΟΥ
…ΡΥCΑΙΗΜΑC
MONH
…HEΥΛΟΓ
That is this greek text:
Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν
εὐσπλαγχνίαν
καταφεύγομεν
Θεοτὸκε· τὰς ἡμῶν
ἱκεσίας μὴ παρ-
ίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνου
λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς
μόνη ἁγνὴ
μόνη εὐλογημένη.
A literal Latin version might be:
Sub tuam
misericordiam
confugimus,
Dei Genitrix ! nostras
deprecationes ne des-
picias in necessitatibus
sed a perditione
salva nos
sola pura,
sola benedicta.
And an English translation could be: 
Under your
mercy
we take refuge,
Mother of God! Our
prayers, do not despise
in necessities,
but from the danger
deliver us,
only pure,
only blessed.

the hymn is chanted in the context of a Vespers Service for Great Lent:
MP3: Χορός Ψαλτών Οι Κρήτες Μαΐστορες κατανυκτικός

The Saints are living,
– are aware of us
[as seen in the conversations between
Moses, Elijah, and the Transfigured Christ],
– fellowship with us,
– worship with us at the heavenly altar
[of which the earthly altar is but a shadow]
– and are able to speak with Jesus.
The author of Hebrews charges us
to keep in mind the Saints in Heaven,
the ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’ [Hebr.12: 1]
– of whom constant mindfulness in some way helps us
avoid sin and keep us on the path towards Salvation.

March 25th – Annunciation, Christ’s Birth announced to the Theotokos

Christ expounded unto the Disciples,
walking to Emmaus
in all the Historical Scriptures
the things concerning Himself“.
cf. Luc.24: 26-28

Man would never come to know the True God unless God Himself first became man,
thus the Coming of Christ has been foretold.

The promise that Christ would come can be read in:
Gen. 3: 15, 22: 18, 26: 4, 49: 10;
Num. 21: 6-9, 24: 17, Deut. 18:15;
Psalm 15: 8-10, 21: all, specifically: 21: 14-16-18, 131: 11;
Isaiah 7: 14, 9: 6-7, 40: 10-11, 50: 6, 52: 13-15, 53: all, 60: 21;
Jer 23: 5, Jer 33: 14-15, Ezek 34: 23, Ezek 37: 25;
Dan. 9: 25, Mic.5: 2 & 7: 20;
Zach.6: 12, 9: 9, 9: 10, 12: 8-10, 13: 7;
Mal.3: 1-4 & 4: 2-6.
This list is not complete by any means and if one were to take into account
the more complicated Scriptures, the compound Scriptures,
one would be able to enlarge this list geometrically, for the Old Testament
was a promise of that which was to come.
Jesus was that Promise Which did in fact come,
and the New Testament is the record of the Promise fulfilled
and the future Promises yet to come,
but they all revolve around Almighty God’s plan, purpose
and consummation of the eternal Union
between His children and Himself
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Today’s Feast is indeed the Feast of
the True knowledge of God,
as foreseen by the Fore-fathers.
This is the Feast of the Formation of Christ in the flesh, announced by the Archangel Gabriel
and accepted by the Virgin,
and it occurs therefore nine months
before the Birth of Christ at Christmas.
It is, as the hymns of the Church tell us,
the Crown of our Salvation,
the beginning of everything.
This is why its Greek name is ‘Ευαγγελισμος’ [Evangelismos],
which comes from the word ‘Ευαγγελίων’ meaning ‘Good News’.
This is the feast of the Good News, the Feast of the Gospel.
Without this Feast, there would have been
no Good News, no Gospel.

Its usual English name is the Annunciation.
For it is the Feast not of an announcement,
but of the Announcement.
It is the ultimate Announcement, for it is the Announcement that God has become man,
the Announcement of the Presence of
the Wisdom of God amongst us,
not of the wisdom of man as before Christ,
but of the Wisdom of God.
It changes everything in World’s History,
overshadowing and surpassing all
that old human wisdom
of Ancient Greece, Egypt, India and China.

But however Divine this Highfeast is, it is also human.
The humanity of this Feast is not only in that today God becomes an embryo,
it is also in that today the Virgin becomes a Mother.
This is why today the Church is in blue,
the colour of the Virgin-Mother
and why this Feast is also known as ‘Lady Day’ in England.
Today, in accepting the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel, in accepting the Will of God, the Virgin becomes the most high of all mankind,
‘More honourable than the Cherubim
and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim’
.
Mp3: Megalynarion of Orthros [Greek & English]
She exceeds in her sacrifice all other men and women in human History,
past, present and future.
She becomes linked with all eternity
and surpasses humanity while remaining human.
In a word,
this earthly being becomes through her sacrifice the Mother of God,
which is why we, though still on earth,
commemorate her in Heavenly blue.

In accepting this cross of sacrifice,
the Mother of God also accepts
the approaching Cross of Victory of Her Son.
This is a very significant fact
and indeed this is a spiritual law.
For every sacrifice, for every cross
that we take on ourselves according to God’s Will,
we receive a spiritual reward.
It may not come at once, but it will inevitably come.
This is a spiritual law, just as, in the same way,
if we fail to make a sacrifice and take up our cross
when God calls us to do that,
there is also a price to pay,
the price of spiritual defeat.
Mp4: Anaphora – Divine Liturgy [English]

For example, at this moment,
and in more than one part of the world,
men are fighting, men are slaughtering one another.
This is because they are blind to Christ.
For when we are blind to Christ,
then we are also blind
to the meaning of Christ’s Cross.
Thus people make war, instead of making Peace.
For people cannot make Peace because
that involves a sacrifice,
the sacrifice of sharing.
If there is no Cross of Sacrifice,
then there is
– no Cross of Victory,
– no Cross of Resurrection,
just the constant cycle of wars.

The sacrifice of the Mother of God
in accepting to bear and nourish God,
giving Him her blood, bones and flesh,
and raise Him as a man is such
that she alone among all mankind
can take us outside the cycle of wars
and can lead us,
if we wish to follow her,
into Eternity,
to the Resurrection of Christ.

“Most Holy Mother of God, save us!”

And the Scripture is fulfilled which said,
Abraham [man] believed God,
and it was imputed unto him [us] for righteousness:
and he [we] is [are] called the friend[s] of God“.
cf. James 2: 23

Wishful to be a saint, by Saint Silouan, the Athonite

Saints were just people like all of us.
Many of them started with grievous sins
but through repentance they attained to the Kingdom of Heaven.
And everyone who reaches the Kingdom of Heaven does so through repentance,
which the Merciful Lord granted us by His sufferings.

In the Kingdom of Heaven where dwell the Lord
and His most pure Mother, abide all the Saints.
There live our Forefathers and Patriarchs
who valiantly carried their faith before them.
There dwell the Prophets who received the Holy Spirit,
and by their exhortations called the people to God.
There dwell the Apostles who died
that the Gospel might be preached.
There dwell the Martyrs
who gladly gave their lives for love of Christ.
There dwell the holy Prelates
who followed the Lord’s example
and took upon themselves the burden of their spiritual flock.
There dwell the holy Fathers
who lived lives of prayer and fasting,
and those who assumed folly for Christ’s sake,
all of whom fought the good fight
and thereby overcame the world.
There dwell all the Righteous
who kept God’s commandments
and vanquished their passions.

That place aspires my soul
– to that wondrous holy assembly
which the Holy Spirit has gathered together.
But woe is me!
Inasmuch as I lack humility,
the Lord does not grant me the strength to fight,
and my feeble spirit flickers out like a tiny candle,
whereas the spirit of the Saints burned with a bright flame,
which the wind of temptation not only failed to extinguish
but set burning more fiercely than ever.
They trod the earth and worked with their hands
but their spirits continued with God,
of Whom they were ever mindful.
For the love of Christ they endured
every affliction on earth and feared no suffering,
and thus glorified the Lord.
Wherefore the Lord loved them and glorified them,
and granted them the eternal Kingdom with Him.
Saint Silouan, the Athonite‘,
published by Archimandrite Sofronios

Orthodoxy, Lent & The Akathist Hymn to Theotokos

 

The Akathist Hymn is a profound, devotional poem or chant,which sings the praises of
the Holy Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary [Theotokos].
It is chanted in all Orthodox Churches
throughout the world during the five Fridays
in the Great Lent,
and constitutes a very concrete spiritual preparation
for the Holy Week and Easter Services.

Devotional Hymns to the Theotokos
are as ancient as the original Christian Church.
The Byzantine Empire from its very inception
at Constantinople during the fourth century,
closely allied itself to the Virgin Mary
and always sort Her protection or intercessions.
This we see from the Prayer Services to the Theotokos
between the fifth and eighth centuries,
and the reference to Constantinople as the ‘Queen City’.

The Akathist Hymn, which in its present form was added to
by many Ecclesiastical Hymnographers,
existed for most part even before it was formally accepted
by the Church in 626 AD.
The Kontakion
To the Invincible Champion… we ascribe the Victory
was added then, and came to be recognized as the Akathist Hymn,
because of the following described miracle attributed
to the intercession of the Theotokos.

While the Emperor of Byzantium Heracleios was on an expedition to fight the aggression of the Persians on their own grounds,
there appeared outside the walls of Constantinople barbaric hordes, mostly Avars.
The siege lasted a few months,
and it was apparent that the outnumbered troops of the Queen City were reaching desperation.
However as history records,
the Faith of the people worked
the impossible.
The Venerable Patriarch Sergius with the Clergy and
the Official of Byzantium Vonos, endlessly marched along
the great walls of Constantinople with an Icon of the Theotokos in hand,
and bolstered the faith of the defenders of freedom.
The miracle came soon after.
Unexpectedly, as the chronicler narrates,
a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy,
and full retreat ensued.

The faithful of Constantinople
spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos
at Vlachernae on the Golden Horn,
and with the Patriarch Sergius officiating,
they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting.
Hence the title of the Hymn “Akathistos“,
in Greek meaning not seated.

The Akathist Hymn is a very important
and indeed an integral part of our religious and ecclesiastical life.
When we are present during the first Friday Service,
we firmly realize that we commence to ascend
the spiritual steps of the lengthy Lenten period,
to finally reach the peak with our Lord’s Glorious Resurrection.

The Akathist Hymn was not strange to the Latin West
even though apart from the Eastern Church.
Pope Benedict XIV granted on May 4, 1746
an indulgence of 50 days to the Latin and Eastern Rite Roman Catholics,
for each recitation of the Hymn.

Father Vincent McNabb, a Roman Catholic Priest in London,
translated the Hymn into English in 1934.
In his forward remarks he stated
“No apology is needed for introducing the Akathistos to the Christian West. Indeed the West might well be apologetic
about its neglect, or ignorance of such a liturgical
and literary masterpiece”.

In any of our Service Books we can readily see
that our glorious and Ever-Virgin Theotokos
is the center of many of our Orthodox Services
in which prayers abound for Her interceding
to Her Son, and our God, for our Salvation.
The Virgin Mary is the most exalted
and most honoured person by God.
She is the most revered and most loved by humans.
She is a binding force for all Christians.
She is the Unique Personality of the world,
because of the unique fact of the Lord’s Incarnation.
She is the daughter of Grace and the Crystal Vessel
of the Grace of the Holy Spirit [see Luc.1: 26-56].

Faith in the Almighty God is primary and all important
to the Holy Orthodox Church.
Our dependence on God is always beyond question,
and from this faith we should strive not to stray.
Therefore, Services, like the Akathist Hymn,
should be a must and attended by all.
Moreover, this particular Service links us
so beautifully with a great and glorious period of our Christian history;
it is also a very live tradition,
which has never ceased in the Orthodox Church
since its official acceptance in 626 AD.

Living in these trying times,
when we are besieged by many forces of evil,
it is hoped that the Akathist Hymn
as well as our other Services may become
the bulwark to withstand,
and indeed to overcome these forces.

The Akathist Hymn is divided into 4 main parts, and briefly the content is as follows:

1 Stanzas 1 – 6
recount:
a. The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.
b. The Virgin Mary’s purity.
c. The Virgin Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.
d. The doubts of Joseph the protector, and his joy upon learning of the supernatural Conception.
2 Stanzas 7 – 12
tell us of:
a. The shepherds hearing the Angels praising the birth of the Lord and their visit to the manger.
b. The adoration of the Magi.
c. The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and the falling of the idols.
3 Stanzas 13 – 18
relate:
a. The new Creation which was wrought by the Incarnate Lord through the Theotokos.
b. The call for the uplifting of our minds to Heaven from where God descended.
c. The Lord’s Omnipresence, that while He came to earth, He was no less in Heaven.
d. The confounding of the philosophers and orators, who were at a loss to explain God’s condescension.
4 Stanzas 19 – 24
speak of:
a. The Theotokos as a protector of all the devout, and those who choose to flee unto Her.
b. God coming as one of us, amongst us, to draw us near to Him.
c. Our inability to adequately sing the praises of God, whose mercies are countless.
d. The Lord cancelling all the ancient spiritual debts, and the granting of His Grace to all. Our prayers and petitions to the Holy Mother to protect us from misfortunes and save us from the future condemnation.

pdf: Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos
[English tekst]

Orthodoxy & the period of Great Lent

The period of Great Lent is a period
to prepare for the Feast of feast – Pascha,
in which we re-clothe ourselves like
at the moment of our Baptism in Christ.
That’s why the Church calls us
to prepare ourselves by prayer and fasting.

The teaching of fasting and prayer seems
strangely out of place in our time.
Fasting is connected to sports, to get a restored body good-looking to others, instead of a method
to come near to our [inner Christian] principles.
Even most Christians have lost the habit of prayer and fasting
and most of our young believers are never well-educated to fast.
This is a catastrophe that saddens our Lord, Who is always waiting
for our coming-home.

For when we were in the flesh,
the motions of sins, which were by the law,
did work in our members
to bring forth fruit unto death
“.
Rom.7: 5

For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting,
you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself ?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isaiah 58: 1-5

Fasting helps us reduce and conquer
the longings and requests of the flesh.
The body makes a wonderful servant, but a very poor master.
Fasting brings the carnal nature into
subjection so that the body becomes the servant
and the Spirit becomes the master.
We have to fast to control the flesh.

For I know that in me [that is, in my flesh]
dwells no good thing:
for to will is present with me;
but how to perform that
which is good I find not
“.
Rom.7: 18

God is disappointed because He knows that prayer and fasting
make us powerful in the spirit; the adversary delights
because without the Power of the Holy Spirit [Grace]
we are unable to offer him resistance.
Why have the mainstream of believers have abandoned
the practice of prayer and fasting?
Some of the believers have abandoned prayer and fasting
because they didn’t seem to be getting
the domino effects they were looking for.
They expected cash on the nail [dutch: butter with the fish] as real commercials;
They positioned the problem to God.
It’s not our attitude that we first look to ourselves,
it’s more easy to empty the blame on the other side.
When we pray and fast and do not experience a breakthrough, we are not used to blame ourselves.
We don’t ask ourselves:
Is there something in your life that needs to be dealt with?
Maybe our motives for fasting are wrong!

As children of God, we have to know the will of God for our lives.
Many countries in East & West are founded upon Godly principles.
Despite the infiltration of immorality and debauchery into the very heart of modern culture, a majority of people is still very religious.
We want to see positive changes in our society,
but we seem to do it in the wrong way.

“They ask me for just decisions
and seem ready for God to come near them
“.
Isaiah 58: 2
The people in the time of Isaiah also asked
– why God was not hearing their prayers;
– why God was producing no visible results
after their prayers and fasting.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

Isaiah 58: 3

These people thought they were serving God.
They thought they were believing His Word.
They were continuing their religious traditions
and working for social justice in their days.
Yet, when they quoted the promises and exercises their Faith, nothing happened.

The answer God gave them may surprise even our Russian or Greek Christians:
Yet on the day of your fasting,
you do as you please
and exploit all your workers“.
Isaiah 58: 3

If the people of Isaiah’s days were getting nowhere spiritually
because they were pleasure seekers, we are really in trouble in our times.
A great percentage of our time, our effort and our money
are now spent for things that bring us pleasure.
To most of us nothing is more important than our jobs
– nothing else than related to our jobs and the gathering of
over-luxury-income, more, more, and more only to consume.
We have more important things to do than prayer and fasting;
fasting is simply not in the schedule.
There is no time for it.

If God is not answering our prayers, something is wrong.
Our approach is wrong; our perception of God is wrong.
If we really put God first, He will never fail to put us first.
But if we put Him third, He is not owing a favour to us first;
he is not obligated to answer our very impulse and fancy.
If having fun is more important to us than having God’s favour on our lives,
there is not much hope for our spiritual future.
If our jobs and the results of it are more important to us than doing the will of God,
we are serious in trouble.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
“.
Isaiah 58: 4
Those who fasted actually had an evil purpose in doing so;
[collecting money or an admired dignified look of the bystanders].
God declared that this was not the fast He had chosen.
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isaiah 58: 5

Prayer and fasting is not for the purpose of showing off.
It’s very a very personal act performed unto God, not to men.
The fast which God has chosen is very different.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter . . . . .
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Isaiah 58: 6-7

What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
You want something but don’t get it.
You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.
You quarrel and fight.
You do not have, because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive,
because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get
on your pleasures.
James 4: 1-3

Fasting is not a tool to twist the arm of God
so that He will give you exactly what you want.
Fasting has a spiritual resolve, and that resolution is
to get your flesh out of the way
so that the Spirit of God [Grace] can enter into your life.
Fasting removes the barriers to communication with God
and allows the spirit man to commune directly
with the Heavenly Father – without any disruption.
When a person makes a determination to fast,
he is making a determination to remove obstacles in his life
to total submission to the Will of God.
No wonder that the adversary [the Satan]
is strong-minded to destroy this practice!
The adversary [the Satan] wants you to be poor,
to give free rein to your appetites . . . . .
until he consumes you.
The food-industry, the illegal drug industry
and the entertainment industry have much in common. They are all connected to the run-away appetites of our society.
Much of the poverty of our backlog neighbourhoods [ghettos] and their social projects are a direct result of this almost total loss of control.
Most of us who live comfortable in the prosperous nations have problems
with prayer and fasting because everything around us is designed
to charm to our flesh and its carnal desires.

But when we seek the Face of God through prayer and fasting, we push the flesh aside, denying the appetites the control they seek over us,
and allow our spirit man, who desires God,
to develop a strong relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Man is a triune being made up of body, soul and spirit.
It’s the spirit that came from God and longs to be
re-united with Him, as our Father.
When we give our spirit the opportunity he will reach out to God.
God will say: “reach out, I will be there” [a popular hit in my youth from the Bee Gees];
and we will communicate with Him.
These three parts of a person, however, strive [play progress] for influence.
Your spirit can influence your soul and your soul can influence your flesh.
If you are accustomed spiritually with God, your soul has no choice but to delight in the decisions of
your spiritual life.
Your flesh submits to the authority of your soul.
When the angel Gabriël appeared to the Theotokos, she reoonded immediately:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
Luc.1: 46-47
               If your soul is magnifying the Lord, your flesh will bow in submission.
If your flesh has risen to authority in your life, however,
it will struggle with your spirit for dominance,
and the soul will obey the lusts of the flesh.
Fasting sets your spirit free to worship and serve God.
Fasting enables you to break the hold of the flesh
and brings your appetites into control.
It places you in submission to the Holy Spirit of God.
When this happens, you get answers to your prayers.

February 15th – Saint Anthimos of Chios [† 1960]

Saint Anthimos, who in the world was
known as Argyrios K. Vagianos, was born on July 1, 1869
to devout peasants, Konstantinos and Argyra, in
Chios in the region of Saint Lucas Leivadion.
He left elementary school early to become a shoe mender.
At the age of nineteen he visited the Skete of the Holy Fathers founded by the monk Pachomios, who
had been the spiritual counselor of Saint Nektarios.
With the blessing of the elder, Anthimos returned home and
built himself a small hut and dwelt in it.
His only help in his spiritual contests was  an icon of
the Mother of God given to him by his mother later
known as Panagia Voithia [the Helper], which soon
began to work miracles, drawing many to his hermitage.

He had returned home to relieve the suffering of
his parents and help the poor of his village as well.
After a time he retired to the Skete, and
it was here that he became a monk and
took the name Anthimos given by Elder Pachomios.
He fell ill there and his abbot sent him home to
his parents for the sake of his health.
At home, despite the fact that he was caring for his aged parents and practicing his shoe mender’s trade,
he continued to live as a monk, spending nights on end in prayer and sometimes living only on bread and water for extended periods.
He took his inspiration reading about the lives of the great ascetics, and in this way he was able to conquer every assault of the devil.

Increasing numbers of visitors came to his hermitage and wonder-working icon of the Theotokos, and
in 1909, at the age of forty, he received the Great Schema by the successor of Pachomios,
Hieromonk Andronikos.
The people of Chios wanted him to be ordained to the priesthood, but his bishop refused due to
the Saint’s lack of education.
At the prompting of Anthimos’ godfather,
the Bishop of Smyrna ordained him instead in 1910.
After a pilgrimage to Mount Athos in 1911, he returned to Chios, where he became chaplain to a leper hospital.
Soon the hospital, which had fallen into corruption,
became a spiritual center, as much like a monastery as                                                                a hospital.
Saint Anthimos tended many of the sickest with his own hands,
working many miracles of healing;
some of his recovered patients became monks or nuns
– such as Venerable Nikephoros the Blind.

With the notorious ‘Exchange of Populations’ of 1922-1924, refugees poured into Chios, many of them destitute nuns and girls.
In response to a vision of the Mother of God,
Saint Anthimos built a monastery in 1930, which opened with thirty nuns and grew rapidly, despite the opposition of many who
said that setting up such a community was out of date.
The Monastery of Panagia Voithia, as it came to be known, soon
housed eighty nuns and was known throughout Greece as
a model of monastic life.
Father Anthimos served as priest to the nuns, and
continued to receive the many faithful — often sixty or seventy per day — who
came to him for prayer or counsel.
He carried on this ministry for more than thirty years,
working many miracles of healing.
When he was too old to work with his hands,
he retired to his cell and prayed that
he be enabled to serve his neighbour until his last breath.

On January 27, 1960 Saint Anthimos celebrated his final Divine Liturgy.
He reposed in peace at the age of ninety-one on February 15th,
mourned and revered by the whole island of Chios.
The remains of Saint Anthimos are in the church inside of
the monastery he founded and still work miracles along with
the holy icon of Panagia Voithia.
He was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on August 13, 1992.

Orthodoxy & the inner interchanges

Heavenly King,
the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere and fills all things;
Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life
– come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity,
and save our souls, O Good One“.
Prayer to Holy Spirit

Prayer
“… prayer … actualizes our ascent to and
union with the Deity…
when our prayer, through its fervent compunction, transcends the passions and conceptual thoughts; for the intellect,
while still passion-dominated, cannot be united to God.
Thus so long as the intellect when praying remains in a passion-charged state,
it will not obtain mercy; but to the extent that it can dispel distractive thoughts it will experience inward grief, and in so far as it experiences such grief
it will partake of God’s mercy.
And if with humility it continues to savour this mercy
it will transform entirely the aspect of the soul that it accessible to passion

Saint Gregory Palamas – On Prayer and Purity of Heart

Keep your heart with all vigilance;
for from it flow the spring of life
“[Prov. 4: 23].

For from within, out of the heart of man,
come evil thoughts
“[Marc.7: 21].

So shun youthful passions and aim at
righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along
with those who call upon the Lord
from a pure heart
“[2Tim. 2:22].

In its biblical concept, the heart is the source of all the potentiality of the spiritual and physical life: “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the spring of life“. Prov. 4: 23
This applies not only to good potentialities but to evil ones as well: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander“. Matth.15: 19
So the heart has become the expression of the final condition of man, whether he be good or evil: “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil“[Luc.6:45].
This means that the inclinations of the inmost heart set the tone of the whole man – they colour his thoughts, his words, and his deeds.
Man’s speech thus inevitably betrays the nature of his heart: “For out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks“[Luc.6: 45].
So man’s words usually testify to the state
of his heart.
They can justify him or condemn him:
For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned“. [Matth.12: 37]
The relationship between one’s heart
and one’s lips is defined by the Apostle Paul as follows: “For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved“[Rom.10: 10]. So when the heart believes, the lips must confess what kind of faith is in the heart.

However, the Bible tells us that it is possible for
two kinds of hearts to exist side by side in man,
one expressing his true nature and another falsifying his thoughts, words and deeds.
In the latter case, a person talks of good deeds and actually does them to give people the false impression that he is virtuous, while in fact he is wicked:
You brood of vipers! How can you speak of good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks“.
Matth.12: 34
From the words of the Lord, we learn that it is impossible for man to speak good words out of himself while being wicked. Good words coming from an evil source could only occur with the help of an auxiliary power – or of another heart implanted by the devil to mimic good deeds. We can infer this from the way our Lord describes those who counterfeit good deeds as a “brood of vipers“.
The viper is a symbolical expression of the devil. Here the intention behind showing off virtue is to safeguard evil and guarantee its lasting effect – which is the very work of the devil. The devil’s work, with regard of the heart, is not merely confined to contaminating it with evil desires. It is not just that he makes the devil treasured up in the heart produce evil. He even adds to this the possibility of giving man another heart from which he can speak gilded words. This he does to keep the evil intent and make sure that it is carried out.
As for God’s work concerning the heart, it is the complete removal of the evil heart and the creation of a new one that he implants into man. Thus, when man’s heart is transformed into a new heart, man of necessity is turned into another man:
Then the Spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon you, and you shall prophesy with them and be turned into another man . . .  When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart“.
1Sam.10: 6,9
In the Bible, the good News, the reality of creating a new heart for man goes hand in hand with three basic actions:
1.] contrition of the sinner’s heart;
2.] man’s complete cleansing or purging from within; and
3.] the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
These three actions we find most clearly expressed in Psalm 50 of the Prophet David:

Have mercy upon me, o God, according to Your steadfast Love;
According to Your abundance Mercy blot out my transgressions.
wash me thoroughly from my iniquity . . .

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean,
and I shall be whiter than snow . . .
Create in me a clean heart. O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence, and
take not Your Holy Spirit from me . . .
A broken and contrite heart, o God, You will not despise”.

However, the creation of a new heart for a person in the Old Commitment [O.T.] was an exceptional and individual case. In the New Commitment [N.T.], the act became universal, not merely to create a new heart, but for creating a whole new man.
We find these three actions implied in the Mystery of Baptism. We find within it the image of cleansing and inward purging: “[He] cleaned their hearts by Faith“[Acts 15: 9]. This takes place during the burial in water in the Name of Christ. However, cleansing and purging cannot happen except through contrition of heart. It calls for genuine repentance a complete ˂-turn from sin. It is on account of this that forgiveness is granted; “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“[Acts 2: 38]. That is, by thorough cleansing and purging through Faith and Repentance, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. It has thus become possible for every man to obtain the new creation and the new heart – by water and the Spirit, through Faith and Repentance.

However, purification of the heart through faith and repentance is one thing, but the acceptance of a heart newly created and purified by the Holy Spirit is another.
There is a crucial distinction between the two.
Purification of the heart is a necessary and vital activity in which we should be intimately involved.
But the creation of a new and a pure heart is an action that transcends our nature and belongs to God alone. God’s work should be adjoined to our own.
To the extent that we purify our own hearts from evil by faith and repentance, we become able to embrace the new heart created within us in God’s image.
In other words, insofar as we hate wickedness, are distressed by evil passions and thoughts, and abhor acts of sin, we become able to embrace the power of holiness.
This power dwells in us as a new nature, with the activity of divine love and the promptings, or intimations, of righteousness. Not only that, but as we strive to purify our hearts from the darkness of sin, which blinds our spiritual sight, we become able to face the truth, letting it live within us and penetrate to the very roots of our being. In other words, the more we can emerge in the power of the new, divine man: “Seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after te image of the creator“[Col.3: 9,10].
We thus enter the sphere of ascetical theology.
Ascetical theology makes out man’s labor and struggle, which are sustained by Grace, an essential basis for the gifts of God.
Such gifts, however, transcend human action and nature.
The ascetic fathers in general set purification of the heart as a vital basis for Salvation.
It qualifies us for the revealing of the new man, that we may live in the newness of live as spiritual men in Christ.

In its patristic concept, the heart, [η χαρδια], is identical with its biblical concept.
The fathers of the Church consider the “heart” in its spiritual and patristic sense corresponds to what medical jargon calls the brain.
This is true both of its characteristics
and its activity.
It may even be more than that.
It is the centre of faculties, talents, intelligence, insight, volition, wisdom, vision – all of which emanate from it and pour into it:
In the same way the heart has a captain in the mind, the conscience, which tests the thoughts that accuse and defend
Saint Macarios, the Great [In the fifty Homilies; 43-7] – Intoxicated with God.
In the same homily, Saint Macarios describes the heart as a “workshop of justice, righteousness, unrighteousness“. He also says that though the heart may be the meeting place of all evils,
it may be a meeting place for God and His Angels:
And when Grace gives pasture to the heart, it rules over all the members and the thoughts“.
For there in the heart, the mind abides as well all the thoughts of the soul and all its hopes.
This is how Grace penetrates throughout
all parts of the body [Spiritual Homily 15-20].

From this, we infer that the Fathers of the Church
see Grace pervading all our faculties: the mind, the will, the conscience, and the physical members of the body.
But all this depends on Grace
reigning first and foremost over the heart.
In other words, if Grace reigns over a person’s heart,
it changes its very nature
the result is a new spiritual nature.
This is where the value of the purification of the heart [received by Baptism]
is clearly shown; it is a preparation
for the indwelling of Grace.
Saint Macarios the Great insists that the evil heart contaminates the will.
It corrupts the natural inclinations and instincts of a man. Without his knowing of, everything that such a person sees and touches becomes impure for him:
So, on the contray, as many as a sons of darkness, sin has control over their heart and infiltrates into all his members.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts“[Matth.15: 19].
And thus diffused throughout sin covers man with darkness . . . Just as water runs through a pipe, so also sin runs through the heart and the thoughts.
All those who deny these statements are refuted end ridiculed by sin itself, which is always intent on victory.
For evil tries to hide itself end remain undetected in man’s mind [Macarios the great Homily 15-21].

Hence, first among man’s struggles and concerns is to purify his heart.
His endeavour is to overcome the deviations of the will and to correct the inclinations and instincs that have been subjected to the rule of evil.
This means that he has to confront the tendency of his heart toward evil activity.
He has to bridle it, curb it and finally destroy this tendency.
In his fifteenth homily, Saint Macarios describes the heart as “The place of Christ in which He retires” . He also describes it as “the Captain [who] rules and directs all the sailors“. Also, “it is like a chariot.
The reins, horses, and the whole apparatus are under one driver. When he wishes, he drives the chariot at high speed. When he wants, he stops it. Wherever he wishes to steer the chariot, there it goed. For the whole chariot is under the power of the driver. So also the heart
“.
Saint Macarios thus expresses the crucial rule of the heart as a captain of the ship of our life. It is the driver of the chariot that our bodies pull. If the captain is ignorant or foolish, what will become of the ship?  Or, if the driver is careless or crazy, what will the end of the chariot and its horses be?
If the house is impure how can the King dwell or rest in it?

Mattá al-Miskīn – Orthodox Prayer Life: “The Inner Way“.