Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Psalms: Hidden in the Liturgical Life of the Church

Ever attended Vespers, Compline, Matins (Orthros), or Divine Liturgy?

Ever read or heard the words from the Book of Psalms?

If you've answered YES to the first question, then its a definite YES to the second question!

I've never done the math to be precise, but I would venture to guess that about 70% of the words used during services either quote directly from the Psalms or relate to themes within this marvelous work ascribed to the great King of Israel, David

At St. George Houston, TX we hold a weekly Bible Study class on Tuesday mornings at 10:00a led by one of our knowledgeable and talented clergy.  This class, usually between 10 and 20 participants, has been one of the great blessings for me since coming to St. George as the Youth Director in the late summer of 2008.  I must admit and please forgive me, I was highly suspect in my requirement for my new job to be in attendance.  Much to my extreme delight, I was horribly WRONG!

The past few months, we've been working our way (slowly and surely) through the Book of Psalms reading from The Orthodox Study Bible, but heavily relying upon the commentary provided by the Very Rev. Fr. Patrick Reardon, pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL.  His book entitled Christ in the Psalms offers context and insight while reading through and studying the Book of Psalms.

My main focus for this post is simply to provide you with the lightning bolt that idiotically struck me:

When I attend the Orthodox services at Church, I am reading, listening, chanting, and praying the Psalms!  This book of the Old Testament has been called the "Song Book of the Church;" the words provide us with a great deal of insight into our own humanity.  While going through the range of emotions and struggling to find the exact words to describe how you feel, please rest assured that it can be found within the words ascribed to the great King and Prophet David.  When you are feeling joyful, excited, cared for and any other positive feeling OR very opposite the spectrum, feeling sad, angry, abandoned and any other negative feeling OR anywhere in the vast middle, you are not alone! The Psalmist David has found the words to help you describe, understand, or work through that feeling. 

David's own words truly penetrate the heart, mind, and soul of us all, most especially with our interactions with others and our worship of God.  The examples of too numerous to go into great detail and length, but here are a few:

- "Bless the Lord, O my soul..." (Psalm 103) is read at the beginning of every Vespers.
- Daily & Great Prokeimenon are all taken from the Psalms, such as "Who is so great a God as our God..." (Psalm 76).
- "Have mercy upon me, O God..." (Psalm 50) is read during Matins as the people venerate the Holy Gospel Book.
- "Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered..." (Psalm 67, vv. 2-4) is sung or chanted throughout the Paschal season with the refrain (Christ is risen...).
- "Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens and Thy glory over all the earth" (Psalm 107, v. 6) is said by the priest after Holy Communion has be served.
- "God is the Lord who has shown us Light; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord..." (Psalm 117, vv. 27a, 26a) sung with verses during Matins.
- "Blessed be the name of the Lord, henceforth and forever" (Psalm 112, v. 2) is sung at the close of Divine Liturgy.
- "O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endures forever..." (Psalm 135) along with Psalm 34 are known as the Polyeleos or "Many Mercies" and form the core of Matins for the great feast days of the Church.  This psalm has also become widely popular among Orthodox children and teenagers at Church Camps, such as the Antiochian Village and Camp St. Raphael, sung during Holy Communion and as a processional hymn.

Image Source
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- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

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