August 19, 2014

Psalm 134: A Song of Ascents

1 Come, bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord,
  who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place,
  and bless the Lord!
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
  he who made heaven and earth!

Blessing of Flowers on Dormition at St Vladimir’s Seminary

This short psalm ends the “Songs of Ascent” (Psalms 120-134). As The Anchor Bible says, it is “a short liturgical hymn, probably sung in the temple, summoning priests and Levites [“servants of the Lord”] to praise the Lord and his works [verses 1-2]; they respond by blessing the congregation [verse 3].”

Most interpreters, like St Jerome, broaden “servants of the Lord” to potentially include everyone, not just the clergy. “Who are to bless the Lord? All the servants of the Lord: you who are not the servants of sin, but the servants of the Lord.” He goes on to say what an “infinite dignity” it is to be a servant of the Lord. What other title is needed? Even the Apostle Paul “glories in the servitude of the Lord and writes at the beginning of his letters, ‘Paul, a servant of Christ.’”

“Bless the Lord; may the Lord bless you…” In the Old Testament alone the word “bless” occurs in some form over 400 times; 83 times just in the Psalms. Once in each of the three verses of psalm 134. In the first two the “servants of the Lord” are called to bless God. Usually this is understood as praising, thanking and glorifying Him, emphasizing all that we have received, most especially God Himself, who encounters, engages and offers Himself. We may think of particular concrete blessings of health, family, prosperity etc, but in the biblical understanding what is most essential is the relationship, not the content of the benefits received. If the relationship is a blessing, then whatever happens—even if it’s “bad”—is seen in the much bigger embrace of that relationship.

But there is more to blessing God than thanking Him for His benefits or even for His care, interest and listening. I am struck by the humility of God. He is willing to receive a blessing from those whom He created. I recall being at an Orthodox pilgrimage in England to an ancient Christian shrine cared for by the Anglican Church. I was moved to see an eminent bishop of the Orthodox Church bow his head and receive a blessing of holy water from the young Anglican priest—a heterodox!—who tended the shrine. So the Lord God in His humility not only bestows blessings, He bows His head and receives blessings.

The “servants of the Lord” bless Him, He blesses them, and they in turn ask Him to bless everyone else. What a picture of an intertwined, braided exchange of blessings drawing everyone closer to God and to each other.

Axios! Axios! Axios!

Metropolitan Onufry of Kyiv, Transfiguration (August 19). Newly ordained Father Nazari Polataiko is priest at far left; Bishop Irénée of Quebec is on far right.

Today in Kyiv, on the Old Calendar feast of the Transfiguration, Protodeacon Nazari Polataiko, longtime Secretary of the Archdiocese of Canada is being ordained to the holy priesthood by his spiritual father, Metropolitan Onufry, the newly-elected head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Father Nazari has been in Kyiv with Bishop Irénée, Bishop Michael and Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach) representing the OCA at Metropolitan Onufry’s installation

May God bless Father Nazari and his family—and through them many others—with a long and fruitful ministry as a priest.