February 11, 2014

Psalm 66

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth! Sing of His Name, give to Him glorious praise!
Say to God: how awesome are Thy deeds! So great is thy power that Thy enemies cringe before Thee!
Let all the earth worship Thee and praise Thee! Let it praise Thy name, O Most High!
(Psalm 66:1-3, First Antiphon of Pascha )


The Latin Vulgate and some Greek inscriptions of this psalm read “For the End: A Psalmic Ode of Resurrection.” And indeed, these three first verses of the Psalm are used throughout the Paschal season in the Orthodox Church. The same verses are used at the Nativity of Christ (prokeimenon)—“the winter Pascha”—and the Circumcision (First Antiphon), thus linking our Lord’s birth with His resurrection. In the Latin tradition verse 9 is prominent in the Easter liturgy: “He brings our soul to life.”

In the context of resurrection the “enemies” mentioned here are death and sin, destroyed by Christ on the Cross and opening to all a new and eternal life, just as Israel saw God’s hand at the Exodus leading His people through the Red Sea, destroying their enemies and bringing them into the Promised Land.

Come and see what marvels God has done,
He is awesome in his deeds among mankind
He turned the sea into dry land; they crossed the river on foot.
(Ps 66:5-6)

But we’re not there yet. Afflictions beset human beings on all sides, and while we might like to say none of that is God’s doing, the Psalmist says that God uses everything that happens to us for our benefit. Indeed, Israel was so committed to the sovereignty of God that the Psalms repeatedly say God sends affliction to train and test us in faithfulness.

For thou, O God, hast tested us;
 thou hast tried us as silver is tried. Thou didst bring us into the net;
 thou didst lay affliction on our loins; thou didst let men ride over our heads;
 we went through fire and through water;
 yet thou hast brought us forth to a spacious place (Ps 66:10-12).

There is much that is hard to understand here about suffering. For Christians the only answer is God’s willingness to share in suffering Himself. But from the perspective of eternity even the worst of human suffering is but a “momentary affliction” (2 Cor 4:17), and ultimately through the Cross God brings us “to a spacious place,” “a place of rest” (Septuagint). As we sing at every funeral, “Blessed is the way in which you shall walk today, O soul, for a place of rest is prepared for you.” St Augustine says in his commentary on Pslam 66, “This is our hope; for this we believe, for this we endure and persevere amid the great perverseness of this world, with hope comforting us, before that hope becomes reality…”

The world is still afflicted and “going through fire and water” (Ps 66:12) but we live in hope of the Resurrection.

Missions Focus Group

You may have noticed in the report of the Metropolitan Council meeting a passing mention about “the focus group slated to meet February 12 to consider prospects for expanding the Church’s evangelistic efforts.”

Last year, the Orthodox Church in America received a generous and unrestricted bequest of one million dollars to be used exclusively for missions and evangelism. At their meeting in December, the members of the Lesser Synod discussed the possible uses of this bequest and determined that a focused evaluation of those possibilities should be made and recommendations presented to the full Holy Synod at its Spring Session (March 18-21, 2014).

With input and suggestion from the bishops, church officers and Father John Parker, Chair of the OCA Department of Evangelization, His Beatitude appointed a Missions Focus Group to meet tomorrow and 1) make concrete recommendations to the Holy Synod concerning the specific use of the bequest funds we have available and 2) to assist the Holy Synod in formulating a direction for the OCA in terms of Church growth and missions.

The Focus Group includes Metropolitan Tikhon, Bishop Michael, Bishop Mark, the OCA officers, Father Chad Hatfield (St Vladimir’s Seminary), Father Daniel Kovalak (Saint Tikhon’s Seminary), Father John Parker, Father John Matusiak,  Father Timothy Hojnicki, Father John Reeves and Father John Pierce.