January 10, 2014

Psalm 51: Purge Me with Hyssop

For I know my transgressions,
 and my sin is ever before me…
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Fill me with joy and gladness;

let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
(Psalm 51:3, 7-8)

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Psalm 51 is used more than any other in the Orthodox tradition. It’s a fixture in matins, the 3rd Hour, Compline, the Divine Liturgy, confession and many other services and prayers of the Church. It says that whatever I have done, if I confess my sin God can cleanse me and give me a new life filled with joy. He can “create in me a clean heart …and put a new and right spirit within me” (v. 10). This is the Good News, that for anyone, at any time, a new start in life and with God is possible.

If it’s authentic, however, repentance may start with the shock of a cold-water bath. Psalm 51 is associated with David’s repentance after his premeditated adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11:1-12:25). It’s salutary to remember that David’s repentance didn’t come naturally. Indeed, after Uriah was killed, David settled comfortably into life at the palace with Bathsheba. He—like many of us—was a proud, self-justifying human being used to getting his own way. It was only after he was fiercely and publicly rebuked by the prophet Nathan that David came to his senses and felt the weight of what he had done.

“Purge me with hyssop” is not just nice poetry. Hyssop is a plant that was used as a powerful purgative, “a medicine or food that causes the bowels to empty.” Think of the purging before having a colonoscopy and you get the idea.

Chancery Update

Yesterday the officers spent a good bit of time meeting with His Beatitude. We are planning for the gathering of diocesan chancellors and treasurers next Tuesday. Each diocese has its own particular challenges, and one of the aims of the meeting is to help everyone have a better sense of what their colleagues in other dioceses across the OCA are facing. The other aim is to work together on a range of practical issues—finances, pensions, statistics, ordinations and clergy assignments—to strengthen the bonds, witness and work of the Orthodox Church in America as a whole.

Tonight His Beatitude (with Roman Ostash), Father Leonid Kishkovsky, Melanie Ringa and I will be attending the Russian Christmas celebration at the consulate of the Russian Federation in New York City.