For the choirmaster, a poem of David, when Doeg the Edomite went and warned Saul, ‘David has gone to Ahimelech’s house’
But God will break you down for ever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.
(Psalm 52: heading, 5)
The heading for Psalm 52 was most likely added long after the psalm was written, but it gives a sense of how the community of faith understood its meaning. It’s worthwhile to read 1 Samuel 22, which gives the story of Doeg. David was on the run and in hiding from Saul who had turned on him violently. While most of the Israelite population—even Saul’s servants—were distressed by this persecution of David, the foreigner Doeg saw which way the wind was blowing, and wanting to be on the winning side with Saul he had no hesitation ratting out David and then butchering his protectors. Doeg personally put to death Ahimelech and 85 priests. “And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both men and women, children and infants, oxen, asses and sheep, he put to the sword” (1 Sam 22:19). Only one of the priests escaped Doeg’s massacre, Abiathar, and reported to David all that had happened.
This background story makes the words of the psalm come alive, as David meditates on treachery, plots, deceit and brutal destruction. Despite the violence and threats, he continues to trust in God. But I am like a fruitful olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God for ever and ever (Ps 52:8).
Saint Augustine takes this psalm as a metaphor for uprooting the internal “Doegs,” our own passions that do violence against the deep root of love implanted within us.
The root is out of sight: fruits may be seen, roots cannot be seen. Our root is our love, our fruits are our works: it is needful that your works proceed from love, then your root will be in the land of the living. Then shall that Doeg be rooted up, at least he will in no way be able to abide there, because he has not rooted deeply enough, but it will be with him in the same way as it is with those seeds on stony ground, having no moisture in themselves, when the sun rises they wither. On the other hand, those who fix a root more deeply, hear from the Apostle… ‘That you may be able to comprehend…what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God’ (Eph 3:17-19).*
* Saint Augustine, On the Psalms, in Johanna Manley, Grace for Grace: The Psalter and the Holy Fathers (1992), 185.
As I mentioned last Friday, His Beatitude and a small delegation from the Chancery went to the Old Calendar Christmas celebration hosted by the Consul General of the Russian Federation in New York, Igor Golubovsky, and his wife, Tatiana. Archbishop Justinian (MP) and Bishop Jerome (ROCOR) were the other bishops in attendance at the dinner, which because of renovations at the consulate was held at the historic Grolier Club in Manhattan (we were surrounded by an exhibit of books on home improvements from the 1700s to 1900s.) The consul general remarked on how recent is the change in life in Russia, where the birth of Christ is now a national holiday.
On Sunday after the Divine Liturgy His Beatitude and the clergy, together with the faithful of Saint Sergius Chapel, blessed the Chancery with the waters of Theophany. It was a joyful procession, with dog Max joining us for part of the route.
Today the Diocesan chancellors and treasurers will meet with His Beatitude and the Chancery officers to review developments in the dioceses and discuss practical ways we can strengthen the bonds that unite our parishes and dioceses as the Orthodox Church in America. We will begin our gathering by celebrating the Divine Liturgy (commemorating Saint Nina of Georgia), with His beatitude presiding.