January 29, 2014

Psalm 61

1 For the director; upon a stringed instrument. Of David.
2 Hear, O God, my cry,
  listen to my prayer!
3 From the brink of the nether world
  I call to you as my heart grows faint;
  From it lead me to the Lofty Mountain.
4 O that you would be my refuge,
  a towered fortress against the Foe!
5 That I might dwell in your eternal tent,
  find refuge under the shelter of your wings.
6 O that you yourself, O God, would hear my vows,
  would grant the request of him who fears your name.
7 Add days to the king’s days,
  turning his years into endless generations.
8 Let him sit enthroned before God forever,
  may kindness and fidelity be appointed to safeguard him.
9 Then will I always hymn your name,
  fulfilling my vows day by day.

(Mitchell Dahood, “Psalms,” The Anchor Bible)

Descent Hades
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” 1 Cor 15:26

This translation more than any other highlights Psalm 61 as a prayer for deliverance from death. The psalmist is calling out “from the brink of the nether world.” His heart is faint as he feels the power of the Foe—death, the last enemy—closing in on him.  And he prays to dwell in God’s eternal tent, under the shelter of His wings. Dahood says that here and in many of the psalms the underlying Hebrew text is much more about the ultimate questions of death and God’s eternal deliverance than about earthly distress, military battles or royal success.

Liturgically, Psalm 61 is best known for being chanted at vespers on Sunday of Orthodoxy (the first Sunday of Great Lent) as the Great Prokeimenon in the 8th tone, “Thou hast given an inheritance, O Lord, to those who fear Thy name” (61:5 LXX). The inheritance of course has nothing to do with wealth, power or even the ecclesiastical chest-thumping that often accompanies Sunday of Orthodoxy celebrations. The inheritance we proclaim, long for and look-forward to is the eternal life we receive through the One who defeated death on the Cross.


Fr John McGuckin
Fr John McGuckin

Today is catching-up-on-office work day because, on Thursday and Friday, I’ll be at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary with Metropolitan Tikhon and Father Eric Tosi, first to celebrate the seminary’s patronal feast of the Three Hierarchs, and then to meet with OCA students over the course of the two days. Friday evening Father John McGuckin will receive an honorary doctorate and deliver the 31st Annual Father Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture, titled, “On ‘The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church’.” See www.svots.edu/events/31st-annual-father-alexander-schmemann-memorial-lecture-very-rev-dr-john-mcguckin.