January 7, 2014

Psalm 49

My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
(Psalm 49:3)

This verse was sung as the prokeimenon on January 1st as we commemorated Saint Basil the Great, and is frequently used when a holy bishop, one of the Fathers of the Church, is celebrated.

Psalm 49 has a number of thought-provoking dimensions.

Hear this, all peoples! 
Give ear, all inhabitants of the world [oikumene]…(Ps 49:1) The revelation of God given originally to a small band of wandering Israelite tribes is ultimately meant to be opened up to the entire oikumene. This is one of the powerful reasons that in the 3rd century BC the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, the common language of the Greco-Roman world.

I will solve my riddle [problem, LXX] to the music of the lyre (Ps 49:4). It should be remembered that the psalms were first songs to be sung, accompanied by musical instruments. There is something memorable about singing and popular songs that touch a wide range of emotions more easily than any other art form. The beauty of liturgical music and singing, combining prayer, music and theological insight, can have the same effect, helping to unravel the knots in our life.

Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life (Ps 49:7). Much of this psalm (verses, 7-12, 15, 16, 18) is a meditation on death as the destination of all, rich/poor, wise/foolish, successful/failures. And yet, the central message to the faithful is that this is not the end, for “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Ps 49:15). Orthodox Christianity does not shy away from making death and resurrection the central themes of our celebration and preaching. And it turns out that this is wise, even in terms of contemporary religious life because people—even as they turn away from commitment to institutions—are still searching for faith that confronts death. As Reginald Bibby, a Canadian sociologist of religion has said, those denominations and religions that do not talk about death are shrinking and don’t have much of a future.

Theophany at the Chancery

Theophany, St Sergius Chapel

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, has been in Washington DC for the past few days celebrating Theophany and will return later today after celebrating Christmas on the Old Calendar (a sign of our eclectic life as Orthodox Christians). On the weekend we blessed water in Saint Sergius chapel and yesterday after the festal liturgy we hoped to process out into the snow-covered garden to bless the frozen frog-pond, but pelting rain and wind prevented that. Later today or tomorrow, when Metropolitan Tikhon returns, we’ll bless the Chancery building, with His Beatitude, Father Eric Tosi and I each taking one of the three floors and bringing a few singers with us as we sprinkle holy water everywhere and sing the Troparion of Theophany.

When You, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan / The worship of the Trinity was made manifest / For the voice of the Father bore witness to You / And called You His beloved Son. / And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, / Confirmed the truthfulness of His word. / O Christ, our God, You have revealed Yourself / And have enlightened the world, glory to You!