Lord, Lord, look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine which Thy right hand has planted, and establish it.
This is the Bishop’s prayer over the congregation as he blesses them during the singing of “Holy God” at the Divine Liturgy. The psalm develops this beautiful image of Israel as a grapevine that God tenderly transplanted from Egypt, bringing it into the Promised Land. He cleared the ground for it so that it took deep root and spread, producing lush fruit.
What isn’t apparent as the bishop prays these words from Psalm 80 is that the original context is one of great distress and destruction. The walls of Jerusalem had been broken down by invaders. The vineyard had been uprooted. “They have burned the vineyard with fire, they have cut it down” (80:16).
O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt Thou be angry with Thy people’s prayers?
Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
Thou dost make us the scorn of our neighbors;
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
Why then hast Thou broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
(Psalm 80:4-6, 12-13)
So much of the history of the Orthodox Church has been under oppressive regimes or outright persecution. And I am sure that the bishops who blessed their congregations under the Ottoman Turks or under the Soviets were fully conscious that this prayer too came out of a time of affliction.
We celebrated the Presanctified Liturgy this morning in Saint Sergius chapel. Father Eric Tosi served while most of the rest of us sang (a handful at 8:00 am). His Beatitude is still at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery for this first week of Lent but heads to Washington DC this afternoon.
This morning I noticed especially the first of the “Lord I Call” verses:
Let us perform the works of God in the light.
Let us walk honestly as in the day.
Let us rid ourselves of unjust accusations against our neighbors:
let us not place blocks of stumbling in their way.
Let us put aside the pleasures of the flesh
so that we may increase the gifts to our souls.
Let us give bread to those in need.
Let us draw near to Christ in repentance and say: //
Our God, have mercy on us!