January 16, 2014

Psalm 54

For the end: among the hymns of instruction by David, when the Ziphites came and told Saul, “Is not David hiding among us?”

Save me, O God, by Thy name,
 and vindicate [judge] me by Thy strength.
Hear my prayer, O God;
 give ear to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 54: heading, 1-2 (Wednesday vespers prokeimenon)

The Wilderness of Ziph

Psalm 54 is read daily as part of the Sixth Hour, when we recall our Lord’s crucifixion. And once again the heading helps us appreciate how the Jewish community understood this prayer. 1 Samuel 23 recounts how David, still on the run from Saul, hid in the Wilderness of Ziph, to the far south of Jerusalem and west of the Dead Sea. The local tribesmen reported this to Saul who went with his troops to capture David but had to turn back when the Philistines took advantage of his absence and mounted a raid. So David escaped for a time.

St Hilary Poiters
St Hilary of Poitiers

Saint Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300-c.368) commented on this inscription and connected it—as the Fathers did with all the psalms—to Jesus Christ. He was especially intrigued by the words, “For the end” (Septuagint and Vulgate; Hebrew Masoretic text has To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

This shows that what was actually being done to David contained a type of something yet to come: an innocent man is harassed by railing; a prophet is mocked by reviling words; one approved of God is demanded for execution; a king is betrayed to his foe. So the Lord was betrayed to Herod and Pilate by those very men in whose hands he ought to have been safe. The psalm then awaits the end of its interpretation, and finds its meaning in the true David, in whom is the end of the Law, that David who holds the keys and opens with them the gate of knowledge, in fulfilling the things foretold of Him by David…

The whole of this passage [v.1-3] is the utterance of the One in the form of a servant—of a servant obedient unto the death of the Cross…Sharing in our common weakness, he prayed the Father to save Him, so that he might teach us that he was born man under all the conditions of man’s infirmity…Thus all his complaints in the psalms spring from a mental state belonging to our nature. Nor must it cause surprise if we take the words of the Psalms in this sense, seeing that the Lord Himself testified, if we believe the Gospel, that the psalms spiritually foretold His Passion…[Luke 24:44: Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.”]

Alaskan Village Life

Tuntutuliak, AK
Tuntutuliak, Alaska

Archimandrite David Mahaffey will be consecrated Bishop of Sitka and Alaska this February 20-23. I mentioned Father Victor Nick in yesterday’s diary, from the Yupik region around the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers, where many of our Alaskan parishes are located. A little while back Father Victor sent me his correspondence with someone from Texas who had written to ask about the diocese and its clergy. I found this very instructive. 

Dear Father. Victor,

My name is B.  I live in Houston, Texas.  I am interested in learning about the Diocese of Alaska.… I am also interested in the financial condition of the priests there.  Are they paid a salary (if so, what are the minimums), do they receive health or other insurance?  A pension or vacation?

I hope to hear from you soon!  God Bless!


Dear B.,

Well, I heard it’s difficult to explain Alaska to those who had never been to the state.  A lot of the villages don’t have running water and sewage here in the Kuskokwim. There are other areas that do have them. This morning about 1:30 am I noticed it was raining here so I went out to place the empty buckets below the rain gutter. Since the cold set in everything froze: the ponds, lakes, and the rivers. Other households were beginning to pack water from the river while others prefer to pick ice. There are 400 to 550 people in the village. Few would be the population of 700 and that is considered a big village. There are would-be teachers from the lower 48 who fly into the village in a small commuting plane, look around and refuse to step out, then go back where they came from.

My first salary as a priest was a cardboard box of groceries every month and this box would be large enough for a person to carry. The salaries in the past were 50 dollars a month for some priests. One of the parish salaries at this time is $200 a month, while a few receive $1000, mine is $500 a month.  Electricity is paid for by the sisterhood.

In the village, the gas prices can be 6 to 8 dollars a gallon. One gallon of milk can be 10.00 dollars.  The teachers from outside the state do say the prices can be 4x more from what they are used to. The teachers here who are not from the village prefer to order their groceries and not buy them from the village store.

Many of the clergy families receive public assistance food stamps or Tanif (monetary assistance). As for pensions I remember there were 3 or 4 priests who raised their hands during the diocesan assembly when we were asked who is covered by the pension/insurance provided by the OCA and the rest of us 45 or so clergy did not. A lot of us receive Alaska Native health insurance.

Cash money is not our economy, because it’s the fish, caribou, moose, and other meats, gathered berries we all store in our freezers is what we live by. Subsistence is our economy. We eat fish for a few days then we switch it to meats for a few days, then switch back. When the villagers see cash, most see it as the means to hunt with… meaning gas money, or something we use to get our equipment to hunt with. Most kids get their new clothes during the first day of school, and new shoes. Once my Matushka and I were not able to purchase Christmas presents for our kids because we did not have it.  Many of the villagers don’t complain because this is the only life they know of and no other life to compare it with. 

Our “vacation” as we experience it during the summertime is when we fish to gather fish for our year’s supply of fresh, frozen and dry fish, or commercial fishing to pay our bills.  If we don’t take that “vacation” we wouldn’t have enough for the coming year. 

…Here is this YouTube that covers village, and it’s created for a home improvement program [www.youtube.com/watch?v=du_HGPwAOG4]. When you watch this YouTube you can also see the village community and a typical village home. They will tell you the state of the village and its people that can be informative. Thank you for taking interest in our diocese.

In Christ,
Father Victor Nick