March 27, 2014

Psalm 89

I will sing of thy steadfast love, O Lord, for ever;

with my mouth I will proclaim Thy faithfulness to all generations.
Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,

who walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance,
Tabor and Hermon joyously praise Thy name.
—Psalm 89:1, 15, 12 (Transfiguration)

This is a long psalm (52 verses) that once again laments the absence of the Lord. What happened to all His past faithfulness and promises? What happened to the joy of His presence and the “festal shout”? God has broken His covenant and given Israel’s enemies a free hand.

But now Thou hast cast off and rejected us,

Thou art full of wrath against Thy anointed.
Thou hast renounced the covenant with Thy servant;
Thou hast defiled his crown in the dust.
Thou hast breached all his walls;
Thou hast laid his strongholds in ruins.
All that pass by despoil him;
 he has become the scorn of his neighbors.

How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou hide Thyself for ever?

How long will Thy wrath burn like fire? (Psalm 89: 38-41, 46)

And yet, while verses from this psalm are used extensively in the Orthodox liturgical tradition, none of them are from this central theme of rejection and despair. Is the Orthodox tradition ignoring this dark reality? Not at all. The realities are still there, but the Old Testament perception of reality has been transfigured by the death and resurrection of Christ. Indeed, Psalm 89 figures prominently in the feast of the Transfiguration. The answer to the question “How long, O Lord?” is Christ Himself. If we allow Him, He can transfigure even our experience of enemies.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord, Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to You may have no return;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins, arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.
Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies.
A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.
Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

From Prayers by the Lake by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich. Quoted in Johanna Manley, Grace for Grace: The Psalter and the Holy Fathers (Monastery Books: 1992), 335. 


I got home late last night after the funeral services for Father Alexander Atty in Louisville. Today I will be catching up on office matters while His Beatitude goes to celebrate a memorial service for Father Alexander in Mayfield, Pennsylvania in advance of his burial at Saint Tikhon’s cemetery on Friday.

Metropolitan Tikhon with Metropolitan Philip and Bishop Nicholas at headquarters of Antiochian Archdiocese in Englewood, NJ

Tomorrow focus here shifts to the repose of Metropolitan Philip, a great friend of the Orthodox Church in America and a decades-long champion of creating one, united Orthodox Church on this continent. Metropolitan Tikhon will lead OCA clergy and faithful in a memorial service at Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, 355 State Street, Brooklyn, NY at 1:00 p.m.

 All OCA clergy are invited to serve and are requested to bring purple cuffs and stole.