May 15, 2014

Psalm 101

O Lord, I will sing to Your of mercy and judgment.
Psalm 101(100):1 (LXX)

St Dorotheus of Gaza
Saint Dorotheos of Gaza

One of the biggest tensions in Christian life is between mercy and judgment. In the ascetic tradition it’s understood that mercy should always be the default position, and if there is to be any judging we should start with ourselves. Take Saint Dorotheos of Gaza for example:

Those who want to be saved do not scrutinize the shortcomings of their neighbor but always their own and they set about eliminating them. Such was the man who saw his brother doing wrong and groaned, “Woe is me; him today—me tomorrow!” You see his caution? You see the preparedness of his mind? How he swiftly foresaw how to avoid judging his brother?

But what if you’re in a position of authority and regularly need to make judgments about people? Bishops (and chancellors) have to work every day on matters of clergy misconduct that require investigations and judgments, because the most basic pastoral duty is to protect the flock. Thankfully, the vast majority of our clergy are amazing examples of sacrificial service in the name of Christ. And as I speak with seminarians I am filled with wonder and gratitude that devoted servants of the Church are constantly being raised up. But when it comes to judging the misconduct of shepherds, the Church’s canonical tradition is very demanding, indeed no less than this psalm.

I will not set before my eyes 
anything that is base.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
 it shall not cleave to me.
Perverseness of heart shall be far from me;
 I will know nothing of evil.
Him who slanders his neighbor secretly 
I will destroy.

The man of haughty looks and arrogant heart 
I will not endure.
I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,

that they may dwell with me;

he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.
No man who practices deceit
 shall dwell in my house;
no man who utters lies
 shall continue in my presence.
Morning by morning I will destroy 
all the wicked in the land,

cutting off all the evildoers 
from the city of the Lord.

The Lord loves his sheep too much to treat lightly the misconduct of shepherds. Mercy toward the sheep means strict judgment of the shepherds.

* * *

Psalm 101 is read as part of the First Hour (around 6 am), and so is associated with the rising of the sun and the beginning of the day.

O Christ, the true Light who dost enlighten every human being who comes into the world, let the light of Thy countenance shine upon us, that in it we may behold the unapproachable Light. And guide our footsteps aright to the keeping of Thy commandments, through the prayers of Thy most pure mother, and of all Thy saints. Amen.
(Prayer of the First Hour)