September 20, 2013

Psalm 9

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will make all Thy wonders known.
(Psalm 9:1)
(First Antiphon, Nativity of Christ)

The heart has been understood in the Orthodox tradition as short-hand for one’s whole being. The Fathers frequently cite Proverbs 23:26 in this connection, “My son, give me your heart….” Likewise, the prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer, is meant to transform one’s entire way of thinking, feeling and behaving, in conformity with Jesus’ teaching that the greatest commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37).

Fr Roman Braga
Father Roman Braga

Although the precise formula of the Jesus Prayer varies, the most common is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me [a sinner].” I recently came across an interview about the Prayer of the Heart with Father Roman Braga, the Romanian elder at the Monastery of the Dormition in Rives Junction, Michigan. He has been living at the monastery and serving the nuns there since 1989 but is now in failing health. He was born in 1922 in Romania, was tonsured a monk in 1954 after five years in prison and later spent five more years in labor camps.

Father, do you think that the ascetic effort associated with the Prayer of the Heart should be the same for monks and for lay people?

The first step should be the Prayer, I mean the formula. If you repeatedly recite the Jesus Prayer, the rest comes naturally. Man cannot become dispassionate without falling on his knees and asking God for this grace, because everything comes by the grace of God. Attaining dispassion is not the result of personal effort, but it comes by the grace of God; so you must fall on your knees, see yourself as a sinner, and ask for God’s help. Prayer and the purification of passions happen at the same time. I think that priority must be given to prayer. It is said that there is no pure prayer without first attaining dispassion. But I say that whether pure prayer or forced prayer, prayer must be the beginning of any spiritual work.

For the full interview see


Psalm 9 in most Bibles (based on the Hebrew Masoretic text, MT) is Psalm 9 and 10 combined into one in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and Latin Vulgate translations. From this point onward the numbering of Psalms differs, and this often causes confusion. For example, the opening Vespers Psalm 104 is 103 in the LXX. The penitential Psalm 51 is Psalm 50 in the LXX. The numbers come back together at Psalm 148, since the MT Psalm 147 is two psalms in the LXX.  In these reflections I will continue to use the standard numbering most widely available.