Sing unto the Lord a new song

by Andrea Elizabeth

Since going to longer, more frequent services at St. Maximus in which, among other things, the Kathisma of Psalms is read, I have been thinking about the benefit of the many words in the services. I am learning that these words are to soften our hearts, direct our attention, give us the proper way to pray, and prepare us for Holy Communion. In the preface of A Psalter for Prayer, a new addition to the Church book store, “The Letter to Marcellinus” is included in which St. Athansius describes the special place of the Psalms in prayer in comparison to other books of the Bible. “[T]he Psalter is a garden which, besides its own special fruit, grows also some of those of all the rest.” In addition to synopses of history, prophecies of the coming Messiah and His ascension,

in the Psalter, besides all these things, you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill. Prohibitions of evil-doing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and abstain from sin. Repentance, for example, is enjoined repeatedly; but to repent means to leave off sinning, and it is the psalms that show you how to set about repenting and with what words your penitence may be expressed. Again, St. Paul says, ‘Tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:3-5); but it is in the psalms that we find written and described how tribulation should be borne, and what the afflicted ought to say, both at the time and when his troubles cease: the whole process of his testing is set forth in them and we are shown exactly with what words to voice our hope in God. Or take the commandment, “In every thing give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The psalms not only exhort us to be thankful, they also provide us with fitting words to say. We are told, too, by other writers that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12); and here, again, the psalms supply words with which both those who flee persecution and those who suffer under it may suitably address themselves to God, and it does the same for those who have been rescued from it. We are bidden elsewhere in the Bible also to bless the Lord and to acknowledge Him; here in the psalms we are shown the way to do it, and with what sort of words His majesty may fittingly be confessed. In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own soul’s need at every turn.

And herein is yet another strange thing about the psalms. In the other books of Scripture we read or hear the words of holy men as belonging only to those who spoke them, not at all as though they were our own; and in the same way the doings there narrated are to us material for wonder and examples to be followed, but not in any sense things we have done ourselves. With this book, however, though one does read the prophecies about the Saviour in that way, with reverence and with awe, in the case of all the other psalms it is as though it were one’s own words that one reads; and anyone who hears them is moved at heart, as though they voiced for him his deepest thoughts. To make this clear and, like Saint Paul, not fearing somewhat to repeat ourselves, let us take some examples….

There are many other instructions, quotes, prayers and troparia to aid one’s reading of the Psalter in this book published by Holy Trinity Monastery, 2nd edition copywrited by David Mitchell James 2011.

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