Psalter from 1153AD

First, last and central

Are the Psalms part of your daily rule of prayer and reading? The Psalter has been the hymnbook of the Church from the earliest times. New visitors at my parish recently noted that we didn’t sing any popular choruses, but mostly words from the scripture, especially the Psalms.

These. have always been the songs of the Church. In the fourth century, Saint John Chrysostom writes:

“If we keep vigil in church, David comes first, last and central. If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, then first, last and central is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep, or if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last and central. O amazing wonder! Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart. Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous; in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land, he excites the praise of God. In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, last and central. In the convents of virgins, where are the communities of those who imitate Mary; in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world, who live their life in heaven with God, David is first, last and central. All other men at night are overcome by sleep. David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into seraphic bands, he turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels.” — Panegyric on the Psalms of David

Saint Jerome wrote from Bethlehem to Marcella in 412 AD:

“Wherever one turns, the laborer at his plow sings Alleluia. The toiling harvester cheers himself with psalms; and the vinedresser, while he prunes his vine, sings something of David's. These are the songs of the countryside; in the common phrase, these are its love-songs: these are the shepherd whistles; these the plowman’s tools.”  — Letter 46

In our own time, Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, wanting to awaken his flock to a more conscious participation in the Church's life, published the following appeal in his weekly diocesan bulletin:

“Perhaps it will happen that you will die without having once in your life read in full the Psalter of David… You will die, and only then will good people read over your lifeless body this holy Psalter, which you had no time even to open while you lived on earth! Only then, at your burial, will they sing over you the wondrously instructive, sweetly wise – but alas, to you completely unknown – words of David: ‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord… Blessed are they who search His testimonies. who keep His revelations, and seek Him with their whole heart.’ Do you hear: ‘Blessed are they who search His testimonies, seek out the revelations of the Lord;’ and you had no time even to think of them! What will your poor soul feel then, your soul to which every word of the Psalmist, repeated by a reader or singer over your coffin, will sound as a strict reproach that you never read this sacred book?… Open now, before it is too late, this wondrous book of the Prophet King. Open it and read with attention at least this 118th Psalm, and you will involuntarily feel that your heart becomes humble, soft, that in the words of David are the words of the merit of God, and you will repeat involuntarily, many times, with sighing of heart, the verse of this Psalm: ‘I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost; seek out Thy servant, Lord!’” —  Shanghai, November 24, 1941, number 503

Fr Silouan Thompson

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