A Psalm Works a Little Miracle
Once when I was a young priest, several people in the mission parish we had at the time, including another priest, were spreading stories against me and my family, and trying to “overthrow” us. There was really nothing we could do, of course, except be patient and not strike back. But this was very hard on my presvytera, and she suffered internally day and night from anger and despondency over this. Nothing seemed to help. Finally she called our spiritual father, a Greek-American Old Calendar hieromonk, who had helped us many times before with things like this. His advice was very simple: “You go straight to your icon corner right now, open the psalter, and read Psalm 38.” That was it. After she read the psalm a few times, her heart was calmed and she felt the grace of God moving within. Not long afterwards, our problems with the “troublemakers” went away, as well.
What Are the Psalms?
The Psalms are
Why Should I Read the Psalms?
As demonstrated in my little story above, the Psalms can have a powerful effect on the soul. Remember, they are divinely inspired and have been used in prayer and public worship for three thousand years! The psalms
How does one Read the Psalms?
The most traditional way to become acquainted with the psalms is through reading them as part of the Horologion, the book containing the unchanging parts of the daily services. In this way, by reading the same, selected psalms day after day, they really soak in and become a part of us. A little pocket version of the daily Hours from the Horologion is now available from Holy Transfiguration Monastery - if every day you read even one or two of the Hours contained there, which would only take a few minutes from your day, this could work a profound change. Contact us, and we can order one of these books for you. Talk to the priest or chanter at your parish and ask them to show you how the psalms are used in the services.
Alternately, we can just open the Book of Psalms and start reading from Psalm 1 on. We go before the holy icons and say the “opening prayers” – i.e., “O Heavenly King” and the “Trisagion Prayers.” Then we open our Psalter or open our Bible to the Psalms and start reading aloud. We can read at a certain time of day every day, or when we feel troubled. We can read the psalms in place of our usual morning or evening prayers. The important thing is to start doing it! Start at the beginning, read for five or ten minutes a day, or read one section of the Psalter per day, and just keep going, marking every day where you leave off. Also, seek advice from your spiritual father as to what psalms to read on what occasions or for certain purposes.
What About Memorizing?
Yes, indeed – make it a practice to memorize the Psalms that are most prominent in the Church services and that help you the most! When a psalm or prayer is memorized, it enters deeply into the soul and becomes a part of the soul and forms the soul. Also, it is there at hand whenever you need it, whether you have a book or not.
What About the “Cursing” Psalms?
There are some psalms in which the psalmist curses his enemies. For Christians, this does not mean our human enemies, whom Christ commands us to forgive. It means our invisible enemies, the demons, who flee at the sound of the psalms. Against them, the psalms are mighty weapons.
Where Do I Get a Book of the Psalms?
The holy Psalter in Greek, arranged for worship and prayerful reading, has been readily available for centuries. If you want one, contact us, and we will order one for you. Since 1974, we have also enjoyed having available a reliable Orthodox translation into English from the Greek Old Testament, The Psalter
According to the Seventy, translated and arranged for worship by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. This has valuable introductory material, and in the back, it explains how the psalms are arranged for daily Vespers and Orthros. You can also purchase this through our parish.
What If I Read the Psalms from My Bible?
The best solution is to purchase an Orthodox Psalter. If you do read the psalms from your Bible, remember that most English translations are Protestant or “liberal” Catholic, and they use the Protestant/Jewish numbering of the Bible, not the traditional Christian numbering - see image top of the page.
So, for most of the Psalter, the authentic Christian numbering is one number behind the Jewish/Protestant numbering. For example, the well-known psalm Have mercy on me, O God… is Psalm 50 in the Church’s numbering but is called Psalm 51 in Protestant Bibles and non-Orthodox articles and books.
Words from the Fathers on the Psalms
Psalmodize in your heart the spiritual songs of the Church at your home, at the market-place, where you work, where you walk, and everywhere else.
St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain
If we keep vigil in church, David comes first, last, and central. If early in the morning, we want songs and hymns, first, last, and central is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep, or if the 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 there are the communities of those who imitate Mary [the sister of Lazarus who sat at Jesus’ feet], 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.
St. John Chrysostom
When, indeed, the Holy Spirit saw that the human race was guided only with difficulty toward virtue, and that, because of our inclination toward pleasure, we were neglectful of an upright life, what did He do? The delight of melody He mingled with the doctrines so that by the pleasantness and softness of the sound heard we might receive without perceiving it the benefit of the words, just as wise physicians who, when giving the fastidious rather bitter drugs to drink, frequently smear the cup with honey. Therefore, He devised for us these harmonious melodies of the psalms, that they who are children in age, or even those who are youthful in disposition, might to all appearances chant, but in reality, become trained in soul. For, never has nay one of the many indifferent persons gone away easily holding in mind either an apostolic or prophetic message, but they do chant the words of the psalms, even in the home, and they spread them around in the market place, and, if perchance, someone becomes exceedingly wrathful, when be begins to be soothed by the psalm, he departs with the wrath immediately lulled to sleep by means of the melody.
A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God? So that psalmody, bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining people into a harmonious union of one choir, produces also the greatest of blessings, love. A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons; a means of inducing help from the angels, a weapon in fears by night, a rest from the toils of the day, a safeguard for infants, an adornment for those at the height of their vigor, a consolation for the elders, a most fitting adornment for women. It peoples the solitudes; it rids the market place of excesses; it is the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church. It brightens feast days; it creates a sorrow which is in accordance with God. For, a psalm calls forth a tear even from a heart of stone. A psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.
St. Basil the Great