Christ in the Psalms

Virtually all know the words of this psalm and they continue to sing it at every age, without knowing, however, the sense of what has been said. This is no small charge, to sing something every day, putting forth words from the mouth, without searching out the meaning of the thoughts residing in the words.

- St John Chrysostom

I recently came across reference made to Priest Patrick Reardon's Christ in the Psalms on another site and decided to buy it. I must say that it is one of the most rewarding purchases that I have made in recent months.

Father Patrick takes us through the 151 psalms with reflections on their poetry, the doctrine of their content, and their liturgical use, inviting us to pause and ponder the depth of some of the words that we often chant casually or unthinkingly. He also shows how many of these psalms have traditionally been seen as references to the Christ and why they are, therefore, an integral part of the hymnody and culture of the community of the New Covenant, the Body of Christ, the Church.

I never really had much exposure to the psalms in my Anglican childhood. At most of my parishes over the years, we were mass people and not really office people. Yet in my teens I started to pray the office and began to be more fully exposed to the beauty and richness of the psalms. However, it was always very much a private affair, always disconnected somehow from the regular worshipping life of my parish. As such, it became difficult to sustain. Now that I am Orthodox, I find myself bombarded on every side with psalmody, at each and every service. We chant a number of psalms in full as a standard part of almost all of our services, portions of psalms are included in our prayers, antiphons, troparia, communion hymns, responsories, and so forth. Eventually, the words permeate the consciousness and become second nature. I find that there are a number of psalms that I simply know without having made any conscious effort to learn them, and because I can say them effortlessly, I am able to pray them internally. Then, when I pray the office at home, it seems so very natural because it is built on a solid foundation.

Father Patrick does not include the text of the psalms in his book, as it is assumed that the reader will either be familiar with the psalms or will have a psalter to hand. For this I would strongly recommend The Psalter According to the Seventy, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. This is by far the most beautiful translation of the psalms that I have ever encountered. The language is dignified without being so archaic that it is clumsy, (as I find the King James and Coverdale translations to be, despite having grown up with and readily understanding both). This translation also renders "anointed one" as "Christ" in many of those psalms that are traditionally seen as Messianic in the writings of the fathers and the liturgical use of the Church. This I am sure will prove to be a great help when using the psalter alongside Father Patrick's book.

Very importantly, though, is that, as the name suggests, The Psalter According to the Seventy has the advantage of being a translation from the Septuagint, which has been used as the Old Testament of the Church since the early centuries of Christianity. The translation from the Orthodox Study Bible or the Eastern Orthodox Bible may also be found to be quite acceptable for the same reasons.

Many currently-available English renderings of the psalms are based on the much later, flawed Masoretic Hebrew text of the Old Testament. This omits books and alters words in places, which can cause confusion when being read alongside Orthodox commentaries. Also, its different numbering system for the psalms, while only a minor inconvenience, can prove to be something of an annoyance.

Further to this, a number of recent "translations" have been done without a view to expressing the mind of the Church in understanding the psalms. As a result, expressions in the psalms, which for centuries have been understood as references to the Christ, have been obliterated for the sake of a slavish obedience to the modern idol of gender-neutrality. So Blessed is the man in Psalm 1, which the fathers tell us refers to Christ, and which begins the Church's liturgical celebration of the Resurrection at the start of the week, has been turned into such nonsense as Happy are those in a number of "translations".

So while study of the Scriptures is always to be commended, I would recommend caution in choosing a translation. Personally, I am very grateful indeed to Father Patrick because his book is better helping me to heed the words spoken to me by my bishop on the day that he ordained me a reader:

My child, the first degree of the Priesthood is that of Reader. Therefore, it is fitting for you to read the divine Scriptures every day, that they who hear, beholding thee, may receive edification, that thou, in no way putting to shame thine election, may prepare thyself for a higher degree. For by a chaste, holy, and upright life thou shalt gain the mercy of God, the Lover of Mankind, and be counted worthy of a higher ministry: in Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory unto ages of ages. Amen.
- from the rite for the setting apart of a reader

I am all too aware that I fail on a number of counts, and I have really found a renewed zeal since having got this book. I hope that others receive benefit from it in their own lives and spiritual growth. If you do, why not contact Father Patrick and let him know that his labour has not been in vain?

Incidentally, I notice that he has also written Christ in His Saints. Is anybody familiar with it and able to give an idea of what it is like?

4 responses:

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Ooh, I have been thinking about getting this book ! I am glad you are finding it of such value. I love the Psalter, so I should really buy it as a companion volume.

I do have "Christ in His Saints" and it is *well* worth buying. It is all about Biblical Saints and Heroes and is split into sections; Repentant Saints, Saints In Need Of Improvement, Clever Saints and Wise, Saints Under Pressure, Visionaries and Contemplatives etc.

It is an ideal "one chunk a day devotional for Lent, IMO :-)

Michael said...

I really would recommend it, Elizabeth. I have only read the first few psalms with it but each time find new insights and an actual sense of inner peace as Father Patrick makes me understand how the words of the psalms naturally fit together and harmonise with each other and the rest of the Faith.

It's certainly of the "devotional chunk" sort but as each psalm has only two pages of reflection, you can start small and add to it if you like, and do more.

Thank you for your review of Christ in His Saints. I think you have sold it to me, although I shall perhaps wait until I am near the end of the one before I begin the other.

Ian Climacus said...

Thank you for the review Michael: as Elizabeth wrote I think I may spoil myself in buying it.
And thank you Elizabeth for the recommendation of Christ In His Saints also.

BillyD said...

After reading this I ordered Fr Patrick's book and the HTM Psalms. The Reardon book arrived today. I'm looking very much forward to reading the two books.

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