August 21, 2014

Psalm 136

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
  for His mercy endures for ever.
2 O give thanks to the God of gods,
  for His mercy endures for ever.
3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
  for His mercy endures for ever;
4 to Him who alone does great wonders,
  for His mercy endures for ever;
5 to Him who by understanding made the heavens,
  for His mercy endures for ever;
6 to Him who spread out the earth upon the waters,
  for His mercy endures for ever…

23 It is He who remembered us in our low estate,
  for His mercy endures for ever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
  for His mercy endures for ever;
25 He who gives food to all flesh,
  for His mercy endures for ever.
26 O give thanks to the God of heaven,
  for His mercy endures for ever.

As noted yesterday, Psalm 136 is paired with Psalm 135 as the joyful song of “many mercies,” the Polyeleos, at Matins in the Orthodox tradition. In Judaism, Psalm 136 is called the Great Hallel [Alleluia], and is sung at Passover after the Lesser Hallel, Psalms 113-118.

It is very possible that this is the final hymn that Jesus and the disciples sang at the Passover Supper before His betrayal and crucifixion (“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives,” Matthew 26:30). Note especially verse 25: “He who gives food to all flesh.”  This puts in high relief Christ’s words and actions the supper:

“He who gives food to all flesh”

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)

Christ gives Himself as “food to all flesh.”

Verses 23-26 also “link the present generation who sing this psalm, with the experience of Israel’s past” (New Jerome Biblical Commentary). This is basic to both Jewish and Orthodox Christian liturgical life, in which past events are appropriated, entered into and celebrated by the faithful as happening “today.” This is what makes our liturgical worship a living Tradition.

Simonopetra Monastery, Mount Athos

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For a stirring rendition of the Polyeleos by the monks of Simonopetra Monasttery on Mount Athos, see


One of the “behind the scenes” responsibilities of the chancery is to deal with preventing and addressing sexual misconduct. As we all know this is a concern that affects every organization, but it’s not something that needs to be reported on the front page every day. I think of it as a sanitation department: every town has to have one but it shouldn’t make headlines unless something goes badly wrong. But with dioceses and parishes working diligently to follow the Holy Synod’s recently revised Policies, Standards and Procedures (PSPs) in this area, questions naturally do arise. So a few days ago I received a letter from someone concerned about protecting the clergy from false allegations.

I was disappointed to read the recently promulgated sexual misconduct policy.  I am disappointed in the lack of protection for clergy in the guidelines… I prayerfully ask the Synod to reconsider the document.

Here is the reply I sent yesterday (slightly edited). 

Thank you for your comments. In fact, you are not the first person to raise concerns about protections for clergy. However, the standards for clergy behavior are very high. The bishop ultimately must decide—based on the evidence—whether the accused clergyman (“the respondent”) is someone who can be fully trusted to be a good shepherd. If on balance of probability there is likelihood that misconduct occurred, then the bishop has to err on the side of protecting his—Christ’s—flock.

But the bishop’s decision must be based on a fair reading of the evidence, and the respondent has every opportunity to present his facts.  While it is true that the PSP’s may need further review, there are a number of important checks and balances already in place:

  • the respondent is free to bring whatever evidence or witnesses he has to the Response Team during the investigation
  • the respondent may involve legal representation if he so chooses
  • the respondent may have some other defense person or advocate to assist him, including of course his confessor or spiritual father
  • the respondent has the right to a church court to present his case with a defense team if necessary
  • the respondent has the right to appeal an adverse church court decision to the Holy Synod
  • The development of the PSPs over many years involved the review of practices in other churches and organizations. It also involved professionals in the areas of psychology, psychiatry, law and investigations. But our own procedures and those of others are evolving (witness what is happening in the military and on college campuses), so it should be expected that they can and will be improved.
The policies and procedures are under constant review by the Holy Synod’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee, which meets at least monthly via conference call (we have a meeting today) and in person once a year with the Holy Synod.