March 12, 2014

Psalm 82: Arise, O God and Judge the Earth!

Arise, O God, judge the earth: for to Thee belong all the nations! (Refrain)

God has taken His place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods He holds judgment.

How long will you judge unjustly and accept the face of sinners?

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

Rescue the weak and needy;
deliver them from the hand of the sinner.

They have neither knowledge nor understanding;
they walk about in darkness.

Let all the foundations of the earth be shaken.
I say you are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless you shall die like men, and fall like any prince!

Arise, O God, judge the earth: for to Thee belong all the nations!

Harrowing Hell
“The harrowing of Hell”

On Holy Saturday this entire psalm is sung with vigor as the first announcement of Christ’s Resurrection. These are the “Alleluia verses” before the reading of the Resurrection Gospel (Matthew 28:1-20): “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen as He said.”

Holy Saturday
Laurel on Holy Saturday

In the Slavic tradition as these verses are being sung the vestments and altar cloths are changed from black to white. In the Greek and Arabic Orthodox worlds the priest goes throughout the church throwing handfuls of laurel leaves, the ancient symbols of victory. In many places (especially of Cypriot tradition), while the priest does this, the congregation makes a mighty racket of stamping their feet, banging on pews and sticks, even clanging pots and pans as a sign of the “harrowing of hell,” the shaking of the foundations of the earth as Christ smashes the locks and gates of Satan and death. The whole psalm is an affirmation that death and the devil are not immortal, but will “die like men and fall like any prince.”

I first saw the Holy Saturday noise-making when I lived in England, where most of the Greek Orthodox are from Cyprus. For a glimpse of what this looks like, here’s a video from a Greek Orthodox parish in London


Father Basil Summer will celebrate the Presanctified Liturgy today in Saint Sergius Chapel this evening. Father Eric Tosi and I will head to Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, and tomorrow we’ll meet with students at the Seminary. I’ll stay there through Friday for the meeting of the Saint Tikhon’s Seminary Board.