March 4, 2014

Psalm 77

Who is so great a god as our God? Thou art the God Who doeth wonders.

Thou hast made Thy power known among the peoples; with Thine arm hast Thou redeemed Thy people.

And I said: Now have I made a beginning; this change hath been wrought by the right hand of the Most High.

I remembered the works of the Lord; for I will remember Thy wonders from the beginning.

Psalm 77:13, 14, 15, 10, 11 (LXX)
(The Great Prokeimenon: Pascha, Pentecost, Christmas)


Anyone who has been to the Agape vespers of Pascha knows how joyfully and vigorously these words are sung at this glorious service. White vestments, paschal hymns, the fresh brightness of Christ’s resurrection and victory over death.

But if you go back to Psalm 77 you will be astonished to find that these words of triumph come in the midst of despair.

I cry aloud to God,
 aloud to God, that He may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

I think of God, and I moan;
 I meditate, and my spirit faints.

Thou dost hold my eyelids from closing;
 I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

Will the Lord spurn for ever, and never again be favorable?
Has His steadfast love for ever ceased?

Are His promises at an end for all time?

These last words recall Jeremiah’s Lamentations over the horrific destruction of Jerusalem. But even there, the prophet is able to say, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lam 3:22). In Psalm 77 the psalmist’s experience is so bitter that he can’t bring himself to say this, and instead dares ask the question: are the Lord’s promises over? Has his steadfast love come to an end?

Saint Paul says that we walk by faith, not by sight. In his present circumstances the psalmist sees no light by which to walk. But he still has raw faith in the God of past wonders and redemption. And so he walks by faith despite the darkness of his experience and feelings.

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
yea, I will remember thy wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Thy work,
 and muse on Thy mighty deeds.
Thy way, O God, is holy.

Who is so great a god as our God? Thou art the God Who doeth wonders.

Great Lent Begins

Like most churches, chapels, seminaries and monasteries in the Orthodox world, last night in Saint Sergius Chapel we celebrated the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete for the first time as Lent begins. His Beatitude went to Saint Vladimir’s Seminary for the service, and today he will head for Saint Tikhon’s.


During the service I couldn’t get over the sharp contrasts that fill our contemporary life as we begin Great Lent. On the one side there’s Forgiveness vespers, the Great Canon, the Prayer of Saint Ephraim, prostrations, fasting. And elsewhere: the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the Oscars. Ukraine in turmoil, Crimea occupied by Russian troops.

It’s a messy, complicated, mixed-up world. But we bring all of it before God who offers Himself “on behalf of all and for all.”