Alleluia; of Haggai and Zechariah
[= Psalm 146 LXX]
Praise the Lord!
1 For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly.
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars,
he gives to all of them their names.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden,
he casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God upon the lyre!
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
he prepares rain for the earth,
he makes grass grow upon the hills.
9 He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens which cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man;
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
[=Psalm 147 LXX]
12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
he blesses your sons within you.
14 He makes peace in your borders;
he fills you with the finest of the wheat.
15 He sends forth his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
16 He gives snow like wool;
he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
17 He casts forth his ice like morsels;
who can stand before his cold?
18 He sends forth his word, and melts them;
he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
19 He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his ordinances.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 147 represents two psalms in the Greek Septuagint version: 146 and 147. Several verses, especially verse 5, are associated with the time after Pascha, as we look forward to the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Great is our Lord and abundant in power,
His understanding is beyond measure!
The risen Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit’s power to descend upon them. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Hence, verse 5 is a fitting Prokeimenon both for the week of Saint Thomas Sunday, and for Mid-Pentecost, the half-way point between Pascha and Pentecost. Verses 12-15 are also the Communion hymn for Saint Thomas Sunday.
Verse 5 also underlines another theme of Psalm 147, the Lord’s “understanding,” which is beyond our puny ability to grasp. As the Liturgy of Saint Basil says,
“Who can utter Thy mighty acts? Or make all Thy praises known? Or tell of all Thy miracles at all times? O Master of all, Lord of heaven and earth and of all creation, both visible and invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable, changeless.”
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem is especially awed by verse 4, “He determines the number of the stars, he gives to all of them their names.”
You behold the stars, but their maker you do not behold: count these which are visible, and then describe Him who is invisible, ‘who determines the number of the stars and calls them all by name. (St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, VI, in J. Manley, Grace for Grace, 614.)
In other words, look at the stars and learn humility. The stars alone should make us very careful about speaking of God or imagining that we truly understand. But they should also inspire wonder and thanksgiving that this God of the stars also “sends forth his Word” and makes Himself known.
Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops
The Assembly of Bishops ends its meeting today in Dallas.
If you get the chance, take a look at the video message that His All-Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople sent the bishops: He said, “The time has surely come for us to move beyond words to actions…We are called to put our theory and theology into policy and practice. We are called to move beyond what is ‘mine’ and what is ‘yours’ to what is ‘ours.’”
The recent interview with Metropolitan John Zizioulas is also very worthwhile, as he explains the “Chambesy process” that set up the Assemblies of Orthodox bishops around the world.