Psalm 76 – In Times of Crisis

An explanation by Elder Aimilianos on the first two verses of Psalm 76 (LXX) written historically during a time of crisis for the people of Israel:

v.1 With my voice I cried to the Lord,

with my voice to God, and He was attentive to me.

These words reveal a deep sense of sorrow, a feeling of pain, which is why many modern interpreters believe that Psalm 76 (LXX) was written during a time of national crisis, when the Jewish people were under attack from the Assyrians or the Persians

(cf. 2 Kgs 17:6; 2 Chron 36:17-20).

…Returning to the verse itself, I should say that it is not simply the expression of a particular feeling, but a kind of overture to the basic themes of the psalm. The psalmist cries out to the Lord because he is searching for the Lord, and this causes him sorrow and pain of spirit. When does our spirit experience sorrow? When does it feel pain? When it understands that something separates it from God; when it feels the dividing wall standing between itself and God (cf. Eph 2:14). Every spiritual sorrow, every pain of separation from God, all the anguish and anxiety caused by this separation, constitute the «Babylonian captivity» of the soul. From such captivity the psalmist longs to be delivered, which means that he longs for the Lord, and this is why he tells us that with his whole being he cried out to the Lord.

The Hebrew says «My voice (goes) to God, for I cry out, so that He may hear me,» which presents us with a subtle but important difference. That the psalmist’s voice «goes to God» does not refer to a particular moment when the psalmist audibly cried out to God, but is the expression of his whole life, his whole existence, as turned toward God. «I am like an arrow poised on a bow,» he’s telling us, «aimed perpetually at God.» That this is a permanent condition is further emphasized by the verb, which is in the present tense: «My voice goes to God.» What is the voice? It is a reflection of the heart. It is an audible expression of whatever we have inside ourselves; an expression of the heart’s contents. «All my being, my entire existence, seeks nothing else but God. My life, and thus my voice, are completely turned toward God.»

 v.2 In the day of my affliction I sought God, with my hands, at night, before Him, and I was not deceived; my soul refused to be comforted.

This verse introduces a new layer of meaning, for it tells us that the psalmist is «afflicted,» a word which in Greek means feeling hemmed in on all sides, pressed down, crushed. «Whenever I was in pain; whenever I felt the crushing absence of God; whenever I felt the oppressive emptiness of my inner desolation, of my isolation, I sought for God.»

With my hands, at night, before Him, and I was not deceived. The psalmist had «cried out» to the Lord, which was the expression, the externalization, of his inner life. Now, however, his cry becomes a prayer, an activity indicated by the lifting up of his hands, the raising of his palms toward God, a gesture which also represents the movement of his soul. The psalmist’s will to pray expresses itself in and through his body. Just as his voice had cried out, so too does his body speak, not because he is affecting a pious, external pose, but because something has naturally and spontaneously welled up within him. Yet the lifting up of his hands (cf. Ps 141:2) is not simply a blind physical reflex, but the conscious, personal expression of the will, the sign that the whole person is engaged by the search for God.

«Whenever I was overcome by feelings of inner pain and emptiness, I had the great joy of knowing that I was sad precisely because God was missing from my life. As soon as I realized that, I cried out to Him, I raised my hands in prayer, and I was not disappointed, I was not deceived.»

My soul refused to be comforted. «During these difficult moments, I refused to accept any worldly comfort, any human consolation.» The search for God is not a search for comfort and consolation. The psalmist tells us that he did only one thing: he raised his hands at night before God. He says «before God,» which means «in the presence of God.» The psalmist is not struggling with bodily illness or any other kind of private pain; he is not troubled by his enemies, or agonizing over the fate of the nation. Instead, he is struggling with God, Whom he must conquer. This is why his hands are raised in prayer, for prayer is the arena in which we wrestle with God, the place where we struggle with Him, and this struggle is the center of the psalmist’s entire life.

The Hebrew again offers us its own accents: «At night my hands are outstretched and do not tire.» Here we see the psalmist as a man who seeks God at night, and who remains in prayer with has hands raised to God. Night is the time of prayer. His soul refuses to be comforted, he has renounced and rejected all things, and now he seeks only God, for only God can help him. «I am not waiting for my troubles to come to an end, but for the wall between us to come falling down so that I might see Your light.»

I remembered God and was glad; I pondered, and my spirit became discouraged. selah

Here the Hebrew is very different: «I want to think of God, and I must moan, I want to ponder, and my spirit languishes.» These are the words of a fallen man; of someone who is not able to do anything based on his own strength or abilities. In this way, the Hebrew presents the psalmist as struggling in vain, for God remains an invisible presence, but nonetheless ready to intervene and help. The Septuagint version, which reflects a Greek mentality, from the outset frames the psalmist’s struggle in light of the victory that will be his at the end. The Greek translator has been influenced by the outcome of the struggle, and thus he renders the verses as a series of steps leading to victory: first comes the cry of the heart; second the will and commitment to struggle; and third the standing before God, which occurs through the remembrance and recollection of God. Influenced by the dynamics of spiritual experience, the Greek translator stresses that God, Who has promised to rescue and save the psalmist, will surely do so. Because God has promised to come, it’s as if He’s already there.

I remembered God and was glad. «The mere thought of God, the simple remembrance of Him, filled me with joy. The only time I’m happy is when I think of God. Nothing else brings me joy, nothing else fills me like the remembrance of God does.» This verse describes the search for God and God’s response. To remember God is to experience joy.

My Sould Thirsts & Yearns For You Lord

My soul thirsts for the living God. Time and again my soul seeks fullness of delight in the Lord. O mercy of God that passeth all understanding: the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the soul of man was made kin to God.

The Lord so loved His creature that He gave man the Holy Spirit, and man knew his Creator and loved his Lord.

The Holy Spirit is love and sweetness to the soul, the mind and the body; but when the soul loses grace, or grace is diminished, once again the soul will seek the Holy Spirit in tears, and yearn for God and cry:

My soul yearns for the Lord, and I seek Him in tears.

How could I not seek You, O Lord? For You Yourself did seek me out beforehand, and gave me to delight in Thy Holy Spirit; and now my soul yearns for You. My heart fell to loving You, and I pray You: give me to the end to abide in Your love. For the sake of Your love empower me to endure all sickness and affliction.

My soul is seized with fear and trembling when I would write of the love of God.

My soul is poor and without strength to describe the Lord’s love.

My spirit fails, but love constrains me to write.

The Lord ascended into heaven and awaits our coming; but to be with the Lord we must be like Him, or like little children —lowly and meek—and we must serve Him. Then, according to the words of the Lord, ‘Where I am, there shall also my servant be’, we too shall be with Him in the kingdom of heaven. But now my soul is overspread with melancholy, and I am unable to lift an undistracted mind to God, and I have no tears wherewith to bewail my evil deeds: my soul is withered away and spent with the night of this life.

O who shall sing me the song that I have loved since the days of my youth -the song of the Lord’s Ascension into heaven, of His love for us, of the vigil He keeps for our coming? To this song would I hearken with tears, for my soul is weary on earth.

What has befallen me? How came I to lose joy, and shall I attain to joy again?

Weep with me, all ye wild beasts and birds. Weep with me, forest and desert. Weep with me, every creature created of God, and comfort me in my grief and sorrow.

O man, what a feeble creature you are.

When grace dwells within us the spirit glows and reaches day and night towards the Lord, for grace constrains the soul to love God; and now that she has come to love Him she cannot tear herself away from Him: never can she have enough of the tenderness of the Holy Spirit.

And there is no end to the love of God.

      — St. Silouan the Athonite

Love His Enemies

However wise, learned, noble a man may be, if he does not love his enemies – that is, love his every fellow-being – he has not attained to God. Contrariwise, however simple, poor and ignorant a man may be, if he carries this love in his heart, then ‘he dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ Away from the One True God, it is impossible to love our enemies, declared the Staretz [St. Silouan]. The bearer of such love communicates in eternal life, to which his soul can testify. He is the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit knows the Father and the Son, knows with authentic and life-giving knowledge. In the Holy Spirit he is the brother and friend of Christ – he is a son of God and a god through grace.

      — St. Sophrony on St. Silouan the Athonite

Fight Against Viral Infection

Question: Your Grace, what do you consider to be the main thing in the fight against viral infection?

Bishop Panteleimon: “The main thing is to preserve peace of spirit and not allow yourself to have a spiritual infection, which harms a person’s soul and heart. The main thing is to preserve your heart in peace, not to panic, not to quarrel with people who are not following the rules that we consider necessary for ourselves, not to impose our opinion on others. In moments of such trials, be it war or epidemic, the evil power – the infection of the spiritual world, which is always right next to us – always begins to operate more actively. It wants to destroy us. We have to remember that, of course, it’s important to take care of the health of our body, and to carry out all the instructions that have been indicated, but, nevertheless, it is very necessary to maintain peace of soul. Nothing peculiar is happening right now.”

      — Excerpt from an interview with Bp. Panteleimon of Orekhovo-Zuyevo (Moscow diocese)

Elder Arsenie Papacioc liked to repeat the following story of a leaf:

A leaf is asked, “Are you a rose?”

“No, not at all. I’m a leaf!”

“No, you’re a rose!”

“No, I’m not!”

“Yes, you are: you smell like a rose!”

“No, I’m a leaf, but I once lay beside a rose.”

When we endeavor to do everything from the heart, then we have sincere warm prayer, a love for our parents and neighbors, and the Lord is with us… Prayer from the heart is sincere prayer. Always pray to the Lord from your heart. The Lord does not require philosophy from us. We should pray from the heart as to our Father: “O Lord, help every soul, and do not forget me, either. Help everyone to find peace and to love Thee, as the angels love Thee. Give us to, too, the strength to love Thee as Thy Most Holy Mother loves Thee and Thy holy angels. Give me, too, the strength to love Thee boundlessly!”

— Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

To die, to be buried, to depart. Not to trouble anyone, not to interrupt anyone when they are speaking, not to usurp their position no matter what that might be. And yet to have lived and died in such a way that your presence, discretely and from a distance, as if a fragrance from someone absent, can give others the possibility of living, of being invigorated, of having the nausea dispelled; to give another the ability to love life, to acquire self-confidence and stand on his own two feet, so that from within him there arises spontaneously a “Glory to Thee, O God!”

— Elder Vaileios, Beauty and Hesychia in Athonite Life

Father Vasileios tells of a death of a fellow monk, Father Hesychios. “I saw him as he was dying, wasting away from cancer and becoming bare bones, yet having no complaint about it, nor about anything else in life…I saw him thanking everyone for the care they had given him…His face shone. He spoke in silence…We wanted him to say something to us and he spoke in his own way: “Now leave me be. I thank you for what you have done for me; I don’t need anything any more. I am still with you but in another way. The Master of the house has arrived, life has begun…” What the departure of Father Hesychios says to us is the same message the Holy Mountain has given perpetually with all its existence: “A beauty exists which abolishes death; a Stillness exists which abounds with eternal blessedness and splendour for all of us.”

— Elder Vaileios, Beauty and Hesychia in Athonite Life

The sun was setting, the sea was still. The mountain of Athos seemed like a crimson-tinged emerald, entirely heavenly lit. The Athonite peninsula itself sparkled in the same dazzling way with a slightly purplish hue. The monasteries were shining white along the seashore. This was no mere external visual spectacle nor the type of beauty, which is perceived only by the physical senses. It wasn’t just a peaceful moment.

— Elder Vasileios, commenting on his return to Mt. Athos

“Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.” — St. Gregory of Nyssa