Psalm 1: Blessed is the Man

“Oh the happinesses of the man (the one, the person) who never walks in the council of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor remain standing in the dwelling place of the scornful.”

The Book of Psalms contains the poetic description of a life spent in the service of YHWH and obedience to His commandments. The Righteous One is compared to the Fool–who says in his heart there is no God–because the Righteous man seeks to obey the Lord and His commandments. In the Psalms, the Righteous Man becomes a Righteous King and is almost always presented to the people as David (the chosen, anointed Messiah). In the world of the New Testament and the reign of Christ, we see that these Davidic pictures are all foreshadowing the Incarnation and divine reign of THE Messiah who is not just the adopted Son of God that the Israelite kings were but is truly God himself and His divine, pre-eternal Son.

Through a series of longer “study” posts and shorter “discussion” posts, we’ll be engaging the imagery and theology of Psalm 1 and hopefully encourage and instruct one another as we go.

Psalm 1 contains the entirety of the theological instruction of the Psalter. In six short verses we are introduced to the two characters (the righteous one and the fool), the Law of God, the Covenant Blessings, and the two ways: life and death. Each of these themes is repeated throughout the Psalter, and it’s important to recognize that the author of Psalm 1 has created a perfect prologue to the proceeding passages. It’s also important to note, that these images have been adopted and presented to us by the Church in relation to Christ and that He (David’s heir and divine Son of God) is the fulfillment of these Psalmic images.

 

Psalm 1 begins as above: “Oh the blessedness (literally the happinesses) of the man who NEVER walks, stands, or abides with the ungodly. It’s a fabulous bit of Hebrew poetry built upon the actions of walking, standing, and dwelling–think Exodus imagery here–in relation to the person who is going about life’s way. The righteous man who wants covenant blessing must NEVER (the prohibition in Hebrew has this connotation) walk on the way of death; NEVER stand in the council of the ungodly; and NEVER “abide as though to live” among the unrighteous. His delight (hephetz), rather, is in the Torah of YHWH, and it is on His law that he (the righteous man) chews. In contrast to the one who sits around the table with the ungodly, the man who receives covenant blessing sits and eats at the table of Torah and becomes like a tree planted by living water which grows, flourishes, and produces fruit. The wicked, on the contrary, receive the covenant curses and wither and are lost on the wind like chaff.

For the original audience of the Psalms, this image was a very visceral. They had spent generations dwelling among the ungodly in slavery and their decision to stop walking in God’s way and to stand listening to the ungodly led to their forty year wilderness wandering. Before finally entering the Promised Land they had taken time to rehearse the blessings and curses of the Law as they looked across the flowing Jordan river (next to which they would be planted). Every year they would listen to the words of the Exodus as they celebrated Passover. Every year they would read the Torah in its entirety, starting in Genesis and ending with the words of Promise as they crossed the Jordan into Canaan. Every day they were given the opportunity to examine their lives before Torah and to place themselves on the Path of the Righteous or the Way of the Ungodly.

Before moving forward, consider these two images: the way of life and the way of death. The Righteous one is happy and blessed on the way of God’s commandments and the Ungodly is forgotten as quickly as chaff. How do these two ways present themselves through the Old Testament Scripture and the Gospels/Epistles?

Blessed Is The Son of Man: Reflections on Psalm 1

Below is the first of what hopefully will be many discussions on Psalm 1. Please feel encouraged to participate by commenting on this topic either here on the blog or our FB page.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psalm 1:1-3

The image here of a tree stands out for many reasons, but first it is important to point out that the man being referred to in this Psalm is Christ. He is blessed. He is the Law and upon the Law does He unceasingly mediate, much like we are called to do in our prayers.

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers. What is a tree, but a strong foundation which gives us refuge and brings forth nourishment so that we may live? What is a tree, but that which reaches up to the heavens, much like the columns of a church, symbolizing that Heaven and Earth are joined together here and now?

And His fruit shall be made known. When shall it be made known? How does the Tradition of the Church show us that this is so? What is the fruit spoken of here?

theophany

Let’s examine the Theophany icon. Christ’s nature becomes known to us when the Holy Spirit descends (and later at Transfiguration, a voice from the Heavens declares “Behold my Son.”) Look at Christ, standing upright in the water, which is eternally blessed. He is strong and firm. He is solid in His foundation and soon to be the One who will give us our daily bread as nourishment for both body and soul. He is our refuge, as we become His fruits through His teachings. He is the True Vine and we are the branches. If we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit, to the glory of the Father (see John 15: 1-8).

We too can become blessed. The Psalmist shows us that just as blessedness can be attained by doing deeds, it can also be achieved by what we do not do. For by not walking, standing, or sitting (all things which we simply must do throughout the course of the day) with the ungodly and those who would scorn righteousness, we can begin our life-giving journey with Christ. We can be members of the life-giving tree. Let us therefore remain steadfast in prayer and in meditating upon the Scriptures, so that we may be firmly planted in Christ.

The Divine Liturgy: An Overview and Outline

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The most central aspect of the life of the Orthodox Church is seen in her weekly service of Eucharist. Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, is what the Christian life is all about, so it is natural that the center of the Church’s existence subsists in the celebration of thanksgiving. The Eucharist service in the Orthodox Church is called The Divine Liturgy, and its primary form is that liturgy that finds its origins in the adaptations made by St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century.

Let’s take a walk through The Divine Liturgy. We’ll start with a basic outline. Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis outlines the Liturgy like this:

Preparation
Prayers for the Faithful, Cherubic Hymn, Processions
Spiritual Litany, Fervent Supplication, and Kiss of Peace
The Symbol of Faith (Creed)

Holy Anaphora
Apostolic Blessing, Dialogue, & Great Anaphora
Triumphal Hymn, Anamnesis & Institutional Words
Epiclesis and Commemorations

Holy Communion
Litany, Lord’s Prayer, and Invitation
Holy Communion
Dismissal

For future posts, we will more fully explore the Liturgy this way:

1. The Bringing of the Gifts (Prothesis/Proskomedia)
Preparation of the offerings of bread and wine to be used in the Eucharistic celebration.

2. The Liturgy of the Catechumens

The Great Ektania, a long prayer that sets the tone for the whole service. This litany consists of a dialogue between the deacon or priest and laity, concluding with a Trinitarian doxology.
Psalm 103/104
The Little Ektania
Psalm 145/146
The Troparion
The Beatitudes
The Little Entrance/Gospel Entrance
“Come Let Us Worship”
The Trisagion (i.e., Thrice-Holy) Hymn
Epistle
Gospel
Common Prayers for the Members of the Church (Diaconal Litany)
Catechumen Prayers and Departure

3. The Liturgy of the Faithful

Prayer of the Faithful
Cherubic Hymn, Offertory Prayer, Great Entrance

Petition for Mercy/Litany of Oblation
Deacon’s exhortation: “Let us love one another….”
The Kiss of Peace
Profession of Faith: Nicene Creed

The Great Thanksgiving/Eucharistic Prayer
Also called the Eucharistic Canon, or Anaphora

Sursum Corda/Hymn: “It is meet and right…”
The Sanctus
Commemoration of the Last Supper (also known as the Mystical Supper)

The Consecration of the Gifts
– Words of Institution
– Offering of the Body and Blood/Hymn: “We glorify thee”
– The Invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis)

The Great Prayer for the Church
Comemmorating the living and the dead
Megalynarion of the Theotokos
Litany of Fervent Supplication
Secret Prayers of the Priest
Lord’s Prayer

Elevation and Breaking of the Lamb
Blessing of the Faithful
Sancta Sanctis: “Holy Things for the Holy”
Breaking of the Lamb and Commemoration
Preparatory Prayer
Communion of the Clergy
Elevation of the Chalice
Pre-Communion Prayer
Communion of the Faithful

Post-Communion Prayers and Dismissal
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Transfer of the Holy Body and Blood to the prosthesis table
Prayer before the Ambo
Dismissal of the Faithful
Distribution of the Antidoron

Select Sources Used for the Post
Paul Evdokimov. Orthodoxy: The Cosmos Transfigured, trans. Anthony P. Gythiel (Witchita: Eight Day Press, 2012), 276-277.

Archpriest D. Sokolof, A Manual of The Orthodox Church’s Divine Services (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2001), 62-84

Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis, The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy, (Columbia: Orthodox Witness, 2008).

Page Divider for Author Bios

Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

Theology in Orthodoxy

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It is not uncommon for the teaching ministry of the Orthodox Church to be described variously as dogma, doctrine, or theology. These words are occasionally used interchangeably, but there are specific differences between the words.

Theology is the broadest category, which refers to “the study of God” in general, based on divine revelation. Doctrine literally means “teaching,” but refers specifically to propositional teachings. Dogma originally meant “opinion,” but now is used to denote beliefs based firmly in divine revelation and taught as necessary to be believed by all Orthodox Christians.

The Orthodox Church finds divine revelation in several sources, and sorts carefully through these sources of revelation to instruct the people of God.

Imagine the Church’s Tradition as a symphony orchestra with Jesus Christ as the Conductor. When we hear all the sections of the orchestra playing in proper tune and with the appropriate dynamics we will rightly appreciate the melody of faith and the harmony of hope. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev describes theological inquiry and how we may sort through sources of Tradition to find the appropriate balance.

The Holy Scriptures are an unconditional and indisputable authority. All Orthodox Christians accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as unified messengers of Christ. The Old Testament is “a herald of the New Testament,” and the New Testament saturates the Tradition of the Church. The Scriptures are essential to the motif of Tradition.

Our liturgical tradition is an indispensible part of the orchestral motif of the Church’s Tradition. Liturgical texts have been refined over many centuries, led by the Holy Spirit, and are an indisputable source of teaching in our Church. We must distinguish between newer texts that have not been tested by time, and those texts which have led the Church for hundreds or thousands of years. These liturgies are a close second to Scripture.

The Ecumenical Creeds and Councils of the Church rank high with the canonical liturgical texts and Scriptures. The Councils deal with incredibly difficult matters, both of a pastoral nature and a doctrinal nature, articulated in creeds and carefully worded dogmatic definitions. The dogmatic statements of the Ecumenical Councils are paramount, and the canonical guidelines—while varied in their local application—share a similar authority. The Church retains the right to return to the decision of the Councils and modify them.

Doctrinal questions find further clarification in the testimony of the Church Fathers. The Church Fathers are an integral part of the symphonic harmony of the Orthodox Church. We are the heirs of the Fathers and should follow their consensus in all things. It is important to distinguish between personal opinions of the Fathers and those texts “which express general Church teaching.” Opinions that are not dogma, and are not condemned ecumenically, may be considered as personal opinions, but not pressed upon others as necessary to be believed.

Other ancient “teachers” of the Church are important, in a qualified way. It is important to consider the writings of other ancient teachers of the Church, but to make a distinction between these teachers and those the Church has designated as “Fathers.” For example, Tertullian and Origen have serious problems in some of their work, but remain important influences to consider.

We should also consider apocryphal literature of late antiquity, especially those pieces that have influenced the Church in some sense. Apocryphal books here, of course, not referring to those books of Scripture some have labeled as “apocrypha,” but rather to books like The Protoevangelion of James or The Gospel of Thomas. Some of these early writings ought to be rejected outright (such as Thomas), but those that are “reflected in the liturgical life or in hagiographic literature” of the Church have some standing for the Orthodox Christian. Where this literature contradicts the above received wisdom, we do not follow them.

Finally, other teachers should be considered, both ancient and modern. The teaching of the Church is revealed by God and unchanging, but that doesn’t mean its articulation is static. Fresh explanations abound in different periods of history, and since the “age of the Fathers” for Orthodoxy is not limited in scope, we remain attentive to the lead of the Holy Spirit and the fresh articulation of old truths.

Conclusion: Theology for the Orthodox Church is found in that beautiful symphony that is our Tradition, and only when all the sections play their appropriate parts at the right volume does the output sound appropriate. An over-emphasis on any one part of the symphony can only create discordant sounds, contrary to the appropriate execution of the piece by the great and holy Conductor, Jesus Christ.

Note: All quotes taken from Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood: 2009), 205-208. Slight modifications made to capitalization for stylistic consistency. This is a modified form of a post that previously appeared at Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy.

Holy Water

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The Orthodox Church teaches that God created all things good, and that sin has invaded this good world with sickness and death. And part of the mission of the Church is to restore all things by the grace of God.

This is why we have “holy water.” It is a setting apart of water as a kind of act of restoration. It’s mystically transforming water not into something magical, but it is restoring it to its Edenic dignity, and with this honor, it becomes another touch point of deeper communion with the Divine.

We use it to bless ourselves, our homes, our cars, our pets, our foo—virtually anything! Some people will take a sip of holy water first thing in the morning, others will put a small amount in their food when they cook. Others may take a small bottle while traveling to discretely sprinkle around while praying for the area and the people. It may be used generously.

It is customary for clergy to set apart a sizable amount of water at Theophany (sometimes called Epiphany) in January, and the faithful will bring special containers to fill after the services. Many clergy will also bless a lake, river, or the ocean, and throw a cross in the water for the faithful (often children) to scramble after and retrieve. Some priests are very generous with the distribution of holy water and will use a large brush to fling droplets all over the faithful!

Should you need to dispose of holy water, it should be used to bless things, you should drink it, or you may pour it into the ground.

Fun fact: We do not need to set apart water from the Jordan River. By virtue of God being baptized in that water, we believe that is holy water forever. Many pilgrims will bring home holy water from the Jordan when they visit.

What about you? Tell us about how you’ve seen holy water used
by the Orthodox clergy and faithful, and if you think we’ve left something important out!