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Christian Living Scripture

The Psalter

“If we keep vigil in church,
David [i.e. Psalms] comes first, last and central.”

– St. John Chrysostom

Access to the Psalter

Importance of the Psalter

Father Thomas Hopko teaches us “Virtually all states of man’s soul before God are found expressed in the psalms: praising, thanking, blessing, rejoicing, petitioning, repenting, lamenting, questioning and even complaining… [However] in the Orthodox Church all of the psalms are understood as having their deepest and most genuine spiritual meaning in terms of Christ and His mission of eternal salvation.”

Psalms to Memorize

St. Theophan teaches us to “begin with Have mercy on me, O God (Psalm 50); then Bless the Lord, O my soul (Psalm 102); and Praise the Lord, O my Soul (Psalm 145). These latter two [Psalm 102, 145] are the antiphon hymns in the Liturgy. There are also the psalms in the Canon for Divine Communion: The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 22); The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof (Psalm 23); I believed, wherefore I spake (Psalm 115); and the first psalm of the evening vigil, O God, be attentive unto helping me (Psalm 69). “
– St. Theophan the Recluse

Prescriptive Use of the Psalter

[Source: A Psalter for Prayer, “The Letter to Marcellinus”]

  • If you want to declare anyone to be blessed say Psalm 1, 31, 40, 111, 118 and 127.
  • If you want to rebuke of the conspiracy of the Jews against the Saviour say Psalm 2.
  • If you are persecuted by your own family and opposed by many, say Psalm 3.
  • When you would give thanks to God at your affliction’s end, sing Psalm 4, 74, 114 and 115.
  • When you see the wicked wanting to ensnare you , and you wish your prayer to reach God’s ears, then wake up early and sing Psalm 5.
  • If you feel yourself beneath the cloud of His displeasure, you can say Psalm 6 and 37.
  • If any plot against you, as did Ahithophel against David, and someone tells you of it, sing Psalm 7, and put your trust in God Who will deliver you.
  • Contemplating humanity’s redemption and the Saviour’s universal grace, sing Psalm 8 to the Lord; and with this same psalm or the 18th, you may thank Him for the vintage.
  • For victory over the enemy, and the saving of created things, take not glory to yourself but knowing that it is the Son of God Who has thus brought things to a happy issue, say to Him Psalm 9.
  • If any wishes to alarm you, sing the 10th, still trusting in the Lord.
  • When you see the boundless pride of many, and evil passing great so that among men (so it seems) no holy thing remains, take refuge with the Lord and say Psalm 11.
  • If this state of things be long drawn out, be not faint – hearted, as though God had forgotten you, but call upon Him with Psalm 26.
  • Should you hear others blaspheme the providence of God, do not join with them in their profanity, but intercede with God, using the 13th and the 52nd.
  • If, by way of contrast, you want to learn what sort of person is citizen of heaven’s kingdom, then sing Psalm 14.
  • When you need to pray against your enemies and those who straiten you, Psalms 16, 85, 87, and 139 will all meet your need.
  • If you want to know how Moses prayed, you have the 89th .
  • When you have been delivered from these enemies and oppressors, then sing Psalm 17.
  • When you marvel at the order of creation and God’s good providence therein and at the holy precepts of the Law, 18 and 23 will voice your prayer.
  • While 19 will give you words to comfort and to pray with others in distress.
  • When you yourself are fed and guided by the Lord and seeing it, rejoice, the 22nd awaits you.
  • Do enemies surround you ? Then lift up your heart to God and say Psalm 24, and you will surely see the sinners put to rout.
  • If they persist, their murderous intent unslaked, then let man’s judgment go and pray to God, the Only Righteous, that He alone will judge according unto right, using Psalms 25 and 34 and 42.
  • If your foes press yet harder and become a veritable host, that scorns you as not yet anointed, be not afraid,
    but sing again Psalm 26.
  • Pay no attention either to the weakness of your own humanity or to the brazenness of their attack , but call unceasingly on God, using Psalm 27.
  • When you want the right way of approach to God in thankfulness with spiritual understanding sing Psalm 28.
  • When you dedicate your home, that is, your soul in which you receive the Lord, and the house of your senses, in which corporeally your spirit dwells, give thanks and say the 30th and from the Psalms of Ascent the 126th .
  • Again , when you find yourself hated and persecuted by all your friends and kinsfolk because of your faith in Christ, do not despair on this account, nor be afraid of them, but go apart and looking to the future, sing Psalm 30.
  • When you see people baptized and ransomed from this evil world, be filled with wonder at the love of God for men, and in thanksgiving for them sing the 31st.
  • Whenever a number of you want to sing together, being all good and upright men, then use the 32nd.
  • When you have fallen among enemies , but have escaped by wise refusal of their evil counsel , then also gather holy men together, and sing with them the 33rd.
  • When you see how zealous are the lawless in their evil-doing, think not the evil is innate in them, as some false teachers say, but read Psalm 35, and you will see they are themselves the authors of their sin.
  • And if you see these same wicked men trying, among other evils, to attack the weak and you wish to warn their victims to pay no heed to them, nor envy them, since they will soon be brought to naught, both to yourself and others say the 36th.
  • When, on the other hand, it is your own safety that is in question, by reason of the enemy’s attacks, and you wish to bestir yourself against him, say the 38th.
  • And if / when he attacks, you then endure afflictions, and wish to learn the value of endurance, sing Psalm 39.
  • When you see people in poverty obliged to beg their bread and you want to show them pity, you can applaud those who have already helped them and incite others to like works of mercy by using 40.
  • Then again, if you are aflame with longing for God, be not disturbed at the reviling of your enemies, but knowing the immortal fruit that such desire shall bear, comfort your soul and ease your pains with hope in God and say the 41st.
  • When you wish to recall in detail, the loving – kindness which God showed to the fathers, both in their exodus from Egypt, and in the wilderness and to reflect on how good God is, and how ungrateful men are, you have the 43rd, the 77th, the 88th, the 104th, 105th, 106th and the 113th.
  • The 45th will supply your need when after deliverance from afflictions, you flee to God and want to give Him thanks and tell of all His loving mercy shown toward yourself.
  • But suppose now that you have sinned and having been put to confusion, are repenting and begging for forgiveness, then you have the words of confession and repentance in Psalm 50.
  • Or you have been slandered perhaps, before an evil king, and you see the slanderer boasting of his deed: then go away and say Psalm 51.
  • When they persecute and slander you, as did the Ziphites and the strangers to King David [ 1 Kings 23 : 13ff ], be not disturbed, but with full confidence in God sing praise to Him using Psalms 53 and 55.
  • If still, the persecution follows hard on you and he who seeks your life enters (though he knows it not) the very cave in which you hide [1 Kings 24 : 3], still you must not fear; for even in such extremity as this, you have encouragement in Psalm 56 and also in 141.
  • The plotter, it may be, gives orders that a watch be kept over your house and yet you manage to escape; give thanks to God and let Psalm 58 be written on your heart as on a pillar, as a memorial of your deliverance.
  • If not only your enemies cast you in the teeth, but those also whom you thought to be your friends reproach and slander you and hurt you sorely for a time, you can still call upon God for help using Psalm 54.
  • Against hypocrites and those who glory in appearances, say for their reproach the 57th .
  • But against those whose enmity is such that they would even take away your life, you must all the more submit to the Lord’s will as they grow fiercer in their rage and your form of words for this will be the 61st Psalm.
  • Should persecution drive you to the desert, fear not as though you were alone in it, for God is with you and there at daybreak you may sing to Him the 62nd.
  • If the fear of foes and their unceasing plots pursues you, be they never so many or so insistent in their search for you, still you must not yield; for the toy arrows of a child will be enough to wound them, while Psalms 63, 64, 69, and 70 are on your lips.
  • The 64th Psalm will meet your need whenever you desire to sing praise to God.
  • If you want to teach anyone about the Resurrection, sing the 65th.
  • When asking mercy from the Lord, praise Him with the 66th.
  • When you see wicked men enjoying prosperity and peace and good men in sore trouble, be not offended or disturbed at it but say Psalm 72.
  • When God is angry with His people, you have wise words of comfort in Psalm 73.
  • When you have occasion to testify concerning God: 9, 70, 74, 91, 104 – 107, 110, 117, 125, 135 and 137 all fit the case.
  • Psalm 75, when used intelligently, provides you with an answer for the heathen and the heretics, showing that the knowledge of God is not with them at all, but only in the Church.
  • When the enemy takes possession of your place of refuge, even though sorely harassed and afflicted, do not despair, but pray; and when your crying has been heard, give thanks to God using Psalm 76.
  • If they have profaned the house of God and slain the saints, throwing their bodies to the birds of prey, do not be crushed or frightened at such cruelty, but suffering with those that suffer it, plead for them with God using Psalm 78.
  • Psalms 80 and 94 are suitable if you want to sing on a festival together with other servants of the Lord.
  • When the enemy once more musters around you, threatening God’s House and joining forces against His holy ones, do not be frightened of either their numbers or their strength, for you have a very anchor of hope available in Psalm 82.
  • If moreover, you behold the House of God and His eternal dwelling and have a longing for them, as the Apostle had, then say the 83rd.
  • When at length their anger is abated and you are free again, voice your thanksgiving in the 84th and 114 – 115.
  • To see the difference between the Church and schism and to confound schismatics you can say 86.
  • To encourage yourself and others in the fear of God and to show how fearless is the soul that hopes in Him, say 90.
  • Do you want to give thanks on the Lord’s Day ? Then say the 23rd.
  • If on a Monday , then the 94th.
  • If on a Friday, your words of praise are in the 92nd, for it was when the Crucifixion was accomplished that the House of God was built, for all that the enemy attempted to prevent it, so it is fitting we should sing on Friday a song of victory such as that psalm is.
  • Psalm 95 is apt, if God’s House has been captured and destroyed and then rebuilt.
  • When the land has rest from war and peace returns, sing that The Lord is King in 96 .
  • You want to sing on Wednesday ? The psalm then is 93 , for it was on the fourth day from the Sabbath that the Lord, through His betrayal, entered on His Passion, by which He should redeem us and by the which He triumphed gloriously . So when you read in the Gospel how on the Wednesday the Jews took counsel against the Lord, seeing Him thus boldly challenging the Devil on our behalf, sing the words of this Psalm 93.
  • When you see the providence and power of God in all things and want to instruct others in His faith and obedience, get them first to say the 99th Psalm.
  • When you have yourself experienced His power in judgment (for always His justice is tempered by His mercy) the Psalm 100 will express your need.
  • If through the weakness of your nature and the strain of life, you find yourself at times downcast and poor, sing for your consolation Psalm 101103 to lift your heart in thankful praise to God, as in and through all circumstances we should always do.
  • Psalms 104, 106, 112, 116, 134 and 146 – 150 not only show the reasons why God should be praised, but tell you how to do it .
  • Have you faith, as the Lord bade, and believe in the prayers you utter? Then say the 115th Psalm.
  • You feel that, like the Apostle, you can now press forward, forgetting all the things that are behind [Philippians 3 : 13 – 14]? Then you have the fifteen Psalms of Ascent [Psalms 119 – 133] for every step of your advance.
  • Perhaps you find you have been led astray by others’ arguments. Well, the moment you perceive it, stop your sinning, sit down and weep, as they did of old by Babylon’s rivers, using the words of Psalm 136.
  • Since it is precisely by being tempted that one’s worth is proved, Psalm 138 will meet your need when you thank God for testing safely past.
  • If the enemy once more gets hold of you and you desire to be free; then say 139.
  • For prayer and supplication, sing Psalms 5, 140 – 142, and 145.
  • Has some Goliath risen up against the people and yourself ? Fear not, but trust in God, as David did, and sing his words in Psalm 143.
  • When marveling at God’s kindnesses to everyone and mindful of His goodness to yourself and all, praise Him again in David’s words with Psalm 104.
  • You want to sing to Him? Use 95 and 97.
  • If weak as you are, you yet are chosen for some position of authority among the brethren, you must not be puffed up, as though you were superior to them, but rather glorify the Lord Who chose you, and sing Psalm 151, which is especially the Psalm of David.
  • For psalms in praise of God, having some of them the title, Alleluia, you have all these: 104 – 106, 110 – 117, 134, 135, and 145 – 150.
  • If you want to sing psalms that speak especially about the Saviour:
    • You will find something in almost all of them.
    • The 44th and 109 relate particularly to His Divine Begetting from the Father and His coming in the flesh.
    • While 21 and 68 foretell the Holy Cross, the grievous plots He bore, and what great things He suffered for our sakes.
    • The 3rd and 108th also display the snares and malice of the Jews and how Judas Iscariot betrayed Him.
    • Psalm 20, 49, and 71 all set Him forth as Judge and foretell His Second Coming in the flesh to us; they also show the Gentiles’ call.
    • The 15th shows His resurrection from the dead, in the flesh.
    • The 23rd and 46th show His ascension into heaven.
    • In the four Psalms 92, 95, 97 and 98, all the benefits deriving to us from the Saviour’s Passion are set forth together.

Note: About the chapter divisions the Psalms

According to OrthodoxWiki, “The Septuagint (LXX) is the version of the Old Testament used by the Orthodox Church. The LXX Psalter differs in several respects from Masoretic text (MT), which forms the basis for the King James Version and most modern English translations of the Bible. In addition to substantive textual differences, the LXX and MT versions of the Psalter differ most obviously in their chapter divisions. The chapter divisions of the LXX and MT versions of the Psalter correspond as follows:

LXXMT
1-81-8
99-10
10-11211-113
113114-115
114116:1-9
115116:10-19
116-145117-146
146147:1-11
147147:1-20
148-150148-150

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