Sunday, June 1, 2014

To Arms!

In 2009 as I journeyed toward the Eastern Church I paid Father John of Saint George a few visits.  On my first sit down chat with him I remember telling him how much I disliked some of the violent Psalms that were part of daily Orthodox prayers.  His response was quite helpful to me and while I can't recall his exact words I do know that I walked away with a new perspective.  I began to understand that though the Psalms were often penned about real physical battles, the implications for the spiritual battles we face have always been there.  I started seeing that this especially became true for Christians as they reapplied the Psalter in the light of Christ's victory over sin, death, the devil and the demons.

My youngest son has been Marine trained for fighting physical battles.  My hope is that like King David (one of the world's most famous warriors) he will see and appreciate the parallels to the spiritual realm.  I've dedicated a page on this blog to all those who have served or may serve their nation's military (see Warriors).

In addition to my chats with Father John, Father Patrick Reardon's book Christ in the Psalms has also been beneficial for cementing this idea of spiritual warfare into my mind.  Father Patrick's comments on Psalm 3 have been especially helpful to me, and I hope they will be to you as well.  Let's start with the words of the Psalm and then some of his comments:

Psalm 3
A psalm by David, when he fled from the face of his son, Absalom.

O Lord, why do those who afflict me multiply?
Many are those who rise up against me.
Many are those who say to my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in his God.”  (Pause)

But You, O Lord, are my protector,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill.  (Pause)

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord will help me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O Lord, and save me, O my God,
For You struck all those who were foolishly at enmity with me;
You broke the teeth of sinners.
Salvation is of the Lord,
And Your blessing is upon Your people.

Christ in the Psalms"Conflict we have here, and the distress that conflict brings, for fighting battles is one of the major motifs of the Book of Psalms.  This is not a prayer book for the noncombatant, and unless a person is actually engaged in hostilities it is difficult to see how he can pray Psalm 3:  "Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God; for You have smitten all my enemies on the jaw; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly."

"This warfare has to do with the themes already inaugurated in the two preceding psalms--God's Wisdom against wickedness in Psalm 1, and the Messiah against ungodly mutiny in Psalm 2.  The first tells us that the Psalter's battle is moral; the second tells us that it is theological.  Thus, the many conflicts described in the psalms are engagements of the spirit, struggles of the heart, wrestlings of the mind.

"To pray the psalms correctly, then, it is very important that we properly identify the enemies.  Some modern Christians, not understanding this, have even gone so far afield as to exclude certain of the psalms from their prayer, attempting to justify the exclusion by an appeal to Christian charity and the spirit of forgiveness.

"This is unmitigated nonsense.  The enemies here are the real enemies, the adversaries of the soul, those hostile forces spoken of in the very first verse of the Book of Psalms--"the counsel of the ungodly."  "For we do not wrestle," after all, "against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places"  (Eph. 6:12).  To relinquish any one of the psalms on the excuse that its sentiments are too violent for a Christian is a clear sign that a person has also given up the very battle that a Christian is summoned from his bed to fight. The psalms are prayers for those engaged in an ongoing spiritual conflict.  No one else need bother even opening the book." 

I've never been that combative in sports and such, but for as long as I can remember I've wanted to be a prayer warrior.  With this growing understanding I am now resolved to train as a soldier in the Lord's army more than ever.  My primary weapon?  The Word of God, sharper than any two edged sword, especially the Psalms.

I'll end this with a reflection from St. Nikolai from the May 31 Prologue that follows the same line of thought:

This life is a spiritual struggle. To conquer or to be conquered! If we conquer, we will enjoy the fruits of victory through all eternity.  If we are defeated, we will endure the horrors of destruction through all eternity. This life is a duel between man and all that opposes God. God is an Almighty ally to all who sincerely call upon Him for help. "This life is not a joke or a play thing," says Father John of Kronstadt, "but men turn it into a joke and plaything. The capricious play around with time given to us for preparing for eternity; they play around with empty words. They gather together as guests, they sit and chatter and after that they sit and play this or that game.  They gather in theatres and there they entertain themselves. All life for them is an amusement for them. But woe unto them who do nothing but entertain themselves."


  1. My friend sent me an excellent email response to this that I have permission to share anonymously:

    Hey Fred, thanks again for the post!

    Yes, such a key thing to point out I think! I have found the psalms to be of inestimable worth in my own spiritual life, they truly embody the life of a Christian. It started for me when I read the Lutheran (Saint) Deitrich Bonhoeffer's work "Life Together" in which he desribed the Psalms as the prayers of Christ to the Father. Ever since then, it's like I've been drawn deeper and deeper into their mystery. To pray the psalter for me is to allow Christ in me, through His Holy Eucharist, and the New Man he is creating in me, to speak to God the Father, through the Holy Spirit. The enemies that are spoken of is the Old Man in me: "let death come upon such a one and let him go alive down into hades. Let his wife be a widow and let there be none to pity his fatherless children." To the Old Man I speak these words in Christ with the utmost fervour.

    I used to think of the demons during these verses, but after a while I seemed to be less interested in them. St. Porphyrios of Athens (of the 20th c.) says that we should just ignore them and concentrate on loving God. That has revolutionized my whole spiritual life.

    Now the Psalter becomes a Trinitarian, communal prayer to the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit, in which I beseech the Lord "to stretch out his shoe upon Egumea, the foreign tribes have been subjected unto me..." and this is the Old Man. He must go to hell. He must be destroyed. For in truth, since he is evil, he is non-existence. So let him be destroyed, amen. "But let the righteous be glad..."

    I've found it very helpful to have a copy of the Psalter read in its entirety on three CDs. The copy I have was recorded by Holy Cross Hermitage (ROCOR, I think) in West Virginia. Buying this has been one of the best usages of money for me ever. I highly recommend purchasing a copy. Through the use of an iPod, I'm able to get through the entire Psalter once a week actually, which is incredibly helpful. It only takes about a half an hour a day, and you can break it up into three sets of ten, or (like me), I pray a stasis after every hour during some times, and that only takes 3-5 minutes.


    in Christ, ...

  2. This is so helpful my brother... thanks! Of course the most important implications of Christ's victory of Satan, Death and Hell are that through Christ's power and indwelling of His Spirit we can put off the old man and put on the new.

    I'm reminded of one of my favorite songs by Project 86. Here are some of the lyrics:

    I will not forget the day when the sides were chosen
    Me against me against me
    Clothing so drenched with the sweat
    And the teeth they were clenched

    Who can I trust when I

    Grabbed hold my enemy's neck
    And choked till he ceased
    Blistered with disbelief I awoke dead
    And when I awoke I couldn't believe it was me
    All the time it was me

    I love the idea about listening to the psalms... ordered the cd's already. Thanks for the tip.