Today, I’d like to approach yesterday’s post from a slightly different angle with the help of St. Athanasius the Great. In a letter to his friend Marcellinus, St. Athanasius writes about the Psalms. He points out that, “the Psalter includes the special subjects of all the other books.” Therein we will find history, God’s commands, prophecy — everything we find in the rest of Scripture. However, as St. Athanasius points out:
among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given.
This makes the Psalms especially accessible — it allows us to make the words of the Psalms our words. St. Athanasius states that:
In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn.
This is possible because “the grace of the one Spirit is common to every writer and all the books of Scripture…they have but one voice in the Holy Spirit.” When we make these words our words — when we participate in that one voice — we participate in the Holy Spirit. Through Him, the multitude and diversity of the writers of Scripture become one voice in us.
I would argue that in the same way that the Psalms are the poetic expression of Scripture, the hymnody of the Church is the poetic expression of Dogma and of the Fathers. The Orthodox Church sees the work of the Holy Spirit in the Councils of the Church, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). Thus, in the same way that we participate in the Holy Spirit through the Psalms, we participate in Him through the hymnody of the Church. In the same way that the Holy Spirit makes the multiple voices of Scripture in to one voice, so, too, does He take the diversity of the Fathers and makes them one voice in Him through the hymnody. By chanting the services of the Church, by making these words our words, this vast array of writers and Fathers become one in us through the Holy Spirit.
With this concept in mind, let us revisit St. Leo and the Kathisma from Christmas Orthros that I quoted yesterday:
For God the Son of God, the only-begotten of the eternal and unbegotten Father, remaining eternal “in the form of God,” and unchangeably and without time possessing the property of being no way different to the Father He received “the form of a slave” without loss of His own majesty, that He might advance us to His state and not lower Himself to ours. — St. Leo the Great, Sermon XXVIII on the Nativity
He Whom nothing can contain, how is He held within a womb? And while in His Father’s arms, how in His Mother’s pure embrace? Such is His will and good pleasure, and as He knows. For being without flesh, He took flesh willingly; for us HE WHO IS became what He was not. Without forsaking His own nature, He has partaken of what we are. For Christ is born now, twofold in nature, to fill Heaven with mankind. — Kathisma from the Orthros of the Nativity of Christ
The Kathisma is a poem written about the very thing St. Leo is expressing in his sermon. On Christmas morning, when we gather to sing this hymn in Orthros, the Church will be one voice with St. Leo the Great through the Holy Spirit. I hope to see you there. Amen.