This is the fourth year that I have posted everyday on the writings of one of the Fathers for the 40 days of the Nativity Fast. This is the first year that I really enjoyed myself. Not that I found Sts. Leo the Great, Gregory Palamas or Ambrose of Milan any less enlightening than St. Hilary of Poitiers, but, rather, I believe I have found a format that best suits me for doing a project like this. Going through every paragraph of St. Hilary’s Homily on the First Psalm and analyzing it made the discipline of writing every day less of a chore than my past attempts at this. Rather, it was something I was able to look forward to.
In addition, St. Hilary was enlightening, challenging and not a little surprising. His exegesis on judgement was not something I expected, but was a fresh (ironic word, I know, for something written almost 1600 years ago) and encouraging vision of Judgement Seat. Not to mention, he is on solid Scriptural ground when he makes his point.
The other dramatic interpretation that St. Hilary makes (and one I find very useful) is his insistence that the speaker of the Psalm is the Prophet and the person he is speaking to is us. The image of the blessed and happy man meditating upon the Law day and night contrasted with both the ungodly and the sinner is an excellent introduction to the Psalms.
Indeed, it is an encouragement for those of us who are sinners. For, what better way to introduce ourselves to the Law and the path of righteousness than by reading the Psaltery? I reiterate, according to the Orthodox Christian monastic rule, the entire Psaltery is read every week and during Great Lent it is read twice a week.
This repetition brings familiarity. And since, as St. Athanasius in his Letter to Marcellinus points out, the Psaltery has everything else that we find in the rest of Scripture: History, God’s commands and Prophecy. In addition (and this is not the first or last time I will use this quote), Athanasius states:
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 [other parts of Scripture], 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.
In other words, it is very easy to see ourselves, our current situation and our emotions all within the Psaltery and within the framework of the rest of Scripture.
Thus, the Psaltery is one of our main tools when it comes to helping us meditate upon the Law day and night by making our entire life a prayer. If we constantly refer and compare our life to the Psalms, into which we can see ourselves, our situation and our emotional state, we are meditating upon the Law day and night. We step onto the path to become that blessed and happy man.
To that end, I will continue with this format and with St. Hilary, who has left us with homilies on Psalm 53(54) and Psalm 130 (131), although I will ease up on the pace. I realize this is the same promise I made last year (and failed to keep); however, I have found that this format is very easy for me to keep up with. Therefore, I feel confident that there will be at least one new post per week from me over the course of the next year.
I will begin with Psalm 130(131). It is one of the shorter Psalms in the Psaltery and therefore won’t overwhelm anyone (especially me). Besides, Psalm 53(54) is a good meditation for approaching Great Lent. Since we are about to embark upon a season of celebration, it felt out of place.
So, pray for me, pray that St. Hilary intercedes and may we all have a blessed Christmas. Amen.