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Prayer 60

Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart

A

Long ago I learned that blessings
should not come from the mouth of a sinner,1
therefore, how can I, even regretfully,
continue saying Psalms in worship
that earn only scorn for me?

How shall I praise my injuries and build monuments
to my disgrace while gathering thorns in my bare chest
instead of lilies?

How shall I dare to say with David:
“You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.”2
Or “The wicked shall dwell before your eyes.”3
Or “Judge me, Lord, according to your righteousness,
according to the integrity that is in me.”4
Or “Let wickedness be visited upon the sinful.”5
Or “Break the arms of the sinner and wicked,”6
and all that follows.
Or “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares,
fire and brimstone.”7
Or “The Lord shall cut off flattering lips and the boasting tongue.”8
Or “You have tested my heart and found no iniquity.”9
Or the next verse, “My steps have held fast
to your path.”10
Or “I shall behold thy face in righteousness.”11
Or “I was upright before him.”
Or the next verse, “The Lord paid me according to my righteousness and the cleanness of my hands.”12
Or how can I cover up my lies, yet say with the holy,
“I wash my hands in innocence.”13
Or wallowing in baseness brag, “I do not consort
with the impious.”14
Or proudly put on a happy face, pathetic though I am, and say, “Vindicate me, Lord, for I have
walked in integrity.”15
Or I, the stranger to goodness, beg you,
knower of secrets,
“Do not count my soul among the wicked.”16
Or when cursing others although I deserve cursing,
I dare say, “Requite them, Lord, according
to their works.”17
And shall I dare continue?

B

If I should add to the previous verses,
my grief would double, my bitterness multiply.
My tears dammed up within me, daily seek
the comfort of the familiar scolding voice of the Psalms, accusing me.
If I add the last part of Psalm 50,18
which dooms me as abominable,
gags my speech and exposes my guilty soul
to the prosecuting voice of God,
hope of life is lost.

I am pelted from the ramparts by deadly missiles.
It is a misfortune to be cursed by others, but
it is worse to curse oneself. And if it is hard to be
reproached by friends, how much more chilling, 19
alarming and tormenting to be exposed before
the one who sees all.

But if one surrenders to humiliation and lashes
one’s soul with the reproaches of one’s own tongue,
one earns the blessings of the glorious and all-powerful
Lord for expressing one’s return to him
without covering the traces of the past,
for the sake of love he cut the root of our20
transgressions, undeterred by nay-sayers.
The sheep of Christ’s flock have found
the cure, the balm for their inner wounds.

Yet amidst green pastures blooming
with life-giving counsel, intelligent beings
irrationally and willfully choose
to graze in poisonous fields of delusion.

C

And now, since this reprimand suits me exactly
and describes the evil situation
where I myself fuel the consuming fire
poured from on high upon my head,
the organ of thought.

What did I profit from the Psalms,
when I remained fruitless despite my repeated chants,
failing to sing with my soul as instructed by Paul?21
How shall I mix our Lord’s words with those
of the Prophet?
How can I, the greatest of sinners, the pinnacle
of neediness,
say with the Saint, “Get away, you workers
of iniquity”?22

Or how shall I, who has not fulfilled any of the multitude
of commandments relating to grace or the law,
cry with the happy man who has practiced all he preached, saying,
“For I, your servant, have kept these commandments”
and the words that follow?23

How shall I, who am devoid of life’s wisdom,
praise the Lord with the God-fearing?24

And how shall I add my prayer to that of the great one,
who said, “I sought but one thing from the Lord,
to behold his splendor and to serve in his temple”?25

How shall I seek what I am deprived of,
when I hear, “It is fitting to bless the upright”?26

How shall I curse my soul with my own lips, saying,
among other things, “The gaze of the Lord is
upon evil doers, whose memory shall be wiped
from the face of the earth”?27

Or again in another verse,
“The evil soon shall perish”?28

Or as in my case,
“The arms of the wicked shall be stricken”?29

Or how can I pray for my destruction,
“Behold how the sinners perish”?30

How shall I utter these blessed words with
my unruly tongue: “I shall guard my way so that
I do not sin with my tongue”?31

How shall I boast with the innocent when I choke
on thorns of sin: “But you have upheld me because of
my integrity”?32

How shall I, a sinner deserving double punishment,
complain: “Deliver me, O God, from deceitful and
unjust men”?33

D

How shall I dare say with David,
as if I am not a hypocrite and idolator,
“Have we forgotten the name of our God,
or spread our hands in prayer to a strange god”?34
For only one laid low in the baseness of sin,
erects bestial statues and images,
inciting infidelity and harlotry such as the statues to
female Ashtoreth, Chemosh, the male Milcom,35 and
the vile Tharahad,36 with lewd, naked parts like donkeys.37

How then shall I not be ashamed to pray with the martyr
who always held fast to the good:
“For your sake we are slain all day long,”38
and the rest of this psalm?

How can I, the most foolish and perverse of humans,
say: “My mouth shall utter wisdom,
and my heart, understanding”?39

How can I, a flattering hypocrite, wish
for the bones of sycophants to be scattered?40

How shall I recall the twice-repeated blessing
of the Psalmist: “May I walk before God in the
land of the living”?41

How shall I with my countless sins say:
“I have no sin or transgressions,
I walk without sin and am upright”?42

Or how shall I condemn myself by saying:
“Spare none of those who treacherously plot evil”?43

How shall I say: “Like candle wax melts in the fire,
so sinners, before the face of God”?44

E

How shall I, who have indulged in mortal vices, utter:
“I have humbled myself with fasting,”45
or in the similar, “When they were sick, I wore sackcloth,
and bowed down as in mourning and grief”?46


How shall I remain calm,
when the punishment facing my ilk looms before me:
“All wicked of the earth shall drink it
down to the dregs of God’s unceasing wrath,”47
and “He will cut off the horns of the wicked”?48

How shall I mock Jacob’s ingratitude,49
when I myself embrace shadows as the truth
and succumbing to their charms,
forget Christ’s salvation through the divine
miracle of the cross, this being more condemnable
than failing to recognize the miraculous power of
the Moses’ rod,
given us as assurance of divine providence?50

How shall I point to the perils of attacking demons,
as if they are foreign barbarians, saying:
“They have given the bodies of the righteous among us
as food to the birds,”51 that is, to the demons of the air?

How can I claim that the alliance of my will with evil
can be holy, when it is “like the seed of the word
fallen by the wayside”?52

How can I name those holy who pursue the hostile path
of wickedness, namely the rebellious conflicts of my
camouflaged mind, in collaboration with the devices of
the Slanderer?

And for these reasons I cannot pray, “God, be not silent,
do not hold your peace,” or “They have plotted against
your holy people and said . . .”?53

For it is quite proper that through these words
we recognize the virulence of demons and their cohorts,
causing trouble at every turn.

F

Protect us, Lord Christ, exalted son of great God.
Fortify and surround us with your heavenly host,
defend us from the gusting winds of the Deceiver
with your cross of light.
For although any number of offenses may be found
in me, blasphemy is not among them.
For you were not gratified by
the destruction of the impious likes of me.
Rather with melancholy tenderness,
you are doubly aggrieved by the destruction
of the iniquitous in the flood,
considering their death intolerable and repugnant,
and saying in your heart the amazing words:
“I shall never again curse the earth because of the
deeds of man.”54
And you are greatly consoled and rejoice in
the deliverance of unclean men worthy of destruction,
as in the parable of the plant that shaded Jonah,55
where you spared those deserving of destruction, O merciful Lord.
And in another instance how greatly were you annoyed56
by the delay of the rain which would salvage those who denied you.
And in your last days you did great deeds
beyond telling, worthy of celebration,
commanding your disciples to spread your sweet
gospel of peace to the Gentiles and all peoples far and wide.57
Sprinkle upon me the dew of your compassionate
fatherly love, living God, so I too may find salvation
through the pardoning of my sins by your abundant mercy.
And to you, with the Father through the Holy Spirit,
glory forever.
Amen.
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Notes
  1 ...... Ps. 50 (Arm 49):16.

  2 ...... Ps. 3:7.

  3 ...... Ps. 5:4.

  4 ...... Ps. 7:9 (note that St. Gregory writes “your righteousness,” whereas the KJV reads: “my righteousness.”

  5 ...... Ps. 7:10 (according to the Armenian version, whereas the KJV states “let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end.”)

  6 ...... Ps. 10:15.

  7 ...... Ps. 11:6.

  8 ...... Ps. 12 (Arm 11):4.

  9 ...... Ps. 17 (Arm 16):3.

  10 ...... Ps. 17 (Arm 16):4.

  11 ...... Ps. 17 (Arm 16):15.

  12 ...... Ps. 18 (Arm 17):23-24.

  13 ...... Ps. 26 (Arm 25):6.

  14 ...... Ps. 26 (Arm 25):4.

  15 ...... Ps. 26 (Arm 25):1.

  16 ...... Ps. 28 (Arm 27):3.

  17 ...... Ps. 28 (Arm 27):4.

  18 ...... Ps. 50 (Arm 49):22.

  19 ...... Ec. 7:21.

  20 ...... Lk. 7:47.

  21 ...... 1 Cor. 14:15.

  22 ...... Ps. 6:8, Mt. 7:23.

  23 ...... Ps. 19 (Arm 18):11.

  24 ...... Ps. 22 (Arm 21):23.

  25 ...... Ps. 27 (Arm 26):4.

  26 ...... Ps. 33 (Arm 32):1.

  27 ...... Ps. 34 (Arm 33):16.

  28 ...... Ps. 37 (Arm 36):9.

  29 ...... Ps. 37 (Arm 36):17.

  30 ...... Ps. 37 (Arm 36):20.

  31 ...... Ps. 39 (Arm 38):1.

  32 ...... Ps. 41 (Arm 39):12.

  33 ...... Ps. 43 (Arm 42):1

  34 ...... Ps. 44 (Arm 43):20.

  35 ...... 1 Kg. 11:4-8.

  36 ...... See Movses Khorenatsi, Book II, ch. 27, where he lists statue to Tarata, an Assyrian god, among the idols removed by King Abgar from Edessa upon conversion to Christianity. Some scholars link Tarahat with Molech of the Old Testament.

  37 ...... Ez. 23:20.

  38 ...... Ps. 44 (Arm 43):22.

  39 ...... Ps. 49 (Arm 48):3.

  40 ...... Ps. 53 (Arm 52):5.

  41 ...... Ps. 56 (Arm 55): 13, Ps. 116 (114-115):9.

  42 ...... Ps. 59 (Arm 58):4-6 (pursuant to the Armenian version).

  43 ...... Ps. 59 (Arm 58):5.

  44 ...... Ps. 68 (Arm 67):2.

  45 ...... Ps. 35 (Arm 34):13

  46 ...... Ps. 35 (Arm 34):14.

  47 ...... Ps. 75 (Arm 74):9 (pursuant to the Armenian version).

  48 ...... Ps. 75 (Arm 74):11.

  49 ...... This verse refers to Jacob’s unwillingness to follow Moses to the promised land and to his unwillingness to recognize the miraculous power of the rod of Moses.

  50 ...... Ex. 4:2-5.

  51 ...... Ps. 79 (Arm 78):2.

  52 ...... Mt. 13:4.

  53 ...... Ps. 83 (Arm 82):1-3 (pursuant to the Armenian version).

  54 ...... Gen. 8:21.

  55 ...... Jon 4:6-8 (the castor oil plant, in Armenian – a pumpkin vine).

  56 ...... 1 Kg. 17:1, 18:1 (delay of the rain on account of Elijah).

  57 ...... Mt. 28:19-20.