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Prayer 61

Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart

A

To what end should I recite the Psalms,
to what purpose sing them daily
with the harp of my voice when
in unison they condemn and curse me?

How can I adopt the persona of
the happy Psalmist, to say with him,
when I am doomed, “let perverseness
be far removed from my heart”? 1

How disconcerting are the many virtues
ascribed to kings, militant prophets
and commanders of the Old Law,
described in terms befitting the angels?

How can I recite them without
despondence at my life,
I the preacher of the good news,
I disciple of the New Covenant,
when I am devoid of those virtues?

How can I, in the manner of the righteous,
“Be armed to destroy the wicked at dawn,” 2
and always be ready and vigilant 3 as told in the parable,
when I have not tamed and disciplined my own body?

How can I emulate the great valor of David
and cleanse the Lord’s city of the unrighteous,
when I have not uprooted the shortcomings from
my own soul?

How can I lie to one who writes what has not yet been
revealed, saying “I have eaten ashes like bread”? 4
How can I who have not mixed one tainted drop
of my remorse with the pure springs of the
Psalmist’s eyes, say with him, “I have mingled my drink
with tears” 5 and “I have drenched my bed with tears”? 6

How can I confess my mortal sins,
when he who loved God with all his heart,
assumed the sins of his forefathers as his own,
saying, “We have sinned with our fathers
and have done wickedly,” 7
while all that follows is more rightly written
for me than for Israel.

How can I be counted among the good,
when I have not used those remedies
considered effective by human lights—
fasting to the point of death,
and frequent mortification of the flesh until the
body is spent—as practiced even by the Jews and the
pagans according to their religions?

Why then should “my righteousness endure forever,” 8
when I have done nothing to attain it?

B

But so that I do not become tedious and long-winded,
let me compress my words,
words I say echoing the blessed David
in his inspired voice, “I seek you with all my heart.” 9

How shall I say with him something greater than this,
“I hold back my feet from every evil way”? 10

How shall I add this to what has already been said, “I
have laid up your word in my heart so that I might not
sin against you”? 11

How shall I express my emptiness as if it were fullness
along with the saints, saying, “Through your precepts I
get understanding; therefore I hate every false way”? 12

How shall I place my lies beside the true vows
of the meek, pledging fidelity, saying, “I have sworn
to observe your righteous ordinances”? 13

How can I repeat the verdict of the angel of death,
“Salvation is far from the wicked”? 14

How shall I, who am truly wicked, put myself
among the good, who receive their just reward from the
Lord, repeating, “Do good, O Lord, to those who ar
upright in their hearts”?

How shall I, who have strayed, sentence myself justly,
“But those who go off on their crooked ways,
the Lord will lead away with evildoers”? 15

How shall I so ashamed, cloak myself in pious dignity,
saying, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high,” 16
and the verses that follow?
And how shall I, who has laid up my treasure in hell,
take words beyond human understanding
as a sign of encouragement to the weary,
and say with the anointed of God,

“Even before a word was on my tongue you knew,
O Lord, there was no cunning in it,” 17
and the rest of this psalm from its first letter to the last?

How shall I, who conspire with miscreants,
a condemned man and depraved son, call out,
“Do I not hate them that hate you, Lord,” 18
and the verses that follow?

How shall you, my soul, the most pitiful in the world,
with the confidences of that sublime soul,
offer your spirit without condemnation
and presume to boast with him who has earned
his halo, saying,“Test me, Lord, and see if there is any
iniquity upon my hands,” 19 and all that follows?

How shall I, being what I am, pray to be
delivered from evil and join my voice with those who
hope in God, saying, “Guard me, Lord, from the hands
of the wicked and preserve me from violent men”? 20

How shall I arise to pray with worthy David saying,
“You are my refuge and my portion in the land of
the living”?21

How shall I pray as if I had been in combat with evil,
to offer the prize of victory to God the king,
repeating these unreasonable expectations,
“The righteous will surround me;
for you will deal bountifully with me”?22
C

How blessed is the spiritual message of the Psalmist,
which recalls our Lord’s own act of rebuffing his tempter,
despising all others and preferring only the first cause of
all creation, saying, “Happy the people whose
God is the Lord!”23
How sublime the exaltation of grace
expressed with prudent forthrightness, inspired by
heavenly goodness, “Your saints shall bless you!”24

How great the desire for the intimate kinship
of spiritual communion
to hope in God and built upon him
in the joyous words of the psalm,
“The Lord fulfills the desire of all who fear him,”
from which the Psalmist concludes:
“The Lord preserves all who love him,
but the wicked he will destroy.”25

Thus, in the last chapters of songs of praise,
the Psalmist puts the just and unjust
on notice of their fates, repeating
the themes that grow out of and resonate with
each other:
“The Lord lifts up the downtrodden,
he casts the haughty to the ground.”26

What calamity, then, awaits me
if, “the Lord takes pleasure in his holy people,
and adorns the humble with victory.”27
Where shall I stand?


And if “God is blessed among the saints as Lord,”
where do I fit, a stranger to saintliness?
And if next to those other warnings
I set the reminder,
“Love the Lord, all you his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but punishes the haughty.”28
In what camp do I find myself,
captivated by the clever inventor of evil?

D

For like the leaves of the cedar tree
wavering in the tempest, which stream down
in the battering winds,
so too the evil spirit tries to break
the fruitful branches of my life’s upward striving,
shaped by your nurturing hand, O uncreated God.

Restore these broken branches and
let them take root in the field of life
under the care of your good will,
with a new fruitful innocence.
O Christ King, who
bestows all good gifts,
blessed forever.
Amen.
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Notes
  1 ...... Ps. 101 (Arm 100):4.

  2 ...... Ps. 101 (Arm 100):8.

  3 ...... Mt. 25:1-13 ( Parable of the Oil-bearing women), also possibly a reference to St. Gregory’s name, since Gregorios means ‘vigilant’ in Greek.

  4 ...... Ps. 102 (Arm 101):9.

  5 ...... Ps. 102 (Arm 101):9.

  6 ...... Ps. 6:7.

  7 ...... Ps. 106 (Arm 105):6.

  8 ...... Ps. 112 (Arm 111):9.

  9 ...... Ps. 119 (Arm 118):10.

  10 ...... Ps. 119 (Arm 118):101.

  11 ...... Ps. 119 (Arm 118):11.

  12 ...... Ps. 119 (Arm 118):104.

  13 ...... Ps. 119 (Arm 118):106.

  14 ...... Ps. 119 (Arm 118):155.

  15 ...... Ps. 125 (Arm 124):4-5.

  16 ...... Ps. 131 (Arm 130):1.

  17 ...... Ps. 139 (Arm 138):4 (pursuant to the Armenian version).

  18 ...... Ps. 139 (Arm 138):21.

  19 ...... Ps. 139 (Arm 138):23-24 (pursuant to the Armenian version).

  20 ...... Ps. 140 (Arm 139):4.

  21 ...... Ps. 142 (Arm 141):6.

  22 ...... Ps. 142 (Arm 141):7.

  23 ...... Ps. 144 (Arm 143):15.

  24 ...... Ps. 145 (Arm 144):10.

  25 ...... Ps. 145 (Arm 144):19-20.

  26 ...... Ps. 147 (Arm 146):6 (pursuant to the Armenian).

  27 ...... Ps. 149:4 (pursuant to the text).

  28 ...... Ps. 31 (Arm 30):23 (pursuant to the Armenian).