Let us pray, peace be with us:

"The Cross that has been the cause of our good and by which our mortal humanity was set free,
O Lord, be for us a strong fortress. And by this Cross, we shall overcome the wicked one and All his devices."

(Syro-Malabar Qurbana)

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THE NAZRANI
“The Truth will make you free”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------              Vol. 18, No. 8                   New Delhi              November, 2008               --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Psalms

 

The Psalms are the divinely-inspired songs of the People of Israel. They are traditionally called the "psalms of David," although many of them most certainly come from other authors of much later times. The enumeration and the wording of the psalms differ in various scriptural traditions.

 

Virtually all states of man's soul before God are found expressed in the psalms: praising, thanking, blessing, rejoicing, petitioning, repenting, lamenting, questioning and even complaining. Many of the psalms are centered in the cultic rituals of the Jerusalem temple and the Davidic kingship. Others recount God's saving actions in Israelite history. Still others carry prophetic utterances about events yet to come, particularly those of the messianic age. Thus, for example, we find Christ quoting Psalm 8 in reference to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; Psalm 110 in reference to his own mysterious divinity; and Psalm 22, when, hanging upon the cross, He cries out with the words of the psalm in which is described His crucifixion and his ultimate salvation of the world (See Mt 21:16, 22:44, 27:46).

 

In the Church all of the psalms are understood as having their deepest and most genuine spiritual meaning in terms of Christ and His mission of eternal salvation. Thus, for example, the psalms which refer to the king are sung in reference to Christ's exaltation and glorification at the right hand of God. The psalms which refer to Israel's deliverance are sung in reference to Christ's redemption of the whole world. The psalms calling for victory over the enemies in battle refer to the only real Enemy, the devil, and all of his wicked works which Christ has come to destroy. Babylon thus signifies the realm of Satan, and Jerusalem, the eternal Kingdom of God. The psalms which lament the innocent suffering of the righteous are sung as the plea of the Lord Himself and all those with Him who are the "poor and needy" who will rise up to rule the earth on the day of God's terrible judgment. Thus, the psalter remains forever as the divinely-inspired song book of prayer and worship for all of God's People, and most especially for those who belong to the Misiha whose words the psalms are in their deepest and most divine significance.

 

Psalms form a major part of our “Divine Praises”.  All liturgical traditions include all the psalms in one way or other in their liturgy. Besides the 150 psalms, certain other Old Testament hymns such as Exodus 15, 1-21, Isaiah 42,10-13 + 45, 8 and Deuteronomy 32, 1-43 are also included in the Psalter of our East Syriac tradition. They call it Dawidaya, “David’s Book” in Syriac. 

 

Marmitha is Psalmody for seasons and saints.  Apostolic Canons teach us to pray towards  the East (Mt 24:27) and to sing the Psalms of David everyday (can. 19).  Early Christians learned the Psalms by heart for singing them at work.  They divided the Psalms into 20 Hullala-s, subdivided into 57 Marmi(a)tha; some biblical songs too were grouped to form 3 marmitha-s of 21st Hullala.  Thus 60 marmitha were recited in 2 weeks (1 in Ramsha, 3 in Lelya) by Nazrani till 1968.  Marmitha ends with Shubha (Glory be); preceded by Shuhalapa (change) or Aqaptha & ‘Unaya, and followed by 3 Halleluia, on Feastdays.Qanona is an antiphon or versicle (of psalm) said before and after each Psalm.  Priest chose and announced the psalms by the initial words (the first verse) and recited “Glory be” to show its end; Deacon said Qanona after the 1st verse of Psalms, and after “Glory be” especially in Great Fast.  Qanona summarises the psalms and applies it to the NT economy. 

 

The East Syriac tradition uses selected psalms for Ramsa’, the Evening Liturgy and other times of prayer; but for Lelya’, the Night Prayer, they sing part of the Psalter continuously.  In the earliest arrangement, one third of the Psalter was sung daily; and in a later set up it was distributed over a period of two weeks.  According to the Malayalam text approved by the Syro-Malabar Bishop’s conference, which met on November 6-7, 1985, the Psalter is prayed in 60 days.

 

Acceptable Prayer:

 

The Psalter, being part of the canonical Bible, has a divine attestation as in the case of the other part of it.  In  the salvific context, the other parts of the Bible are the salvific call of God addressed to man, while the psalms are positive human responses to that call.  In fact, the psalms are the prayers of the Old Testament people.  As they are now included among the inspired books of the Bible, they are recognized and accepted by God.  The sentiments and requests that we express today through them, therefore, are all acceptable to and pleasing before God.  Prayers or hymns composed by individuals or groups in the modern context have not such a certainty.  Hence all traditions, both East and West, always lay great importance on the psalms in all their liturgical celebrations.

 

Qanone:

 

There is a Qanona or antiphon at the beginning and end of every psalm in the Dawidaya’ of the East Syriac Churches.  According to tradition, they are the contribution of Catholicos Mar Abba (+536) of the East Syriac Church.  Most of them are a kind of summary of each individual psalm and an adaptation of it to the New testament and ecclesial context.  Traditionally they are added in celebration during the Lelya’, the Night Prayer, in the weeks of Great Fast.  For the other hours of prayer, they have their own proper Qanone, mostly adapted to the time or context of celebration and they are sung or recited daily during every celebration.

 

 

St John Chrysostom

 

St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople  was born at Antioch in about the year 347 into the family of a military commander. His father, Secundus, died soon after the birth of his son. His mother, Anthusa, widowed at twenty years of age, did not seek to remarry but rather devoted all her efforts to the raising of her son in Christian piety. The youth studied under the finest philosophers and rhetoricians. But, scorning the vain disciplines of pagan knowledge, the future hierarch turned himself to the profound study of Holy Scripture and prayerful contemplation. St Meletius, Bishop of Antioch loved John like a son, guided him in the Faith, and in the year 367 baptized him.

 

After three years John was tonsured as a Reader. When St Meletius had been sent into exile by the emperor Valens in the year 372, John and Theodore (afterwards Bishop of Mopsuestia) studied under the experienced instructors of ascetic life, the presbyters Flavian and Diodorus of Tarsus. The highly refined Diodorus had particular influence upon the youth. When John's mother died, he embraced monasticism, which he called the "true philosophy." Soon John and his friend Basil were being considered as candidates for the episcopal office, and they decided to withdraw into the wilderness to avoid this. While St John avoided the episcopal rank out of humility, he secretly assisted in Basil's consecration.

During this period St John wrote his "Six Discourses on the Priesthood," a great work of  pastoral theology. The saint spent four years struggling in the wilderness, living the ascetic life under the guidance of an experienced spiritual guide. And here he wrote three books entitled, "Against the Opponents of Those Attracted to the Monastic Life", and a collection entitled, "A Comparison of the Monk with the Emperor" (also known as "Comparison of Imperial Power, Wealth and Eminence, with the True and Christian Wisdom-Loving Monastic Life"), both works which are marked by a profound reflection of the worthiness of the monastic vocation.

 

For two years, the saint lived in a cave in complete silence, but was obliged to return to Antioch to recover his health. St Meletius, the Bishop of Antioch, ordained him deacon in the year 381. The following years were devoted to work on new theological writings: "Concerning Providence" ("To the Ascetic Stagirios"), "Book Concerning Virginity," "To a Young Widow" (2 discourses), and the "Book of St Babylos, and Against Julian and the Pagans."

 

In the year 386 St John was ordained presbyter by Bishop Flavian of Antioch. St John was a splendid preacher, and his inspired words earned him the name "Golden-Mouthed" ("Chrysostom"). For twelve years the saint preached in church, usually twice a week, but sometimes daily, deeply stirring the hearts of his listeners.

 

In his pastoral zeal to provide Christians with a better understanding of Holy Scripture, St John employed hermeneutics, an interpretation and analysis of the Word of God (i.e. exegesis). Among his exegetical works are commentaries on entire books of the Holy Scripture (Genesis, the Psalter, the Gospels of Matthew and John, the Epistles of the Apostle Paul), and also many homilies on individual texts of the Holy Bible, but also instructions on the Feast days, laudations on the Saints, and also apologetic (i.e. defensive) homilies (against Anomoeans, Judaizers and pagans). As a priest, St John zealously fulfilled the Lord's command to care for the needy. Under St John, the Antiochian Church provided sustenance each day to as many as 3,000 virgins and widows, not including in this number the shut-ins, wanderers and the sick.

St John began his commentary on Genesis at the beginning of Great Fast in 388, preaching thirty-two homilies during the forty day period. During passion Week he spoke of how Christ was betrayed, and about the Cross. During Easter  Week, his pastoral discourse was devoted to the Resurrection. His exegesis of the Book of Genesis was concluded only at the end of October (388).

 

In the following year the saint began his homilies on the Gospel of John, and toward the end of the year 389 he took up the Gospel of Matthew. In the year 391 the Antioch Christians listened to his commentary on the Epistles of the holy Apostle Paul to the Romans and to the Corinthians. In 393 he explained the Epistles to the Galatians, the Ephesians, Timothy, Titus, and the Psalms. In his homily on the Epistle to the Ephesians, St John denounced a schism in Antioch, "I tell you and I witness before you, that to tear asunder the Church means nothing less than to fall into heresy. The Church is the house of the heavenly Father, one Body and one Spirit."

 

The fame of the holy preacher grew, and in the year 397 with the death of Archbishop Nectarius of Constantinople, successor to St Gregory the Theologian, St John Chrysostom was summoned from Antioch, and elected to the See of Constantinople. At the capital, the holy archbishop was not able to preach as often as he had at Antioch. Many matters awaited the saint's attention, and he began with the most important -- the spiritual perfection of the priesthood. He himself was the best example of this. The financial means apportioned for the archbishop were channeled by the saint into the upkeep of several hospices for the sick and two hostels for pilgrims. He fasted strictly and ate very little food, and usually refused invitations to dine because of his delicate stomach.

 

The saint's zeal in spreading the Christian Faith extended not only to the inhabitants of Constantinople, but also to Thrace to include Slavs and Goths, and to Asia Minor and the Pontine region. He established a bishop for the Bosphorus Church in the Crimea. St John sent off zealous missionaries to Phoenicia and to the Scythians, to convert pagans to Christ. He also wrote letters to Syria to bring back the Marcionites into the Church, and he accomplished this. Preserving the unity of the Church, the saint would not permit a powerful Gothic military commander, who wanted the emperor to reward his bravery in battle, to open an Arian church at Constantinople. The saint exerted much effort in enhancing the splendor of the church services: he compiled a Liturgy, he introduced antiphonal singing for the all-night Vigil, and he wrote several prayers for the rite of anointing the sick with oil.

 

The saintly hierarch denounced the dissolute morals of people in the capital, especially at the imperial court, irrespective of person. When the empress Eudoxia connived to confiscate the last properties of the widow and children of a disgraced dignitary, the saint rose to their defense. The arrogant empress would not relent, and nursed a grudge against the archbishop. Eudoxia's hatred of the saint blazed forth anew when malefactors told her that the saint apparently had her in mind during his sermon on vain women. A court was convened composed of hierarchs who had been justly condemned by Chrysostom: Theophilus of Alexandria, Bishop Severian of Gabala, who had been banished from the capital because of improprieties, and others.

 

This court of judgment declared St John deposed, and that he be executed for his insult to the empress. The emperor decided on exile instead of execution. An angry crowd gathered at the church, resolved to defend their pastor. In order to avoid a riot, St John submitted to the authorities. That very night there was an earthquake at Constantinople. The terrified Eudoxia urgently requested the emperor to bring the saint back, and promptly sent a letter to the banished pastor, beseeching him to return. Once more, in the capital church, the saint praised the Lord in a short talk, "For All His Ways."

 

The slanderers fled to Alexandria. But after only two months a new denunciation provoked the wrath of Eudoxia. In March 404, an unjust council was convened, decreeing the exile of St John. Upon his removal from the capital, a fire reduced the church of Hagia Sophia and also the Senate building to ashes. Devastating barbarian incursions soon followed, and Eudoxia died in October 404. Even pagans regarded these events as God's punishment for the unjust judgment against the saint.

 

In Armenia, the saint strove all the more to encourage his spiritual children. In numerous letters (245 are preserved) to bishops in Asia, Africa, Europe and particularly to his friends in Constantinople, St John consoled the suffering, guiding and giving support to his followers. In the winter of 406 St John was confined to his bed with sickness, but his enemies were not to be appeased. From the capital came orders to transfer St John to desolate Pityus in Abkhazia on the Black Sea. Worn out by sickness, the saint began his final journey under military escort, traveling for three months in the rain and frost. He never arrived at his place of exile, for his strength failed him at Comana.

 

At the crypt of St Basiliscus, St John was comforted by a vision of the martyr, who said, "Despair not, brother John! Tomorrow we shall be together." After receiving the Holy Mysteries, the hierarch fell asleep in the Lord on September 14, 407. His last words were, "Glory to God for all things!"

The holy relics of St John Chrysostom were solemnly transferred to Constantinople in the year 438. The disciple of St John, the venerable Isidore of Pelusium, wrote: "The house of David is grown strong, and the house of Saul enfeebled. He is victor over the storms of life, and has entered into heavenly repose."
Although he died on September 14, St John's celebration was transferred to 13th September because of the Feast of the Elevation of Mar Sliba.