by His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios
of Thyateira & Great Britain
Written for the April 2009 issue of ‘Common Ground’ –
a magazine dedicated to Jewish-Christian dialogue
The psalms are a fundamental part not only of the Jewish but also of the Christian Orthodox Tradition. The Psalter is the cornerstone of every Orthodox service. From the psalms Orthodox Christians have drawn inspiration, spiritual comfort and peace for centuries.
In all Orthodox churches, the authoritative text of the Old Testament is the ancient Greek translation known as the Septuagint. The Hebrew version of the Old Testament contains thirty-nine books. The Septuagint contains in addition ten further books, not present in the Hebrew, which are known in the Orthodox Church as the ‘Deutero-Canonical Books’, more commonly known in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches as the ‘Apocrypha’ (3 Esdras; Tobit; Judith; 1, 2, and 3 Maccabees; Wisdom of Solomon; Ecclesiasticus; Baruch; Letter of Jeremiah).
Of all books of the Old Testament, the book of the psalms is without doubt that which has greater universal appeal throughout Christendom and, of course, amongst all Abrahamic Faiths. In Orthodox monasteries and convents, the reading and reciting of the psalms constitutes a daily service and is a part of the monastic discipline.
Psalm 23 (Psalm 22 in the Septuagint) is particularly dear to my heart, as it is sure to be to millions of people of faith. This psalm has a very human character and it applies to our own existential relationship with God the Creator Who brought us into being and makes provision for our everyday sustenance and spiritual wellbeing. Its teaching reminds us of that which is most essential in our lives, that we are God’s children and so we must love and trust in Him for all things both in the present and in the future.
The psalm is reminiscent of Christ’s teaching about the good shepherd. As a clergyman and in particular as an Archbishop, a shepherd of the spiritual flock that is my Archdiocese, the image and teaching of the shepherd is a constant reminder to imitate Christ in my own ministry. It helps me also to better understand my responsibilities toward my spiritual children for whom Christ gave His life in order to make them and us all members of His heavenly Kingdom. This psalm is also frequently used by Orthodox Christians in their prayers of preparation for Holy Communion, most certainly because of the phrase: “You prepare a table before me… your cup inebriates me…” Needless-to-day, it is the bishop’s primary task and privilege to celebrate the Eucharist. And so Psalm 23 for me reiterates the Eucharistic and hierarchical character of the Orthodox Church, and on a more personal level, it reminds me, a Shepherd of the Greek Orthodox Christian Flock in the United Kingdom, to always deepen my commitment to pastoral care and to my liturgical and educational responsibilities with fear of God and with awe and adoration of our only High Priest, the only Good Shepherd, Who gave Himself up for the life and salvation of the world.