Psalm 118/119: The Church Fathers on the First Stasis
I would be remiss if I did not include some thoughts from the Church Fathers on this great Psalm. So here I have presented some particularly interesting quotes from Grace For Grace, one for each octave. The other articles in this series can be found here:
א Aleph (Theme: Principles Of God-Pleasing Life; seeking out God’s testimonies in purity & sincerity)
St. Hilary of Poitiers: Blessed are the blameless in the way…That search out his testimonies (v. 1)
The order of expressions should not be neglected…it is not the first ‘Blessed are they that search out his testimonies,’ but ‘Blessed are the blameless in the way.’ Hence the primary condition is to enter into the way of truth with experience moral conduct & oriented towards the seeking of a life without fault by the practice of the virtue normally known as probity. Then follows the scrutiny of the testimonies of God, & to have, for their searching out, a soul that has been purified & corrected. This order another profit also does not forget, who says: ‘Sow to yourselves for righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground’ (sic-cf. Hos. 10:12)…It is not firstly our illumination that is prescribed, but the seating, the sowing to ourselves…or that we should make of our manner of life a seed, with a view to hoping for fruits, when subsequently we will have harvested that which was sowed; then we will be illuminated by the light of knowledge.
Such then is the first blessedness: blessed are those who are pure [blameless] in the way, not a random way, uncertain in full of error, but a way in which we ‘walk in the law of the Lord’…But we must not merely enter into this way; we must continue in it to the end. In fact, when we are ‘in the way,’ we have not yet attained the destination… The blessed Paul says, ‘not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect: but I follow after, so that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.’ So he still walks, but he walks ‘forgetting those things which are behind, & reaching forth unto those things which are before. I press toward the mark for the price of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 3:12, 13-14). And what is the way, whereon all mankind which treads it is blessed, the Lord has taught, saying, ‘I am the Way’ (Jn. 14:6).
ב Beth (Theme: The Soul: will, heart, memory, disposition)
Didymus the Blind: In my heart have I hid Thy sayings that I might not sin against Thee (v. 11)
Those who do not receive the instructions of God superficially sequester them in their heart for them to conform their thoughts to His intention, with the aim of being without sin before God, who sees those things which are hidden. Not only does this man not commit adultery, but he does not even desire anything bad. With this verse, the words [of Solomon] are also in consonance: ‘My son, if thou wilt receive the utterance of my commandment, & hide it with thee; thine ear shall hearken to wisdom’ (Prov. 2:1).
ג Gimel (Theme: Endurance In Overcoming Trials in spiritual life)
St. Theophan the Recluse: Quicken me & I will keep Thy words (v. 17)
At the beginning & also in the course of spiritual life, a certain weariness is felt: no results are seen, only hardships. A state of numbness of the soul prevails, as if God’s grace has left: the state of insensibility is given to let a person realizes helplessness & to seek deliverance from God only, with patience & prayer.
ד Daleth (Theme: Repentance & Confession)
St. Augustine of Hippo: My ways have I declared, and Thou hast heard me; teach me Thy statutes (v. 26)
He seems to me to say this: I have confessed my sins, and You have heard me so that You would remit them. ‘Teach me Thy statutes.’ I have a knowledge my ways: You have blotted them out; teach me Yours. Teach me so I may act, not merely so I may know how I ought to act…
These higher commandments, which he desires to understand by edification, he calls the wondrous things of God. There are then some righteousnesses of God so wondrous, that human weakness may be believed in capable of fulfilling them by those who have not tried. Whence the Psalmist, struggling and wearied with the difficulty of obeying them, says, ‘my soul has slumbered from despondency’… What does this mean except that he is cooled in the hope which he had entertained of being able to reach them?
ה He (Theme: Seek From God Knowledge, Strength, Grace; safeguard, apply deed, fear God, avoid self-will & vanity)
St. Hilary of Poitiers: Set before me for a law, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes (v. 33)
What, then, with this law, ‘the way of Thy statutes’ be? We know about the ordinary ways on earth; we know that a law exists to measure them… But we also know that when they traversed on foot across the Red Sea, the people who left Egypt received a kind of statute of the way which had been established for them by a judgment not human but divine (cf. Num. 33:1-2)… But when God had decided that the people would stay for a long time in the same camp, neither the pillar of fire went before them by night, nor a pillar of a cloud preceded them by day. This was the law of the way which He established. And if we recall with care the stops and stages of the camp, as well as his conditions of installation, as defined in the book of Exodus, we will see precisely the grand wonders of a celestial journey. It is why the Prophet is frequently prayed, saying: ‘I shall perceive wondrous things out of Thy law’ (v. 18). But it is no more in the marvels of this law of the way that the Prophet request to be retained, for he has not asked for the law of the way, but for the law, the way of Thy statutes.
ו Waw (Theme: Hope, Trust In God’s Promises & Judgments)
St. Augustine of Hippo: Let Thy mercy come also upon me, O Lord, even Thy salvation according to Thy word (v. 41)
He explains in some degree what he meant by adding: ‘even Thy salvation according to Thy word.’ From this the Apostle desires us to be understood as the children of promise (cf. Rom. 9:8): so we may not imagine that what we are is our own work, but refer the whole to the grace of God… Christ Himself is the Salvation of God, so that the whole Body of Christ may say, ‘by the grace of God I am what I am’ (1Cor. 15:10).
‘So shall I give an answer to them that reproach me’…Those to whom Christ crucified is a stumbling-block or foolishness (cf. 1Cor. 1:23) reproach us with him; ignorant that ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us’ (Jn. 1:14), the word which ‘was in the beginning,’ and ‘was with God, and was God’ (Jn. 1:1). But although they may not reproach us with the Word which is unknown unto them, because His Divinity is not known to those by whom His weakness on the cross is despised, let us nevertheless make answer of the Word, and let us not be terrified nor confounded by their reproaches. For ‘if they had known’ the Word, ‘they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (1Cor. 2:8)… Therefore when the Psalmist had said, ‘So shall I give an answer to them that reproach me,’ he immediately adds, ‘for I have hoped in Thy words,’ which means exactly, in Thy promises.
ז Zayin (Theme: God’s Mercy, Comfort & Consolation)
St. Athanasius of Alexandria: Remember Thy words to Thy servant, wherein Thou has made me to hope (v. 49)
And which ‘words’ does he want God to ‘remember’, save the promise He gave them to be ‘with you always’ (Mt. 28:20), which made for them a consolation in persecutions.
ח Heth (Theme: The Law & Commandments As Path to avoid sin & bondage)
St. Athanasius of Alexandria: I am a partaker with all them that fear Thee (v. 63)
The perfect [man] is, so to speak, a partaker of Christ, after the words: ‘For we are made partakers of Christ’ (Heb. 3:14); but our man, a beginner as he is, says that he is ‘a partaker with them that fear’ the Lord, and not merely those who fear, but of those who, because they fear, ‘keep the commandments’ of God. The mark of fear of God is to keep His commandments…
Prophetically he announces the future in saying ‘the earth…is full’ of men fearing the Lord. Those, he says, will not have any other cause for ‘Thy mercy,’ for You acted in them with mercy when You gave Yourself up to them as teacher of mankind.
ט Teth (Theme: God’s Grace & Word In Joys, Trials, Persecutions)
St. John Chrysostom; Homily X on Matthew 3: It is good for me that thou hast humbled me, that I might learn Thy statutes (v. 71)
Though we do not receive, let us persevere so we may receive; and if we do receive, then because we have received. For it is not at all His wish to defer giving, but by such delay He is contriving for us to persevere. With this intent He also lengthens out our supplication, and at times permits a temptation to come upon us, so we may continually flee for refuge to Him, and where we have fled for refuge, may there abide… For this reason the Prophet also says, ‘It is good for me that Thou has humbled me.’ And He Himself like way said to the apostles, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation’ (Jn. 16:33). And Paul signifies this self-same thing, when he says: ‘There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me’ (2 Cor. 12:7), which is why when he sought to be delivered from the temptation, he failed to obtain relief, by reason of the great benefit ensuing from it.
If we would go over the whole life of David, we will find him more glorious in his dangers, both he himself and all the others like him. For so Job at the season shown forth the more abundantly, and Joseph too in this way became more approved, and Jacob also, and his father likewise, and his father’s father, and as many as ever put on crowns to your glory, it was by tribulations and temptations that they first won their crowns, then had their names recited.
Being conscious of all these things, according to the wise saying, let us ‘not make haste in time of trouble’ (cf. Ecclus. 2:2), but let us teach ourselves one thing only, how to bear all nobly, and not be curious or inquisitive about any of the things that are coming to pass. For to know when our tribulation should be done away belongs to God, who permits them to befall us, but to bear them, brought upon us, with all thankfulness, all that is the work of a good disposition on our part; and if this be so, then all our blessings will follow.