Friday, February 07, 2020

Sermons on Psalm 118[119]

An Orthodox Funeral, at which is chanted Psalm 118

In August 2014, I began a series of sermons on Psalm 118 (in the Septuagint, Psalm 119 in Protestant translations), and have preached an average of 4 sermons a year on this Psalm, and so after 5 1/2 years, I have finally finished the series. Here is the text of the Psalm, with the sermons at the end of each of the 22 sections, which in the Hebrew text consist of 8 lines each, and in each section the lines all begin with the letter of the Hebrew alphabet which correspond to that section. This is thus an acrostic Psalm, and the longest chapter in the Bible.

I drew heavily upon St. Theophan the Recluse's commentary on Psalm 118, but also on Blessed Theodoret, St. Augustine, and Cassiodorus, as well as some the occasional commentaries of some other saints. I would strongly recommend reading all of these commentaries, but if you were looking for a single source on Psalm 118, St. Theophan's commentary is the one to get.

St. John of Shanghai's words on the importance of the Psalms in general and of this Psalm in particular are mentioned several times in the various sermons below:
"Perhaps it will happen that you will die without having once in your life read in full the Psalter of David... You will die, and only then will good people read over your lifeless body this holy Psalter, which you had no time even, to open while you lived on earth! Only then, at your burial, will they sing over you the wondrously instructive, sweetly-wise-but alas, to you completely unknown-words of David: Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord... Blessed are they who search His testimonies. who keep His revelations, and seek Him with their whole heart. Do you hear: Blessed are they who search His testimonies, seek out the revelations of the Lord; and you had no time even to think of them! What will your poor soul feel then, your soul to which every word of the Psalmist, repeated by a reader or singer over your coffin, will sound as a strict reproach that you never read this sacred book?... Open now, before it is too late, this wondrous book of the Prophet King. Open it and read with attention at least this 118th Psalm, and you will involuntarily feel that your heart becomes humble, soft, that in the words of David are the words of the merit of God, and you will repeat involuntarily, many times, with sighing of heart, the verse of this Psalm: I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost; seek out Thy slave, Lord!" (from his weekly diocesan bulletin (Shanghai, November 24, 1941, no. 503, emphasis added).


Blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.  Blessed are they that search out His testimonies; with their whole heart shall they seek after Him.  For they that work iniquity have not walked in His ways.  Thou hast enjoined Thy commandments, that we should keep them most diligently.  Would that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes.  Then shall I not be ashamed, when I look on all Thy commandments.  I will confess Thee with uprightness of heart, when I have learned the judgments of Thy righteousness.  I will keep thy statutes; do not utterly forsake me.
Blessed are the Blameless (Psalm 118:1-8)

Wherewithal shall a young man correct his way? By keeping Thy words.  With my whole heart have I sought after Thee, cast me not away from Thy commandments.  In my heart have I hid Thy sayings that I might not sin against Thee.  Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.  With my lips have I declared all the judgments of Thy mouth.  In the way of Thy testimonies have I found delight, as much as in all riches.  On Thy commandments will I ponder, and I will understand Thy ways.  On Thy statutes will I meditate; I will not forget Thy words.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Teach Me Thy Statutes (Psalm 118:9-16)

Give reward unto Thy servant, quicken me and I will keep Thy words.  O unveil mine eyes, and I shall perceive wondrous things out of Thy law.  I am a sojourner on the earth, hide not from me Thy commandments.  My soul hath longed to desire Thy judgments at all times.  Thou hast rebuked the proud; cursed are they that decline from Thy commandments.  Remove from me reproach and contempt, for after Thy testimonies have I sought.  For princes sat and they spake against me, but Thy servant pondered on Thy statutes.  For Thy testimonies are my meditation, and Thy statutes are my counselors.
Unveil Mine Eyes (Psalm 118:17-24)

My soul hath cleaved unto the earth; quicken me according to Thy word.  My ways have I declared, and Thou hast heard me; teach me Thy statutes.  Make me to understand the way of Thy statutes, and I will ponder on Thy wondrous works.  My soul hath slumbered from despondency, strengthen me with Thy words.  Remove from me the way of unrighteousness, and with Thy law have mercy on me.  I have chosen the way of truth, and Thy judgments have I not forgotten.  I have cleaved to Thy testimonies, O Lord; put me not to shame.  The way of Thy commandments have I run, when Thou didst enlarge my heart.
The Doors of Repentance (Psalm 118:25-32)


Set before me for a law, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes, and I will seek after it continually.  Give me understanding, and I will search out Thy law, and I will keep it with my whole heart.  Guide me in the path of Thy commandments, for I have desired it.  Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies and not unto covetousness.  Turn away mine eyes that I may not see vanity, quicken Thou me in Thy way.  Establish for Thy servant Thine oracle unto fear of Thee.  Remove my reproach which I have feared, for Thy judgments are good.  Behold, I have longed after Thy commandments; in Thy righteousness quicken me.
The Way of Thy Statutes (Psalm 118:33-40)


Let Thy mercy come also upon me, O Lord, even Thy salvation according to Thy word.  So shall I give an answer to them that reproach me, for I have hoped in Thy words.  And take not utterly out of my mouth the word of truth, for in Thy judgments have I hoped.  So shall I keep Thy law continually, for ever, and unto the ages of ages.  And I walked in spaciousness, for after Thy commandments have I sought.  And I spake of Thy testimonies before kings, and I was not ashamed.  And I meditated on Thy commandments which I have greatly loved.  And I lifted up my hands to Thy commandments which I have loved, and I pondered on Thy statutes.
 Our Anchor of Hope (Psalm 118:41-48)


Remember Thy words to Thy servant, wherein Thou hast made me to hope.  This hath comforted me in my humiliation, for Thine oracle hath quickened me.  The proud have transgressed exceedingly, but from Thy law have I not declined.  I remembered Thy judgments of old, O Lord, and was comforted.  Despondency took hold upon me because of the sinners who forsake Thy law.  Thy statutes were my songs in the place of my sojourning.  I remembered Thy name in the night, O Lord, and I kept Thy law.  This hath happened unto me because I sought after Thy statutes.
Remember  Thy Words to Thy Servant (Psalm 118:49-56)


Thou art my portion, O Lord; I said that I would keep Thy law.  I entreated Thy countenance with my whole heart: Have mercy on me according to Thy word.  I have thought on Thy ways, and I have turned my feet back to Thy testimonies.  I made ready, and I was not troubled, that I might keep Thy commandments.  The cords of sinners have entangled me, but Thy law have I not forgotten.  At midnight I arose to give thanks unto Thee for the judgments of Thy righteousness.  I am a partaker with all them that fear Thee, and with them that keep Thy commandments.  The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy mercy; teach me Thy statutes.
Overcoming Sin (Psalm 118:57-64)


Thou hast dealt graciously with Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word.  Goodness and discipline and knowledge teach Thou me, for in Thy commandments have I believed.  Before I was humbled, I transgressed; therefore Thy saying have I kept.  Thou art good, O Lord, and in Thy goodness teach me Thy statutes.  Multiplied against me hath been the unrighteousness of the proud; but as for me, with my whole heart will I search out Thy commandments.  Curdled like milk is their heart; but as for me, in Thy law have I meditated.  It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I might learn Thy statutes.  The law of Thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver.
God's Work to Guide Us on the Path of Salvation (Psalm 118:65-72)


Thy hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding and I will learn Thy commandments.  They that fear Thee shall see me and be glad, for on Thy words have I set my hope.  I have known, O Lord, that Thy judgments are righteousness, and with truth hast Thou humbled me.  Let now Thy mercy be my comfort, according to Thy saying unto Thy servant.  Let Thy compassions come upon me and I shall live, for Thy law is my meditation.  Let the proud be put to shame, for unjustly have they transgressed against me; but as for me, I will ponder on Thy commandments.  Let those that fear Thee return unto me, and those that know Thy testimonies.  Let my heart be blameless in Thy statutes, that I may not be put to shame.
Thy hands have made me and fashioned me (Psalm 118:73-80)


My soul fainteth for Thy salvation; on Thy words have I set my hope.  Mine eyes are grown dim with waiting for Thine oracle; they say: When wilt Thou comfort me?  For I am become like a wine-skin in the frost; yet Thy statutes have I not forgotten.  How many are the days of Thy servant? When wilt Thou execute judgment for me on them that persecute me?  Transgressors have told me fables, but they are not like Thy law, O Lord.  All Thy commandments are truth. Without a cause have men persecuted me; do Thou help me.  They well nigh made an end of me on the earth; but as for me, I forsook not Thy commandments.  According to Thy mercy quicken me, and I will keep the testimonies of Thy mouth.
On Thy Words have I Set My Hope (Psalm 118:81-88)


For ever, O Lord, Thy word abideth in heaven.  Unto generation and generation is Thy truth; Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth, and it abideth.  By Thine ordinance doth the day abide, for all things are Thy servants.  If Thy law had not been my meditation, then should I have perished in my humiliation.  I will never forget Thy statutes, for in them hast Thou quickened me.  I am Thine, save me; for after Thy statutes have I sought.  Sinners have waited for me to destroy me; but Thy testimonies have I understood.  Of all perfection have I seen the outcome; exceeding spacious is Thy commandment.
Forever, O Lord, Thy Word Abideth in Heaven (Psalm 118:89-96)


O how I have loved Thy law, O Lord! the whole day long it is my meditation.  Above mine enemies hast Thou made me wise in Thy commandment, for it is mine for ever.  Above all that teach me have I gained understanding, for Thy testimonies are my meditation.  Above mine elders have I received understanding, for after Thy  commandments have I sought.  From every way that is evil have I restrained my feet that I might keep Thy words.  From Thy judgments have I not declined, for Thou hast set a law for me.  How sweet to my palate are Thy sayings! more sweet than honey to my mouth.  From Thy commandments have I gained understanding; therefore have I hated every way of unrighteousness.
Loving God and Hating Sin (Psalm 118:97-104)


Thy law is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my paths.  I have sworn and resolved that I will keep the judgments of Thy righteousness.  I was humbled exceedingly; O Lord, quicken me according to Thy word.  The free-will offerings of my mouth be Thou now pleased to receive, O Lord, and teach me Thy judgments.  My soul is in Thy hands continually, and Thy law have I not forgotten.  Sinners have set a snare for me, yet from Thy commandment have I not strayed.  I have inherited Thy testimonies for ever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart.  I have inclined my heart to perform Thy statutes for ever for a recompense.
A Light Unto My Paths (Psalm 118:105-112)


Transgressors have I hated, but Thy law have I loved.  My helper and my protector art Thou; on Thy words have I set my hope.  Depart from me, ye evil-doers, and I will search out the commandments of my God.  Uphold me according to Thy saying and quicken me, and turn me not away in shame from mine expectation.  Help me, and I shall be saved; and I will meditate on Thy statutes continually.  Thou hast set at nought all that depart from Thy statutes, for unrighteous is their inward thought.  I have reckoned as transgressors all the sinners of the earth, therefore have I loved Thy testimonies.  Nail down my flesh with the fear of Thee, for of Thy judgments am I afraid.
Hitherto Hath the Lord Helped Us (Psalm 118:113-120)


I have wrought judgment and righteousness; O give me not up to them that wrong me.  Receive Thy servant unto good, let not the proud falsely accuse me.  Mine eyes have failed with waiting for Thy salvation, and for the word of Thy righteousness.  Deal with Thy servant according to Thy mercy, and teach me Thy statutes.  I am Thy servant; give me understanding, and I shall know Thy testimonies.  It is time for the Lord to act; for they have dispersed Thy law.  Therefore have I loved Thy commandments more than gold and topaz.  Therefore I directed myself according to all Thy commandments; every way that is unrighteous have I hated.

The Eye of the Soul (Psalm 118:121-128)


Wonderful are Thy testimonies; therefore hath my soul searched them out.  The unfolding of Thy words will give light and understanding unto babes.  I opened my mouth and drew in my breath, for I longed for Thy commandments.   Look upon me and have mercy on me, according to the judgment of them that love Thy name.  My steps do Thou direct according to Thy saying, and let no iniquity have dominion over me.  Deliver me from the false accusation of men, and I will keep Thy commandments.  Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant, and teach me Thy statutes.  Mine eyes have poured forth streams of waters, because I kept not Thy law.

Wonderful are Thy Testimonies (Psalm 118:129-136)


Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and upright are Thy judgments.  Thou hast ordained as Thy testimonies exceeding righteousness and truth.  My zeal for Thee hath made me to pine away, because mine enemies have forgotten Thy words.  Thine oracle is tried with fire to the uttermost, and Thy servant hath loved it.  I am young and accounted as nothing, yet Thy statutes have I not forgotten.  Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Thy law is truth.  Tribulations and necessities have found me, Thy commandments are my meditation.  Thy testimonies are righteousness for ever; give me understanding and I shall live.

Blessed are They that Hear the Word of God and Keep it (Psalm 118:137-144)


I have cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord, and I will seek after Thy statutes.  I have cried unto Thee; save me, and I will keep Thy testimonies.  I arose in the dead of night and I cried; on Thy words have I set my hope.  Mine eyes woke before the morning that I might meditate on Thy sayings.  Hear my voice, O Lord, according to Thy mercy; according to Thy judgment, quicken me.  They have drawn nigh that lawlessly persecute me, but from Thy law are they far removed.  Near art Thou, O Lord, and all Thy ways are truth. From the beginning I have known from Thy testimonies that Thou hast founded them for ever.
Imitating God (Psalm 118:145-152)


Behold my humiliation and rescue me, for Thy law have I not forgotten.  Judge my cause and redeem me; for Thy word's sake quicken me.  Far from sinners is salvation, for they have not sought after Thy statutes.  Thy compassions are many, O Lord; according to Thy judgment quicken me.  Many are they that persecute me and afflict me; from Thy testimonies have I not declined.  I beheld men acting foolishly and I pined away, because they kept not Thy sayings.  Behold, how I have loved Thy commandments; O Lord, in Thy mercy, quicken me.  The beginning of Thy words is truth, and all the judgments of Thy righteousness endure for ever.
If They Hear Not Moses and the Prophets (Psalm 118:153-160)


Princes have persecuted me without a cause, and because of Thy words my heart hath been afraid.  I will rejoice in Thy sayings as one that findeth great spoil.  Unrighteousness have I hated and abhorred, but Thy law have I loved.  Seven times a day have I praised Thee for the judgments of Thy righteousness.  Much peace have they that love Thy law, and for them there is no stumbling-block.  I awaited Thy salvation, O Lord, and Thy commandments have I loved.  My soul hath kept Thy testimonies and hath loved them exceedingly.  I have kept Thy commandments and Thy testimonies, for all my ways are before Thee, O Lord.

All My Ways are Ever Before Thee (Psalm 118:161-168)


Let my supplication draw nigh before Thee, O Lord; according to Thine oracle give me understanding.  Let my petition come before Thee, O Lord; according to Thine oracle deliver me.  My lips shall pour forth a hymn when Thou hast taught me Thy statutes.  My tongue shall speak of Thy sayings, for all Thy commandments are righteousness.  Let Thy hand be for saving me, for I have chosen Thy commandments.  I have longed for Thy salvation, O Lord, and Thy law is my meditation.  My soul shall live and shall praise Thee, and Thy judgments will help me.  I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost; O seek Thy servant, for I have not forgotten Thy commandments. 
The Signs of Life (Psalm 118:169-176)

Note: The translation of Psalm 118 is that of The Psalter According to the Seventy, © Copyright Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA, used by permission. All rights reserved.