Quotes that inspire us

St. Basil, the Great on Psalmody

“… it (the Book of Psalms) is the common treasury of good doctrine, carefully finding what is suitable for each one.  The old wounds of souls it cures completely, and to the recently wounded it brings speedy improvements; the diseased it treats, and the unharmed it preserves.  On the whole, it effaces, as far as possible, the passions, which subtly exercise dominion over souls during the lifetime of man, and it does this with a certain orderly persuasion and sweetness which produces sound thoughts.”*23

“When, indeed, the Holy Spirit saw that the human race was guided only with difficulty toward virtue, and that, because of our inclination toward pleasure, we were neglectful of an upright life, what did He do?  The delight of melody He mingled with the doctrines so that by the pleasantness and softness of the sound heard we might receive without perceiving it the benefit of the words, just as wise physicians who, when giving the fastidious rather bitter drugs to drink, frequently smear the cup with honey.  Therefore, he devised for us these harmonious melodies of the psalms, that they who are children in age or, even those who are youthful in disposition might to all appearances chant but, in reality, become trained in soul…  A psalm is… the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church…  Oh! The wise invention of the teacher who contrived that while we were singing we should at the same time learn something useful; by this means, too, the teachings are in a certain way impressed more deeply on our minds.  Even a forceful lesson does not always endure, but what enters the mind with joy and pleasure somehow becomes more firmly impressed upon it.”*26

“A Psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity.  Who indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God?  So that psalmody, bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining the people into a harmonious union of one choir, produces also the greatest of blessings, charity.”

St. Basil the Great, Exegetic Homilies. Homily 10 (1, 2). B# CUA Vol. 46, pp. 151-154, cited by Johanna Manley, Grace for Grace: The Psalter and the Holy Fathers (Menlo Park, California: Monastery Books), p. 2.

 

St. John Chrysostom

“The psalm which occurred just now in the office blended all voices together, and caused one single fully harmonious chant to arise; young and old, rich and poor, women and men, slaves and free, all sang one single melody…  All the inequalities of social life are here banished.  Together we make up a single choir in perfect equality of rights and expression, whereby earth imitates heaven.  Such is the noble character of the Church.” *10

St. John Chrysostom, Homily 5, cited by Fr. Theodore Pulcini, Dialogue (The WORD, Jan. 1992), p. 31.

 

St. Athanasius, Interpretation of the Psalms

“For to sing the Psalms demands such concentration of a man’s whole being on them that, in doing it, his usual disharmony of mind and corresponding bodily confusion is resolved, just as the notes of several flutes are brought by harmony to one effect; and he is thus no longer to be found thinking good and doing evil, as Pilate did when, though saying ‘I find no cause of death in Him,’ he yet allowed the Jews to have their way; nor desiring evil though unable to achieve it, as did the elders in their sin against Susanna,– or, for that matter, as does any man who abstains from one sin and yet desires another every bit as bad.  And it is in order that the melody may thus express our inner spiritual harmony, just as the words voice our thoughts, that the Lord Himself has ordained that the Psalms be sung and recited to a chant.

“Moreover, to do this beautifully is the heart’s desire and joy, as it is written, ‘Is any among you happy?  Let him sing!’  And if there is in the words anything harsh, irregular or rough, the tune will smoothe it out, as in our own souls also sadness is lightened as we chant, ‘Why then art thou so heavy, O my soul, why dost thou trouble me?’ and failure is acknowledged as one sings, ‘My feet were almost gone,’ and fear is braced by hope in singing, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man can do to me.’

“… so he who sings well puts his soul in tune, correcting by degrees its faulty rhythm so that at last, being truly natural and integrated, it has fear of nothing, but in peaceful freedom from all vain imaginings may apply itself with greater longing to the good things to come.  For a soul rightly ordered by chanting the sacred words forgets its own afflictions and contemplates with joy the things of Christ alone.

“For with these words they themselves (the saints) pleased God, and in uttering them, …’they subdued kingdoms, they wrought righteousness, they obtained promises, they stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens, women received their dead by resurrection.’… By them too a man will overthrow the devil and put the fiends to flight.  If he have sinned, when he uses them he will repent;  if he have not sinned, he will find himself rejoicing that he is stretching out towards the things that are before and, so wrestling, in the power of the Psalms, he will prevail.”

St. Athanasius, The Letter of St. Athanasius to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms, presented as the appendix in St. Athanasius on the Incarnation (Crestwood, NewYork: St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1953, 1989), pp. 114-117.