Friday, January 30, 2009

Kathisma 20

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Sion. For He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates, He hath blessed thy sons within thee. He bringeth peace upon thy borders, and with the fatness of the wheat He filleth thee. He sendeth His saying unto the earth; right swiftly runneth His word. He giveth His snow like wool; the mist He sprinkleth like ashes. He hurleth His ice like morsels. Who shall stand before His cold? He shall send forth His word and melt them; His wind shall blow and the waters shall flow. He declareth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and judgements to Israel. He hath not dealt so with every nation, nor hath He shown His judgements unto them.
Ps 147 is included in this morning's readings. Perhaps it grabbed my attention because of our recent weather, or perhaps just because I have an affinity for snow (though not so much for ice). Anyway, I thought I'd share some of St. John Chrysostom's commentary:
Hence after saying, Who sends out his word to the earth, he added, his word runs swiftly. Now, he said this to show that he cares not only for our country but for the whole world. Word here means command, the working of his providence. . . .

Now, what does he command? The things that bear on our life - I mean, what concerns the management of the airs, the seasons and climatic changes. Hence he also added the words, Giving snow like wool . . . . Here in my view he presents the invincible and unlimited character of God's power in producing beings from what did not exist, and changing those already made and remodeling them to suit his wishes. . . .

Many other such marvels can be seen in nature. So when it happens each year and comes before your gaze, do not regard the marvel as of little significance: think how wonderful it is, at one time snow coming into view, at another time water, such changes happening in a short space of time. You see, in case any stupid person should think they happen by the natural operation of the elements, and simply regard these things responsible for them instead of knowing who is the one giving the commands, he directs his attention to God's ordinance about all these things, saying, He will send out his word, and they will melt, that is, his ordinance. It was not the nature of the winds taking the initiative and causing this, you see, but the God who made the winds. . . . I mean, just as with unbearable ice and sleet it is easy for him to restore order and settle everything, so too it is very simple for him to bring back to peace and to their own country those held in captivity and embroiled in wars, and guide them to their former prosperity.

He not only suggests this, however, but hints obscurely at something else. What in fact is that? That just as even these things that bring distress often prove useful and beneficial, so too the things that turned out for them disastrously also brought them great benefit. Lest they harm them further, he transformed them in turn to something more tranquil. . . .
Snow and ice, then, are used in this psalm as illustrative of unfriendly weather, which is sent by divine order as much as any other. The lesson is that God sends into our lives both the good and the bad, but just as easily he can turn the bad into good. Snow and ice do not remain forever but melt into flowing water that we need for life.

This is a fairly straightforward lesson taken from the literal sense of the psalm. St. John continues, however:
What has been said, then, is adequate for the literal sense. If, however, you have the desire to take the psalm also in an anagogical sense, we should not decline to travel that path as well, without doing violence to the historical meaning - perish the thought - but along with it adding this as well for the benefit of the scholars to the extent appropriate. . . .

Who sends out his word to the earth, his word runs swiftly: what word? I ask. The one through the apostles, the one that runs everywhere lighter than a feather. Hence David also suggests this in another place, saying, "The Lord will give a word to those spreading good news with great power." But if any stupid people have doubts, let them find proof in what happens with the elements, and learn how the snow falls suddenly, and in a moment of time conceals the whole earth, not covering its face over time but enveloping it all at once. So since he was inspired and it was likely he said this in an anagogical sense to forecast and hint at the future, it was logical he should make his point by reference to the elements. Now, what he means is something like this: All the earth is soon to be instructed by God, with great speed and in a moment of time. Then, lest anyone have doubts as to whether Jews, a single nation enjoying so much care over such a long period of time, proved upright, how it is possible for those inhabiting the world to be reformed in a short time, he takes the examples from the elements for reinforcement of his words - snow, mist, ice - which most of all happen in one moment of time. So have no doubts as to whether their attitude also is likely to be transformed. But are there many who resist? Even these will yield and give way, however: if no one can bear the onset of a little period of extreme cold weather, and instead everyone gives way to it, much more will all adverse influences yield to his word and command.
Prophetically, then, the psalm uses snow to illustrate how God's Word will rapidly spread throughout the world and transform human hearts. As snow comes suddenly and irresistibly and changes people's lives whether they choose it or not, so is God's Word in the wake of Christ's coming. Of course, when snow comes, people can choose to act as if nothing has changed, but to their own peril.

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