Psalm 102 (103 in Western Bibles) is a favourite of the Orthodox Church and is often chanted in the Divine Liturgy. It is a Psalm of David containing much that is of benefit for the spiritual life. In this article, we examine two of the better-known verses from this Psalm.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name”
Psalm 102:1 (103:1)
The Psalmist begins by expressing his strong desire to praise God. We discover the meaning of our existence only when our life becomes an act of worship, a gift of praise offered in gratitude and love towards God. Because the desire to bless the Lord is something deeply rooted and innate in our human nature, the Psalmist refers to the soul’s inner contents, to all that is within me, for ”the good man from the treasure of his heart brings forth good, and his mouth speaks from the abundance of his heart” (Luke 6:45). The Psalmist’s soul is filled with feelings of worship and praise, and this inner disposition is externalised through the power of speech by exclaiming: “Bless the Lord, O my soul”.
To ‘bless’ another person means to speak well of him, or to wish or pray that he might receive something good. With respect to God, however, to ‘bless’ means to praise and glorify Him. The word ‘soul’ refers to the fullness of human life, not only to the spiritual element of human beings. What is expressed here is the impulse of the entire person to glorify God: the desire of the whole self to praise and glorify His holy name.
St John Chrysostom writes on Psalm 103: ”The soul stands midway between the body and spirit, and so can drag the body down to base pleasures or draw the spirit up to God, and thus David charges his soul to bless the Lord, which means to glorify God always.”
“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and rich in mercy”
Psalm 102:8 (103:8)
With these four adjectives David expresses both the experience of God in his own life and in the life of Israel.
Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra says that God’s “compassion” is exercised on behalf of human beings who are made of earth and are forever in danger of lapsing into non-existence. If something is very delicate and fragile, you’ll handle it with care and compassion. Human nature demands that God act toward it with sensitivity and compassion.
God is also “merciful” to us because we forget that we are created from earth; we forget that we are nothing and act as if we were gods. To such a person, one can only be patient and show mercy. God is “long-suffering”. He exercises patience with us, because we are ignorant and rebellious; because we stubbornly resist Him. We are not interested in God because our attention is occupied with a life of fantasy and ego, our self-will.
God is “rich in mercy” because human sinfulness is as deep as the ocean. Mercy is God’s response to sin and the soul. In the words of the Hymn of Kassiani: “Who can count the multitude of my sins or fathom the abyss of Your judgments?” St Gregory Palamas writes, “Him alone, therefore, the Master and Creator of all, you should glorify as God and through love you should cleave to Him; before Him you should repent day and night for your deliberate and unintentional lapses. For He is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and rich in mercy.”
Sources: Lychnos December 2015 – January 2016, Lychnos February 2016 – March 2016 (edited)