Saint Gennadius lived in the fifth century. He was a Presbyter of the Great Church of Christ and was elected Patriarch of Constantinople-New Rome in 458. He worked zealously to preserve the Orthodox Faith from heresies that threatened to alter it, and he even managed the return of many heretics back to Orthodoxy. Also, due to his office, he helped Patriarch Martyrius, who was evicted improperly and illegally by Peter the Fuller, to regain his throne.
Saint Gennadius, as noted in the sacred Synaxarion, arranged with great care for the training of the sacred Clergy, and he denied the ordination of any candidate that did not study the Psalter and knew how to interpret them. At this point we should note that at that time, according to prevailing custom, the candidate for the Clergy would be familiar with the Psalms of David and their interpretation. Also, he struggled with all his strength to combat the phenomenon of simony, in which money was made by ordinations, which was common in those days. For this reason he convened a Synod in Constantinople, and sent out an encyclical “Against the Buying of Ordinations”.
He reposed in the year 471. The end of his life was peaceful.
His life and times give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:
In olden times the faithful gave great importance to the reading of the Book of Psalms, and spiritual fathers especially urged their spiritual children to read them every day, because the reading of the Psalter is not only a way to pray, but it creates inspiration which is necessary for spiritual progress, but also for the work of everyday life. The Athonite services are interspersed with readings from the Psalter, and exude a unique spiritual flavor.
At the beginning of the Book of Psalms there is written, among other things, the following verses which declare in a poetic way the content of the Psalter, and the beneficial effects of frequent use:
Be silent, Orpheus; thy lyre throw aside, O Hermes.
The tripod at Delphi hath sunk into oblivion for evermore.
For us David doth now play the Spirit’s lyre,
The hidden things of God’s mysteries he revealeth;
A multitude of ancient wonders he narrateth;
Of the Creator of creation, doth he move one to sing.
Saving all those men he initiateth, as he writeth his verses,
Sinners doth he bring to desire repentance.
Among other teachings, to the throng doth he declare the Judge’s judgments.
The purging, he doth teach, of soulful sinnings.*
Psalter of David, whose words are like stones,
You crush another Goliath, the passions.
The psalter was “a musical instrument with ten strings. It stood upright and even, and the cause and occasion of the notes were received from the top.” According to Basil the Great, “this is the difference between a psalter and a harp; the sound of a harp is produced from its bottom, while that of the psalter is from the top.” The psalter as a musical instrument existed before David, but David went from using it “as an amateur for the private use of gathering his sheep into the fold, to building it up and associating it in a most technical way.” The Book of the Psalms of David also came to be called the Psalter because, as Basil the Great says: “Though many musical instruments exist, the Prophet David used the psalter for the Book of Psalms.” He continues saying: “I believe he did this to show the Grace of the Holy Spirit, which comes down from above, like the musical instrument whose notes come from the top.”
The Book of Psalms is similar in some ways to a ladder, which bring man from the lower to the higher and gradually prepare him to meet God. The Jews divided the Book of Psalms into five sections, namely: 1) Psalm 1-40, 2) 41-71, 3) 72-88, 4) 89-105, 5) 106-150 [LXX rendering]. This division is connected with theoretical ascent, according to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who says the following remarkable things:
A) “The first section helps man to move away from evil, which is why it begins: ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful’.”
B) The second section helps man thirst for the good and seek it as a thirsty deer seeks for water, which is why it begins with the Psalm that says: “As the deer thirsts for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for You my God.”
C) The third section makes man a visionary of the nature of things, which is why it begins: “Truly God is good to Israel, to such as are pure in heart” and “I was like a beast before You”. That is, I considered as good the transient things of this life. Now, however, that I have taken hold of the incorruptible and invisible, I am with You.
D) The fourth section does not allow a person to be common, but it unites us with god and makes us people of God, which is why the 89th Psalm begins thus: “The prayer of Moses, the man of God.”
E) The fifth section raises the person to the highest part of the ascent, where the fullness of human salvation is found. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”, is the last verse of the Psalter.
From everything noted above we can surmise how much benefit accrues to the person who loves to pray with the Book of Psalms, which in the first Christian centuries, as we saw, was used daily, and even its knowledge and interpretation was considered a prerequisite for entrance to the Clergy.
by Protopresbyter fr.George Papavarnavas
Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, “Αγ. Γεννάδιος Πατριάρχης Κωνσταντινουπόλεως”, November 2009. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.