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Christe Eleison!

The Invocation of Christ in Eastern Monastic Psalmody c. 350-450


James Frederick Wellington

For centuries the Jesus Prayer has been leading Orthodox Christians beyond the language of liturgy and the representations of iconography into the wordless, imageless stillness of the mystery of God. In more recent years it has been helping a growing number of Western Christians to find a deeper relationship with God through the continual rhythmic repetition of a short prayer which, by general agreement, first emerged from the desert spirituality of early monasticism. In this study James Wellington explores the understanding and practice of the psalmody which underpinned this spirituality. By means of an investigation of the importance of psalmody in desert monasticism, an exploration of the influence of Evagrius of Pontus and a thorough examination of selected psalm-commentaries in circulation in the East at this time, he reveals a monastic culture which was particularly conducive to the emergence of a Christ-centred invocatory prayer.
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Chapter Six: Other Commentaries


← 124 | 125 → CHAPTER SIX

Other Commentaries

Whilst Evagrius’s role in the development of Eastern monastic spirituality in the late fourth and early fifth centuries cannot be overstated, the individuals and communities which dedicated themselves to anchoritic, semi-anchoritic and cenobitic forms of Christian discipleship during this period had at their disposal other resources for the purpose of guiding them towards a deeper life with God. With regard to their understanding of the psalms, it is clear that they had recourse to a number of commentaries ascribed to Eastern authors whose availability would have assisted them to fulfil the Evagrian injunction to ‘sing psalms with understanding’ (ψάλλε συνετῶς).

The purpose of this third part of the study is to examine a selection of these commentaries in order to explore how the recitation of the Psalter was understood to involve the invocation of the person of Christ, in ways other than those manifested in Evagrius’ Scholia ad psalmos. To this end, the present chapter will provide a brief summary of the critical background to a series of documents which reveal a pattern of such invocation which is consistently expressed in four key ways. In so doing, this exercise is largely dependent on the most comprehensive study of the material produced to date, in Rondeau’s first volume of Les Commentaires Patristiques du Psautier.

In an introductory note to the work, Rondeau informs us that the literature in question ‘has come to us in an often deplorable state’.1 She...

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