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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 Eight: The Invocation of Christ as Prosōpon


← 156 | 157 → CHAPTER EIGHT

The Invocation of Christ as Prosōpon

In response to Psalm 79.8, ‘Bring us back, O God of hosts, show your face, and we shall be saved’,1 Origen comments, quoting Colossians 1.15: ‘Here he has called Christ “face” (Πρόσωπον ἐνταῦθα τὸν Χριστὸν ὠνόμασεν), “For he is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation”’. The purpose of this chapter is to explore texts such as this, to be found in the psalm-commentaries featured in this study, where the word πρόσωπον, as it appears with relation to God in the psalm-verses of the Septuagint, is interpreted Christologically.

In all, there are sixty-eight psalm-verses in the Septuagint Psalter in which the word πρόσωπον is used in relation to God. Within the commentaries under consideration, fifty-four texts have been located in which the exegete clearly identifies the πρόσωπον of God with the person of Jesus Christ, and these are to be found in twenty-five different psalms. Of these, Psalm 118 is the most prolific for this purpose, in accounting for five texts, while Psalm 79 accounts for seven and Psalm 67 for four. Three texts are provided by each of Psalms 16, 23 and 30, while Psalms 17, 20, 41, 43, 44, 94, 96 and 104 each supply two. Finally, a single text is contributed by each of Psalms 9, 15, 33, 45, 67, 88, 89, 138, 139 and 142.

Before proceeding to an investigation of the relevant texts, it is necessary to acknowledge...

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