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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 Nine: The Invocation of Christ as Partner


← 172 | 173 → CHAPTER NINE

The Invocation of Christ as Partner

In his paper, ‘Inspiration of the Scriptures’, Andrew Louth writes:

Take, for example, the psalms: how are we to read them? As works by inspired, largely unknown poets, living at various moments in the history of Israel? As a collection of songs, composed (largely) by King David? As a hymn book of the Second Temple? As a psalter of the Christian Church? A doctrine of inspiration forces one to decide, generally to decide on the earliest moment of composition. But I would rather say: all of these, in this way making our use of the psalms something through which we join our prayer with Christ, or use these as ways of praying to Christ (the two predominant Christian ways of understanding the psalms), but also doing this in solidarity with the whole chosen people of God down the ages, all of whom have, in the Spirit, taken these hymns or poems on their lips.1

The purpose of this chapter is to examine how the Greek Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries approached the first of these ‘two predominant Christian ways of understanding the psalms’. Through a careful study of the relevant psalm-commentaries we will consider the exegeses which reveal both the extent to which and the manner in which the Fathers understood certain psalm-verses to be the vox Christi and therefore, in effect, to be invitations to the Christian individuals and...

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