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Christe Eleison!

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

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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 Ten: The Invocation of Christ as Deliverer

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← 200 | 201 → CHAPTER TEN

The Invocation of Christ as Deliverer

We now turn our attention to what Andrew Louth in his article has described as the second of the ‘two predominant Christian ways of understanding the psalms’, whereby the recitation of the psalm-verses is to be understood as an activity involving praying TO Christ for divine assistance. Thus our focus shifts from the invocation of Christ as partner to the invocation of Christ as deliverer.

In his opening comment on Psalm 79.2–4 Didymus the Blind boldly declares, ‘The shepherd of Israel is none other than he who said, “I am the good shepherd”’.1 It follows that, for Didymus, the psalm is addressed to the person of Christ, and, furthermore, that the short invocatory prayer, ‘Stir up your sovereign power and come in order to save us’,2 is a prayer whereby the psalmist directly calls upon Christ for the salvation of his people.

The purpose of this chapter is to explore the extent to which and the manner in which the exegetes understood such short invocatory prayers, which occur in the Septuagint Psalter, as either direct appeals to the Saviour for deliverance, or as pleas made to God the Father for aid through the intervention of his Son. The short invocatory prayers in question include such personal phrases as those listed in the previous chapter, as well as some more corporate usages, such as οἰκτειρήσαί ἡμᾶς, and ἐλθὲ εἰς τὸ σωσαι ἡμᾶς.

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