Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lift up your hands with Christ on the cross - Psalm 133 v3

Cathedral of St Sophia, Kiev
Verse 3 of Psalm 133 presents us with the image of a person praying with uplifted hands, an image with rich Scriptural associations.

In nóctibus extóllite manus vestras in sancta, * et benedícite Dóminum.
Extollite manus vestras ad sanctuarium et benedicite Dominum.
Leuate manus uestras ad sanctum, et benedicite Domino

ἐν ταῖς νυξὶν ἐπάρατε τὰς χεῖρας ὑμῶν εἰς τὰ ἅγια καὶ εὐλογεῖτε τὸν κύριον

nox, noctis,  night.
extollo, extuli, ere 3, to lift up, raise up, exalt. 
manus, us, /.,  hand
sanctus, a, um,  holy; sanctuary
benedico, dixi, dictum, ere 3, to bless

In the nights lift up your hands to the holy places, and bless the Lord.
Lift up your hands by night in the sanctuaries, and bless the Lord.
At night lift up your hands to the sanctuary, and bless the Lord
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and praise the Lord.
Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the LORD!
lift up your hands towards the sanctuary and bless the Lord.
Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord through the night.

Lifting up in prayer

Read literally, lift up your hands (extollite manus vestras) is an exhortation to adopt an attitude of prayer.  Holy (in sancta) in this context surely means towards the sanctuary or Holy of Holies in the Temple.  This can be interpreted then as the pilgrims about to leave the Temple for the night asking the priests and Temple dwellers to pray on behalf of the people.

Lifting up one's hands though, has several other Scriptural connotations that the Fathers point to in relation to this psalm.  St Jerome, for example, points to the story of  Moses having his arms held up by other, for God had promises that as long as his hands were held up, the Israelites would advance:
While you are in this world, while you are in the nights, lift up your hands.  Do not let them down, but lift them up, raise them up with Moses.  If you lift up your hands, Amalec is conquered; if you lower them, Jesus is vanquished…
Moses, he argues, is a type of Christ on the cross:
Lift up your hands, the prophet says, because Jesus also lifted them up on the cross.
Good works

 St Jerome interprets hands as meaning good works:
...if we lift up our hands in good works, through our good works, Christ overcomes the devil.  Hands, moreover, connote works…
Cassiodorus takes this idea further, seeing it as an injunction to almsgiving:
Notice the significance of Lift up; it means “give more alms abundantly” for the Lord demands of us not only words of devotion but also deeds...In this way he teaches that love of the Lord is to be fulfilled both by sacred praises and by devoted works. When these have been performed, observe how worthy a recompense follows.
The spiritual night

At the literal level, prayer at night is particularly appropriate, as St John Chrysostom points out:
Why does he say at night?  To teach us to spend it all in sleep, and show us that prayers are purer at that time when the mind is clearer and more leisure is available.  …Now in a holy manner was well put, to show that in praying one should get rid of evil thoughts, of grudges, of avarice, of any other such sin that harms the mind.  
Night also has symbolic meaning though.  St Augustine suggests that it can mean in the bad times in our life, when we naturally struggle, citing the model of Job:
It is easy to bless by day. What is "by day"? In prosperity. For night is a sad thing, day a cheerful. When it is well with you, thou dost bless the Lord. Your son was sick, and he is made whole, thou dost bless the Lord. Your son was sick, perchance you have sought an astrologer, a soothsayer, perchance a curse against the Lord has come, not from your tongue, but from your deeds, from your deeds and your life. Boast not, because you bless with your tongue, if you curse with your life. Wherefore bless ye the Lord. 
When? By night. When did Job bless? When it was a sad night. All was taken away which he possessed; the children for whom his goods were stored were taken away. How sad was his night! Let us however see whether he blesses not in the night. "The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; it is as the Lord willed; blessed be the name of the Lord."  And black was the night.…
More broadly, though, the night stands for the darkness of sin, sickness and adversity.  As St Jerome puts it:
 …The whole world is in the power of the evil one and ‘our wrestling is not against the flesh and blood, but against the world-rulers of this darkness.’  …This world is night; the future world is the true day…whether we will it or not, we are in the night; as long as we are in this world, we are in the hours of the night.  The night has darkness, the darkness of the sins of men.  … 

Towards the holy of holies

The reference to raising our arms towards the sanctuary can best, I think, be interpreted as a reminder to keep our eyes always firmly focused on heaven as our objective, and to bless God for the hope he gives us of everlasting life.

Above all, we bless the Lord, St John Chrysostom teaches, when we live well:
this most of all is properly conducted blessing, when your life is in harmony with your words, and through your deeds you glorify the God who made you…

 Psalm 133: Compline daily; Gradual Psalm No 15
Canticum graduum
A gradual canticle
1 Ecce nunc benedícite Dóminum, * omnes servi Dómini
Behold now bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
2 Qui statis in domo Dómini, * in átriis domus Dei nostri.
Who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God
3 In nóctibus extóllite manus vestras in sancta, * et benedícite Dóminum.
In the nights lift up your hands to the holy places, and bless the Lord.
4 Benedícat te Dóminus ex Sion, * qui fecit cælum et terram.
May the Lord out of Sion bless you, he that made heaven and earth.

And for the final part in this series on Psalm 133, go here.

No comments:

Post a Comment