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Saint Barsaphouphios the Great, “Questions and Answers on Prayer and Psalmody”
An English translation of an article by the famous Greek iconographer, Photios Kontoglou, who was also a lover of the Psaltic Art.
SAINT BARSANOUPHIOS, an Egyptian by birth, lived
at the end of the Sixth and beginning of the Seventh centuries. He was
a great spiritual fathergerontain the famed monastery
of Abba Seridos at Thawatha, southwest of Gaza. The rule and kind of
monastic life he followed was one shared by many other famous spiritual
fathers of the Palestinian desert, that of a recluse. They followed complete and permanent
enclosure, without communication with the outside world, except through
letters which were dictated to scribes. One of St. Barsanouphios
famous disciples is St. Dorotheos of Gaza.
In this reading notice that the same word used
in the 75th Canon of the Sixth: compunction,
Questions and Answers on Prayer and Psalmody
Ἐρώτησις. Πολλάκις, ὅτε ψάλλω, αἰσθάνομαι ἐμαυτὸμ ὡς ὑψηλοφρονοῦντα. Τί οὖν ὀφείλω εἰπεῖν τῷ λογισμῷ;
υκγ´ Ἀπόκρισις. Ὅτε ὑψοῦται ἡ καρδία ἐν τῇ ψαλμῳδίᾳ, μιμνῄσκου ὅτι γέγραπται, «οἱ παραπικραίνοντες μὴ ὑψούσθωσαν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς»· «παραπικράναι» δέ έστι, τὸ μὴ ψάλλειν συνετως κατὰ φόβον Θεοῦ· καὶ ἐρεύνησον, εἰ μὴ ρέμβεται ὁ λογισμός σου ἐν τῷ ψάλλειν· καὶ πάτνως εὑρήσεις ὅτι ρέμβεται, καὶ παροξύνεις τὸν Θεόν.
Question. Many times, when I sing, I feel myself being puffed up. When this happens, what should I say to myself?
423. Answer. When the heart becomes puffed up during psalmody, remember what is written: Those who afflict grief will not be raised up. Afflicting grief is when we sing without understanding (Ps. 47.7) and without the fear of God. Therefore, beware and search yourself so you do not deceive yourself during psalmody, then you will understand that you have been deceived and bring God to anger.
Ἐρώτησις. Ἐὰν οὖν ψάλλω ἢ προσεύχομαι ἢ ἀναγινώσκω καὶ ἀνακύψῃ ἄτοπος λογισμός, κατανοήσω αὐτὸν καὶ διακόψω τὴν ψαλμῳδίαν ἢ τὴν προσευχὴν ἢ τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν, ἵνα καὶ διὰ τῶν τοιούτων λογισμῶν ἀντιπράξω αὐτῷ;
υκζ´ Ἀπόκρισις: Καταφρόνησον αὐτοῦ καὶ πρόσεχε μετὰ ἀκριβείας τῇ ψαλμῳδίᾳ καὶ τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ τῇ ἀναγνώσει, τοῦ δύνασθαι δύναμιν λαβεῖν ἀπὸ τῶν λεγομένων· ἐὰν γὰρ ἀνασχώμεθα σχολάζειν τοῖς λογισμοῖς τοῦ ἐχθροῦ, οὐδέποτε ἔχομέν τι ἀγαθὸν πράξαι, ὅπερ ἐκεῖνος πραγματεύεται. Καὶ ὅταν βλέπῃς τὴν αὐτῶν συνοχὴν τοιαύτην οὗσαν, ὥστε καὶ παρεμποδίσαι τῇ ψαλμῳδίᾳ ἢ τῇ προσευχῇ ἢ τῇ ἀναγνώσει, μηδὲ οὕτως ἀντιφιλονεικήσῃς αὐτοῖς· οὐκ ἔστι γὰρ τοῦτο τῆς σῆς δυνάμεως. Ἀλλὰ σπούδασον ἐπικαλέσθαι τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ ἔρχεται εἰς σὴν βοήθειαν καὶ καταργεῖ τὸ μηχανήματα τῶν ἐχθρῶν.
Αὐτοῦ γὰρ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας. Ἀμήν.
Question. When I sing or pray or read and an improper thought comes to mind, should I stop singing, or reading, and be attentive to it until I have countered it with proper and good thought?
427. Answer. Despise it, and with exactitude be attentive to the psalmody and the prayer and the reading so you might receive strength from what is said. For, if we turn to do battle with the attacks of the evil one, we will never be able to do anything good-and this is exactly why he tries so hard. When you find your thoughts strangling yourself to the extent that they keep you from your prayer, psalmody or reading, not even then should you give them attention, because it is not within your power to conquer them. Instead, be quick to call on the name of God and He will come to your aid and destroy the machinations of the enemies.
For His is the power and the glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Ἐρώτησις. Πῶς τις κτᾶται κατάνυξιν ἐν τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ ἀναγνώσει καὶ ψαλμῳδίᾳ;
υκη´ Ἀπόκρισις. Ἡ κατάνυξις ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐνδελεχισμοῦ τῆς ὑπομνήσεως ἔρχεται τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ. Ὅτε οῦν προσεύχεταί τις, ὀφείλει προσευχόμενος ἀναγαγεῖν τὰς πράξεις αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν ἰδίαν μνήμην καὶ πῶς κρίνονται οἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράττοντες καὶ τὴν φωνὴν τὴν φοβεράν, ὅτι «πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ οἱ κατηραμένοι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον» καὶ τὰ λοιπά. Μνήμην δὲ ἁμρτιῶν λέγω, οὐχὶ ἑκάστης, μήποτε καὶ διὰ παρενθέτου ἐισενέγκῃ ὁ ὑπεναντίος ἄλλην αἰχμαλωσίαν, ἀλλὰ τὸ μνησθῆναι μόνον, ὅτι κατάχρεοι ἐσμεν ἁμαρτιῶν. Καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐὰν ἐμμείνῃ σκληρότης μὴ ἐνδώσωμεν· γίνεται γὰρ πολλάκις παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡ ἀνοχὴ εἰς δοκιμασίαν ἀνθρώποιυ, εἰ ὑπομείνῃ.
Καὶ περὶ τῆς ἀναγνώσεως καὶ τῆς ψαλμῳδίας, τὸ γρηγορῆσαι τὸν τοῦν αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰ ὑπ’ αὐτοπυ λεγόμενα καὶ ἀναλαβεῖν εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ ψυχὴν τὴν δύναμιν τὴν ἐναύτοῖς ἐγκειμένην. Ἐὰν μὲν περὶ ἀγαθῶν, ἵνα ζηλώσῃ εἰς τὸ ἀγαθόν, ἐὰν δὲ περὶ ἀνταποδόσεως κακῶν, ὅνα φύγῃ τὴν προσδοκωμένην ἀπειλὴν τοῖς τὰ κακὰ πράττουσι. Καὶ ἐμμένων ἐν ταῖς αὐτῶν ὑπομνήσεσι, μὴ ἐνδώσῃς ὑπομενούσης τῆς σκληρότητος· ἐλεήμων γὰρ ἐστι καὶ οίκτίρμων ὁ Θεὸς καὶ μακρόθυμος, προσδεχόμενος ἡμῶν τὴν σπουδήν. Μνημόνευε δὲ ἀεὶ τοῦ λέγοντος Ψαλμῳδοῦ, «ὑπομένων ὑπέμεινα τὸν Κύριον καὶ προσέσχε μοι» καὶ τὰ λοιπά.
Ἀδολεσχῶν δὲ ἐν τούτοις, ἔλπισον ὅτι καταλαμβάνει σε τὰ ἐλέη τοῦ Θεοῦ διὰ τάχους.
Question. How does one attain compunction* in prayer and in reading and in chanting?
428. Answer. Compunction comes with continual remembrance and study. When someone prays, he should bring to mind his or her works, and how those who do them are judged, and that awesome voice: Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25.41). I am speaking of the remembrance of ones sins, not necessarily each one separatelylest the evil one intrude and drag us into some other bondagebut to remember that we are over-burdened, weighed down, with sins. Even if after this there remains a hardness, let us not give in; for many times this concession is made by God to test us, so as to see if we will accept the suffering.
And regarding the reading and the chanting, make the mind attentive to what it is reading or chanting, and to apply the meaning of what is said to ones soul. So that, if it is about the good, it may have zeal for the good; if it is about the judicial recompense for evil works, it may shun away from those who do evil, anticipating the menace. Remaining in these remembrances do not retreat if the hardness still remains, because is merciful and compassionate and slow to anger, and He waits to help our attempts and struggles. Always remember the Psalmist who says, I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry (Ps. 40.1).
While you remain sincere in these things, hope that you will reach God's mercy.
Ἐρώτησις Ὅτε ζητῶ μετὰ ἀκριβείας προσέχειν τῇ δυνάμει τῶν ρημάτων τοῦ Ψαλμῳδοῦ, συμβαίνει πολλάκις ἐξ αὐ῀των γενέσθαι μοι πονηροὺς λογισμούς.
υκθ´ Ἀπόκρισις. Ἐὰν ἴδῃς ὅτι ἀπ’ αὐτῶν τῶν ρημάτων τῆς ψαλμῳδίας ἐμηχανήσατο ὁ ἐχθρὸς παρασχεῖν σοι πόλεμον, οὐ χρὴ μετὰ ἀκριβείας καταλαβεῖν τὴν δύναμιν τῶν λεγομένων, ἀλλὰ νηφόντως καὶ ἀρεμβάστως αὐτὰ ψάλλειν. Κἂν γὰρ αὐτὰ λέγῃς μόνον, οἱ ἐχθροὶ τὴν δύναμιν αὐτῶν ἴσασι καὶ οὐ δύναταί σοι ἀντιστῆναι· καὶ γίνεταί σοι ἡ ψαλμῳδία ἀντὶ ἱκεσίας πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν καὶ εἰς κατάργημα τῶν ἐχθρῶν.
Question. When I try to be attentive with exactitude to the meaning of the Psalter, many times I find evil thoughts rising up within me. Why?
429. Answer. If you see that through the words of even the Psalmist the enemy contrives to create a struggle within you, it is not necessary to understand with exactness the meaning of what is being said, but only chant with soberness and without the scattering of the mind. For only because you say the words, the enemies know the meaning of the Psalms and cannot give opposition; in this way, your chanting becomes supplication to God and neutralizes the enemies.
Ἐρώτησις. Ἐὰν ἐν τῇ ψαλμῳδίᾳ ὧ ἢ μετὰ ἀνθρώπων καὶ θλίβωμαι ἐκ τῶν λογισμῶν καὶ ὀνομάσω τὸν Θεὸν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ, μὴ δυνάμενος ἐν τῷ στόματι, ἢ καὶ μνησθῶ αὐτοῦ μόνον, ἆρα οὐκ ἐξαρκεῖ μοι τοῦτο εἰς βοήθειαν;
υλ´ Ἀπόκρισις. Ἐὰν στήκοντός σου ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τῆς ψαλμῳδίας ἢ μετὰ ἀνθρώπων, ἔλθῃ σοι ὀνομάσαι τὸν Θεόν, μὴ νομίσῃς ὅτι, ἐὰν μὴ εἴπῃς στόματι, οὐκ ὀνομάζεις αὐτόν· ἀλλὰ μιμνῄσκου, ὅτι καρδιογνώστης ἐστὶ καὶ εἰς τὴν καρδίαν προσέχει· καὶ ὀνόμασον αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου. Τοῦτο γὰρ ἐστιν ὅ εἶπεν ἡ Γραφή· «κλεῖσον τὴν θύραν σου καὶ πρόσευξαι τῷ Πατρί σου τῷ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ»· ἵνα κλείσωμεν τὸ στόμα καὶ ἐν τῷ καρδίᾳ προσευξώμεθα αὐτῷ.
Ὁ κλείων οὗν τὸ στόμα καὶ ὀνομάζων τὸν Θεὸν ἢ προσευχόμενος αὐτῷ ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ, τὴν τοῦτου λέγουσαν ἐντολὴνπληροῖ· ἐὰν δὲ καὶ μὴ ὀνομάσῃς ἐν αὐτῇ, μνησθῇς δὲ μόνον, τοῦτον μᾶλλον ὀξύτερόν ἐστι τοῦ ὀνιμάσαι καὶ ἀρκεῖ σοι πρὸς βοήθειαν.
Question. While I am chanting or with others and pressed by my thoughts and call on God in my heart, since I cannot with my mouth, or I only remember Him, is this enough to help me?
430. Answer. If while chanting or in the company of others and it comes to you to call on God's name, do not think that just because you do not call with your mouth that you do not call on Him. Just remember that He knows the heart and listens to it. So call on Him in your heart. That it what the Scripture says, when you have shut your door, pray to your father who is in the secret place (Mt.6.6); that is to say, let us close our mouths and pray to Him in our heart.
So, he who closes his mouth and calls on the name of God or prays to Him in his heart fulfills exactly this commandment. If, though, you do not call on Him with the inward word, but only remind yourself of Him, this is even a quicker calling on His name and is enough to help you.
- κατάνυξις. Devotion, contrition, compunction. A deep penitence. Included is a feeling
of both sorrow and spiritual joy. Sincere repentance. ^
Note. St. Barsanouphios icon is by the hand of Deacon Christodoulos Fergadiotes.