Tears of Repentance

 “O most holy Lady Theotokos, the light of my darkened soul, my hope, my protection, my refuge, my rest, and my joy: …grant me tears of repentance…

A Prayer to the Theotokos

“And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment… And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

Luke 7:37-38, 50

“But the woman not having yet received the Word (for she was still a sinner), honoured the Lord with what she thought the most precious thing in her possession—the ointment; and with the ornament of her person, with her hair, she wiped off the superfluous ointment, while she expended on the Lord tears of repentance: wherefore her sins are forgiven.”

– Clement of Alexandria

“…if all the rest have no faith, will God curse all the rest? that is, the population of the whole earth, except about two hermits in the desert, and in His well-known mercy will He not forgive one of them? And so I’m persuaded that though I may once have doubted I shall be forgiven if I shed tears of repentance.”

– Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov – “Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

“God washes away sins by the tears of repentance.”

– Leo the Great

“Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.”

  • 2 Kings 20:5

 “My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.”

  • Job 16:20

“Hearken unto my prayer, O Lord, and unto my supplication; give ear unto my tears”.

  • Psalms 38:15

“My tears have been my bread by day and night, whilst it is said to me daily: Where is thy God?”

  • Psalms 41:3

“They that sow with tears shall reap in rejoicing.”

  • Psa 125:5

“And who can now fail to understand that the holy prophet said for our instruction: ‘Every night will I wash my couch and water my bed with my tears’    For if you take it literally for his bed, he shows that such abundance of tears should be shed as to wash the bed and water it with tears, the couch of him who is praying, for weeping has to do with the present, rewards with the future, since it is said: ‘Blessed are ye that weep, for ye shall laugh;’    or if we take the word of the prophet as applied to our bodies, we must wash away the offences of the body with tears of penitence.”

– St. Ambrose of Milan

“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

– Rev. 7:17


A Short Guide to the Psalms of the Bible

The book of Psalms, also known as the Psalter, stands in a unique position in the Old Testament and even among all of the Holy Scriptures of the Orthodox Church.  In a way not found elsewhere in the Scriptures, the Psalms reflect the upwards prayers of man to God (under the inspiration of God). The Jewish church used the Psalms as its central worship prayers for centuries and this practice was adopted by the Christian Church following Christ, and continues to our day.  The Psalms are richly interspersed in the Divine Liturgy and Holy Day services of the Orthodox Church and are a significant part of the Synekdemos or Daily Prayer book.  Bishop Demetri Khoury of the Antiochian Archdiocese, in his foreword to Christ in the Psalms, said that the Psalter was a “golden thread [which runs] through the beautiful garment of Orthodox worship.” The Psalter is so prevalent in Orthodox worship that St. John Chrysostom said that wherever one looks in the Church, he finds the Psalter “first, last, and central.”

Most of us read or pray the Psalms in English, which, in the Orthodox Church, are translated from the liturgical Greek Old Testament, which itself was translated by the Jews from the original Hebrew.  This is important to know because they contain segments of Hebrew poetry or Israelite cultural elements, some of which are lost in translation or minimally, may sound strange outside the original language and culture.  The Greek numbering, which we use here, differs slightly from the traditional Western numbering familiar in most English translations.  Under the Greek numbering there are 151 psalms in the collection.  The name “Psalms” comes from the Greek word which means to pluck on the harp, referring to their ancient liturgical musical setting.   The Psalms themselves refer to this musical setting (e.g. Ps. 32).  Today, in the Church, when they are put to music, they are exclusively chanted.  Otherwise, they are prayed in plain, unchanted vocal reading.

Under the Jewish setting, and as used by Jesus Christ, they were called Tehilim, which means “praises” in Hebrew, but this refers only to a kernel of the Psalms which cast the name on all of them.  The Psalms consist of not only prayers of praise but of jubilation, lament, thanksgiving, penitence, complaint, supplication, intercession, as well as God’s messages to man, and a rehearsing of God’s work among men, among others.  They yield to a great degree the range and depth of human religious experience in relationship with God.  On a spiritual level therefore, they provide holy meditative and prayerful tools for the Christian pilgrim and they open the door to a deeply personal and mystical relationship with the God who covers us in all of the depth and emotions of the joyful but sometimes difficult and sorrowful Christian life.

The Psalms arise out of historical and geographical settings in God’s workings with man, details of which gives us critical insight into their motivation and inspiration.  Layered on top of these is a rich set of interpretative traditions based on typologies and spiritual or metaphorical interpretations some of which existed in the Jewish Church and later were significantly expanded in the Christian Church.  Both of these aspects of understanding the Psalms have been traditionally important in the Church, as it has for all parts of Scripture.  The interpretative tradition of the ancient Jewish Church is particularly important because it is upon this basis that we have the Messianic prophecies to which Christ referred to himself.

Many Church Fathers were known to have composed commentaries on the Psalms, though we don’t have all of them in direct manuscript tradition.  One well-known commentary is the one of St. John Chrysostom that generally starts from a historical perspective, attempting to set each psalm in its original context.

The Psalms are traditionally ascribed to King David but it is clear that this tradition, like the name of the book, was something true of a kernel of Psalms, which was cast upon all.  That was a common approach to collections of writings in the ancient world.  References to Babylon and other late historical settings show that the collection of Psalms grew in Ancient Israel long after King David, as God’s inspiration continued to work.


Historically, the Psalms reflect the religion and the national and individual experience of Old Testament Israel and the Jews.  The Psalter was used for hundreds of years in this context during worship in the Temple and synagogues before Christ.  There are references to the beauty of God’s Law given by Moses, to God’s deliverance from Egypt and later from the captivity in Babylon and to a longing for Jerusalem (Zion), to specific events relating to the monarchy of Israel, to the sacrificial system, to musical instruments in use among the people and to the warfare of the nation.  There are names of specific Old Testament individuals such as King David, King Saul, Absalom and Cush the Benjamite. There are geographical references to the Holy Land with references such as the wilderness of Judah, Mount Hermon, Mount Tabor, and Mount Zion.  Therefore in order to fully appreciate the Psalms, it is useful to understand all the Old Testament with its history and geography as the stage for these writings.  Also, because the Psalms reflect Old Testament revelation and spirituality, they contain requests of God that would not be made by God’s people after Christ’s revelation of the true spirit behind the Old Testament in Matthew 5 of the New Testament.   One such request, for example, is to destroy the persecuting enemies of the supplicant together with their children.  The Psalms show a growth of Israel religion, under God’s progressive revelation, that reaches great spiritual heights.  Yet, even at their height they do not attain the spiritual level of the New Testament revelation of Christ and thus required a proper placement in the Church.

Since the Church adopted the Psalms as the main prayers of the Church, the application and interpretation of the Psalms for the Church are based on typology to the spiritual life of the Christian and the Church.  The enemies described in the Psalms are a type of the demons and the spiritual enemies of the Christian.  The original requests for the defeat of national and personal enemies becomes requests for the defeat of evil spiritual forces besetting the Christian.  The references to burnt offerings and other physical sacrifices become, in type, a references to the spiritual sacrifices of the Christian and the ultimate sacrifice of Christ as given in the Eucharist.  The longings for Jerusalem and Zion become longings for the Kingdom of God. The nation of Israel typifies the expanded Israel of God – the Church.  King David with God as his Father is a type of the Messiah, the only Begotten Son and King.  Thus, in the Church, the Psalms are transformed and “baptized” to the advanced spiritual life of the Christian.

The Psalms were written with great poetic skill, some of which comes across in translation.  Lost in the translation is the rhythmic Hebrew poetry that emphasizes stressed syllables rather than words and lands on the ear more like the semi-regular waves on the ocean beach, as would have been chanted by Jesus.  Also lost in translation are acrostic poems such as Psalm 118.  This Psalm contains 22 stanzas of 8 verses each, where each of the 8 verses of a stanza begin with one letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, which is not easy task to accomplish and still have the Psalm flow with grace and meaning.  Something that is transmitted in translation, including in English, is the parallelism with similar thoughts given in sequence.  One example is given from Psalm 17:

The pangs of death compassed me (A)

and the floods of iniquity sore troubled me. (A)

The pangs of Hades compassed me about; (B)

the snares of death prevented me. (B)

The Psalter was historically divided into 5 sections.  In the Church, for liturgical purposes, the Psalter is divided into 20 kathismata. Each kathisma is further divided into three stases. Each stasis contains between one and three chapters. The exception to this is Psalm 118 which, due to its length, constitutes the entire XVIIth Kathisma. Each of the divine services contains fixed portions of the Psalter that are read in prayer or chanted each time the service is celebrated. In addition, certain services of the Daily Cycle contain prescribed kathisma prayer readings. These prescribed readings rotate daily so that outside of Great Lent the Psalter is read through once in its entirety in a single week. During the Lenten fast, the kathisma prayers are accelerated so that the Psalter is read through in its entirety twice each week.

Christ and the disciples chanted the Psalms as well (Mt. 26:30).  In the gospels this is done in the context of celebrating the Passover, the liturgical tradition of which would have associated the singing of Psalms 112-117 in Hebrew, called the Hallel Psalms.  These were sung because there were 5 major themes in the tradition of the Jewish Church associated with these special Psalms for Passover: the Exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law, revival of the dead, and the difficulties preceding the Messianic age, all of which were meaningful in type to Christ’s life, baptism, teachings, miracles and crucifixion. Specifically, Psalm 114 and 115 say:

The pangs of death compassed me, and the perils of Hades came upon me.

I found trouble and sorrow, and I called upon the name of the Lord:

O Lord, deliver my soul…

For He hath delivered my soul from death,

mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.

I will be well pleasing before the Lord in the land of the living…


What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He hath rendered unto me?

I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord…
O Lord, I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, and the son of Thine handmaid;

Thou hast broken my bonds in sunder.

I will sacrifice to Thee a sacrifice of praise [Hebrew: a thank offering]…

I will pay my vows unto the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem.

Christ sung this immediately after he shifted the meaning of the Passover from a lamb sacrificed yearly in the Temple to Himself as the eternal Lamb of God and as He shifted the Jerusalem Temple’s thank offerings to the thank offering of the cup of his blood, the Eucharist. In a similar manner, Christ recognized, as did the apostles after him, other Messianic expectations in the Psalms that pointed to many aspects of Christ’s incarnate life as the only Begotten of the Father.  The resurrected Jesus said to his disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.

In a letter to someone by the name of Marcellinus, St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, wrote that the Psalms are the one part of Scripture that we can mimic in prayer and make it our own words.  In this letter, he covers in detail how each of the Psalms may be used on different occasions of spiritual need in the Christian life.  He summarizes the benefit of reading them well: “In the first place, it is fitting that the sacred writings should praise God in poetry as well as prose, because the freer, less restricted form of verse, in which the Psalms are cast, ensures that by them men should express their love to God with all the strength and power they possess…But those who do sing as I have indicated, so that the melody of the words springs naturally from the rhythm of the soul and her own union with the Spirit, they sing with the tongue and with the understanding also, and greatly benefit not themselves alone but also those who want to listen to them.”

Being A Friend of God

God is the creator of the entire universe and all of us, by Christ, who is the Word of God (Eph. 3:19, John 1:1).  The relationship of the created to the Creator, as was known throughout the ancient world before Christ, was one of awe, respect, worship, fear and submission.    If one looks at the way gods were portrayed in the ancient world, we see mainly gods manipulating humans to the liking of the gods, as in the Iliad by the Greek poet Homer.  We may see the gods bestowing favor to humans or even, in rare instance,  inviting a human (or half-human and half-god) to their dinner banquet, as is the case of Tentalus, in the Greek myths.  To my knowledge, we do not see a god leave heaven and condescend to be with man in order to be in intimate friendship with him.   This only fully happened in the religious accounts of man in the gospels of the New Testament.

We get a premonition of this direction in Genesis in the Garden of Eden where God is described to be “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8), or when Abraham meets and hosts three angels in human form and one of the them turns out the be the “the Lord” (Gen. 18-19).  Jesus Christ did that in a timeless way and this message was a surprise to the Greek world.  The question that was asked by the Greeks is: “why would a god leave the comforts of their heavenly abode to be with man walking in the dirt of the earth and suffering the daily grind of life”.  This was so puzzling that it seemed to lack wisdom to the Greeks.  St. Paul pointed this out by writing “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness…” (I Cor. 1:23).  Christ showed unfathomable humility to do this:  “But [Christ] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).

Therefore it comes as a an even greater upset to the understanding of the world of the divine that  the Creator of the Universe not only condescended to man to live with him but called on men to become His friend.  This was foreshadowed with particular individuals in the Old Testament.  First, Abraham was in an intimate relationship with God to the point of haggling with God about how many righteous people could be reduced in a city before God would act to destroy it.  Abraham argued God down from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to 10! (Gen. 18:23-32).  In that intimacy with God, Abraham was viewed by God as His friend:  “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend” (Isaiah 41:8, II Chron. 20:7, James 2:23). Similarly, Moses the great prophet of Israel was considered such:  “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

The friendship to which God calls men to partake is unlike earthly friendships.  It requires a deeper relationship with the Creator who made the nature of man:  “You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14).   “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (vs. 15).  This sets up a strong contrast between this friendship and the opposite ways of the world:  “You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Let us partake of the friendship that God offers us through obedience to His will, for only in this will we come to know the true nature of friendship with God and man.

Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani!

Matthew 27:46-49
46 Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

46 (in Greek) περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων · Ἠλὶ ἠλὶ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι; τοῦτ’ ἔστιν · Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες;

47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said , This man calleth for Elias.
48 And straightway one of them ran , and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink .
49 The rest said , Let be , let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

Mark 15:34-36
34 And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

34 (in Greek) καὶ τῇ ἐνάτῃ ὥρᾳ ⸃ ἐβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ · Ἐλωῒ ἐλωῒ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι; ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με;

35 And some of them that stood by , when they heard it, said , Behold , he calleth Elias.
36 And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink , saying , Let alone ; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down .

Psalm 22:2
2 My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me

In Hebrew:




Why the different uses: Eli and Eloi, and why did people reference Elijah?

There were two languages that were of main interest among Jews of Christ’s day and in Judea: Hebrew and Aramaic. Hebrew was used for reading the Scriptures because that is the language in which they were written. However, due to the exile in Babylon, Jews in Judea no longer spoke Hebrew on a daily basis. They spoke Aramaic, a related Semitic language. However they read the Scriptures in Hebrew in the synagogue before reading an Aramaic translation. They also used a few well-known Hebrew words and names while speaking Aramaic.
Both Matthew and Mark quote the saying of Jesus on the cross transliterated from Aramaic into Greek, the language in which they were writing the gospels. Jesus would have spoken most of his words in Aramaic, the language of the people. Matthew adds one variation in that he gives one of the words in Hebrew. In Judea, those familiar with some major names and words from the Hebrew Bible would have used them while speaking Aramaic. Much like saying “chef”, a French word, in English.
Jesus’ saying in Aramaic would be transliterated into English as “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani”. If it was to be said in Hebrew it would be transliterated as “Eli, Eli, lama azavtani”. Matthew gives the first words in Hebrew and the last words in Aramaic (“Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani”), while Mark quotes all of Christ’s saying in Aramaic. This is not surprising since the gospel writers sometimes paraphrase the sayings of Jesus or give shortened versions of his words for various linguistic and theological reasons particular to their audience. Since Matthew is writing to Jews they would know some of both languages. The version that Matthew gives is closer to what Jesus said since what the crowd says makes sense after it is based on “Eli” and not “Eloi”.
In Hebrew, “Eli” (pronounced eh-lee’) is ambiguous. It could mean (1) “my God” or (2) “Elijah” in shorted form. The full name of Elijah in Hebrew is pronounced as eh-lee-ya-hu and means “my God is Yahweh”. (“Elias” is a Greek transliteration of “Elijah” used in the gospels). In Hebrew, “Eli” was a shortened form of multiple names that begin with “Eli” (such as Eliezer) but Elijah was the most well-known if there was no clarity. Jesus could be taken as saying either “Elijah, Elijah why have you forsaken me?” or “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” The crowd thinks he is saying the former. However, rather than saying his own words complaining about God, which Protestant theologians have claimed, Christ was in reality quoting the beginning of Psalm 22 and expecting the hearers to know the rest, since it was considered a Messianic psalm and was referring to his life.
Another point to consider is that in late stages of crucifixion, a man is struggling with asphyxiation and has difficulty breathing and speaking. A short phrase summarizing Psalm 22 is all that Christ may have been able to say for a long period of time. Lord have mercy on your sevants!