O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy anger, nor chasten me in Thy wrath! For Thy arrows have sunk into me, and Thy hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thy indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me. My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. Lord, all my longing is known to Thee, my sighing is not hidden from Thee. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my kinsmen stand afar off. Those who seek my life lay their snares, those who seek my heart speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all the day long. But I am like a deaf man, I do not hear, like a dumb man who does not open his mouth. Yea, I am like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are not rebukes. But for Thee, O Lord, do I wait; it is Thou, O Lord my God, who wilt answer. For I pray “Only let them not rejoice over me who boast against me when my foot slips!” For I am ready to fall and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity, I am sorry for my sin. Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good. Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! 

Psalm 38

The service of Orthros (Matins) is traditionally celebrated in the morning. “Orthros” comes from the Greek word “Orthoi” which means to “rise.” In many Orthodox churches, Orthros is celebrated before the Divine Liturgy. In a very few churches (in monasteries and seminaries), Orthros is celebrated every day, regardless of whether there is a Divine Liturgy scheduled or not. The Orthros is the service of the day. Each Orthros is unique, as each commemorates the saint or feast celebrated that day.

The Orthros begins with the reading of six Psalms, and the second of those Psalms is Psalm 38. If you reread this Psalm, slowly, you’ll see that there are many things you’ll relate to on days when you are sad or frustrated. Of course, if life is generally going well for you, this Psalm will seem tedious. You’ll wonder “Why don’t they have something more uplifting instead of this one?” I don’t know the reason why the specific six Psalms were chosen, or why they don’t rotate. What I do know is that this Psalm will speak to all of us at some point in our life. I guarantee that it will speak to at least one person who is reading this message.

The Psalmist provides a checklist of the various things that weigh us down:
~Physical health affected by sin. (v. 3)
~The heavy mental weight of sin. (v. 4)
~Wounds that are unhealed, and growing because of foolish behavior. (v. 5)
~Sadness. (v. 6)
~Emotional fatigue. (v. 8)
~Unsteady heartbeat, weakness, loss of sparkle in eyes (v. 10)
~Friends have no idea what’s wrong. (v. 11)
~Enemies are licking their chops waiting to attack. (v. 12)
~Worry that one is about to make a mistake. (v. 17)
~Pain that never ends. (v. 17)
~Many foes (v. 19)
~Being hated wrongfully. (v. 19)
~Receiving evil in exchange for good, being punished for doing the right thing. (v. 20)
~People who are hateful even when you do good. (v. 20)

At some point we will be afflicted by all of these, and perhaps at one point, we may be afflicted by all of them at the same time. It is a debilitating feeling to feel attacked on all sides, not only by enemies but by our own thoughts, our own guilt, our own private struggles.

Years ago, I had to give a eulogy for someone who died tragically. And I was having a hard time coming up with something to say. The day before the funeral I had to take a trip somewhere by plane. On this trip, I was going to be doing some manual labor, so I didn’t dress in clergy or work attire, but instead wore shorts and a T-shirt. On the return trip, I tried to write something and I still couldn’t think of what to write. So, I lay back in the plane, in my T-shirt, shorts, flip flops, backwards hat (I hate hats but have to wear one outside to cover my bald head), with earphones in my ears, looking more like I was a teenager than a middle aged adult, surrounded by people in business suits. I actually felt the eyes of these people staring at me (they probably weren’t actually) and I felt judged because of my appearance. And I remember thinking to myself, these people have no idea what I’m going to do tomorrow. They have no idea of the pain I carry inside of me right now. They aren’t asking. And I’m not telling. And then the idea came for what to say—the person who had died had carried a pain that no one else knew, and for those who thought that was not possible, it certainly was, because to a much lesser extent I was living that reality, carrying pain that no one else knew about, while, in the words of the Psalm “My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague.” (v. 11)

Many times, we think to ourselves, “No one has any idea what I’m going through,” because it is either so unbelievable, so embarrassing, so shameful. And so we let this checklist of things pile up and it becomes almost unbearable.

This Psalm is mostly about the problems of life. The checklist is pretty substantial. There are a couple of solutions to these burdens. First, there is patience. Verse 15 says “I wait.” However, this is not just any kind of waiting and patience. It is patience for the Lord to act—“But for Thee, O Lord, do I wait; it is Thou, O Lord my God Who wilt answer.” There is trust in God that an answer is coming. Sometimes that trust has to be pretty great, because the timing of God’s answer may be a long time in coming. Second, there is repentance, an awareness that some things that befall us are a result of our own sinfulness. In the midst of the things people do to us, there are the things we do to ourselves. Confession of iniquity and repentance (sorrow over sin) are things that are always on the table, ready to be met with God’s mercies. And third, there is hope. The Psalm ends with words of hope. Asking God to not be far from us are words of hope that we believe He is not far from us. Asking God to make haste and help us are words of hope that God can and will help us. Crying out “O Lord, my salvation,” (v. 22) are words of hope that life’s goal is salvation, and that if all the other “stuff” is part of a journey that leads to eternal reward, then somehow the obstacles can be overcome and the pain of the journey will be worth it.

In the meantime, this Psalm validates our struggles to keep walking, while asking God for the strength to keep going. We actually have no idea what is going on in the lives of those around us, be they the strangers in the car on the road next to us, or even some of the people we are closest to. This is why we need to lean in more on God, Who knows everyone and everything; and we need to be kinder to one another, because we really don’t know who is checking all the boxes from this Psalm. It’s a guarantee though that someone around us is, and we probably don’t even know it.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
You are the Good Shepherd: seek me, the lamb that has strayed, and do not forget me.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode Three, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

May you have the strength to keep walking today!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here: https://amzn.to/3nVPY5M


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder