The earth is the Lord’s, and its fullness, the world and all who dwell therein

(Psalm 23)

This Psalm of David is used in preparation for Holy Communion and in many Church services. It is intended for the first day of the week, being Sunday, and is also a reference to the eighth day, being the Resurrection. St Athanasius the Great notes that this Psalm is teaching us about the Ascension of Christ and how the Gentiles can become worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It starts in verse 1 with recognition that God created the earth and that the earth is His, “The earth is the Lord’s, and its fullness, the world and all who dwell therein.” St Athanasius finds this to be an example of the inclusion of non-Jews in God’s plan for salvation, as the “fullness” of the earth includes all people and not just the twelve tribes of Israel.

However, those who are to “ascend to the mountain of the Lord” need to have “innocent hands and a pure heart” (v.3-4). St Didymus the Blind interprets this ascension as the progress of the soul from the earthly to the spiritual.

“Lift up the gates, O you rulers, and be lifted up you everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall enter.” (v.7) This verse and those following refer to multiple events. Many of the Church Fathers find that it prefigures Christ breaking down the doors of Hades before the Resurrection and Sts Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa regard this as a reference to the Ascension.

The blessings and righteousness referred to in verse 5 cannot be achieved without God, and so we are told to allow God to strike down the doors of the heart. With the assistance of “the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord powerful in battle”, the heart of every person can be softened towards God and ascend spiritually.

Source: Lychnos August/September 2019 edition