The Psalter (also known as the Psalms of David) is the Old Testament book that contains hymns and poems traditionally ascribed to the Holy Prophet and King David, ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ. Virtually every aspect of worship—praise, thanksgiving, penitence, intercession—is covered in the Psalter.
The Psalter in Orthodox Worship
One modern commentator has described the Psalter as a golden thread running through the beautiful garment that is the divine services of the Orthodox Church. Indeed, the Psalter forms the core of each of the services of the Daily Cycle, the Divine Liturgy, and the other sacramental offices of the Church.
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."
Structure of the Psalter
Chapter Divisions—Septuagint vs. Masoretic Text
The Septuagint (LXX) is the version of the Old Testament used by the Orthodox Church. The LXX Psalter differs in several respects from Masoretic Text (MT), which forms the basis for the King James Version and most modern English translations of the Bible.
In addition to substantive, textual differences, the LXX and MT versions of the Psalter differ most obviously in their chapter divisions. This can cause confusion to readers who do not understand the differences between the two versions.
The chapter divisions of the LXX and MT versions of the Psalter correspond as follows:
The deuterocanon of the LXX contains an additional Psalm ascribed to David. This 151st Psalm is not numbered with the other 150 and is not included in the Psalter proper.
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. Due to its great length, this chapter constitutes the entire XVIIth Kathisma.
Each of the divine services contain fixed portions of the Psalter that are read or chanted each time the service is celebrated. In addition, certain services of the Daily Cycle contain prescribed kathisma readings. These prescribed readings rotate daily so that outside of Great Lent the Psalter is read through once in its entirety in single week.
During the lenten fast, the kathisma readings are accelerated so that the Psalter is read through in its entirety twice each week.
Order of Kathisma Readings
- Outside of Great Lent
- Outside Great Lent the kathismata are appointed to be read according to the following cycle:
- During Great Lent
- During the weekdays of Great Lent, kathisma readings are added to the the services of the Hours so that the entire Psalter is read through twice each week. The cycle of appointed kathismata readings for Great Lent are as follows:
|Day||Orthros||First Hour||Third Hour||Sixth Hour||Ninth Hour||Vespers|
|M||IV, V, VI||-||VII||VIII||IX||XVIII|
|Tu||X, XI, XII||XIII||XIV||XV||XVI||XVIII|
|W||XIX, XX, I||II||III||IV||V||XVIII|
|Th||VI, VII, VIII||IX||X||XI||XII||XVIII|
|F||XIII, XIV, XV||-||XIX||XX||-||XVIII|
- The Psalter According to the Seventy, Holy Transfiguration Monastery (ISBN 0943405009)
- Christ in the Psalms, Archpriest Patrick Henry Reardon (ISBN 1888212217)