As mentioned in a previous blog article, I started to say a new Daily Office almost exactly two months ago, the office is to say Matins and Vespers every day. Usually this is just a reader service at home, but occasionally I make it down the road to pray with the community in Keswick, and usually make it to Saturday Great Vespers at our borrowed chapel in Braithwaite.
The reader services said at home started off as very simple versions without Stikos, Troparia, and certainly without the Kathisma of psalms. Matins, for instance, even the simple version that I use includes six openings psalms: 3*, 37, 62, 87, 102, 142), then after the Gospel there is psalm 50, and then the three psalms of Lauds: 148, 149, 150. And in Vespers there are fewer, but still 103, 140, 141, 129, and 116.
But something very strange happened to me. As I said these psalms every day, I found that my concentration on the beauty of the words started to still my mind. Without realising it I was falling in love with the psalms, and as anyone who has fallen in love will tell you, you cannot get enough of your love.
So I stated to experiment with adding a kathisma to Vespers. I can say Vespers without a kathisma in about 20 minutes, and a kathisma takes about 15 minutes.
Now because the kathisma psalms change every day, even at Vespers in this season, I can't do other than really concentrate on the words, there is no space left in my mind to worry about life and it's concerns. One needs to concentrate very hard to do the two tasks: chant the words beautifully and meaningfully; and: understand the theological values expressed.
With, say, psalm 50, which I have said at least once a day for over 18 months now, I can chant it without error and be thinking of something completely unrelated, but with these kathisma psalms I just can't do that. Which is wonderful, because the ego-self just shuts up for a while.
Fr John says that this is when the Holy Spirit can get to work on the soul, but I have to admit that I have only noticed this in hindsight. I am calmer, I am easier to get along with, I am more sympathetic, and I am a lot more patient.
So now I have added the kathismata to matins too, which means a prayer time of over an hour before dawn. Strangely this is not at all a struggle, I leap out of bed when the alarm goes, rush into my study and start off as soon as I can.
So I decided to write this as a sort of progress report, it will be interesting to see if I can keep it up, especially when Great Lent arrives and Matins has three kathismata.
* I use the Septuagint numbering for psalms, as is usual in the Orthodox church.