THE PSALM 44 ICON

Today’s icon, from the 16th century, is related both to the Deisis sub-type commonly called “The Queen Stands at Your Right,” and to “Sophia, Wisdom of God.”  We shall see the relationships on closer examination.

(Andrei Rublyov Museum, Moscow)

This icon takes its title from the words of Psalm 44 (45 in King James Version numbering), rendered in the KJV as “My heart is inditing a good matter.”  When did you ever hear anyone use the word “indite”?  In English it means “to compose”  But in the Slavic Version it is:

Отрыгну Сердце Мое Слово Благо
Otruigny Serdtse Moe Slovo Blago

We can translate it rather literally as:
Gives-forth    Heart   of-me a Word Good
In normal English,
My Heart is Uttering a Good Word.

Oddly enough, the word I translate here as “gives forth” and “utters” commonly means “to belch” or “to vomit” in modern Russian.

The key to the icon lies in the “good Word” mentioned, and if we look at the Greek Septuagint version, it helps us to better see why:

Εξηρευξατο ἡ καρδία μου λόγον ἀγαθόν
Exereuxato he kardia mou logon agathon…

Logon is the accusative form of logos, meaning “word.”  You will recall that the first words of the Gospel of John are:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.”  And you will recall that the “Word” —  the Logos — of God in icons is Jesus.

So the Word — the Slovo or Logos in Psalm 44 — is understood in Eastern Orthodoxy to be Jesus — the pre-existent son of God, and the Psalm is therefore considered to signify the “begetting” of the Word — of God the Son — by God the Father.

Let’s examine its various elements, taken from the lines of Psalm 44:

At the top we see Gospod’ Savaof —  “Lord Sabaoth,” who is God the Father; and below him is the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove.

At upper left, we see King David — called a prophet in Eastern Orthodoxy — writing his Psalm:
…глагóлю áзъ дѣлá моя́ Царéви: язы́къ мóй трóсть кни́жника скоропи́сца.
I declare my works to the king: my tongue is the pen of a quick writer.

Seated on the throne in the center of the image is a crowned figure — this is Jesus as the Word uttered by the Father.  He holds a scepter in his hand:

That is taken from verse 7:
Престóлъ твóй, Бóже, въ вѣ́къ вѣ́ка: жéзлъ прáвости жéзлъ цáр­ст­вiя тво­егó.
Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of righteousness.

The scroll he holds bears a part of verse 3 of the Psalm:
…сегó рáди благослови́ тя Бóгъ во вѣ́къ.
“...therefore God has blessed you forever.

At his knees is a quiver of arrows at left, and a bow at right, taken from verse 6:
“Стрѣ́лы твоя́ изощрéны, си́льне…”
Your arrows are sharpened, Mighty One… ”

At his feet are fallen his conquered enemies, as in the second part of verse 6:
…лю́дiе подъ тобóю падýтъ въ сéрдцы врáгъ Царéвыхъ.
the nations shall fall under you; they are in the heart of the king’s enemies.

The angel at right pours out the oil of anointing upon the head of the Word, as in verse 8:
Возлюби́лъ еси́ прáвду и воз­ненави́дѣлъ еси́ беззакóнiе: сегó рáди помáза тя́, Бóже, Бóгъ твóй елéемъ рáдости пáче при­­чáст­никъ тво­и́хъ.
You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your fellows.

At left is a Queen (Mary) as in verse 9:
…предстá цари́ца одеснýю тебé, въ ри́захъ позлащéн­ныхъ одѣ́яна преиспещрéна.
“…the queen stood on your right hand, clothed in robes worked with gold, and arrayed in various colors.”

At right is a church, with people in the doorway, taken from verse 16:
…при­­ведýт­ся въ весéлiи и рáдованiи, введýт­ся въ хрáмъ Царéвъ.
They shall be brought with gladness and exultation: they shall be led into the king’s temple.

In front of the church are two crowned figures.  That at left is John the Forerunner, whose scroll bears the beginning of verse 18 of the Psalm:
сегó рáди лю́дiе исповѣ́дят­ся тебѣ́ въ вѣ́къ и во вѣ́къ вѣ́ка.
“…therefore shall the nations give thanks to you forever, and forever and ever.”

And at right King Solomon, whose scroll bears part of verse 8 of the Psalm:
сегó рáди помáза тя́, Бóже, Бóгъ твóй елéемъ рáдости пáче при­­чáст­никъ тво­и́хъ.
“...therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your fellows.”  You will recall that Solomon is the traditional author of the Book of Proverbs, which speaks of Wisdom (Sophia), understood in icons to be Jesus, as in Proverbs 9:1: “ Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars.

The fellow with the red cap at far left is the Prophet Daniel, holding a scroll bearing part of verse 5 of the Psalm:
…и́стины рáди и крóтости и прáвды: и настáвитъ тя́ ди́вно десни́ца твоя́.
“…because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and your right hand shall guide you wonderfully.” Daniel is considered to have foretold the coming kingdom of Jesus, as in Daniel 2:44:
And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

Just for reference, here is all of Psalm 44 (45 in the KJV) in Church Slavic:

  • 1.  Въ конéцъ, о измѣня́емыхъ сынóмъ Корéовымъ въ рáзумъ, пѣ́снь о воз­лю́блен­нѣмъ.
  • 2.  Отры́гну сéрдце моé слóво блáго, глагóлю áзъ дѣлá моя́ Царéви: язы́къ мóй трóсть кни́жника скоропи́сца.
  • 3.  Красéнъ добрóтою пáче сынóвъ человѣ́ческихъ, излiя́ся благодáть во устнáхъ тво­и́хъ: сегó рáди благослови́ тя Бóгъ во вѣ́къ.
  • 4.  Препоя́ши мéчь твóй по бедрѣ́ тво­éй, си́льне,
  • 5.   красотóю тво­éю и добрóтою тво­éю: и наляцы́, и успѣвáй, и цáр­ст­вуй и́стины рáди и крóтости и прáвды: и настáвитъ тя́ ди́вно десни́ца твоя́.
  • 6.  Стрѣ́лы твоя́ изощрéны, си́льне: лю́дiе подъ тобóю падýтъ въ сéрдцы врáгъ Царéвыхъ.
  • 7.  Престóлъ твóй, Бóже, въ вѣ́къ вѣ́ка: жéзлъ прáвости жéзлъ цáр­ст­вiя тво­егó.
  • 8.  Возлюби́лъ еси́ прáвду и воз­ненави́дѣлъ еси́ беззакóнiе: сегó рáди помáза тя́, Бóже, Бóгъ твóй елéемъ рáдости пáче при­­чáст­никъ тво­и́хъ.
  • 9.  Сми́рна и стáкти и касíа от­ ри́зъ тво­и́хъ, от­ тя́жестей слонóвыхъ {от­ хрáмовъ слонóвыхъ}, изъ ни́хже воз­весели́ша тя́.
  • 10.  Дщéри царéй въ чéсти тво­éй: предстá цари́ца одеснýю тебé, въ ри́захъ позлащéн­ныхъ одѣ́яна преиспещрéна.
  • 11. Слы́ши, дщи́, и ви́ждь, и при­­клони́ ýхо твоé, и забýди лю́ди твоя́ и дóмъ отцá тво­егó:
  • 12.  и воз­желáетъ Цáрь добрóты тво­ея́, занé тóй éсть Госпóдь твóй, и поклони́шися емý,
  • 13.  и дщи́ ти́рова съ дáры: лицý тво­емý помóлят­ся богáтiи лю́дстiи.
  • 14.  Вся́ слáва дщéре Царéвы внýтрь: ря́сны златы́ми одѣ́яна и преиспещрéна.
  • 15.  Приведýт­ся Царю́ дѣ́вы вслѣ́дъ ея́, и́скрен­нiя ея́ при­­ведýт­ся тебѣ́:
  • 16. при­­ведýт­ся въ весéлiи и рáдованiи, введýт­ся въ хрáмъ Царéвъ.
  • 17.  Вмѣ́сто отéцъ тво­и́хъ бы́ша сы́нове тво­и́: постáвиши я́ кня́зи по всéй земли́.
  • 18.  Помянý и́мя твоé во вся́комъ рóдѣ и рóдѣ: сегó рáди лю́дiе исповѣ́дят­ся тебѣ́ въ вѣ́къ и во вѣ́къ вѣ́ка.
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