Athanasios the Great – Commentary on Psalm 86

„Commentary on Psalter”

Athanasios the Great

Source: Anastasis


For the sons of Koré. A Psalm. A Song.


Once again the sons of Koré sing this psalm of the Church. Through it they proclaim the call of the nations and the illumination that came to the Church of the Only-begotten through the dispensation that accompanied the incarnation.

Its foundations are on the holy mountains.

That is of the people called through faith. It says, moreover, that a people from the nations has been built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets[1].

The Lord loves the gates of Sion more than all the tabernacles of Jacob.

‘Gates of Sion’ means the introductory and elementary teaching of the Church; while ‘tabernacles of Jacob’ refers to the worship[2] in accordance with the Law. It means, then, that the polity[3] of the Gospel has been judged by God to be preferable to the worship according to the Law.

Glorious things have been said of you, City of God.

What glorious things have been of it, other than that the Only-begotten dwelt in it, in accordance with the words, ‘Here I shall dwell, for I have chosen it’[4].

I will remember Raab and Babylon.

I will remember for their good those who turn back to me, even those who have fallen into appalling licentiousness and extreme idolatry. For that is what Raab and Babylon mean for us.

See, foreigners and Tyre and people of the Ethiopians.

This expression clearly teaches us that the Church is made up from all the nations.

Sion is Mother, a man will say; and a man has been born in her.[5]

It is clear that it says ‘Mother’ because we who have believed will choose[6] Sion, that is the Church, as Mother, in which there is the man, or rather the One who himself founded it. This is he who became man for our sake and who promised to found the Church on the rock.[7]

The Lord will recount in the list of peoples and rulers.

It means that the Lord will recount the list[8] of the peoples and rulers that are in the Church itself. And what else does this mean but the list that is made in heaven, which he himself recounted to them when he said, ‘Rejoice because your names have been inscribed[9] in heaven’[10]?

Dwelling in you is like that of all who rejoice.

It means that when the dwelling of those in the Church is in you, then they will also be full of joy.

[1] Ephesians 2:20.

[2] The Greek is ‘latreia‘, which refers to the whole religion of the Law of Moses. If it had not become debased, one could have used the word ‘cult’.

[3] The Greek is ‘politeia‘, which means the whole way of life. The lives of the Saints are commonly entitled, ‘Bios kai Politeia‘.

[4] Psalm 131:14.

[5] This is an extraordinarily difficult verse to translate, because the usual text of the Septuagint introduces the word ‘mother’, which is not in the Hebrew. It probably arises from a scribal mistake in Greek, by which ‘meter Sion‘ was read instead of ‘me te Sion‘, meaning ‘Shall (one) not (say) to Sion’, which is a reasonable rendering of the Hebrew. This is the reading of some Greek manuscripts. The reading with ‘mother’, however, goes back to the early days of the Church, and is found in Latin as early as Tertullian. It is the text that the Church has accepted liturgically and theologically.

[6] The Greek is ‘epigrapsometha‘. The word ‘epigraphein‘ is used in the classical language in Athens to mean ‘to choose someone as, say, patron and enter, or inscribe [Greek ‘graphein‘] their name as such on the public register’. This seems to be the meaning here. The idea is picked up by St Athanasios in his comments on the following verse.

[7] Cf. Matthew 16:18.

[8] Greek ‘graphe‘.

[9] Greek ‘engraphe‘.

[10] Luke 10:20


~ de Petre pe decembrie 16, 2008.

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