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Desert Fathers QUESTION from Jeffrey Allan September 6, 2000 Did the early Desert Fathers pray all 150 Psalms daily?
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on September 10, 2000 Dear Jeffrey,
I could not find anything to confirm that the Desert Fathers prayed the 150 psalms on a daily basis. However, the Psalms were constantly prayed throughout the day and into the night, as the Desert Fathers only slept three or four hours. They never ceased to pray, and always had some prayer or psalm versicle on their lips, even as they did manual labour.
When disciples began to coalesce around spiritual leaders, these leaders saw to it that their followers were not left to their fancy with respect to prayer. To this end, they developed offices, that is, sets of prayers to be said throughout the day that included Psalms. This development occurred in the late fourth century.
It is difficult to generalize about the prayer lives of the early monks because this form of devotion to God was new, and they essentially made up practices as they went along. Practices varied from region to region and from community to community.
In Egypt, cenobites, that is, monks who lived in common under one roof, had fixed hours for offices—usually 2 or 3 in a day, and they normally recited 12 psalms at each office. The anchorites, that is, those who did not live under a particular rule, prayed these offices at various hours during the day, whenever it suited them.
In the East, that is, Palestine and Mesopotamia, there were at first six, then seven canonical hours. A seventh hour was added because the number six was felt to be symbolically weak, whereas the number seven is used quite often, i.e. the seven vices, seven virtues, seven sacraments, etc.
Interspersed with these public acts of worship were private prayers. Since the psalms were so revered, they would have been a natural choice. Now as to how many a monk prayed, that varied on an individual basis. But certainly in the course of days, these monks would certainly have gone through all 150 of the psalms. I know of one example of a monk who prayed the Psalter on a daily basis. Elpidios, an Egyptian monk from Scetis, would spend his nights reciting all 150 psalms. Given the spiritual zeal of these monks, it would be surprising to learn that few of them did the same, but I could not find any sources that confirmed this.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin.
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