What Psalter Is in Your Prayer Book

I do not know who else out there struggles with this one, but wouldn’t it be a beautiful world to have the same version of the psalms used in our personal prayer books, as with the many psalms read in church, and as with the innumerable uses of psalms throughout the services? Such consistency would, that much more easily, bring those hymns to our lips throughout the day. We would accidentally memorize large chunks of the Psalter. And what unspeakable aid would that provide to our path toward union with Christ?

One of the most common Psalters in use in Orthodox Churches seems to be the Holy Transfiguration Monastery (HTM) Psalter. Their books are all well made: beautiful to the eyes, nice binding and paper, and such. And the Psalter has a rendering which clearly comes from a poetic sensibility. I have heard from those who use Byzantine music, the HTM Psalter is somewhat optimized for Greek tones. The downside is the overly clunky phrasing here and there…and words that I would still question whether are legitimate words or not.

There is also the Jordanville Psalter, at least, published by Jordanville…I do not know what its actual name is. Ironically, I think the Jordanville prayer book, at least the latest version I have seen, uses the HTM Psalter. Regardless, the Jordanville Psalter is basically the Psalter from the Coverdale Translation, meaning, it is not from the Septuagint, which is not necessarily a problem—I like using the King James Psalter from time to time, just for its poetic beauty—but it just is not the Septuagint.

The biggest problem with switching Psalters is trying to read a slightly different version of something you are very accustomed to. You start a certain phrase, accidentally drift into the old, habitualized phrasing, then find yourself in the middle of a sentence and do not know how to finish it out, quite right.

The St. Tikhon’s prayer book, Orthodox Christian Prayers, uses yet another psalter, which feels somewhat like the HTM, yet different. I have seen hints that they are close to putting out the final version of the joint-venture Psalter from St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press and St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. I do not know if the prayer book psalms come from this or not. If they did, it would be from an early draft, so it may not be exactly the same (once the Psalter comes out).

My personal, far-and-away favorite is the Sheehan Psalter. It is from the Septuagint, but most importantly, it is translated (and thus phrased) by a poet. This is a labor of love of a poet, and a thing of beauty. Being a shameless advocate for this Psalter and mentioning it all the time, a few folks I know have tried it, and many have mentioned how easy it is to read aloud. The other Septuagint Psalters just feel clunky, unless you have a very skilled reader who is very accustomed to the oddities, and knows how to smooth them out. The Sheehan Psalter is for normal people to read a beautiful psalm.

I will talk more about the Sheehan Psalter, soon.

2 Replies to “What Psalter Is in Your Prayer Book”

  1. “A Psalter for Prayer”, aka the Jordanville Psalter, most certainly is a translation of the Septuagint, from the same critical edition of the original Greek as the Boston Psalter, but further carefully compared to St. Jerome’s “Gallican” psalter, aka the Vulgate, and to the Church Slavonic. So, despite the fact that the 1535 Coverdale translation was used as a starting point, the end result is a translation (insofar as that is humanly possible) that the user can be confident accurately reflects in English the text of the Psalms as received in the Orthodox Church throughout its history.

    1. That is very helpful information. Thank you. I think part of the problem is how the word “translation” is understood, for, as you said, the Coverdale was used “as a starting point”, but that the Jordanville Psalter is also translated from Greek.

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