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September 20, 2019

Saint Eustathios Plakidas and Psalm 96

Psalter at Pantocrator Monastery in Mount Athos

Middle Byzantine Psalters often illustrate Psalm 96 (97) with a miniature of the conversion of Saint Eustathios Plakidas (Khludov Psalter, Moscow, State Historical Museum, 129D, fol. 97v; Mount Athos, Pantocrator 61, fol. 138; Paris, B.N., gr. 20, fol. 5v; Bibl. Vat. Barb., gr. 372, fol. 160v). The conversion of Saint Eustathios is depicted with him riding on horseback hunting a stag with an image of Christ in its antlers. But why is it depicted along with Psalm 96?

Here is the Psalm according to the Septuagint translation:

1 The Lord reigns, let the earth exult, let many islands rejoice.

2 Cloud, and darkness are round about him; righteousness and judgment are the establishment of his throne.

3 Fire shall go before him, and burn up his enemies round about.

4 His lightnings appeared to the world; the earth saw, and trembled.

5 The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.

6 The heavens have declared his righteousness, and all the people have seen his glory.

7 Let all that worship graven images be ashamed, who boast of their idols; worship him, all ye his angels.

8 Sion heard and rejoiced; and the daughters of Judea exulted, because of thy judgments, O Lord.

9 For thou art Lord most high over all the earth; thou art greatly exalted above all gods.

10 Ye that love the Lord, hate evil; the Lord preserves the souls of his saints; he shall deliver them from the hand of sinners.

11 Light has risen for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.

12 Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

Khuldov Psalter in Moscow

The first six verses establish that there is one God who is worthy of worship, and it goes on to say that all those who worship idols should be ashamed for worshiping anyone but the one true God. Those who love God are encouraged to hate evil, and in return the Lord will preserve their souls and deliver them from the evil intentions of sinners. Then the blessings of the righteous are recounted, including light rising within them.

Reading this Psalm in light of the Life of Saint Eustathios, one can see how his life indeed is a perfect match for this Psalm. We are told that Saint Eustathios was a righteous man with an upright heart although he was still a pagan. When the stag he was hunting began speaking to him the words of Christ, he "heard and rejoiced," realizing that Christ is the God "greatly exalted above all gods." Thus the "light" of the knowledge of the truth had "risen" up within him. Upon his conversion along with the conversion of his family, because he loved the Lord and hated evil, he began to face many trials, much like Job, and sinners came against him and his family, but the Lord preserved them all and delivered them "from the hand of sinners."