By the Waters of Babylon

A traditional hymn from the Lenten season.

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Alleluia.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. Alleluia.
For there they that had taken us captive required of us a song;
and they that had carried us away required of us a hymn, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. Alleluia.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Alleluia.
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Alleluia.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem as my chief joy. Alleluia.
Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem;
who said, Down with it, down with it, even to the foundation thereof. Alleluia.
O wretched daughter of Babylon, happy shall he be that shall reward thee as thou hast served us. Alleluia.
Happy shall he be, that shall take and dash thy little ones against the rock. Alleluia.

In Orthodox tradition, the fathers interpret the last verse as a reference to the “little thoughts – the logismoi” and dashing them against the Rock, who is Christ. Thus we rise early in the day and dash our wayward thoughts against the Rock of Christ who frees us from their tyranny. Alleluia.

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  1. Conflicts in which uniformed military members of a nation encamp for five years or more on foreign soil provide fertile creative environments for films, novels, and art of many expressions. For example, there has been an increase in films and other creative products over the past three years concerning wars that involve USA soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    This Psalm of captivity brought to mind the many letters that loved ones send family members and friends among deployed soldiers. Then, I imagined God sending a letter through this Psalm to all of us who fight in spiritual battles for the salvation of ourselves and the whole world. Having been exiled, and having experienced the sense of God’s absence from us in the exilic period, we might interpret this Psalm as bringing important news from home.

    Letters need to be memorized if they bring us joy and fix our eyes always on home. Maybe we can begin by memorizing this Psalm today. Bon voyage! Homeward bound!

  2. this is the first track on a cd i have currently playing in my truck…i especially like to listen to this cd during the season of the Fast.


  3. You’re doing a marvellous job showing people the way to their “deeper heart”, Fr. Stephen. This is essentially what the Church does, in the words of Archimandrite Zacharias (speaking on the theology of St. Silouan).

    Christ is in our midst!

  4. Not especially relevant to the profound final thought of this post, but — this is one of my favorite psalms. Singing has been important to me all of my life, and when I first became Orthodox — 19 years ago this month — “singing in a strange land” was *so* pertinent to my state at that time. Little did I imagine that the “strange land” I found myself in would become my truest home this side of Heaven.

  5. This reminds me of the twenty-seventh letter in the Monastic Wisdom, the letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast.

  6. Mic, would that CD happen to be “Attend, O Heaven” from St. Seraphim Orthodox Church (OCA) in Santa Rosa, CA? I have that CD and love it. “By the Waters of Babylon” on this CD is very fine. It’s based on Znamenny chant, by Archangelsky. I sang it on Sunday with our choir. It’s an amazing hymn.

  7. Thus we rise early in the day and dash our wayward thoughts against the Rock of Christ who frees us from their tyranny. Alleluia.

    Celestial wisdom Fr. Stephen!

  8. Being very very new to Orthodoxy, could you please explain a little further why this is a Lenten psalm? please and thank you.

    Some of my thoughts are:
    The Isrealites were physically carried off to another place and had to endure what they considered a mocking of their God. How does this compare to the relative comfort of living in the USA, for instance? Yes, our God is often mocked, but we can still sing our songs in relative peace.

    I remember when I first arrived here in the DR when everything was so strange, this psalm appealed to me but slowly I began to learn the Christian songs of the culture where I was living and realized that I was never really exiled from God. He arrived here before me.

    I also realize that we live in this world but we are not of this world, so could this be a reminder to not let worldly stuff separate us from God?

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