One of the principles we follow in developing our pedagogy and curriculum at St. Michael’s is, “If something is important in the Church, it should be important in the school.” The Psalms of King David are, without question, important in the Church. They are used in every service and are by far the largest single element in the Church's Divine services. St. John Chrysostom has said,
If we keep vigil in church, David comes first, last and central. If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last and central is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep, or if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last and central.
The Psalms are found everywhere in the Divine Services, from the simplest services of the Hours and Inter-Hours to the glorious Divine Liturgy. The service of the Hours and the Inter-hours each contain three Psalms. Every matins service includes the reading of the Psalms. All the Prokeimenons, whether during Vespers, or before the gospels of Festal Matins and Divine Liturgy are taken from the Psalms.
As for Divine Liturgy, several Psalms are used even before the Liturgy begins. After venerating the icons, the clergy enter the altar, reciting a portion of Psalm 5. While vesting and washing their hands, the clergy recites portions of Psalms 118, 132, 17, 44, and 131. After vesting, the clergy wash theirs hands, reciting a portion of Psalm 25. Finally, while censing the coverings of the diskos and chalice during Prokomedia, the priest recites Psalm 92.
The Psalms are used in several other places besides those mentioned above and much more could be said about the importance of the Psalms. You might be interested in readings more at https://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/typicon_psalms.aspx.
It seems clear, then, that learning the Psalms should be a part of an Orthodox school. Many times we have seen the faces of our students light up when they hear one of the Psalms, which they learned in school, read in the Church. Two spheres of their life are connected. They know the Psalm and therefore feel part of the service, not just a spectator. We have seen this simple recognition of the Psalms inspire the children to learn more about the services and about their faith.
We learn the Psalms in a very organic and joyful way, as part of our Morning Opening, which includes prayer, song, poetry, Psalms and physical activities. The whole school is involved in this period and everyone participates. Although the children see this time as “fun and games,” the teachers realize that this period is very important and full of serious learning. Only in retrospect do the children see it for what it was - and still love it.
We print the Psalm in a large size font on 8.5 x 14 paper and adhere the pages to the wall by the icon corner. We recite the Psalm together each day. After a short time, the students are given a couple “Recitation Opportunities” each week (Tuesday and Thursday mornings) to recite as much of the Psalm as they can. Recitations are at first on a volunteer basis, but after a longer period (you determine the time) all are expected to their best to recite as much as possible. The atmosphere is always encouraging, yet with enough “encouragement” to engage everyone.
When the children know the Psalm by heart, or nearly so, we continue to recite it either without looking at it, or after removing it from the wall. Generally, all except the youngest, learn the entire Psalm and they are very pleased.
The Psalms can be understood on many levels. Many of them were composed by King David while he was pursued by King Saul, who was intent on killing him. While these Psalms have a particular historical context, they are also valuable in articulating our own experiences while struggling with evil. Other Psalms have a clear prophetic character and tell of the experiences of Christ, especially during the time of His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Perhaps all of the Psalms need some explanation. While we do not try to dissect each verse, we do try to ensure that the children understand words they may not have heard before or may not understand in the context of the Psalm. These words we explain to them in this context. The Psalms often speak of the struggles encountered in this life (both in the spiritual and in the physical realms) and children do understand something of this, although often they do not have the words to express their experience. It is helpful if the parent/teacher is sensitive enough to say enough (but not give a sermon) to relate the Psalm to the experience of the child(ren).
In order to help you and your children reap the fruits of learning some of the Psalms, we are providing a selection of Psalms in both PDF and Microsoft Word format. Each Psalm will be available in two sizes, 8.5 x 11, landscape and 8.5 x 14, landscape. All the files are in color, but you can easily print them in monochrome as well. We will add more Psalms as time permits.
The number in parenthesis indicates the number of verses in the Psalm, as an indication of difficulty. The translation we use is from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament which is the traditional version used by the Orthodox Church. Our source is The Psalter, According to the Seventy, translated and published by Holy Tranfiguration Monastery in 1987. We have no doubt that your children will rise to the challenge of learning several Psalms and will feel more part of the Church.
The Psalms we have available for downloading are on the next page. This part of the website is "under construction" so we will be adding more Psalms as time permits. If you have trouble printing the Psalms correctly, please let us know, by mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Before printing you might want to make sure that the whole page will print, by looking at a printing preview, especially with the PDF files.