Psalter: Illuminated manuscript. (Godunov Psalter). 1594. We know firsthand how fragile human life is. Yet as Christians, we have a great advantage and a priceless blessing—we know that we have a sure Advocate in this unsure world, Who is all-powerful and all-merciful. It has always been this way.
He that dwelleth in the help the most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of Heaven, said the prophet David about something he had experienced more than once in his troubled life—that whoever who places all his hope in God’s help will be saved from all trouble under His protection.
The Holy King and Prophet David entrusted his life to the will of God and the Lord kept His anointed one safe. Thus, when David was in Keilah and Saul intended to capture him there, the Lord revealed to David that the residents of the city would hand him over to the king. Thus, David and his party left the city and went whithersoever they could go (1 Sam. 23:13). Having found refuge in the mountainous deserts of Ziph and Maon, devoid of any vegetation, on the western shore of the Dead Sea, David was nearly surrounded by the king’s army, but then Saul received the news of the Philistine raid and had to temporarily stop his pursuit... This is how the narration goes about the life of the righteous king David.
We as Christians have a great advantage: We know that men have a sure Advocate in this unsure world
There are so many wondrous words that the prophet David has left for us, filled with gratitude for the miraculous deliverance from adversity! His divinely inspired psalms are filled with great power; they are a powerful protection from anything evil, from wicked men and demons.
Blessed Theodoret writes about Psalm 90:
“This psalm teaches the invincibility of hope in God: Blessed David, in fact, perceived with spiritual eyes from a distance the situation of blessed Hezekiah, and seeing that placing his hope in God he overthrew the Assyrian army, he uttered this psalm to teach all people how great an abundance of good that trusting in God brings.”
God also protects those who pray while reading Psalm 26. The Venerable Ambrose of Optina wrote:
“You complain of fear of the enemy, which you had on some days, and that it begins in the evenings... When you feel such fear and an enemy attack, it would be useful for you to follow the example of the ancient fathers and repeat with your lips (so that only your ears would hear) the proper words of the psalms; for example: The Lord is my light and my savior, whom then I shall fear, and all of Psalm 26. Also: They compassed me about on every side: but in the name of the Lord I warded them off. They compassed me about like bees on a honeycomb, and burned even as a fire among the thorns, and in the name of the Lord I warded them off (Ps. 117:11–12). And more: Judge them, O Lord, that do me injustice; war against them that war against me… (Ps. 34) and so on. Also: O God, be attentive unto helping me; O Lord, make haste to help me… (Ps. 69) and the like. From your own experience you will see how great is the power of the divinely inspired words of the Psalms as they burn and chase off the enemies of your mind like a flame.”
St. Gabriel of Seven Lakes Monastery counseled to turn to the Most Holy Mother of God for help and protection:
“When anyone faces adversity, no matter what it may be, let him recite the prayer canon to the Mother of God, ‘Distressed by many temptations...’ And all temptations will pass.”
This is how a prayer filled with humble trust attracts heavenly help to us. There are many miraculous testimonies that hope in God and the help of His saints is never put to shame and always attracts invincible protection.
Here are some of them.
“He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High...”
A soldier’s story
“When the war began, I was drafted into the army, and after brief training I was sent to the front lines. During the first months of 1941 the Germans rapidly advanced, surrounding and destroying many Russian units. The same happened to our unit—it was surrounded and defeated. I and my comrade had to fight our way out of encirclement, walking only at night and resting during the day. So, one evening we entered a village that had no Germans and decided to spend the night there. At night, while my comrade and I were sleeping in one hut, the Germans surrounded the village. We could see from our window that a column of tanks was rumbling down the street, followed by motorcyclists, and the machine gunners with their dogs showing up last. It was too late for us to run, besides, there was no place to run, as the whole village was encircled.
The Germans checked every single house. Anyone who darted outside was immediately killed. If anyone fired a gun from behind the window, they’d burn the hut together with everyone who was inside. And what could you do with a rifle against a machine gun? Those who emerged with their hands up were taken out and driven away in trucks.
My comrade and I tried to hide in the hut under the bed, with me lying on the edge and my comrade hiding behind my back against the wall.
Feeling that I was about to perish I began to recall the prayers and pray; but out of fear I forgot all the prayers that my mother had taught me and could only remember the beginning: “He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High... He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High,” was all I could repeat to myself. When the Germans entered the hut and started the search, I continued to recite this prayer, “He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High...”
The Germans dragged out the man who was lying behind my back, but left me behind, as if I wasn’t there, like I was an empty space. They didn’t notice me at all
So what about the Germans? They came in, started to search everywhere. They looked under the bed and took out the one who was lying closer to the wall behind my back, but left me as if I wasn’t there, or as if I were a sack or some empty space. They didn’t notice me at all. They took my comrade outside and shot him in the yard.
Then, having combed the village, the Germans left. I lay there till night, repeating endlessly, “He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High...” and at night I left that village and went back to the forest. Then in the very first village with a church, I got myself a cross, put it on and stood inside for a while giving thanks to God for my salvation from sure death.
I got a Psalter from the faithful and copied the whole Psalm 90 “He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High.” Then I learned it by heart. I went through the whole war, read this prayer daily and came home alive.” 1
An admonition of an invincible admiral
The great Russian naval commander Fyodor Ushakov never suffered a single defeat during his entire naval career, the fleet he commanded never lost a single ship, and none of his sailors was ever captured. In October 2004, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church canonized F.F. Ushakov and glorified him among the saints as the holy righteous warrior Fyodor.
The legendary admiral, a pious and deeply religious man, dearly beloved by sailors as a kind-hearted and caring father, gave the following admonition to his sailors:
“As you go into battle, recite Psalms 26, 50, and 90, and neither bullet nor saber will ever harm you!”2
“And no bomb will ever tear you apart!”
“The elder greeted my wife and I with his characteristic joyful affection for us.
“Sit on the stool,” he said, hugging me, “sit right next to me.”
“What psalms do you recite?” he started by asking me. I was embarrassed—I usually didn’t recite any psalms during my truly short, truly worldly prayer rule; and it wasn’t even a rule, but a digest.
I replied “I know, ‘He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High...,” “Have mercy on me, O God…”
“Well, Batiushka, I read all the psalms, and although I don’t know them by heart, I know them all; but my prayer rule is quite short...”
The elder interrupted my self-justification:
“It’s not my aim to inquire how long your prayer rule is, but whether you also recite Psalm 26, “The Lord is my light [and my savior]”?
“No, Batiushka, I don’t.”
“Well, let me tell you something. You once told me that the enemy shoots his arrows at you. Don’t be afraid! Not a single one will touch you, and don’t be afraid of any nasty thing; it will remain nasty. But take my advice for a rule, make it a rule: Read both Psalms 26 and 90 in the morning and in the evening before your prayers. But before that, read the Great Salutation of the Archangel, “O Theotokos and Virgin, rejoice.”3 If you keep doing it, no fire will consume you, nor water ever drown you...”
At these words the elder got up from his chair, embraced me, and said, no, he almost shouted, melodiously and resonantly, with particular force:
“I’ll tell you more: Not even a bomb will tear you apart!” I kissed the hand of the elder that embraced me. And again, drawing very close to my ear, he exclaimed loudly one more time:
“Not even the bomb will tear you apart!”
At these words, the elder let us go in peace.”
Fr. John’s prophecy was precisely fulfilled during the Civil War. According to the recollections of M. V. Smirnova-Orlova, Elena Alexandrovna [Sergei Nilus’s wife] told her that one day, when she and her husband were under shellfire as they travelled in a carriage, a bomb exploded near them, but it didn’t hurt them at all.
A miracle in the Caucasus
In the 1960s under Khrushchev, the KGB with the assistance of the army would systematically comb the Caucasus Mountains and catch anyone hiding there, mostly monks, and send them to penal camps.
One officer, a Party member and the head of a large helicopter unit, had extensive experience of flying in the mountains—and to fly in the Caucasus Mountains requires great skill. He received the order to follow a group of monks. He reported on the monks from the air via radio and relayed all their movements, while the soldiers on the ground surrounded and forced them towards a craggy peak where they were supposed to be overtaken and arrested.
The chase after the monks had already continued for several days and it was drawing to a close. The monks had nowhere to go as they climbed to the very top of the mountain. The soldiers and their dogs trailed behind them, and a bottomless abyss gaped ahead. The officer’s helicopter hovered directly above the monks and the pilot announced to them that it was over for them. Suddenly, something odd began to happen below. All the monks fell to their knees at once and spent a long time in prayer. Then they stood up and walked to the edge of the abyss. “Will they really jump? It’s certain death! What? Have they decided to commit suicide?” thought the officer in frustration.
But then one of the monks made a large sign of the cross as if blessing the abyss and took the first step straight into the air!
But then one of the monks made a large sign of the cross, blessing the abyss, and took the first step… He didn’t fall, but slowly walked in the air, as if it was solid ground
He did not fall, but somehow, by some miracle, he slowly walked through the air as if along a path. Other monks stepped behind him and started walking through the air as well.
In this way they calmly and slowly followed one another upward, and soon disappeared into the clouds.
This made such a strong impression on the pilot that he even lost control of his helicopter and fell into the clearing where he was found and picked up by soldiers. A few months later, when he had recovered, he was summoned to a special police unit for an explanation. Instead of explanation, he placed his Communist party membership card on the table and asked to be transferred to the reserves. He received baptism later…
I was told this story in the church where this officer was a parishioner. I asked the people to point him out to me. He was standing in the back of the church leaning modestly against the wall and praying with concentration and reverence...4
“You will never encounter any misfortune”
Schema-Archimandrite Vitaly (Sidorenko) During the military activity in Tbilisi that accompanied the political upheaval at the turn of the 1990s, Schema-Archimandrite Vitaly (born Vitaly Nikolaevich Sidorenko) prayerfully followed the tragic events and offered his spiritual children a special rule as protection from danger.
He advised them to recite Psalms 26, 50, and 90 in the morning before leaving the house and to intersperse them with the prayer, “O Theotokos and Virgin, rejoice” in the beginning, in the middle and at the end.
He also added the following, as his spiritual children recalled:
“After that, even if a shell or a bullet explodes next to you, or a fire starts, you will never experience any misfortune.”
“Read Psalms 26, 50, 90, and the Lord and the Mother of God will bestow Their mercy upon you.”
Those who prayed this way later testified, “Whoever practiced it was saved along with his household.”5
“God never leaves your prayer unanswered”
From the memoirs of Zinaida Vladimirovna Zhdanova
“I was arrested on January 6, 1950. I was charged on article 58, “Church and monarchist group.” It was hard; I had to defend innocent souls. <...>
“Many miracles happened during the investigation... A hypnotist was invited to see me and I signed one protocol under his influence. It’s scary to reminisce about it. He kept demanding that I look into his eyes and said repeatedly: “You are guilty, you are guilty!” I felt like I was sliding into an abyss, wrapped in a cloud of some huge sense of guilt. When I was called to sign a copy of the protocol, I couldn’t believe it myself—I had lied about my brother, who had just returned from the war, and many other things. So, I crossed out my signature.
I knew it could happen again. I prayed and asked for help and then suddenly remembered: To protect myself against hypnosis, I should recite Psalm 90, “He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High...” There was a woman in my cell who knew this psalm by heart and I spent the whole day memorizing it.
The hypnotist lost his temper, he screamed and pressed his hands against my shoulders. Finally, he collapsed on the leather couch and muttered, “I can’t do anything with her”
At night, I was summoned again and the same man once again demanded that I look into his eyes. I looked without fear and recited the psalm. The hypnotist lost his temper, shouting so hard that the veins on his face and arms swelled from the tension. He pressed his hands against my shoulders. Finally, covered in sweat, he fell on the leather couch and muttered, “I can’t do anything with her.”
After that agonizing interrogation, I ended up lying on the floor in the investigator’s office... I slowly regained my consciousness. I felt like my eyelids were cast-iron heavy and I could barely hear any sounds. Apparently, they called for a doctor, as I felt a gentle hand on my head and heard the words, “What have you done to her?!” They must have given me an injection. They propped me up so that I could sit on a chair. Then two soldiers took me under their arms and dragged me down the hallway like a sheaf of hay. “It serves you right, rebel!” They threw me across the iron bed in a solitary cell and left me lying there with my head hanging off the edge of the bed. I had no strength to move, the blood rushed to my head, but I couldn’t even raise it to rest it on the bed. Only one prayerful plea kept running through my mind: “Help, help, O Lord!”
Then, I heard a stern voice, saying, “Remember, God is not mocked. God’s mercy always abides with men, and God never leaves any prayer unanswered.”
With difficulty, I lifted my head to rest on the edge of the bed and fell into a heavy sleep. I can’t remember how long I lay like that. After that, I endured many more terrible things while in prison and the camp.6
To be continued…