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Theories and practice of Orthodox translation


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#21 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 11:06 AM

Anthony wrote: But where do we look to for tradition in this case? English Orthodoxy as such hasn't been around long enough to have its own "tradition", and Orthodox tradition in general has little to say about English.

I think this is why we have to look to the tradition we have, though it was formed in the C of E, of course. Even so, TLE is the language English-speaking people have used to worship God for several centuries and so it has acquired a patina of meaning beyond dictionary definitions. KJV and BCP language in particular has had such a deep influence on the English language and culture generally (yet we are not even aware of it) and on literature especially. It seems to me to make sense to use this tradition rather than using contemporary language (however dignified - a leader in 'The Times' is also dignified) as the basis for starting from scratch. I say none of this out of any nostalgia - I was never a practising Christian before I became Orthodox. I am still much taken by Father Sophrony's enthusiasm for TLE which, as I've said, is persuasive enough for me. He thought that we should offer to God the best we have, and language modelled on English when it was at its finest and noblest is, I think many would say, the best we have.

The problem with music is even more acute, and we have to use another tradition entirely, usually that of the Russian Church, because there is no home-grown tradition we could use or adapt.

#22 Anthony

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 11:49 AM

Reading this last post, I am not sure that there is a big difference between us. When I talk of "modern English" I mean of course modern English with all the linguistic heritage that has made it what it is (or can be).

#23 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 03:36 PM

A further point occurs to me regarding translating the words of the services. I don't think that comprehensibility must be the first criterion because accuracy, style and function would then be sacrificed. Liturgical language cannot be reduced to the lowest denominator of understanding. The words must be the poetic vehicle for the spiritual meaning of the Liturgy. As I've suggested before, having a certain understanding of the words is not the same as understanding their meaning. Tradition has it that we need guidance and instruction, like the Ethiopian in Acts; Philip offered to explain what the Ethiopian was reading, not re-write it. Christ explained the meaning of the scriptures to Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. Bishop Eirenaios, when in Birmingham, would often pause at various places in the Liturgy to explain what he was saying and what was happening.

TLE is far closer to modern English than the Greek and Slavonic texts are to modern Greek and Russian. It has been said that there is a pastoral argument which runs that young Cypriots would not understand TLE. That cannot be right for they go to school and have lessons in English literature like all other young people. The texts of Shakespeare's plays are harder than the Liturgy in TLE, and these poetic forms were used right up to the time of Tennyson, Longfellow and Kipling.

Words and phrases have resonances and layers of meaning acquired over long usage. How often would the text be changed to fit the understanding of any given generation? How could a changing text ever become part of Tradition like the Greek and Slavonic texts? At a totally different level, when we hear, 'Once upon a time . . . ' we are taken to the realm of tales, and our minds immediately adopt a certain mode of receptivity. At the level of the Liturgy, does not something similar happen if we hear certain forms of words? In the same way, when I see an icon, I recognise it as an icon, even if I do not know what saint is depicted until I look at it more closely.

For me, language should facilitate the 'being taken up to heaven' the Cypriot priest spoke of, and modern-style English doesn't do it for me.

Sorry to ramble on!

#24 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 04:01 PM

1 Corinthians 14:14-19 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Once upon a time, when I was visiting a parish that worshipped in Slavonic, I was in a discussion with a particular individual on the importance of keeping a "holy language". His explanation was something to this effect: "Modern Russian and English are the languages that we lie and curse in, so we need a different language for Church to worship God".

I have often heard in Orthodox circles of unfortunate tendencies in "western" outlooks that built a gnostic false dichotomy between the "spiritual" and the "material" and that Orthodoxy makes no such distinction.

I wonder. Particularly when I run across so many people, baptized Orthodox as infants, who attend their churches regularly, and yet are amazed when they learn what the Orthodox Church actually teaches, because they have no idea what they have been praying all their lives. And I am talking about native Greeks and Russians who have very little comprehension of the Koine or Slavonic. And we want to do something similar with our English translations?

Language is a tool. You and I express ourselves every day in modern English. Our Lord spoke in the languages of the people. There is nothing wrong with worshipping Him in the language of the people, especially if we are to take the Apostle Paul above seriously. I do not think we need to "dumb down" anything, this is a red herring. The danger is that we create an artificial separation between the Church and the world, in that we leave "Church" in the building and forget to take it with us as we leave the Liturgy. We can now go and lie and cheat and curse because we are now outside the Church and back in the world, spiritual schizophrenia.

We are to pray with understanding, says the Apostle Paul. How many people out there actually know what "vouchsafe" means? I know of many who do not. What good are sonorous words if people simply like the sounds but do not get the meaning?

Sorry, but this bear of little brain has little use for "holy" languages.

#25 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 04:24 PM

I take 'vouchsafe' to mean 'to warrant, to guarantee'.

Herman raises a very important point I think. Do we/should we separate church from the world? Do we go to be taken up to heaven, or - what? I don't think there is a parallel between English and Russians/Greeks for the reason I mentioned. If we want everyday simplicity, why have Epistles and Gospels chanted in a monotone? Why have priests wearing funny outfits based on what a well-dressed Roman gentleman would have worn? Why do bishops - especially non-Greek bishops - wear crowns when they were only used after the Ottoman occupation of Greece to symbolise their replacing the emperor? Why have weird architecture that couldn't be built shown in icons?

I once mentioned that quote from St Paul, about using few easily-understood words, to Bishop Eirenaios, who replied, 'well, St Paul could have set an example in his own letters!'

Of course, I disagree with Herman on this but we'll keep calm: I don't want to get Matthew stuck with another 84 PMs!

#26 John Charmley

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 04:43 PM

Dear Andreas,

Of course, I disagree with Herman on this but we'll keep calm: I don't want to get Matthew stuck with another 84 PMs!


I am sure that Matthew will be relieved!

Keeping calm, I must say that I tend to agree with you, whilst sympathising with the thrust of Herman's point about comprehensibility; but this last, in our society in the west, is easily conflated with instant accessibility. The fact is there are some things we have to work at (like humility and repentance) and which require us to get out of our workaday mindset.

I remember when I was a small boy wondering why, on Sunday, my mother worse clothes she never wore on any other day; the boy being the child of the man, I of course asked her why she did this. Her response was 'because Church is a special place and I am dressing up for God to show how much I love His house; it's like when we go to see your grandma.' That is how I feel about liturgical language.

Much though I agree with Herman about comprehensibility, I get leery with where this argument has led in the Anglican communion. At Truro Cathedral they did an 'Elvis Evensong' because they thought that it might be 'more relevant'. I felt both offended at the idea, and offended by my own Pharisaical reaction.

May be, like dress in Church, we just need to remember to be respectful to one another, and to God. For me, the language we use in the Liturgy of St. James does exactly what Andreas says about lifting me up; but if it were a stumbling block to others - how do I react then?

In Christ,

John

#27 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 05:10 PM

We can use "modern" English without resorting to clown masses. We can be relevant without condescending to Rap. We can dress nicely and respectfully in modern clothing and do not need to deport ourselves in "olde world" garb. I have seen some rather nice looking vestments that had a rather modern feel to them while retaining the traditional forms.

Then again, I am the accidental member of a diocese that is looked down upon in some circles. We are not a thee/thou diocese and our prayers and liturgical materials tend to be more everyday than Elizabethan. I personally have no problem with that, although I think some of the translations could have been done much better. Psalm 104:26 translated as: "There go the ships and the great beast You made to play with" doesn't quite capture it for me, I must admit.

But in the final analysis, consistant guidelines, whatever they may be, would be a welcome thing regardless. I have lost count of how many different ways I have learned to say Psalm 50/51, depending on which translation was used for the particular service in question.

#28 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 07:12 PM

I was just telling Lydia about all this over our bowls of borsh. I asked her how she learned Church Slavonic. 'Very western!', she said (as she often does!). She said, she didn't 'learn' it; neither did her brother or parents. 'It's a sacred language. Mystical. We went to church, listened and read the prayers. This language expresses theology in ways modern Russian is incapable of doing. You absorb the language in a spritual way, and gain more of it as you get closer to God. My mother understood nothing at first. Now she follows it.'

It's ironic that there is no movement in Russia for the use of modern Russian, even though Church Slavonic is so different. I think it's the same in Greece and Cyprus. Our problem is that even TLE is not a sacred language like Church Greek and Church Slavonic. Is Latin? Presumably, services in England before the Schism were in Latin.

#29 John Charmley

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 09:59 PM

Dear Andreas,

Yes, services in England before, and after 1054 were in Latin.

We are simply extremely fortunate in England in having a translation of the Bible made at a time when Shakespeare was writing and when the language was at its most flexible and dynamic; the Church of England chose to throw that away as part of its search for relevance - and by their fruits shall ye know them.

Of course Herman is right, you don't have to go all the way to the rap mass - it is just that that is where it has a tendency to end up, which is why some of us dislike taking the first steps. Maybe it is different in the US and Canada and Australia, but for those of us who have seen what has happened to the Anglican Church in the last half century, buttons get pressed by this sort of thing; please forgive any asperity in tone - it is memories of old battles lost.

I can remember at College being told by my chaplain that it was necessary to be where 'you young people are at'; I was 'at' another Church the next Sunday. Of course, in principle, there is nothing wrong with using 'modern' language, but who defines modern? Where is the stopping point before you get to 'inclusive' language? That is what I like about the Vatican document - it provides an answer to that question - and one which we can all learn from.

In Christ,

John

#30 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 08 June 2007 - 11:06 PM

No doubt things have been going downhill ever since they had the audacity to translate Holy Scripture into Slavonic. After all, so the reasoning went, the only FIT languages were the languages of the Cross: Latin, Greek and Hebrew. But He is God of the living, not the dead languages.

#31 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 June 2007 - 10:53 AM

Except that Church Slavonic became a sacred language and a part of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church because it was unchanging. In my experience (as one who doesn't know much more than Gospodi pamilui) of going to church in Russia, God, His flock of Svetaya Rus and their language of worship are alive and well.

I remember asking my late first wife if she wouldn't like to learn the Liturgy in Greek. She said, no. At the monastery, when parts of services were in Greek, or Slavonic, she said she absorbed the spirit of the service; the sounds of the language, the icons, the frescoes, the movement of the clergy, the censings, all these were parts of a total experience of worshipping in spirit. But, in her deep simplicity, she was far, far ahead of me. Her experience of God went beyond words.

Addendum
I'm not very quick-thinking but I wonder, Herman, if you can really mean it when you say, 'He is the God of the living, not the dead languages'? Many millions of Orthodox worship using Church Greek and Church Slavonic. (In her private prayers my wife uses Church Slavonic.) So these are not dead languages but very much alive, and God is most definitely in them. I'm sure you can't have meant that the languages of the two great Orthodox traditions are dead and that God is not in them. (There is nothing dead, either, about the Divine Liturgy at the monastery here in Essex, using the English which Father Sophrony loved.) All aspects of Orthodox Tradition are sacred which is why we shouldn't muck about with them.

#32 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 09 June 2007 - 03:38 PM

God is everywhere, even in modern English.

#33 Nina

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Posted 09 June 2007 - 06:11 PM

I love languages. I am a linguaphile and can not consider any languages as dead. I grew up thinking of English as an extremely cool and sophisticated one. Just listening to a broadcast the voice of a man from USA speaking in English I dreamed learning the language since I was a kid, because I was very attracted to the sound of it. When finally I started learning it, I found it even more relaxed and so easy to learn with its uncomplicated grammar and rules. Oh, it made me feel like English facilitated it even more to fall in love again with it!

On the other side when I learned some Hebrew (I remember not so much now), I marveled at the richness and the history behind all the words. Semantics in Old Testament Hebrew are mini-encyclopedias. One word can have a book written about it! So fertile linguistically! Love it and can never accept that it is a dead language! It is not only alive but without it there can not be an OT.

Latin is another love of mine and although I have more affinity to Italian, we all know that Latin is the root of all Romance languages (which are very much alive from Italian and Spanish down to Romanian). It all boils down to tradition (even in linguistics!).

And here we come to Greek. I will not advocate about Greek (and definitely will not start an apology, or praise starting with the word etymology itself, or with the New Testament) because it is in my blood; because it is a language that my grandparents spoke and a language that (along with English and other western languages) was forbidden to be conveyed to us because of some sick, xenophobic, tyrannic mindset. We grew up deprived from our language and from our religion/tradition. However since it is in blood and because God willed it, I speak it (and I kind of am alive) and anything that even resembles that dark period of regress and dictatorship makes me appreciate my freedom today and protect it even more. I do not take for granted my present freedom for learning languages and appreciating them all. Not that I notice such a thing here, but I wished to share my experience for those blessed and fortunate enough to be born, and raised, and lived all their life in freedom.

Let's remember that a condition for prayers to reach the ear of God is not the language. That is just a tool. Our hearts and deeds are what make our prayer acceptable, or not before Him. I never ever read an Orthodox Father who said: "If you pray to God in Zulu, He will not hear your prayer!" But of course our Fathers are Saints and their mind and heart are open and wide to encompass all diversity. That is why their love, that gave them their status: Saints and God-like.

Strangely enough there are similar attitudes in other areas of life also.

I was reading an interview the other day "Language in the Culture of Opera" from Will Berger. He is the author of the book "Puccini Without Excuses" and has worked for the Met. Opera of NYC. Not only his thoughts are fascinating and so interesting but I marveled at the openness of mind he exhibits. I would love to provide a link to the interview on line, however it is available only for subscribers from visualthesaurus.com.

However here is a bit of quotation from Will Berger:

"Just like baseball or NASCAR, opera has a language that you need to know to get anywhere with it. It happens to be a very complex language because it has so many different roots. But most of the lexicon of opera that you need, whether you're a carpenter in an opera house or someone attending a performance, comes from Italian. Actually, there's a lot of Italian in all music. You can talk to a punk musician and eventually you're going to come across some Italian words. There are grammatical reasons for that, it's not just a coincidence."

This interview made me think about tradition, languages etc. in Orthodoxy. It is wondrous to witness people that exhibit such an openness in their profession and do I dare say that we in the Orthodox milieu maybe should learn from this openness and apply it in our way of life (Orthodoxy), if we are unable to/can not learn from the openness and love of our Saints.

#34 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 June 2007 - 06:26 PM

God is everywhere, even in modern English.


Of course. I posted as I did because of the implication that He was not the God of the 'dead languages' of Church Greek and Slavonic.

#35 John Charmley

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Posted 09 June 2007 - 10:20 PM

I believe that the view that God's word is confined to any particular language or culture was called pyhletism at a synod in Constantinople in 1872.

God speaks to us through the Orthodox Church in whatever language is most appropriate - as the Apostles decided at the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15.

No language in which God speaks to us is dead.

In Christ,

John

#36 Nina

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Posted 10 June 2007 - 04:13 AM

I believe that the view that God's word is confined to any particular language or culture was called pyhletism at a synod in Constantinople in 1872.

In Christ,

John


Yes John, and I agree with this post of yours, and I would like to add that phyletism is not only extremely narrow and parochial, but most importantly it is anti-Orthodox. Orthodoxy is universal with diverse realities and races coexisting in it; same as in Heaven where all people regardless of race, culture and language (these notions are so fleeting that will not exist but only serve to us now as points of reference, or conventional signs) will participate in the glory of God.

We humbly must accept what God chose and willed for each nation (for instance OT written in Hebrew). After all it is His will to do what He pleases with His creation and we do not have to discuss it (um, who do we think we are?). Additionally, we can not disparage, or demean the grace God chose to give to his nations. All was and is done for His glory. We are nothing without Him. God can choose anything to proclaim His glory. He chose a donkey (in OT) to speak in defense of his chosen people (Hebrews) to the sorcerer trying to curse them.

When I hear some belittling some others in Orthodoxy, it reminds me of certain females that as soon as they see another female, whom they envy, they start badmouthing (lightly, or more severely) her. One can not elevate one's self, or background by belittling others; even in society's terms that is considered appalling. In Orthodoxy we should belittle ourselves and remember that only God elevates. There is no need to feel envious, or proud of anything, since all and everything is of God and according to His will and grace life follows a certain course. No person, or nation has achieved anything because all glory belongs to God and everything happens through His grace. We are nothing!

In the meantime -because of the obvious reason of being humans and because of our fallen nature- if we ever feel some inferiority of any kind, why not work to achieve spiritual heights unreached before for the glory of God and set an unprecedented spiritual example for the rest of the world to follow.

#37 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 10 June 2007 - 10:51 PM

Dear John,

It would be interesting to know more about this Synod of 1872. Yet it remains the case, of course, that in Russia and the other Slav countries and in the Greek Orthodox Churches, it is forbidden to use modern Russian and Greek respectively. So far as English is concerned, as we know, there is no uniformity of usage. It goes without saying that no one form of English makes the Divine Liturgy any more 'effective' than another. The Liturgy is always the Liturgy. The debate is about which form of English best serves the purposes of the Liturgy.

There is a view that because modern English has become the international language of business and technology, it will be the language of the Antichrist, and for that reason it should not be used in church. I don't say I go along with this - I merely mention it.

#38 Peter Farrington

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Posted 11 June 2007 - 08:26 AM

There is a view that because modern English has become the international language of business and technology, it will be the language of the Antichrist, and for that reason it should not be used in church. I don't say I go along with this - I merely mention it.


I find that a rather fearful approach to the world, and was it not the case the Koine Greek was the language of commerce and could easily have been understood as the possible language of the anti-Christ. It would be the sort of position which some members of my old Plymouth Brethren assembly might take, as they also tended to want to retreat FROM the world, rather than bear witness TO it.

On the issue of TLE I agree with you Andreas. My only concern is with mission, but I have taken the view that there is no need for evangelistic and educational materials not to be in good modern English, and therefore for non-Orthodox to come to some understanding of what Orthodoxy is about through such materials. (Of course that is an rational and external appreciation only).

And there are a great many spiritual works which are also in good modern English and therefore comprehensible to all - as far as the words themselves go I mean.

When it comes to liturgical prayer, both in public and private, my own British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate has very clear guidelines about the language to be used, and of course all texts are approved by our bishop before use. We consistently use TLE.

There is an issue with ethnic Coptic Orthodox who are now living in the West and in Anglophone countries. They do find it harder to adopt TLE and tend to go for a more modern liturgical language along the lines of Herman. That seems fine as far as I can see because they have no tradition of using TLE, but I do, as an Englishman, and TLE does seem to me to say something different in our own liturgy than a modern language would.

I'm not dogmatic on that and would not condemn or criticise any other approach. As I say, the Coptic Orthodox in the US for instance are standardising on a modern language English liturgy.

We have found that many of the ethnic Orthodox who worship with us, from a variety of backgrounds can still comprehend our own TLE, in fact many appreciate being able to fully comprehend the liturgy for the first time. But I am English and am doing mission in English, so I wonder if that is why I believe that TLE is more appropriate. I do find a certain poetry in TLE, which can be manifest in M(odern)LE, but is not always there, is not often there.

We all pray Psalm 50(51) and there is a great difference between, for instance...

You are kind, God! Please have pity on me. You are always merciful! Please wipe away my sins.

and

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

But that doesn't mean that a MLE version could not be just as poetic.

Doing English elsewhere, especially as a second language may well require another approach. And this is only my preference. I guess I am fortunate that it is my bishop's preference as well. :-)

Peter

#39 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 11 June 2007 - 08:56 AM

Dear Peter,

You are exactly right about mission. Of course, many materials should be in good plain, modern English. Lydia tells me that the writings of St Theophan the Recluse are hard to read for the average Russian because of the high-flown 19th cent. literary style he used. His works are far easier to read in English translation. Some Greeks in England read Father Sophrony's books in English because the style of Greek which Father Zacharias used in his translations is hard for some. I tend to read the New Testament in the Orthodox Study Bible (but not the Psalms). And TLE materials are not always of the best. The HTM edition of the LXX Psalter is good because it is from the LXX. But even though it draws partly on Coverdale's psalms in the BCP, it sometimes tries too hard. Thus in Psalm 5, HTM has 'Unto my words give ear, O Lord' which is better rendered in the KJV as 'Give ear to my words, O Lord'. HTM has, 'for not a God that willest iniquity art Thou' which gives an unhappy floating quality to 'art Thou' at the end. I prefer, 'for thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness' from the KJV. But I find Psalm 50 in the HTM LXX version very fine. A good test is how easily one memorises a text.

Last year, I took my then head of department (an Anglican) to the Liturgy at Tolleshunt Knights. He found it 'overwhelming'.

#40 Peter Farrington

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Posted 11 June 2007 - 09:11 AM

Dear Andreas

I agree very much about the variable quality of TLE materials, and I think that we are agreed that it is not the adding of a few Thee's and Thou's which produces the quality of text which I think we are both commending.

I have republished quite a few 19th century theological texts, and some of them require very careful study because the translation is into rather poor TLE, rather than that the original text was itself dense. On the other hand I have some very fine 19th century translations into TLE which give me a very good sense that I am engaging with the text, and indeed with the author.

I think you are right that a good text, and I guess this is so in MLE and TLE, should be memorable, and I wonder if this is the poetic quality of a good text in any sort of English. I wonder also if this is why there is a deficiency in those texts which are produced by a committee?

Peter




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