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Lenten prayer of St Ephraim - Differences between Greek and Slavonic versions

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#1 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 02:29 PM

There are broadly two English versions of this prayer. The main difference between them is in the first petition. One is:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, curiosity, ambition, and idle talk give me not.

The other is:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me a spirit of idleness, curiosity, ambition, and idle talk.

The key difference is between 'give me not' and 'take from me'. Two very different meanings. The first is an accurate rendering of the Greek. I don't know where the second came from. First, why would our Lord and Master give us these faults so that we ask Him not to give them to us. Secondly, why does anyone use the second form, even though it's easier to comprehend?

#2 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 03:29 PM

Dear Andreas,

A good question! You are quite right that 'take from me' is not an accurate reflection of the Greek, which reads:

Κύριε καὶ Δέσποτα τῆς ζωῆς μου, πνεῦμα ἀργίας, περιεργίας, φιλαρχίας, καὶ ἀργολογίας μή μοι δῷς.

The injunction at the end (μή μοι δῷς) is clearly 'do not give me', rather than 'take from me'. However, the practice of forcing the word order of the Greek into English, to render this:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, curiosity, ambition, and idle talk give me not.

seems unfortunate. This is poor English; as English, unlike Greek (and especially patristic Greek), does not reserve the cardinal verb of a phrase to the end of the sentence (and to be honest, I've not heard this particular phrasing widely used). A better translation of the petition would be:

O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not a spirit of idleness, curiosity, ambition, and idle talk.

Personally, I prefer translating φιλαρχίας somewhat more literally, as 'lust for power'; but 'ambition' certainly can work.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#3 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 03:44 PM

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, curiosity, ambition, and idle talk give me not.

seems unfortunate. This is poor English; as English, unlike Greek (and especially patristic Greek), does not reserve the cardinal verb of a phrase to the end of the sentence (and to be honest, I've not heard this particular phrasing widely used).


Such is the word order in two widely-used prayer books, HTM Jordanville and HTM Boston.

A better translation of the petition would be:
O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not a spirit of idleness, curiosity, ambition, and idle talk.


I agree.

φιλαρχίας

I suppose literally, it means 'love of first place' or 'primacy' - ambition works for me. This word has resonances for me of the apostles arguing about who will be greatest and Christ giving all of them the example of service by His washing their feet.

But why do we petition our Lord not to give or grant us these failings? Why would He?

#4 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 03:55 PM

Dear Andreas and others,

Further on the origin of the variation between 'give me not' and 'take from me'. This appears to have its foundations in the difference between the Greek and Slavonic forms of the prayer. The Greek, at which we've been looking, has μή μοι δῷς ('give me not', or 'do not give me'); but the old (pre-Nikonian) Slavonic has ωтжεни ωт мεнε, which literally means 'take [away] from me'. With this Old Slavonic, the petition in translation is:

"O Lord and Master of my life, take from me a spirit of sloth, idle curiosity / despondency, ambition, and idle talk."

This remains the Slavonic form in later editions (though in updated orthography: e.g. the Kievan priest's service book of the early17th-century: ѿжεни ѿ мεнε). Variation in the Slavonic comes with the Nikonian editions. Patriarch Nikon's wish was to bring Slavonic editions of prayers into conformity with the Greek service books, and as part of this the Lenten prayer was altered. The first petition in this edition now concluded не даждь ми,an exact translation of the Greek 'give me not' / 'do not give [to] me'.

This change in the Slavonic of the prayer, which occured in the middle of the 17th century, became the standard; it is now the version used by most Russian Orthodox and Slavonic-speaking Churches.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

Edited by M.C. Steenberg, 20 March 2008 - 04:16 PM.


#5 Nina

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 03:56 PM

I like the translation of Fr. Matthew also.

But why do we petition our Lord not to give or grant us these failings? Why would He?


Andreas, from the Fathers I have read, in general they always say that God does not give us temptation. However He allows and gives permission to the evil one to tempt us - think Job's story. Therefore through such words in prayers we ask God to not permit temptation for us.

#6 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:04 PM

So, it's like the petition in the Lord's prayer, 'lead us not into temptation'?

#7 Nina

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:08 PM

So, it's like the petition in the Lord's prayer, 'lead us not into temptation'?


Yeah. Actually I am just reading that part of explanation of Lord's Prayer from Saint Nicodemos Agioritis (of Mount Athos). Beautiful.

#8 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:10 PM

I've never really found a thoroughly acceptable explanation for that petition.

#9 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:10 PM

A few additional interesting variations between the old Slavonic form of the prayer, and the Greek:

In terms of what the first petition asks God not to give (in the Greek) or take away (in the old Slavonic), the Greek has περιέργια, which is probably best translated as 'idle / wandering curiosity', though could also be 'meddling'. The Slavonic, however, reads оунынїѧ, which is 'despondency' or 'faintness of heart / faintheartedness'. Many liturgists and and historians have noted that this Slavonic word corresponds to ακηδία in Greek -- a key vice in monastic ascesis, that likely reflects accurately the thought of someone like St Ephraim. Hence a great deal of speculation as to whether this older Slavonic might represent an older, and perhaps more accurate, tradition of the text.

Going back to translations, the one Andreas provided earlier (as found in two English prayer books), was:

'O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, curiosity, ambition, and idle talk give me not.'

Having now looked at this a bit more closely, it seems inaccurate as well as stylistically problematic (the stylistic issue of putting 'give me not' at the end has already been addressed). The inaccuracy is in the translation's apparent failure to account for the word ἀργίας (part of πνεῦμα ἀργίας), meaning 'spirit of sloth'. It jumps directly to the next term, περιέργια ('idle curiosity') and splits it apart into 'idleness' (which I suppose could be related to sloth, but isn't in fact the same thing) and 'curiosity'. A more accurate reading would be:

'O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth, idle curiosity, ambition[/lust for power], and idle talk.'

That's of the Greek. Of the old Slavonic, a translation would be:

'O Lord and Master of my life, take from me a spirit of despondency, carelessness, ambition [/lust for power], and idle talk.'

INXC, Dcn Matthew

Edited by M.C. Steenberg, 21 March 2008 - 12:26 PM.
Slavonic correction


#10 Nina

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:12 PM

I've never really found a thoroughly acceptable explanation for that petition.


Andreas. Can you elaborate please?

#11 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:16 PM

From passages in prayers and in the NT my wife has read to me, it seems that there are a number of variations from the Greek - despite the efforts of Patriarch Nikon. I remember venerating the relics of St Maxim Grek at the Holy Trinity St Sergius Lavra, and feeling so sad for him that he suffered so much for trying to correct mistakes.

#12 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:38 PM

Nina Quotation:
Originally Posted by Andreas Moran
I've never really found a thoroughly acceptable explanation for that petition.

Andreas. Can you elaborate please?


I've not found a fully satisfactory explanation of why our Father would lead us into temptation. I know 'peirasmon' can mean test or trial, the early 17th century meaning of 'temptation'. So we pray not to be led into testing which, I suppose the implication is, would be too much for us. But we are told elsewhere that God will not test us beyond our endurance, and that there is no salvation without tribulation. So, I've never been clear for what I'm praying. 'But deliver us from the evil one' seems coupled with this petition; on its own, it makes obvious sense, but how it links with 'lead us not into temptation' I don't undertsand. But then I don't know what I'm praying about much of the time anyway. I mean - we're supposed to accept God's will but we pray all the time in all prayers and services for things to be as we would like them to be. Is there anything to say to God other than 'have mercy upon me a sinner'?

#13 Kris

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:50 PM

I've not found a fully satisfactory explanation of why our Father would lead us into temptation. I know 'peirasmon' can mean test or trial, the early 17th century meaning of 'temptation'. So we pray not to be led into testing which, I suppose the implication is, would be too much for us. But we are told elsewhere that God will not test us beyond our endurance, and that there is no salvation without tribulation. So, I've never been clear for what I'm praying.


"The aorist active subjunctive of είσφέρω (bring into) is what some grammarians call a "permissive imperative." The idea of the verse then is, "Do not allow us to be brought into temptation." The aorist tense of the subjunctive mood and the negative particle μή were used rather than the imperative mood (the mood for positive commands). The force of the subjunctive mood here prohibits an action from ever beginning, though it is still the mood of contingency." - Orthodox New Testament: vol. 1, p.90.

#14 Antonios

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:52 PM

Dear Andres,

My understanding is that we ask not to be led into temptation because we confess how wretched and weak we are without His grace. It is sort of a confession of our reliance on Him, and Him alone.

In Christ,
Antonios

#15 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 05:04 PM

Dear Kris and Antonios,

Many thanks for these helpful posts.

#16 Nina

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 05:12 PM

Andreas,

There is an excerpt on line from Explanation of the Lord's Prayer by Saint Nikodemos.

#17 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 05:18 PM

Nina Andreas,

There is an excerpt on line from Explanation of the Lord's Prayer by Saint Nikodemos.


I must pray to the utmost that I do not ever suffer torture for I'm sure I could not 'bravely resist'!

#18 Nina

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 05:26 PM

I must pray to the utmost that I do not ever suffer torture for I'm sure I could not 'bravely resist'!


Maybe you are just being overly harsh with yourself. In case you are not: that is why we have saints who did not bravely resist and saints who did bravely resist. At the end they are all saints. God helps us all achieve theosis despite our weaknesses.

Edited by Nina, 20 March 2008 - 05:51 PM.


#19 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 21 March 2008 - 07:42 AM

I've never really found a thoroughly acceptable explanation for that petition.


"Lead us not into temptation"

This is something that I also frequently think about and cannot properly understand, although Nina and Antonios' explanation is right according to what I have also read.

I am not an authority but I have a question concerning the Greek and Slav versions of "give me not" and "take from me".

Doesn't the Greek version predate the Slav version? " The Glagolitic alphabet or Glagolitsa is the oldest known Slavic alphabet. It was created by brothers Saint Cyril (827-869 AD) and Saint Methodius (826-885 AD) in 855 or around 862–863 in order to translate the Bible and other texts into Slavic."

I know that two Greek saints from Thessaloniki created the Slav alphabet, so is it correct to accept the Slav version and not the Greek? I am obviously displaying my ignorance here but I feel that it is something I need to know.

This prayer is one that I use daily during Lent. It should be done with metanoies after each verse. This way we involve our bodies and are reminded of the effort needed to purify ourselves both mentally and physically.

#20 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 21 March 2008 - 09:05 AM

This prayer is one that I use daily during Lent.


I assumed everybody did: not weekends, of course. My metanias are not elegant these days as I get older, bigger, and stiffer in the joints. Maybe I just ought to do them more often!




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