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Booklet: 'Study of English Orthodox theological terms compared to the original Greek'


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#1 Antonios

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Posted 23 March 2008 - 11:06 PM

A resource for those who may be interested by the Holy Monastery of St. Gregoriou, Mount Athos.

link

#2 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 24 March 2008 - 06:06 AM

A resource for those who may be interested by the Holy Monastery of St. Gregoriou, Mount Athos.

link


Thank you so much for this link, Antoni. Translating texts, especially religious texts, is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do given the fact that you must translate not the word but the meaning behind the word as it was meant by the original writer.

Effie

#3 Michael Stickles

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 07:03 PM

My thanks also, Antonios. Just a first glance has been a big help clearing up some misunderstandings I've had (especially about nous); can't wait to look it over more thoroughly.

Mike

#4 Eric Peterson

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 07:24 PM

I read part of the introduction, and from what I read, I did not determine that they were actually arguing for translating Greek theological terms, but leaving them in Greek. I find this to be most unhelpful. Explain the terms used, but translate them, for pitty's sake. I find the movement not to translate Greek theological terms a symptom of a larger problem. It seems to me that these people are not interested in making Orthodoxy accessible. There are several monasteries in America, for example, that use only Greek. By this, they have made it pretty clear who they wish to serve. Who but a few non-Greek speaking seekers will benefit, to say nothing of the thousands of Orthodox in America who have always worshipped in English. It's Hellenocentrism.

#5 Nina

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 08:36 PM

Eric, in several threads lately the issue of impossibility sometime to loyally render the meaning of Greek words (or words from other languages for that matter) in English has become apparent. As we know Orthodoxy is inclusive and has been pronounced in many languages and especially English. There is so much Orthodox info available in English that even yesterday we were discussing with Fr. Dcn. Matthew, (in the thread of the work of St. Innocent), about the abundant material that is accessible to all and sometime there is not even caution, or discernment, or guidance involved when using Orthodox material because it can be premature for many who are still babies in faith.

I am not happy to read your statement about Hellenocentrism and how you tie that to the monasteries who have services in Greek. How can you talk this way for this tradition of Orthodoxy when you pleaded people with tears in your eyes to be nice to WR in the other thread? Maybe I can't get it.

I do not know why I see so much divisivness and hatred lately here: East versus West, Latin versus Byzantine, Hellenocentrism versus Americancentrism. Can't we as Orthodox leave aside secular terms and terms of the world? Can't we put things of the world to rest when we think about Orthodoxy? Can't we all be good to each other and play nice? There are many monasteries in USA and whatever language they use it will be and may it be for the glory of God.

Plus didn't God tell always to welcome strangers? Let's say I am a stranger here in your country and I need the worship my own way. America is that great to accommodate all!

I think it is time to say also what St. Kosmas Aetolos, Geronda Paisios told us.

#6 Eric Peterson

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 09:01 PM

It appears my mouth must stretch further to accommodate my foot.

It just seemed to me that the article implied that English was not suitable. And, to me, it seems that some monasteries and churches in America believe the same. Now, I realize that there are still people coming to America from other countries and that many have a strong attachment to the language of their heritage. I accept that. That's well and good. But this article appeared to me to attack English, by advocating leaving Greek theological words as-is and not translating them. Maybe the writers go on to explain something different, but that is the message I received from the introduction. And that is the unstated message I receive as an English-speaking Orthodox visiting an American monastery. Many American Orthodox people (with no recent or relatively recent overseas Orthodox heritage) have the same feeling when visiting ethnic Orthodox churches and monasteries. Language becomes a barrier not just for communication but for the worship of God.

#7 Matthew Namee

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 09:30 PM

If I may...

On a visit to Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery in Texas (one of the Elder Ephrem monasteries), I asked the abbot, Fr. Dositheos, whether the monastery might eventually introduce English into the services. He said he did not think so. Why, I asked? Because of the inherent flaws in the English language, he replied. English didn't have the precision of Greek; it is not good for theological terms. And so forth.

To me, this is not an acceptable answer. If he were to say, "Well, gradually, as the monks and visitors become more proficient in English than in Greek, we might introduce English," that would be okay. But he's saying that English is inferior to Greek, and therefore Greek should be the language. It is this attitude, I think, to which Eric is responding. We Orthodox have a long tradition of worship in the language of the people. As early as St. Paul (and even before, with the translators of the Septuagint), the Church has a tradition of using the language of those to whom it is ministering. This tradition can be seen in such great saints as Boris and Gleb and Innocent of Alaska (among many others).

If these monasteries are filled with Greek-speaking monks and are visited by Greek-speaking faithful, then by all means they should use Greek. But if the monks are Americans, or the visitors understand only English and not Greek, then they should correspondingly use English. No, English is not as precise as Greek; neither is Slavonic or Arabic, but those have long traditions. Indeed, the Gospels were written in Greek despite the fact that the Lord spoke Aramaic. Would not the Aramaic better convey what he had to say? Yet the Empire spoke Greek, so the Gospels were written in Greek.

There is nothing inherently "holy" about Greek. It has an impressive pedigree, and it is unusually well-suited to theology. But for the sake of mission, even it has given way in many places and times to local languages. It is NOTHING against Greek or Greeks! It is a question of whether the people understand; this is my only concern. I do not understand Greek, and my experience when visiting such monasteries is hampered by that. Should I be punished for my lack of linguistic ability? Or should there be a middle ground, an attempt to meet the needs of the people? As the generations pass and the immigrants' children and grandchildren are further and further from the old country, the language will naturally become more and more obsolete. To resist this would create an unfortunate disconnect between the faithful and the Church.

#8 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 10:15 PM

I do think there is a real question behind the issue of terminology. The simple fact of the matter is that English is a relatively 'new' language in terms of its usage in Christian doctrinal expression, which for the bulk of its history (at least in an Orthodox context) has employed Greek as its principal lingua sacra. This is, of itself, not to assign some precedence to Hellenism, but simply to admit a fact of history. And as an effect of this history, certain terms central to theological expression have had the advantage of centuries of exposition, reflection, nuance and definition in an Orthodox context. A few examples are nous, hypostasis, ousia, physis. I don't believe many would suggest that it is not possible to translate such terms into English; the question is whether such translations have the innate ability to convey a meaning implied in a term that has been thoroughly 'Christianised' in the Greek-language expression of doctrine, in a language where the translated term does not.

Nous is an excellent example. How should this be translated into English? The editors of the Philokalia in English used 'intellect', but were immediately criticised. In English, the 'organ' one would most immediately associate with the term 'intellect' is the brain, the centre of rationality; but in the ascetical writings of the fathers, the 'organ' always associated with the nous is not the brain, but the heart. This is a critical difference. If the Greek term nous is used in the Church's spiritual writings to reflect to the activity of the heart, is a translation into the English 'intellect' really transmitting the same sense? Does not 'intellect' have the potential, given the term's meaning in common English usage, in fact to paint a rather different image of the power of the soul the nous represents?

Clearly, the Orthodox faith can be articulated in English, just as it has been articulated in many other languages. But each language has its challenges; and English has a set of challenges faced less by, for example, Slavonic, which is much closer to Greek in form. In many contexts, these challenges can be overcome by careful and effective glosses -- for example, glossing 'Trinity' so that it is not taken to mean 'triune God' (the latter being a thoroughly non-patristic concept). But with some terms right at the heart of the faith, there is a real question, to my mind, as to whether English indeed has any equivalent that will successfully convey the meaning of the Greek without distorting it. I know of no satisfactory term to use for nous; and in my own writings, I am extremely uncomfortable translating either ousia or hypostasis, since 'substance/essence' and 'person' are in fact not what the Greek means. This is not to admit of Hellenism, but simply to question the nuance of language. Of course, the terms were not originally Christianised when they were taken by in Greek by the Church; but the Church has had some 2,000 years to Christianise their nuance. If something similar is to be done in English, we must think carefully about the terms we are to use -- and perhaps, yes, question whether leaving some terms 'foreign' to common English might not be of use, in ensuring that we treat them as other-than-ordinary when considering how to articulate the faith.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#9 Father David Moser

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 11:09 PM

Matthew Namee hit on a related but different topic in his post - that of the use of a non-local liturgical language (in his case Greek rather than English). I have started a new thread, "Local language vs the language of our fathers" to continue that discussion which is slightly different but no less important than this discussion which should remain focused on translation of liturgical/theological terms.

Fr David Moser

#10 Michael Stickles

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 12:54 PM

-- and perhaps, yes, question whether leaving some terms 'foreign' to common English might not be of use, in ensuring that we treat them as other-than-ordinary when considering how to articulate the faith.


We are already used to doing this in other fields - witness the common usage of Latin terms in law, and both Greek and Latin in the various sciences. English may be a wonderful language for everyday communications, but specialized purposes require specialized terminology.

In theology particularly, English can be ill-suited, as the connotations of many words have drifted away from spiritual meanings, or in ways which downplay the spiritual or religious (probably due to the influences of philosophical materialism). Just as one example, the adjectives "immaterial" and "material" used to be commonly used to distinguish spiritual reality and physical reality; these words have since picked up the meanings of "unimportant" and "important", respectively.

Also, many of our common English words for theological topics - "salvation", "justification", "soul", etc., etc. - can serve to obscure rather than promote communication, since different groups often mean quite different things when they use them. If I say nous and the person I'm talking to doesn't understand me, we have a temporary block in communications, but at least that is immediately apparent, and we can work to reach understanding. But if I say "intellect" while meaning nous, but the person I'm talking to thinks I mean that as "rational/logical thinking ability", communications is blocked far more effectively, because we think we're communicating when we really aren't (my wife and I used to be masters at this method of misunderstanding each other). I've found that when the thought pops into my mind "how can this person be so dense?", it's time to back up and look at our terminology, because we're probably using the same words to mean different things and it's causing confusion.

In Christ,
Mike

#11 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 08:45 PM

Eric, in several threads lately the issue of impossibility sometime to loyally render the meaning of Greek words (or words from other languages for that matter) in English has become apparent. As we know Orthodoxy is inclusive and has been pronounced in many languages and especially English.


If theologically vital Greek words cannot be translated into English, then English speakers cannot be saved. That is what it boils down to. If it truly is impossible to express the meaning of Greek terms that are central to Orthodoxy in English, then it is impossible to transmit Orthodoxy to English speakers merely by virtue of their speaking English.

Is that the case?

#12 Nina

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 03:18 AM

If theologically vital Greek words cannot be translated into English, then English speakers cannot be saved. That is what it boils down to. If it truly is impossible to express the meaning of Greek terms that are central to Orthodoxy in English, then it is impossible to transmit Orthodoxy to English speakers merely by virtue of their speaking English.


First, this is part of a dialogue with friends we had when we were discussing translations across some threads.

Second, why do you complain in "Will Satan be saved" thread to people putting words in your mouth and then you come here and put words in *my* mouth? Can you specifically quote where I said these words "English speakers cannot be saved" as you claim?

Third, I am not willing to discuss with *you* (singular) about such matters because obviously we will not learn anything from each other. Be at peace.

#13 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 03:34 AM

I did not state that you said English speakers cannot be saved. I repeated your claim that some important Orthodox concepts are "impossible" to express in English. My own logical conclusion of this is that English speakers cannot be saved. I did not, at any time, state that someone else said this. On the other hand, someone specifically stated that I claimed it was "cool" that Satan might be saved. Where, specifically, did I state that someone else, you or anyone, said that English speakers cannot be saved. I merely took your claim of "impossibility" to its rational conclusion.

#14 Nina

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 03:49 AM

My own logical conclusion


Exactly! *Your own*.

#15 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 05:38 PM

Seemd perfectly logical to me

#16 Nina

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 05:46 PM

Thank you for a heavy accusation. May God bless you both.

#17 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 06:04 PM

Can we not say that it is impossible or at least very hard to faithfully render the Greek into English without saying that means it is impossible to be saved ? I'm sorry but I do not read Nina's post as saying that it is impossible for English speakers to be saved. I believe she was saying that when translating Greek words it can cause no end of problems as it is very hard to translate exactly into English.

Besides, God saves us not being able to read theologically vital words - which even if they can not be translated can be explained. But through the whole life of the Church.

#18 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 10:51 PM

Can we not say that it is impossible or at least very hard to faithfully render the Greek into English without saying that means it is impossible to be saved ? I'm sorry but I do not read Nina's post as saying that it is impossible for English speakers to be saved. I believe she was saying that when translating Greek words it can cause no end of problems as it is very hard to translate exactly into English.


No that is not what she said, but it merely extending what was said to a logical conclusion, a perfectly valid rhetorical tool. If something important cannot be expressed in any language except Greek, then what hope does anyone who does not speak Greek have? But while it may take effort, I think some very subtle thoughts can, indeed, be captured in English from the Greek.

Besides, God saves us not being able to read theologically vital words - which even if they can not be translated can be explained. But through the whole life of the Church.


Exactly. Communication is soooo much more than mere language.

#19 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 01 April 2011 - 03:41 PM

Exactly! *Your own*.


And so? I never stated that someone else claimed it, I merely took an extreme claim and took it to its logical conclusion. On the other hand, I was specifically accused of making a statement that I did not make. Those are two different things.

#20 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 01 April 2011 - 03:54 PM

Can we not say that it is impossible or at least very hard to faithfully render the Greek into English without saying that means it is impossible to be saved ?


Let’s do it in steps, then.

A requires B,
but B is impossible.

Therefore, A cannot happen.

Concrete example:

1: Salvation requires understanding certain theological concepts.
2: Unfortunately, it is impossible to understand these concepts in English.

Therefore Salvation is impossible for English speakers.

Now, my argument can be validly attacked on two bases:

I: These concepts can be understood in English (sentence 2 is wrong).
II: These concepts are not necessary for salvation (sentense 1 is wrong).

However, if both sentence 1 and sentence 2 are correct, then the conclusion is valid.

PS: "Translation" is not the same thing as "word-for-word correspondence".




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