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Local language vs. the language of our fathers


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#1 Father David Moser

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 10:58 PM

Matthew,

You have tapped into a question that has nipped at the heels of the Orthodox Church in North America since almost the very first days. The language of the services has been a consistent "bone of contention" - and it doesn't matter which "mother tongue" we are talking about. I really don't know and can't say what was behind the conversation you had at Holy Archangels, however, I do know that for many of the Russians, they too would say that Slavonic is a more holy language - however, I think that this is more often a way for them to say that they can pray more easily in Slavonic than in English. (just as I will always pray more easily in English, I suppose).

OTOH, I will also say that there are some things in the service that just sound better in Slavonic. (Milost Mira..., Svat Svat Svat..., Mnogaya Lyeta, Vechnaya Pamyat for example) than in English (A mercy of peace..., Holy holy holy..., Many Years, Memory Eternal) In Slavonic these things sound absolutely gorgeous and touch the heart even if you don't understand the words - in English they grate and strain against the music.

I think that we have to have some sense of balance between old language and new. Yes we need to have the services in a language that speaks to the mind, but we also need to have services in a language that speaks to the heart as well - sometimes those are not the same language.

Your most compelling argument comes at the end of your post:

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.


This is the one I use most effectively with Russians from my bishop to the immigrant mothers with small children. Americans seem to be in a rush to push out the old language and replace it wholesale with the new - I think it is more important to bring English in and let it be changed and enriched by the old and eventually that beautiful rich blend will supplant either.

Fr David Moser

#2 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 Cyril and Methodius 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.

Edited by Matthew Namee, 27 March 2008 - 05:28 PM.
correction


#3 Matthew Namee

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 03:30 AM

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.

On this subject, I can recommend St. Nikolai Velimirovich's sermon "The Orthodox Church in America and Its Future," which may be found here: http://www.orthodoxi...ai_america.aspx

Among the many good things St. Nikolai says is this:

They [the American-born Orthodox] want English to replace national languages in church services. They desire to hear sermons in English. This is a legitimate desire. Our wise priests of every national Orthodox Church in this country are already preaching in both English and in their respective national tongue. They are in a difficult position at present, for they have on one hand to be considerate of the elderly (elderly generations of Moms and Pops) who do not understand English well, and on the other hand they are willing to respond to the desire and need of the younger generations. In this matter I think evolution is better than revolution, for the Church is the mother of both the old and the young.

Personally, I can trace my entire lineage to a small area in what is now Lebanon; however, neither my parents nor I understand Arabic, and all of my grandparents and some of my great-grandparents were born and raised in America. Yet until the late 1970s, our home parish continued to use Arabic as the language of the church services. Many young people, among them a large number of my relatives, left the Church during these years. They went to Protestant youth groups and so forth where they felt more at home. Thankfully, most of them have returned to Orthodoxy, but some have not. In my own lifetime, I have been blessed to always hear the services in English, and because of this, I have from childhood been able to appreciate and learn from them. To this day, I will hear something in the liturgy and be struck by some new, deeper realization. Without being able to comprehend the language, those opportunities would be lost.

I am very much in favor of the gradual approach with regard to the introduction of English, especially in communities which have recent immigrants. As St. Nikolai says, "evolution is better than revolution." But if, because of sentiment or nostalgia or any other motivation, such an organic process is halted, I fear that other parishes might witness something of the exodus which my home parish witnessed three decades ago.

#4 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 05:19 PM

You have tapped into a question that has nipped at the heels of the Orthodox Church in North America


And to an extent in Britain. Greek parishes I used to attend up north had all services in Greek and the only bits in English were the few bits that non-Greeks knew anyway (the Creed and Lord's Prayer) though the epistle and Gospel were generally repeated in English. The monastery here uses a lot of English with sections of many services in Greek and Slavonic.

OTOH, I will also say that there are some things in the service that just sound better in Slavonic


At vespers, Svate tikhii/phos ilaron are never sung in English, but weekdays and Saturdays the Divine Liturgy is entirely in English using the monstery's own traditional text approved by Staretz Sophrony and using Russian music. I don't think anyone who attended the Liturgy in English at the monastery would think it lacking in any way in grace and power to affect the soul. That's what I have heard over many years from visitors from many different countries and traditions. Of course, Slavs like to hear Church Slavonic and Greeks like to hear Greek, and singing as we have heard it at Holy Trinity St Serguis Lavra and at Aghiou Stephanou at Meteora can move to tears.

#5 Nina

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 06:22 PM

It seems to me Matthew that there is a big leap in what you discuss. You bring the example of the monastery and elder's words and then conclude with what needs to be in parishes. I am sure these elders have discernment and can see things which we do not when they decide to use one language, or another. We all here can attest that there is an abundance of parishes and Orthodox churches and monasteries where English is spoken in US. Such monasteries as that of the Archangels exist because there are different callings in our faith sometime. The beauty of Orthodoxy is diversity.

#6 Matthew Namee

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 06:57 PM

It seems to me Matthew that there is a big leap in what you discuss. You bring the example of the monastery and elder's words and then conclude with what needs to be in parishes. I am sure these elders have discernment and can see things which we do not when they decide to use one language, or another. We all here can attest that there is an abundance of parishes and Orthodox churches and monasteries where English is spoken in US. Such monasteries as that of the Archangels exist because there are different callings in our faith sometime. The beauty of Orthodoxy is diversity.

You are right that there is a difference between monasteries and parishes. I should have acknowledged that distinction.

There is indeed an abundance of parishes which use English in the US. I disagree, though, about monasteries -- there is most certainly not an abundance of English-speaking monasteries. Elder Ephrem's monasteries make up a large proportion of the monasteries in America, and they are also extremely wealthy and opulent, thus indicating the desire to attract visitors. (If you don't want lots of visitors, the best thing to do is what they do at St. Herman's in Platina -- no electricity, no running water, no plumbing, and access to the monastery via a winding mountain road. If you build multi-million dollar facilities and have great food and comfortable guesthouses and gorgeous landscaping, I assume you want guests.) And if you're trying to attract visitors in America and they arrive to find services in a foreign tongue, and the only explanation is that Greek is "better"... I just think that's inadequate. Who are you trying to reach? Only Greeks? People who don't care if they understand the services?

Look, I'm not trying to bash anyone. Holy Archangels is a beautiful place and the monks are serious about their faith. All I am saying is that they have consiously put themselves in a position to attract guests. Had I been an inquirer and not cradle Orthodox myself, I would have been very put off by Fr. Dositheos' response to my query. It would have been better for him to say, "As the abbot, I feel that Greek is the best for my monks." That's his prerogative, and I respect that. I'd think such an approach would be better suited to a less welcoming monastery, but so be it. But that's not what he said. He made a statement of overall value, and that is what I don't like. It's an attitude I've encountered not only in monasteries but in parishes as well. And it is that sort of attitude -- an unwillingness to allow for the organic evolution of linguistic changes -- which ultimately can drive young people away from the Church.

#7 Nina

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 08:01 PM

Matthew again I think there is some flaw in the above because I do not think there is a conspiracy to attract people and entrap them in Greek services. It is not like they are calculating. Of course many monasteries have a duty to offer philoxenia (hospitality) to pilgrims and part of that is to offer some commodities to those guests. Actually where I have stayed I have found these commodities to be very spartan. The words of the elder should not be cause for you to feel the way you feel. Approach them with a spiritual attitude.

About parishes, please tell me where have you seen a parish that is not using English also here in our times. I would like to visit it if I will be in the area.

Wherever I have visited, or attended here in USA, English has been the language of worship, or one of the languages.

#8 Father David Moser

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 10:18 PM

About parishes, please tell me where have you seen a parish that is not using English also here in our times. I would like to visit it if I will be in the area.


Well, I don't know about Greek, but I can give you an example in Russian. The majority of the Russian parishes in San Francisco (regardless of jurisdiction or calendar) are Slavonic parishes. You might encounter a minimal amount of English - if you happened to catch a visiting priest or deacon who couldn't serve in Slavonic - but for the most part they are almost all (ROCOR, MP, OCA) Slavonic. The only one that "attempts" (to my knowledge) to bring in English services is Old Holy Virgin Cathedral and even that is not all English. This is not, btw, the "fault" of the clergy, but of the people who do not support English services. There have been a number of attempts to have English liturgies at the new Holy Virgin Cathedral - but after the initial wave of enthusiastic support, many of those who demanded English end up going back to the Slavonic liturgies.

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#9 Kris

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 10:57 PM

In UK - at least in the London area - most Greek parishes use very little English, if any at all.

There are a few parishes that have begun providing English liturgies - priests wanting to adress the concerns of those for whom language is a problem. Yet when I attend these liturgies, the only people who'll normally show up are old Greek ladies who barely speak English or people of other nationalities (Russian, Romanian, etc.) who are only there to support the venture, but have no need English services themselves.

As for the English-speakers these priests are trying to reach out to, I only see them at liturgies where Greek is used.

#10 Matthew Namee

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 03:41 AM

About parishes, please tell me where have you seen a parish that is not using English also here in our times. I would like to visit it if I will be in the area.

Well, one example from my area that immediately comes to mind is St. George Serbian church in Kansas City.

I was not suggesting that Holy Archangels or any other monastery was "calculating" and seeking to "entrap" visitors. I merely am saying that if you spend millions to create a beautiful monastery with comfortable quarters and great food, it certainly seems like you're making yourself open and attractive to guests. It's not like these monks are going into the wilderness and living in primitive conditions, in which case they would attract only the most austere visitors. Monasteries like Holy Archangels attract families and others (like myself) who are less physically rigorous. As such, cannot as easily use the (hypothetical) excuse that they are far from the world and not in the business of ministering to outsiders. But then, they don't use that excuse, so it's kind of a moot point.

And what do you mean by a "spiritual attitude"? Was I approaching him with a material or worldly attitude? In what way is it un-spiritual to wish to hear the Gospel in my native tongue?

As I said, if the abbot had simply said that he made a decision for the well-being of the monks in his care, that would have been okay. But he said that Greek was better than English, more precise, etc., and that does not seem to me to be an appropriate answer. Should we all, Greeks and non-Greeks alike, switch to Greek because it is more precise? Were Ss. Cyril and Methodius wrong to translate the services from Greek to a Slavonic tongue? Or is it acceptable to serve in languages other than Greek? If so, I don't see how the abbot's argument stands.

#11 Nina

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 01:15 PM

Yes it is a moot point and a stretch. What those monasteries will do is their business and they have a calling from God and are children of God too.

And what do you mean by a "spiritual attitude"? Was I approaching him with a material or worldly attitude? In what way is it un-spiritual to wish to hear the Gospel in my native tongue?


I said approach now those words with a spiritual attitude.

It is not un-spiritual to wish to hear the Gospel in your native tongue. That is your right. And it seems to me that you do exercise that right, since you did not list your parish as Greek speaking, or Serbian speaking. I never said that the language of worship in US should not be English. What I am saying is that there is no reason to be so strong about those places who hear the Gospel not in your native tongue. That is their right as well. If you were dependent only on that monastery to hear the Gospel in your native tongue I would have sympathized with you very much.

As I said, if the abbot had simply said that he made a decision for the well-being of the monks in his care, that would have been okay. But he said that Greek was better than English, more precise, etc.,


These are not the words I read in your first post. And since I was not there to hear those words myself I can't say which ones were said. Plus I do not see sinful words involved. Additionally Emperor Constantine the Great said that if he will see a man of the robe (clergy) sin, he will divest himself from his royal robe and cover the sin of that person.

Should we all, Greeks and non-Greeks alike, switch to Greek because it is more precise?


You keep mentioning Greeks like in your first post of this thread and on the other hand the only church you provided does not even liturgize in Greek.

Were Ss. Cyril and Methodius wrong to translate the services from Greek to a Slavonic tongue?


Sts. Cyril and Methodius not only translated them, but they invented even the alphabet for them. Who said that this is not correct? You are reading different things from what I write.

I am closing with words (from another thread) of Fr. Raphael on the matter:

From experience I would say that much of our sense of language within the Church comes from personal encounter and then gets projected outwards becoming part of the 'language question'. In essence what began as an issue which touches personal relationships within parish life is turned into a theoretical issue about the place of language within the Church as a whole. Not that these two do not connect with each other- they do. It is just that when we follow the above dynamic- the personal shifting into the theoretical- we follow that time worn path of more personal issues being completely overlooked.

In truth what drives most of us in this issue is fear, embarrassment and frustration. It is difficult to cut oneself off from that prime vehicle through which we attain acceptance & validation in our society. If some question my use of such contemporary words- especially 'validation'- I do it for a reason, admitting its negative & largely selfish meaning. After all there is a reason why we, especially in North America, treasure being a one-language society.

Being within the Orthodox Church however directly challenges this. Which is especially challenging since we are the heart land of defining everything by the criterion of ourselves; and also because it could be correct that we are the first Orthodox who have to face a multi-language environment in order to more deeply enter into the Church's reality. This last fact, considering who we are and where we are, is almost ironic. Or at least it provides a very important lesson.

The lesson I think is that unless we absolutely insist on denying the reality of those whom God puts before us we are basically put into a situation that asks us to continually go beyond ourselves. This especially touches those areas fundamental to our culture in which language is a marker of the right of self characterization and self-determination.

So far Fr Ephraim's policy on language within his monasteries has been either criticized or accepted. Little effort though has been made to spiritually comprehend why an Elder would ask his spiritual children to half abandon their own language for that which he surely knows is very foreign. Why spiritually would he ask this of these particular people of this particular time & place?

In Christ- Fr Raphael



#12 Matthew Namee

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 02:19 PM

I certainly meant no disrespect to anyone, much less an abbot. Perhaps I should have said "a Greek monastery" and "the abbot" rather than using the specific names.

Reviewing my posts on this thread, I find them largely unsatisfactory. I have discussed both monasteries and parishes, but they are two very different entities. I have discussed the problems of language in general and also the specific issue of Greek vs. English, but these really are different discussions. In general, I have spoken in a convoluted manner, and I've probably hindered the discussion because of it.

Let me try to just make a series of points, some of which are only tangentially related:

1) I believe that people should be able to understand the services. If a parish has mostly English-speakers, then most of the service should be in English. If the parish has people whose primary language is something other than English, then they should be accomodated as well. Multilingual services in multilingual parishes are very appropriate. Monolingual services in places where a sizeable percentage of the parish does not understand the language in question are, I would argue, not sufficient to meet the needs of the people.

2) The chief reason for maintaining exclusively (or near-exclusively) foreign-language services in America should not be that the language is holier than or superior to English, since such a principle contradicts the tradition of the Church as evidenced by the Septuagint, St. Paul, Ss. Cyril & Methodius, St. Innocent, and many others.

3) I agree that a monastery is different than a parish. But monasteries too have some degree of responsibility in the matter of language. How can I say this without sounding offensive? I think there are a few considerations. In this point I am, for all pratical purposes, speaking of the Elder Ephrem monasteries in America.

The great proliferation of Greek-speaking monasteries in America is of little benefit to the aspiring monastic who does not speak Greek. He (or she) cannot join one of these monasteries unless he is willing to learn a foreign language. This effectively limits the pool of future monastics in such monasteries to those people who know Greek. This is fine, but it does send the message that, "We want Greeks." Am I making a judgmental jump to this conclusion? Yes, probably so. But I don't think it's a terribly unreasonable jump: do any non-Greek speakers join monasteries which use only Greek in the services? Or, to put it another way, is it reasonable to expect an American English-speaker to join a monastery in which he cannot worship in his own language? (This was one of my concerns when I was younger: If I were to become a monastic, where would I go? The choices of English-speaking monasteries with, say, half a dozen or more monks are very few.)

There is also the issue of visitors who do not understand the language. I said more than once that these monasteries, with their facilities and so forth, make themselves particularly open to visitors. When these visitors inevitably arrive, they will not (unless they know Greek) understand the services. This is fine, I suppose -- if I visit the house of a foreigner, that person is well within their rights to speak their own language. But I would think that hospitality would prevail and at least some English would be used. I have read that Fr. Daniel Byantoro's parishes in Indonesia use local languages, some Greek, and even a bit of English if there is an English-speaking visitor. When I visited an all-Arabic-speaking parish (full of Syrian/Lebanese immigrants) in London on Pentecost two years ago, the priest made a point of singing one litany and reading one of the kneeling prayers in English because he knew that my wife and I did not understand Arabic. I was touched by the courtesy. No, I should not necessarily have expected such accomodation, but it was much appreciated nonetheless.

---

As I said above, I probably should not have given the specific name of the monastery and abbot which I criticized. I do not think I should be forbidden to question or critique an assertion simply because it was made by a member of the clergy, though. As for covering the sin of a priest or bishop... There are patristic sayings which encourage this, but I think such sentiments can be abused. Here I am speaking not of the present discussion but in a much more general sense. Clergy cannot engage in vice and expect to "get away with it" because they are clergy. Small sins should be covered; this is true. But if anyone -- clergyman or otherwise -- is guilty of abuse, theft, or any other serious offense, they should be held accountable.

#13 Nina

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 02:42 PM

Matthew,

1) I believe that people should be able to understand the services. If a parish has mostly English-speakers, then most of the service should be in English. If the parish has people whose primary language is something other than English, then they should be accomodated as well. Multilingual services in multilingual parishes are very appropriate. Monolingual services in places where a sizeable percentage of the parish does not understand the language in question are, I would argue, not sufficient to meet the needs of the people.


Agreed.

As you see we both are saying the same things. I am just saying we need to be considerate of all.

About the issue as you call it: "specific issue of Greek vs. English" - this, as you also recognize, is not an issue to be discussed under the heading: "Local language vs. the language of our fathers", but under "Languages of the Fathers". Since Greek it is indeed a language of the Fathers. Much Orthodox theology and dogma are pronounced, articulated and developed in Greek. This does not mean that English is not a language of the Fathers. This does not mean that other languages are not languages of the Fathers. There are many other languages used by Fathers to articulate our Truth, (even when just saying "I am a Christian" and being led to martyrdom). But since you mention the Greek language, I would like to repost here the words of Fr. Matthew which were in response to your first post that was transfered here from that other thread:

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



#14 Nina

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 02:56 PM


3) I agree that a monastery is different than a parish. But monasteries too have some degree of responsibility in the matter of language. How can I say this without sounding offensive? I think there are a few considerations. In this point I am, for all pratical purposes, speaking of the Elder Ephrem monasteries in America.

The great proliferation of Greek-speaking monasteries in America is of little benefit to the aspiring monastic who does not speak Greek. He (or she) cannot join one of these monasteries unless he is willing to learn a foreign language. This effectively limits the pool of future monastics in such monasteries to those people who know Greek. This is fine, but it does send the message that, "We want Greeks." Am I making a judgmental jump to this conclusion? Yes, probably so. But I don't think it's a terribly unreasonable jump: do any non-Greek speakers join monasteries which use only Greek in the services? Or, to put it another way, is it reasonable to expect an American English-speaker to join a monastery in which he cannot worship in his own language? (This was one of my concerns when I was younger: If I were to become a monastic, where would I go? The choices of English-speaking monasteries with, say, half a dozen or more monks are very few.)


First, you are not a monk as you mention. Second, you speak like the only monasteries here are those of Geronda Ephraim and there is no other possibility to start new monasteries which speak only English. As we know there are monasteries which use only English here.

There is also the issue of visitors who do not understand the language. I said more than once that these monasteries, with their facilities and so forth, make themselves particularly open to visitors. When these visitors inevitably arrive, they will not (unless they know Greek) understand the services. This is fine, I suppose -- if I visit the house of a foreigner, that person is well within their rights to speak their own language. But I would think that hospitality would prevail and at least some English would be used.


You know... we have always the opportunity to be larger.

I have read that Fr. Daniel Byantoro's parishes in Indonesia use local languages, some Greek, and even a bit of English if there is an English-speaking visitor. When I visited an all-Arabic-speaking parish (full of Syrian/Lebanese immigrants) in London on Pentecost two years ago, the priest made a point of singing one litany and reading one of the kneeling prayers in English because he knew that my wife and I did not understand Arabic. I was touched by the courtesy. No, I should not necessarily have expected such accomodation, but it was much appreciated nonetheless.


Yes this has happened to me too, but again you are juxtaposing a parish to a monastery. There are stricter rules in a monastery. Yes, there are books of etiquette about gracious hosts, but there are books of etiquette about being a gracious guest also.

As I said above, I probably should not have given the specific name of the monastery and abbot which I criticized. I do not think I should be forbidden to question or critique an assertion simply because it was made by a member of the clergy, though.


Yes, we are not forbidden. But we must be careful since here is a public forum and while you and I might have honest disposition, there might be other people who might be scandalized by us, or others who for the lack of full knowledge might take those words and perpetrate cheap gossip.

As for covering the sin of a priest or bishop... There are patristic sayings which encourage this, but I think such sentiments can be abused. Here I am speaking not of the present discussion but in a much more general sense. Clergy cannot engage in vice and expect to "get away with it" because they are clergy. Small sins should be covered; this is true. But if anyone -- clergyman or otherwise -- is guilty of abuse, theft, or any other serious offense, they should be held accountable.


I guess this is a matter of personal choice... Like a movie director, or a script choose to allow the main character to decide. I am sure God will use our decisions for good. For me I tend to agree with St. Constantine the Great and btw I have had no blessing to have a priest, monastic in my family so I have no personal interest involved.

#15 Father David Moser

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 04:08 PM

Let me try to just make a series of points, some of which are only tangentially related:

1) I believe that people should be able to understand the services. If a parish has mostly English-speakers, then most of the service should be in English. If the parish has people whose primary language is something other than English, then they should be accomodated as well. Multilingual services in multilingual parishes are very appropriate. Monolingual services in places where a sizeable percentage of the parish does not understand the language in question are, I would argue, not sufficient to meet the needs of the people.

2) The chief reason for maintaining exclusively (or near-exclusively) foreign-language services in America should not be that the language is holier than or superior to English, since such a principle contradicts the tradition of the Church as evidenced by the Septuagint, St. Paul, Ss. Cyril & Methodius, St. Innocent, and many others.

3) I agree that a monastery is different than a parish. But monasteries too have some degree of responsibility in the matter of language. How can I say this without sounding offensive? I think there are a few considerations. In this point I am, for all pratical purposes, speaking of the Elder Ephrem monasteries in America.


Thank you for pulling out these points so that the discussion can continue in a more productive manner.

I would like to engage, at least the first point. This is a very tricky situation. What if a parish is founded by elders of the WWII immigration who spent their own blood, sweat, tears and hard earned money to build their parish. By now many of those elders are gone but some remain, as well as their children who also sacrificed to maintain the parish through many lean and difficult years. All of a sudden, in the last 20 years there has been an influx of English-speaking convert Orthodox who decide its time to do away with the old Slavonic ways (having been raised during the cold war they are fully indoctrinated with "Russian = bad; American = good" mentality). They outnumber the older founding families, get themselves elected to the parish council and then pressure the priest to change the language of the services. The older families are want to keep their dearly bought treasure - the opportunity to pray in the language of their heart - but because it is now a majority of Americans, well its time to switch over (after all we live in the USA and we speak English here!).

Conversely how about an American mission parish established with lots of zeal and fervor by a group of English - speaking converts. They want to pray, of course, but they are also full of evangelistic zeal to bring their new-found Orthodox faith to the world. But with modern life the way it is, after about 10 years 90% of the founding families have moved away but the Church has remained, barely surviving on the (sometimes sacrificial) contributions of the sorely decreased membership. Then, all of a sudden, new Russian immigrants (since I'm in the Russian Church this is what I know) arrive, see that there is an "American mission of the Russian Orthodox Church" in town and begin to come. They donate their money, their labor, their love and as the Russian community grows a great deal of evangelization takes place so that the majority of the membership is now Russian speaking. While the new Russians were at first just thankful to have a place to pray - no matter the language - now they too would like some of their own language in the service. They even point out that services with more Slavonic would bring in more of the new Russian immigrants thereby fulfilling the strong missionary mandate of the parish. This is opposed severely by the remaining Americans who complain at even a word of Slavonic.

In the above examples which language "serves the needs of the people"

I wanted to bring out here what has been and remains one of the thorniest, most sensitive issues in Orthodox parish life today.

Fr David Moser

#16 Matthew Namee

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 04:16 PM

Fr. David,

Your examples are very illustrative of the practical challenges with regard to language in America. Obviously, in both cases, one group cannot be wholly satisfied while the other is wholly unsatisfied. Both must be ministered to as best as possible. Compromise is essential, and both groups should be sympathetic to this. St. Nikolai Velimirovich said regarding this issue, "evolution not revolution." Sweeping, unilateral changes, even when "correct," almost always are disastrous (e.g. Patriarch Nikon's reforms). But it's easy for me to say "compromise"; I'm sure it's far more challenging if you're actually in the situation.

What I would hope is that all parties involved in such a situation would have the goodwill and sympathy to understand the needs of the other. The new converts need to respect their elderly ethnic Orthodox brethren; I've met too many converts who write off older cradle Orthodox as "ethno-centric." Likewise the new immigrants (or the old ethnic Orthodox) should be willing to accomodate, at least to a reasonable degree, the needs of their English-speaking fellow parishioners. Mutual love and respect is the answer, however utopian that sounds.

#17 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 04:45 PM

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations: Matthew 28:19

. . . we do hear them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God: Acts 2:11

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus: Galatians 3:28

#18 Father David Moser

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 05:06 PM

First, you are not a monk as you mention. Second, you speak like the only monasteries here are those of Geronda Ephraim and there is no other possibility to start new monasteries which speak only English. As we know there are monasteries which use only English here.


Lets bring in a parallel example here - that of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville NY and its dependency Holy Cross Skete in Wayne, WVa. Holy Trinity is a very Russian place being the main monastery and seminary of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. When you go to Holy Trinity, you will find that the services are, for the most part, all in Slavonic, whether they are in the main cathedral or the monastic chapel. There is a separate church in the lower level of the Cathedral building where English services are now given. When you are at the monastery you will hear mostly Russian conversation and you see someone outside, chances are they will address you first in Russian and only switch to English after it becomes apparent that you don't understand.

Holy Cross is an English-speaking skete of Holy Trinity. Without boring you all with the story of how they were founded and eventually ended up where they are, let it be sufficient to say that as an "American monastery" they were struggling. It was only after coming under the shelter of the monastic tradition of Holy Trinity that they actually gained stability and now are full to overflowing with monks and aspirants.

The above two examples demonstrate a couple of things. One is how a primarily foreign language monastic institution can exist in an English language country without compromising its own ethnic/linguistic heritage. The other is an example of the importance of the new convert/English foundations having a living dynamic link to "old world" monastic roots.

Fr David Moser

#19 Nina

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 05:23 PM

Mutual love and respect is the answer, however utopian that sounds.


No, Matthew. That does not sound utopian to me! That's the answer. If we are to behave like the Orthodox faith urges us to. We can even be more extreme and behave like saints, but that's another story. We at least need an Orthodox basic behavior. I read that one of the fathers said that we must love others as brothers, and we must love the Orthodox twice as such since they are twice related to us.

#20 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 07:03 PM

A further problem is that where it is decided to use English, there is then the question, what kind of English? That question has been hotly debated in England. I'm blessed in that I worship where there is, obviously, no debate about this and traditional English is used, as prescribed by Elder Sophrony who loved this usage.




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