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Local language vs. the language of our fathers


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#21 Anthony Stokes

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 02:34 PM

Matthew, et al., if I may chime in here a little late...


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?


I can answer this one, and that is yes. I have known several non-Greek speaking people join Greek monasteries here in America. And, they do end up learning Greek.

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.


Speaking for myself here, as a non-Greek speaking person, one of the main I reasons that I visit the Greek monasteries is to hear the services in Greek. I visited St. Anthony's for my nameday a few years ago. Now, I grew up in the GOA, so I can understand a tiny bit of Greek, mainly the liturgy. But a 5 hour vigil, I definitely cannot understand that. But I loved it. Byzantine chant is at its best in Greek. It just doesn't fit well into English because of the rules of the melodies, and the fact that they were written for Greek. Similar to what was mentioned in an earlier post on this thread with the anaphora in Slavonic. "Svyat" is one syllable, while "Holy" is obviosly two. The music has to be changed to fit the English words. This is the same with Byzantine chant.

Well, why is that important, you might ask? The monks at these monasteries that do the chanting, mainly only have the Byzantine notation in Greek. Now, Fr. Ephraim (not the elder) is working very hard to make English settings of Byzantine chant, but it is a very long project, and it will take many more years to do everything.

It is also important to note that many of the monks, especially Elder Ephraim, are not fluent in English.

But, again, for me, I would never want them to switch to English in the monasteries, since to me, they are little bits of Athos. I would feel the same in Jordanville. I have never been to a service there (I visited once in high school, but the monks were all in SF for the canonization of St. John), but I would love to go to hear the service in Slavonic sung by a monastic choir.

Just my thoughts.

Thanks,
Subdeacon Anthony

#22 Denys Kosovsky

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 09:39 AM

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.


Hey everyone,

To start with I would like to say that the services in America should be performed in English if the audience is also English-speaking. It should also be done in both languages if the audience is split, as it is done in my parish, London All Saints Cathedral. After all, if the Church is to serve and attract Americans it must at least speak to them in their own language. The apostles had the gift of the tongues, and so should any modern preachers.

However! English can never be the language of the Church! The reason for Greek and Slavonic as the languages of choice by the Church is that they are highly suited for theology, just trust me that their grammar makes them so. We should all really be praying in Hebrew, but Greek and Slavonic are the next best thing. The question of languages is not new! In every country they want to update the language. This is strictly forbidden for two reasons, first, prayer is preferable in a dead language because it is not used for swearing, and more importantly, because ONLY Greek and Slav languages can be used to calculate the number of the antichrist correctly!!!

Also it would be good to understand that Cyril and Methodius knew both languages and designed Slavonic with a purpose in mind - worshiping God. Slavonic is so highly sophisticated, for example, that ONE word can be enough to express the whole of the Christian theology.

Dennis

#23 Matthew Namee

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 06:22 PM

The question of languages is not new! In every country they want to update the language. This is strictly forbidden for two reasons, first, prayer is preferable in a dead language because it is not used for swearing, and more importantly, because ONLY Greek and Slav languages can be used to calculate the number of the antichrist correctly!!!

Also it would be good to understand that Cyril and Methodius knew both languages and designed Slavonic with a purpose in mind - worshiping God. Slavonic is so highly sophisticated, for example, that ONE word can be enough to express the whole of the Christian theology.

Regarding the point about Antichrist -- Are you serious? One of the two major reasons why a dead language is preferable to a living one is that you can calculate an end times number? I don't agree with this at all.

As for dead languages in general, they were not always dead. When St. Paul wrote in Greek, he did so because the people to whom he ministered spoke Greek. The Greek used in church services was not always a dead Greek. In the Byzantine Empire, it was the language of the people, and yes, people cursed in it.

Ss. Cyril and Methodius did not create a Slavonic alphabet. They created Glagolitic, a precursor to Slavonic. It doesn't even look much like Slavonic at all. And the reason they created it was to minister to the Slavs in a language they could understand.

What is the purpose of words and languages? Words are symbols which represent concepts. If the hearer does not understand the word, the intended concept will not be properly conveyed. The Apostles made sure to use words which their flocks understood. Likewise the great evangelists in Church history translated liturgical and theological texts into the living language of their people. The idea that a dead language is preferable to a living one is not consistent with the command to preach the Gospel to all nations. I am not saying that old Slavonic and Greek need to be immediately discarded; still, we should consider whether they are fulfilling their intended function.

Finally, Mr. Kosovsky, what Slavonic word represents "the whole of Christian theology"? I know that Greek lends itself particularly well to philosophical and theological discourse, but even Greek is not so perfect that a single word can serve as the sum of all truth.

#24 Andrew

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 03:14 PM

I spend quite a bit of time at the monastery that Matthew was talking about earlier. Geronda Ephraim's monasteries use Greek, and will continue to do so in the future. I do not speak Greek, but I have no problems following the services, and I actually prefer Greek to English. Every English speaking parish I have gone to has a different translation in use, some that I really like, others that distract and irritate me. I have no such problems with Greek or Slavonic! In addition, the monasteries are not xenophobic in the least. At the one I go to, there are a lot of Americans, along with Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Arabs, and such. All are included and treated the same.

It is good to have the Liturgy in every language! It is also good to preserve the traditions of our fathers, one being liturgical languages.

In addition, Geronda Ephraim's monasteries are international. The monks are from all over the world. People visit from all over the world - from Greece, South Africa, Australia, Europe, Russia, etc. In addition, you have monks passing through the monasteries visiting from Palestine, Agion Oros, and other places. I think it is very fair for the monasteries to use Greek in the Liturgy.

In addition, Geronda Ephraim's monasteries act in a way that stabilizes and aids English speaking monasteries and parishes, especially the English Serbian monasteries.

The monasteries attract all types of people, including Americans who don't know Greek. I am one of them!

#25 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 04:07 PM

I spend quite a bit of time at the monastery that Matthew was talking about earlier. Geronda Ephraim's monasteries use Greek, and will continue to do so in the future. I do not speak Greek, but I have no problems following the services, and I actually prefer Greek to English. Every English speaking parish I have gone to has a different translation in use, some that I really like, others that distract and irritate me. I have no such problems with Greek or Slavonic! In addition, the monasteries are not xenophobic in the least. At the one I go to, there are a lot of Americans, along with Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Arabs, and such. All are included and treated the same.


As much as I admire the efforts of Geronda Ephraim, I admire the Holy Apostle Paul more.

1 Corinthians 14:13-19 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 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.


You may be able to follow the structure of the service, but you still miss out on the TEACHING of the service. There are prokimena, troparia, kontakia, stikeria that are filled with the teachings of the Holy Church. They are there to be heard and to be understood! I have been in more than one situation where the person standing near me who was raised in the Church, but only hearing the services in Slavonic or Greek, who had NO IDEA of the teachings of the Church. One horrified woman actually turned to me and asked: "Do we REALLY believe that?" upon hearing the tropar and kontak for the first time in English.

It is good to have the Liturgy in every language! It is also good to preserve the traditions of our fathers, one being liturgical languages.


It is good to preserve the WORDS of our fathers. their thoughts and ideas, and convey them to the present and future generations, so that they can be understood and acted upon, not merely dusted off and looked at like in a museum. Having the original writing in the original language is, of course, a good thing to ensure that what is being taught in the local language actually corresponds to the original author's thoughts, but God does not demand that everyone learn Hebrew to be a Christian. God is bigger than language.

Here I step into controversial territory, but I fear that this concept of "holy languages" is merely an attempt to put God in a box, to try and contain the Uncontainable. It is so much easier to simply hear the pretty Slavonic and admire the artistry of the music and overlook the meaning of the words! If we understand, then we are FORCED to act! We must choose, to acknowledge the words and act accordingly, or ignore the words, not change our lives and acknowledge the conflict!

In addition, Geronda Ephraim's monasteries are international. The monks are from all over the world. People visit from all over the world - from Greece, South Africa, Australia, Europe, Russia, etc. In addition, you have monks passing through the monasteries visiting from Palestine, Agion Oros, and other places. I think it is very fair for the monasteries to use Greek in the Liturgy.


It may be "fair", but I still question the edification. I know of one very sweet, very "spiritual" young lady who loves to go to St. Anthony Monastery. She is not Orthodox, not even Christian, but she really "gets off" on the "spirituality" and atmosphere. Not understanding the words means she does not have to deal with them. She can get her spiritual "high" and walk away totally unaffected. Whadupwidat?

In addition, Geronda Ephraim's monasteries act in a way that stabilizes and aids English speaking monasteries and parishes, especially the English Serbian monasteries.

The monasteries attract all types of people, including Americans who don't know Greek. I am one of them!


This I do agree with, but it is the uncompromising Athonite spirit that attracts and "stabilizes", not necessarily the use of a specific "liturgical language". But I think the mission of an Orthodox monastery in some ways is very different from the mission of the parish. You can get away with forcing a "liturgical language" upon people who seek you out. But if you are trying to actively bring the world in, making them learn a whole new (dead?) language first is not going to grow the Church very much. That is not how the Apostles did it. The miracle of Pentecost was not that everybody suddenly understood one language, it was that the Gospel was being proclaimed in many languages!

One way to "preserve" something is to kill it, put it in a preserving solution and keep it in a dark cool place. But He is the God of the living, not of the dead (languages?)!

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 28 October 2008 - 04:09 PM.
corrected reference


#26 Nina

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 04:23 PM

But He is the God of the living, not of the dead (languages?)!


Ummm... Liturgical/Patristic Greek dead???!!!! It is as much dead as are our Fathers/Saints who spoke it and left endless spiritual treasuries to us.

But Herman do not worry, when I meet you I will only speak in modern Greek. :P

P.S Thinking about it... some people tried to come up with Esperanto... which can be classified as modern... and thinking more about it... Antichrist will speak/reach masses in modern languages also. Uffffff in religious matters it is wise to stay away from the dichotomy dead vs. modern of linguistics.

#27 Father David Moser

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 04:41 PM

Between Herman and Andrew, there is certainly a great deal of middle ground. One thing that must be recognized in this discussion is that a monastery is not a parish - it does not necessarily exist as a "missionary venture". If the services in the monastery meet the needs of the monastics (whether in Greek, Slavonic, English or some other language) then it is of little importance whether they cater to the prevailing culture of the visitors.

OTOH, a parish is a whole different animal. The parish is the visible extension of the Church into the world and thus should strive to address the prevailing culture (especially in terms of language) Thus in this county, while I am not scandalized or upset at the use of non-English in a monastic setting, I do believe that each and every parish should strive to use at least some (if not all) English. In my own parish there are lots of "new arrivals" who have very limited English and yet the services are primarily in English (for a variety of reasons). But we do add in some Slavonic to address the needs of those for whom it is their language of prayer. The "mix" of languages in a parish is dependent on the make up and purpose of the parish, but it should never be completely out of reach of the visitor who comes in - because we are all missionaries to the world around us.

Fr David Moser

#28 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 05:26 PM

Ummm... Liturgical/Patristic Greek dead???!!!! It is as much dead as are our Fathers/Saints who spoke it and left endless spiritual treasuries to us.

But Herman do not worry, when I meet you I will only speak in modern Greek. :P


but those that understood him smiled at one another and
shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me
(William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar)


P.S Thinking about it... some people tried to come up with Esperanto... which can be classified as modern... and thinking more about it... Antichrist will speak/reach masses in modern languages also. Uffffff in religious matters it is wise to stay away from the dichotomy dead vs. modern of linguistics.


A "lving" language changes over time. New words are added, some words change meanings, and other words drop out of popular usage. Change over time happens to living things. Time does not cause change, it is change that causes time! The value of a "dead" language, one that is NOT used day-to-day is that it does NOT change. Deriving and understanding the meaning of a particular word is made easier because that meaning does not change. It helps us bring the past into the present. But that is what we are meant to do, I think, not merely "preserve" the past, but bring that past into the present, not drag the present back into the past.

Or so it seems to this bear of little brain.

Herman the Pooh

#29 Nina

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 09:01 PM

When we got married, 90% of the service and the entire sermon was in the mother tongue of my husband. Why? Because we the Orthodox did not have a problem being gracious and allow those who were guests in this Orthodox Sacrament understand and comprehend everything. The priest could speak superbly Greek but when we were asked I said that I rather have the service in the language of the people who were not familiar with an Orthodox wedding, since we the Orthodox clan know by heart almost the entire service. The sermon was also explaining to the guests what just happened and what everything symbolizes in an Orthodox wedding. So it was beautiful and all were happy. Especially those who would not have understood Greek, or an Orthodox service - who were actually the majority. They profusely and fervently for many days commented on the Orthodox wedding they attended. And when we got back from the honeymoon we got lots of great feedback.

But I would never bid adieu to the Liturgical/Patristic Greek for spiritual reasons. Yes there is a time to be gracious and there is a time to think more selfishly about one's spiritual needs. I do not know what I would give up just to have one of the monasteries of Geronda Ephraim nearby, or at least in my state. My experience like that of Andrew's is that it is actually a blessing to have such monasteries in the nearby.

#30 Andrew James

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 02:14 AM

It seems that these monasteries are choosing to restrict themselves from wider missionary work. However this is their decision, and I can reluctantly live with it.

I would like to mention the following quote from Fr. Alexander Schmemann that this thread to some extent reminded me of.

“To recover the missionary dimension of the Church is today’s greatest imperative. We have to recover a very basic truth: that the Church is essentially Mission, that the very roots of her life are in the commandment of Christ: ‘Go Ye therefore and teach all nations’ (Matt. 28:19). A Christian community that would lose this missionary zeal and purpose, that would become selfish and self-centered, that would limit itself to ’satisfying the spiritual needs of its members’, that would identify itself completely with a nation, a society, a social or ethnic group – is on its way to spiritual decadence and death, because the essential spiritual need of a Christian is precisely that of sharing the life and the Truth with as many men as possible and ultimately with the whole world. Mission thus is the organic need and task of the Church in the world, the real meaning of Church’s presence in history between the first and the second advents of her Lord, or, in other terms, the meaning of Christian history. Obviously not all members of the Church can go and preach in the literal sense of the word. But all can have a concern for the missionary function of the Church, feel responsible for it, help and support it. In this respect each diocese, each parish and each member of the Church are involved in the missionary ministry.”



#31 Matthew Namee

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 04:26 AM

In response to Nina's posts, I would respectfully refer back to some things I said earlier -- words are symbols, nothing more and nothing less. There is nothing inherently holy about any language. Greek was the tongue of the Gentiles, pagans, until Jews of the Diaspora and then the Apostles co-opted it and made it their own.

If a language can be holy, then why are we not speaking Aramaic? Why is the liturgy not sung in Hebrew? The precedent of the Apostles and saints overwhelmingly testifies to the preference for a language which the people can understand. For if they do not understand, does it not sound like nonsense?

There are no holy words or magic words. It is the meaning behind the words that is holy. Our English pronunciation of "Jesus Christ" is not at all the way that it would have been pronounced in the Lord's day. And even the Greek form of the Lord's name has been modified -- deliberately, by the Apostle Paul -- to conform to Greek. The word "Christ" does not exist in Aramaic or Hebrew; it is another word entirely. I cannot see how we can on the one hand use Greek or Slavonic or what have you -- languages into which the Gospel was translated -- and on the other hand argue that these languages themselves have a value beyond being simply means to convey concepts.

One of the most beautiful services of the church year is the Agape Vespers on Pascha. To hear the Gospel preached in so many languages is a joy, because it bears witness to the universality of the message; it is proclaimed to everyone, regardless of what language they happen to speak. I think this is one of the defining aspects of Christianity, and of Orthodoxy in particular.

#32 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 07:10 AM

these languages themselves have a value beyond being simply means to convey concepts.


Some means are better than others, and those who I know who know about these things tell me persuasively that Greek and Slavonic are the best means to convey theological concepts. English is relatively poor at doing so, French, I'm told, rather poorer than English. Church Slavonic, my wife tells me, was specifically designed for its purpose and conveys depths of meaning with beauty in ways beyond what modern Russian can do. I believe the same is true of Church Greek. If these qualities in Greek and Slavonic are accepted, does this mean that they are 'holy'? It's worth bearing in mind the meaning and etymology of 'holy'. It's from OE for 'whole', and it can correspond in meaning to the Latin 'sanctus' in meaning 'set aside'. If these languages are set aside for religious use, as they are, are they not then necessarily holy?

It is the meaning behind the words that is holy.


Yes, but it seems that these two languages are apt to express and convey meaning more profoundly than others.

None of this means that we who are not proficient in these languages are somehow second-class Orthodox or that our salvation depends upon learning them- of course not. But we should not be in a hurry to assume that 'understanding the words' of services is what is necessary to know what the divine services are about. Engagement with the content of the divine services can operate at a mystical level beyond simple comprehension. Understanding the words of the services at the level of dictionary definition does not lead to real, deep, spiritual understanding; that can only come from exegesis, not the dictionary.

#33 Nina

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 07:48 AM

To Matthew Namee: What you say in your post is irrelevant in connection to my posts. Since I replied to Herman's saying about God being the God of living languages. I was just reminding about the bigger picture and not a narrow view of creating antagonism in languages which have been/are used to glorify God. Actually this is so strange for me that then I get amused.

So Matthew please do not say things to me which I know already and which are common sense. Do not get defensive since I did not mean to put down any languages. I just tried to remind us to be more careful when we speak about Patristic Greek since that is what Herman was discussing in his post. Ok?

To all: There is no reason to compare and elevate or denigrate languages in Orthodoxy. Also there is no reason to judge Geronda Ephraim so publicly. It is not polite, it is not Christian and it is not charitable to juxtapose the Apostle to Geronda. Heavenly things are not caustic to each other, but work in concordance for the glory of God. Since our judgment differs from God's judgment maybe we should refrain from judging Geronda's work here. Gratitude is also a lesson Christ reminded us of.

#34 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 09:06 AM

Some personal thoughts on this subject.

I believe that it is essential that the Orthodox services be held in the language of the country in which they are being held.

It is simple logic that you have to be able to understand something in order to appreciate it.

Having said that I would like to say that the Greek language is a truly beautiful language. It is very expressive and most of the non-Greek members of this forum know it anyway because of the enormous number of English words that are really Greek.

If my parents were not Greek and I were a convert Orthodox I believe that the first thing I would do is start to learn Greek. Why?

In order to hear and understand the Liturgy that was written in Greek and to be able to enjoy the beauty of it.

"Except those of the Armenians, Nestorians, and Abyssinians, all Eastern liturgies were originally written in Greek."



There is really no comparison. English or whichever native language is applicable in order to understand better but Greek for the beauty and for the hidden meanings that make everything crystal clear.

A little secret : once you start to learn Greek you will continue all your life. It is like a hidden treasure that you dig up, nugget by nugget. Just when it seems that I have some understanding of it, I discover something else, and realize that after 30 odd years I am still just at the beginning.


Effie

p.s. Once upon a time it was common practice to learn the Greek language in university, but sadly this is no longer true. Thomas Jefferson was a Greek scholar. Just one example.

#35 Olga

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 09:27 AM

May I offer the following, from my many years of experience of both Greek and Slavonic services, and, in more recent years, English as well:

Some means are better than others, and those who I know who know about these things tell me persuasively that Greek and Slavonic are the best means to convey theological concepts. English is relatively poor at doing so, French, I'm told, rather poorer than English. Church Slavonic, my wife tells me, was specifically designed for its purpose and conveys depths of meaning with beauty in ways beyond what modern Russian can do. I believe the same is true of Church Greek. If these qualities in Greek and Slavonic are accepted, does this mean that they are 'holy'? It's worth bearing in mind the meaning and etymology of 'holy'. It's from OE for 'whole', and it can correspond in meaning to the Latin 'sanctus' in meaning 'set aside'. If these languages are set aside for religious use, as they are, are they not then necessarily holy?


A language is not, in and of itself, holy. It is what is expressed in that language which is holy, as well as how it is expressed. To take some negative examples: It is common, if not all too frequent, to attend a Greek service where the Byzantine chant is spoilt by one chanter who insists on singing through his nose during solo melismatic pieces; to attend a Slavonic service where the choir is off-key, or sings in a baroque, operatic style devoid of compunction and reverence; to attend an English service where the readers stumble over the archaicisms of full Tudor English. Yet there are countless times I have attended services conducted in either of these languages, and had my hair stand on end for all the right reasons.

What is my point? In all cases, it is not the language itself which inherently makes the service good or otherwise for the soul , it is not the mere "aesthetics" of the sound produced by the singing and reading, it is the whole "package deal". Orthodoxy involves all the senses, not just our hearing. Sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing. All are, or should be, participating.

Yes, but it seems that these two languages are apt to express and convey meaning more profoundly than others.



The comparatively late entry of English as a liturgical language used by the Orthodox Church, and the inherent mutability of English has led to a wide range of translations, ranging from the full Tudor of Isaac Lambertsen, through to versions which border on the undignified. By contrast, Greek and Slavonic texts are essentially immutable: Firstly, these languages, as is Latin, are no longer spoken, vernacular languages, so these languages themselves have become "standardised" and do not suffer from the fluid nature of modern English, or the vagaries of any other "living" language. Greek, being the language of the Septuagint and of the New Testament, and the dominant language of the Patristic period, became the "default" language for liturgical use, as much because for some centuries it was the lingua franca of the Christian world, before Latin overtook it. Is it any wonder, then, that so many doctrinal and theological concepts were originally, and continue to be expressed in Greek terms?

Ironically, the very mutability of English makes it even easier for such ideas to be expressed, whether Greek terms (such as Theotokos) or "native" English alternatives are used. English, perhaps more than any other language on earth, is renowned for its wholesale appropriation of words and ideas from all over the place. Is it truly so difficult for such a mongrel language to be incapable of expressing Orthodox concepts in a comprehensible, beautiful and reverent way? If it can be done for a language like German or Japanese, why not for English?

None of this means that we who are not proficient in these languages are somehow second-class Orthodox or that our salvation depends upon learning them- of course not. But we should not be in a hurry to assume that 'understanding the words' of services is what is necessary to know what the divine services are about. Engagement with the content of the divine services can operate at a mystical level beyond simple comprehension. Understanding the words of the services at the level of dictionary definition does not lead to real, deep, spiritual understanding; that can only come from exegesis, not the dictionary.


I sense a tautology here. Was not the commission of the Apostles to go out and preach to all, in their own languages? Were they not given the gift of speaking in languages not their own, but completely comprehensible to the peoples in Jerusalem gathered there at Pentecost? If comprehension of what is read, said and sung is not essential, then what is the point?

#36 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 09:41 AM

As for dead languages in general, they were not always dead. When St. Paul wrote in Greek, he did so because the people to whom he ministered spoke Greek. The Greek used in church services was not always a dead Greek. In the Byzantine Empire, it was the language of the people, and yes, people cursed in it.

Ss. Cyril and Methodius did not create a Slavonic alphabet. They created Glagolitic, a precursor to Slavonic. It doesn't even look much like Slavonic at all. And the reason they created it was to minister to the Slavs in a language they could understand.

What is the purpose of words and languages? Words are symbols which represent concepts. If the hearer does not understand the word, the intended concept will not be properly conveyed. The Apostles made sure to use words which their flocks understood. Likewise the great evangelists in Church history translated liturgical and theological texts into the living language of their people. The idea that a dead language is preferable to a living one is not consistent with the command to preach the Gospel to all nations. I am not saying that old Slavonic and Greek need to be immediately discarded; still, we should consider whether they are fulfilling their intended function.

Finally, Mr. Kosovsky, what Slavonic word represents "the whole of Christian theology"? I know that Greek lends itself particularly well to philosophical and theological discourse, but even Greek is not so perfect that a single word can serve as the sum of all truth.


Greek is a "dead language"???

I believe that if you were to start studying Greek you would find that this is absolutely untrue.

A language develops over time. A negative comparison between the Greek and English languages is not helpful here but you have to admit that even the English language has developed and subsequently changed over the years. Can you read a book by Chaucer? Chaucer died in 1400 - 600 odd years ago. Is English a dead language? Think of the thousands of years of the Greek language..... it is anything but dead. Depending on which school they attend, our children learn Ancient Greek from an early age. At the same time they learn Modern Greek. It is the same language, just as Modern English is the same language as Middle English.

An example of the English of the 14th century :

So faren we, if I shal seye the sothe."

Another reason to learn Greek : Not only the liturgies but the gospels were originally written in Greek - not Aramaic.

"Christianity was born in Israel. By the end of the first century, it had spread throughout the Roman Empire and was armed with a new holy book: the New Testament. This collection of inspired Scriptures had been added to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tenach, which Christians call the Old Testament. The new writings, composed primarily of the Gospels and the Epistles, were distributed widely in the Greek language. It seems fairly certain that the Gospels of Luke and John, the Book of Acts, the Epistles, and the Book of Revelation were originally written in Greek, but what about the Gospels of Matthew and Mark?

The oldest known manuscripts of Matthew and Mark are in Greek. According to recent scholarship, Greek fragments of these two Gospels have been verified as dating from as early as the 60s A.D. Some scholars have argued that these Gospels were originally written in Aramaic and later translated into Greek. If that is the case, no extant copies or fragments of the Aramaic text have been found. The only evidence we have is that the original text of Matthew and Mark was in Greek."

In my opinion, there are two good reasons to learn Greek when someone adopts the Orthodox religion -firstly, the fact that nothing has changed from the original texts, and secondly, the beauty of this language.

You cannot trust some recent translations of the New Testament. One translation I have (I bought it in 1970) refers to the Turks of Asia Minor at the time of St. Paul. There were no "Turks" in Asia Minor at that time but the translators of this particular edition thought that they were "correcting" the original text in light of the reality of the present time.

"10th - 15th century: Turks migrate into parts of Asia Minor and later on into Southeast Europe."

"The name first enters the European vocabulary through Byzantine sources, which called Turks a number of barbarian tribes migrating from the Asian steppes to Asia Minor, the Crimea and the Balkans - the Avars, Pechenegs, Huns and Khazars. Those invaders spoke dialects of language very close to modern Turkish."

Think how wonderful it would be to read what was originally written and not something that originated in some translator's mind.

#37 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 02:52 PM

Orthodoxy involves all the senses, not just our hearing. Sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing. All are, or should be, participating.


I had something of the sort in mind in when I wrote my post (too early in the morning!). Yes, of course there's far more to participating in a service than following the words, which is why many of us can stand and feel grace (occasionally) even if we understand little of the words.

Firstly, these languages, as is Latin, are no longer spoken


I understood (from my wife) that Church Slavonic was never a spoken vernacular but deliberately composed for the Church - is that right?

Is it truly so difficult for such a mongrel language to be incapable of expressing Orthodox concepts in a comprehensible, beautiful and reverent way?


I think English can be made so, more or less; in my opinion, the texts used as the monastery here do so.

If comprehension of what is read, said and sung is not essential, then what is the point?


I was hoping to put across the notion that knowing the meaning of words and phrases can be on different levels. I hesitate to give an example off the top of my head but take 'Do good O Lord in Thy good pleasure unto Sion and let the walls of Jerusalem be builded' from Ps 50/51. A person will know what the words mean but wouldn't understanding the spiritual meaning behind the verses mean going further than plain dictionary meaning?

#38 Father David Moser

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 03:01 PM

I understood (from my wife) that Church Slavonic was never a spoken vernacular but deliberately composed for the Church - is that right?


This is the same as I was taught by Archbishop Alypy of Chicago (ROCOR) who is a highly respected scholar of Church Slavonic (he wrote the Slavonic textbook which is still used today at Holy Trinity Monastery and which has now also available in English) He maintains that Church Slavonic is the only language that was created for the sole purpose of glorifying God and was never a vernacular used for "common" purposes.

Fr David Moser

#39 Eric Peterson

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 03:01 PM

There are several languages used liturgically for several reasons in America, where I live. I understand the arguments for keeping Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, etc. But, I think it comes down to how we want or expect people to understand the faith expressed through liturgy. It really is only a matter of opinion how important it is for one to be able to understand the words of the liturgy to understand the faith--understanding being interpreted more broadly, and not in the strict intellectual sense, but in the more fundamental sense of spiritual understanding.

In my view, as much as an unknown language like Slavonic or Greek might be able to convey certain things, there is only so much I can take before I lose the ability to concentrate on the liturgy if it's in a language I don't understand. (Personally, I can deal with liturgical Greek fairly well up to a point, but things which aren't repeated as often like stichera are totally unfamiliar to me, and so I lose the meaning and the teaching). I think that's the case for a lot of people, especially people who might be attending church for the first time--even many "cradle" Orthodox have left the Church and gone to non-Orthodox churches because they never understood the liturgy, and thus did not gain a very deep understanding of their faith.

I think the question we need to ask is, just how many barriers do we want to erect for people? Is Orthodoxy for everyone, or only for those who can make the extra effort--beyond acquiring a change of heart and faith--to learn a new language (and even culture).

Perhaps it would be easier to take for those who want everything in Greek and Slavonic if English translations were all of the same quality--majestic, liturgical, accurate, etc. But even if they're not, it's easier to further explain an English word to English speakers than a non-English word to those who may not have the same interest in languages.

#40 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 03:20 PM

Fr David wrote:

He maintains that Church Slavonic is the only language that was created for the sole purpose of glorifying God and was never a vernacular used for "common" purposes.


Does that make it holy?




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