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Local language vs. the language of our fathers


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#401 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 05:44 PM

Dear in the Lord, John, you wrote:

You rightly say that there has been little or no effort to create a liturgical English but I have to ask what is the cause of that not happening? Again it has been rightly pointed out that usually it was through the efforts of the jurisdiction that brought Orthodoxy into a region that Orthodoxy was translated into the “local” language. In most of the western world it seems to be the very non-canonical situation that exists with the many competing jurisdictions.

There are a number of factors that I think are interrelated (amongst others). It is worth noting that the first missionary presences in the Americas did follow the old practice of creating a liturgical local language: thus the missions and the works of the missionary saints in, for example, Alaska.

The arrival in the colonial regions of North America, however, was something different. Rather than arriving in a place that had no Christian language / vocabulary / worshipping tongue (vis-a-vis Christianity), the arrival of the Church in North America was met with various colonies that not only had a Christian religious English, but indeed formed a great deal of their cultural identity around it. The American colonies were populated by people of largely religious motivation. When Orthodox missionaries arrived, they faced something different than what had been experienced in most traditional missionary environments throughout history (and this is a fact not often enough considered when pondering the 'language question'): namely, there already was a Christianity in the region, but not Orthodox Christianity; and there already was language used to speak of the Christian God, but not in an Orthodox context or framework. This was a radically different situation than, for example, Sts Cyril and Methodius creating a language for Orthodox worship amongst a people who had never had a Christian background and did not have a language of Christian reference -- and again, this is something almost never considered when speaking of language and Orthodox mission in the English-speaking world.

What did this mean? It meant that, in part, there was not the same perceived need for the creation of language in practical terms. There were already English versions of the Scriptures. There were terms that already referred to the Christian God. There was a tradition of prayerful language, of liturgical language (largely imported from England) -- and at that stage in the development of English, there was still a much stronger sense of this. Such things could be employed, taken up, used -- and so they were.

However, the source of these 'ready-made' alternatives to a specifically created Orthodox liturgical English, was in a religious culture that was far removed from Orthodoxy. The Scriptural translations, for all that might commend them in some regards, were largely the fruits of reformation-inspired ideologies of the sacred word and its accessibility; religious language reflected the piety of the age and mentality, and so on. So what was being taken up for Orthodox usage was actually a language rooted in religious visions and practices quite foreign to an Orthodox approach.

This became more obvious as the decades and centuries progressed, for the ideology that had produced the English of that age was one of reform, of independent intellectual assent, of conceptions of understandability, accessibility, scholarly focus, etc., that meant it would naturally ever be changing as those understandings developed and changed themselves. In a mindset where scholarly focus is the key to a good text, it is only to be understood that changing scholarly understandings and academic discoveries would require changed ('improved', 'clarified', 'more accurate') texts. In a mindset where essentially Protestant ideals of prayer and worship reflect a vernacular mentality, it is only to be understood that language and texts would require to be changed as the vernacular changed; etc.

The result of this was that the language being used by the Orthodox Church began to be more and more divorced from a language that actually reflects the Church's vision and understanding -- of language, of theology, of beauty, of worship. An example of this might be the fact that of the modern translations into English of the Holy Scriptures, there is really not one that could be called suitably Orthodox in anything but a sense of express oikonomia. It is also visible in the multiple understandings of Christian English language today, of the multiple versions of it, with multiple vocabularies, grammatical approaches, styles, etc.

I say all this by way of suggesting that it really isn't a question that has, at its root, the question of differing jurisdictional approaches within Orthodoxy in the English speaking world. Of course, the problem has been much compounded by this; and today it is a great hindrance in trying to move forward.

INXC, Hieromonk Irenei

#402 David James

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 06:36 PM

I would point out that King James funded six teams of 8-12 scholars to create his new translation of the Bible. Very reminiscent of the traditional legend of how the Septuagint was created under the Pharaoh Ptolemy. What distinguishes both efforts from the situation in Orthodoxy today is the lack of royal funding. Several Orthodox jurisdictions in the US already have translation committees, such as the Translation Committee of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which recently approved my adaptation of the Miles Coverdale psalter for use in ROCOR. The trouble is, they are poorly funded, if at all. Certainly none of them is in a position to sustain a large team of scholars, as with the Septuagint or the King James Bible, for the several years it would take to translate, or even revise, the large corpus of Orthodox liturgical texts.

Nevertheless, individual members of several jurisdictions, working privately and without compensation, have produced a wide body of usable, accurate and reasonably uniform translations of the Orthodox services, to the extent that it is now possible, in monasteries and other places where the full daily cycle of services is performed, to do so entirely in English. I have in mind

- The Festal Menaion and Lenten Triodion of Mother Mary and Archimandrite (now Bishop) Kallistos
- The Liturgikon of Bishop Basil (Essey) of Wichita
- The Orthodox Liturgy of the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England
- The Menaion, Pentecostarion and Octoechos of Isaac Lambertsen
- The Unabbreviated Horologion of Monk Laurence (Campbell) of Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY

All of which are in sacral, or Prayer Book, English, consistent with Fr. Ireney's basic point, but whose existence I think contradict his assertion that "little or no effort" has been made to create a liturgical English. I would say, rather, that English is unique among the languages of Orthodox missionary endeavor in that it already has a well-developed liturgical register (to use the linguistic term). The problem is that it has sometimes been poorly imitated, or even consciously mutilated, as with The Psalter According to the Seventy or the HTM version of the Lord's Prayer ("Our Father, Who art in the heavens...") because of an overly-scrupulous allegiance to the Greek that is, in essence, distrustful - if not disdainful - of the native genius of the English language. Since our liturgical services are saturated with Scripture, if we look to the classical original translations of Miles Coverdale and the King James Bible (corrected, of course, as necessary to agree with the Septuagint), then our translations will begin to fall in line with Fr. Ireney's expressed ideals more readily.

David James

Edited by David James, 15 June 2011 - 06:39 PM.
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#403 Laura Short

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 06:50 PM

[ ... ]
The arrival in the colonial regions of North America, however, was something different. Rather than arriving in a place that had no Christian language / vocabulary / worshipping tongue (vis-a-vis Christianity), the arrival of the Church in North America was met with various colonies that not only had a Christian religious English, but indeed formed a great deal of their cultural identity around it. The American colonies were populated by people of largely religious motivation. When Orthodox missionaries arrived, they faced something different than what had been experienced in most traditional missionary environments throughout history (and this is a fact not often enough considered when pondering the 'language question'): namely, there already was a Christianity in the region, but not Orthodox Christianity; and there already was language used to speak of the Christian God, but not in an Orthodox context or framework. This was a radically different situation than, for example, Sts Cyril and Methodius creating a language for Orthodox worship amongst a people who had never had a Christian background and did not have a language of Christian reference -- and again, this is something almost never considered when speaking of language and Orthodox mission in the English-speaking world.

What did this mean? It meant that, in part, there was not the same perceived need for the creation of language in practical terms. There were already English versions of the Scriptures. There were terms that already referred to the Christian God. There was a tradition of prayerful language, of liturgical language (largely imported from England) -- and at that stage in the development of English, there was still a much stronger sense of this. Such things could be employed, taken up, used -- and so they were.

[ ... ]
INXC, Hieromonk Irenei


Excellent post! And I don't really have anything to add except to offer, as an example, my own life-long experiences with the vagaries of differing translations of the same thing: Firstly, as a Child, raised in Roman Catholicism, and having memorised great swathes of prayers and creeds, including the Nicene Creed. Then, as a young Bride who married a non-Catholic, and eventually finding herself in a Reformed and Presbyterian Church (a rather traditional one, at that, with written prayers and creeds and a psalter) whose translation of the Nicene Creed was just different enough to trip me up each Sunday for the next thirty years (funny, how the things learnt as a Child are never really forgotten...).

And now, having converted to Orthodoxy, to find yet another slightly different translation of the Nicene Creed, so that, I throw up my hands and just read it each Sunday, being too old, too confused (is this right? is this right?), and too lazy, most probably, to learn yet another version in my Mother tongue. :D

At least the "Our Father", for weal or for woe, is pretty standardised across the board.

#404 David James

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 08:16 PM

Dear in the Lord, John, you wrote:


There are a number of factors that I think are interrelated (amongst others). It is worth noting that the first missionary presences in the Americas did follow the old practice of creating a liturgical local language: thus the missions and the works of the missionary saints in, for example, Alaska.

The arrival in the colonial regions of North America, however, was something different. Rather than arriving in a place that had no Christian language / vocabulary / worshipping tongue (vis-a-vis Christianity), the arrival of the Church in North America was met with various colonies that not only had a Christian religious English, but indeed formed a great deal of their cultural identity around it. The American colonies were populated by people of largely religious motivation. When Orthodox missionaries arrived, they faced something different than what had been experienced in most traditional missionary environments throughout history (and this is a fact not often enough considered when pondering the 'language question'): namely, there already was a Christianity in the region, but not Orthodox Christianity; and there already was language used to speak of the Christian God, but not in an Orthodox context or framework. This was a radically different situation than, for example, Sts Cyril and Methodius creating a language for Orthodox worship amongst a people who had never had a Christian background and did not have a language of Christian reference -- and again, this is something almost never considered when speaking of language and Orthodox mission in the English-speaking world.

What did this mean? It meant that, in part, there was not the same perceived need for the creation of language in practical terms. There were already English versions of the Scriptures. There were terms that already referred to the Christian God. There was a tradition of prayerful language, of liturgical language (largely imported from England) -- and at that stage in the development of English, there was still a much stronger sense of this. Such things could be employed, taken up, used -- and so they were.

However, the source of these 'ready-made' alternatives to a specifically created Orthodox liturgical English, was in a religious culture that was far removed from Orthodoxy. The Scriptural translations, for all that might commend them in some regards, were largely the fruits of reformation-inspired ideologies of the sacred word and its accessibility; religious language reflected the piety of the age and mentality, and so on. So what was being taken up for Orthodox usage was actually a language rooted in religious visions and practices quite foreign to an Orthodox approach.

This became more obvious as the decades and centuries progressed, for the ideology that had produced the English of that age was one of reform, of independent intellectual assent, of conceptions of understandability, accessibility, scholarly focus, etc., that meant it would naturally ever be changing as those understandings developed and changed themselves. In a mindset where scholarly focus is the key to a good text, it is only to be understood that changing scholarly understandings and academic discoveries would require changed ('improved', 'clarified', 'more accurate') texts. In a mindset where essentially Protestant ideals of prayer and worship reflect a vernacular mentality, it is only to be understood that language and texts would require to be changed as the vernacular changed; etc.

The result of this was that the language being used by the Orthodox Church began to be more and more divorced from a language that actually reflects the Church's vision and understanding -- of language, of theology, of beauty, of worship. An example of this might be the fact that of the modern translations into English of the Holy Scriptures, there is really not one that could be called suitably Orthodox in anything but a sense of express oikonomia. It is also visible in the multiple understandings of Christian English language today, of the multiple versions of it, with multiple vocabularies, grammatical approaches, styles, etc.

I say all this by way of suggesting that it really isn't a question that has, at its root, the question of differing jurisdictional approaches within Orthodoxy in the English speaking world. Of course, the problem has been much compounded by this; and today it is a great hindrance in trying to move forward.

INXC, Hieromonk Irenei


Dear Fr. Irenei,

Greetings of the feast!

First, I apologize for misspelling your name and, second, that I had not read the post quoted above before posting my most recent comment in this thread.

I am puzzled. In the post which began this thread, you pointed out that the services of the Orthodox Church, with a few modern exceptions, have never been in the ordinary vernacular of daily life, which is an important point that has been too often ignored and, IMO, the major argument for the use of traditional liturgical English. Now, however, you assert that the classical English Scriptural translations are unfit for use by Orthodox liturgical translators, because they were made outside the "phronema" of Orthodoxy. Do you have anything practical to suggest, then, as a way forward, or are you just acting as a 'spoiler.'?

David James

Edited by David James, 15 June 2011 - 08:28 PM.
clarification


#405 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 04:10 AM

Dear in the Lord, David,

I fear you've rather mis-read the comments in my recent post.

INXC, ​Fr Irenei

#406 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 20 June 2011 - 05:16 PM

An example of this might be the fact that of the modern translations into English of the Holy Scriptures, there is really not one that could be called suitably Orthodox in anything but a sense of express oikonomia


Whose responsibility is it to provide such a translation? Is this something that is supposed to be left up to various "private" foundations? Is it something of so little import to the Church that there is no need to pay much attention to it?




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