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'Orthodox Church bans modern Greek in Liturgy'

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#1 Guest_sinjin smithe

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Posted 07 January 2003 - 07:00 PM

Rejects Bishop's Initiative to Do Away with "Koine"

Athens (Greece), September 20, 2002

The Greek Orthodox Church has rejected a proposal to introduce modern Greek in the Liturgy.

The great majority of the Holy Synod opted to keep Koine Greek as it was spoken 2,000 years ago and used in New Testament texts. Koine has contributed to the "mystery" of the Liturgy, the Orthodox bishops emphasized.

Bishop Apostolos of Kilkision sparked the debate after he had translated liturgical texts into modern Greek and celebrated the Liturgy in that language.

The bishop was called to account by the Holy Synod. He said he does not see anything wrong with his decision, which seeks "to make the Liturgy accessible to the people." "The majority of people do not understand the language of the Liturgy. They don't understand one word," the newspaper Kathimerini reported the bishop as saying. "It is one of the reasons why many people, particularly youth, do not go to church," Bishop Apostolos added.

With the exception of two bishops, all members of the Holy Synod opposed the proposal, and Bishop Apostolos promised not to use modern Greek to celebrate the Liturgy.

Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Orthodox Church in Greece, wrote Bishop Apostolos saying that, "if he believed changes should be made, he should send his proposals in writing to be examined" by a special commission of the Holy Synod.

Defenders of Koine do not think that the usage of modern Greek will attract more people to church. With "its beauty, strength and splendor," the traditional Liturgy of the Orthodox does much more for the faith than what punctilious understanding and explanation of each and every word might do, ecclesiastical sources explained.

Pravoslavie.Ru / Zenit.org

I have heard some Greeks blame the education system in Greece because it no longer teaches Koine.

#2 Guest_Donald Wescott

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Posted 08 January 2003 - 04:02 PM

I haven't heard this complaint from my Greek friends (regarding the failure to teach Koine), however I have heard numerous complaints regarding young Greeks leaving the church due to thier inability to understand the liturgy. The stance of the Greek synod seems to be contrary to the very spirit of Orthodoxy. I am currently reading an excellent treatise on Orthododx missiology in Alaska, Orthodox Alaska by Fr. Michael Oleksa. He points out that since the earliest times the church has sought to bring the Gospel to people in their own language and in the context of their owm culture. It would seem right to me to move to a modern Greek tongue in order to do just that for todays Greek population. It would seem to me to be shame were Orthodoxy to fade in Greece because of some stubborn refusal to adapt.

#3 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 26 February 2003 - 02:14 PM

Dear Donald and Sinjin,

I've enjoyed reading your two posts in this short thread. There is much in what you have said, Donald, with which I would conceptually (on a personal level) agree. It is essential that the faith be living; and in order to live in a person's mind and heart, there must be some level of understanding that comes through language.

But the 'other side' of this issue is rarely addressed. There is such a thing as educating someone into a language, or style of language, that is deliberately different from that to which they are used - a distinct language, a closed vocabulary, that sets the language apart, in some sense, from the vernacular of the every day. We have seen this philosophy come into renewed play in the English language over the past decade: there has been a resurgence of support for translation of the Scriptures that use 'dated' (or at least different) language than modern, every day books, precisely because this language is different from the language of those books, from our casual conversations, and thus can become a sacred language, the sound of which (like the scent of incense) helps propel the mind into a proper spirit of reverence.

As a specific example, translations such as the New King James Version (NKJV) thoroughly updated the translation of the Scriptures (i.e. it is not simply a re-polishing of the KJV, but a whole new translation) to express the text in contemporary idiom and terminology; yet this volume retained the 'Thou/Ye' pronouns and capitalisation of 'Him, He, His', despite the insistence of modern scholarship that this does not reflect any similar capitalisation in the original Hebrew or Greek (which is true enough). Yet it is different from everyday speech, and for this reason has a powerful value. (As an aside, the NKJV also has several problems as a translation; but in this regard is commendable.)

It is a different issue with the question of modern vs. classical/ecclesiastical ('koine') Greek in the Liturgy. Here we have an issue of comprehensibility of the language as a whole, rather than simply of stylistic expression. But the fact of the matter is that simply because the average Greek speaker does not inherently comprehend Koine, this does not mean that the Koine of the Liturgy cannot be taught and learned -- and relatively easily at that. There is something of the 'otherness' of Koine (as with Slavonic to Russian speakers) that is, yes, difficult to understand of one does not make an effort to do so; but which is helpful and useful precisely for its foreignness if one takes the effort to work towards its comprehension.

The Church has a responsibility to help the people understand the words they hear and recite in the services; and it is essential in this regard the printed versions of the texts be made available in the vernacular language (for example, the brilliant facing-page old/modern Greek New Testament available in Greece; the modern Greek translations and commentaries of the Liturgy available in Greece; etc) for study and reflection. But in terms of the services themselves, the Church in this regard perhaps has the duty to educate people into the comprehension of the otherness that an older language represents.

INXC, Matthew

#4 Owen Jones

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Posted 26 February 2003 - 04:30 PM

Sadly, in my observation, Matthew, that duty of which you speak is more often observed in the breach.

#5 Richard Leigh

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Posted 26 February 2003 - 05:05 PM

Since God is about communication (witness the incarnation of the Logos), and that this communication is done out of love, which, according to the Holy Spirit through Saint Paul in 1 Cor 13 does not demand its own way, it stands to reason that if the comnmunication is not understood, it is not communicated, and that if there is a way to make it understood, God will find that way.

OTOH, one needs always be careful of how one treats holy things and holy words, and it would seem appropriate in a church that rightly puts a high premium on "goup conscience" as a "sounding board" of the Holy Spirit in the whole church for decision making that one seek the aid of as many competent individuals as are available in making one's translation. It is also important to note though that if the Lord had waited for all of our services to Him to be perfect before, say, sending the Aposltes to the Gentiles, Greeks among them,it would never have happened. So, we struggle our way through and learn from our mistakes.


#6 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 26 February 2003 - 05:08 PM

Owen wrote:

Sadly, in my observation, Matthew, that duty of which you speak is more often observed in the breach.

I entirely agree. This is among the duties of the Church to her people that needs to be the subject of renewed energy and enthusiasm in our day.

INXC, Matthew

#7 Guest_Rev. Hieromonk Averky

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 06:48 AM

I have been a priest for twenty years, and in that time I have served all liturgical services in either English or Church Slavonic. My first observation is that given the average person's attention span, after the service progresses, and the brain tires, the priest could be serving in Swahili, and it would not make that much difference as far as comprehension is concerened. For many years I thought that the Russian people, who do not use Slavonic as a daily language have no more idea of what is being read or sung in church than do non-russians, but have found that not to be true; it amazes how much of the services that they do know by heart, can sing along with the choir, and can intelligently discuss the nuances of the meanings of the text.. Many of our converts rely on an english text, but again, in time they begin to absorb what is going on in the services. Years ago, before I entered the monastery, i attended a talk given by a an Archimandrite from Greece by the name of Philotheos. When someone asked him about language in church services, he replied that the most moving spiritual experiences he had had was when he was but a child, for he felt that the Holy Spirit speaks to the soul of one who is truly praying during divine services, and that "He educates the soul and mind with the Truth found in the verses which are being sung. I must admit, that for me personally, church Slavonic flows more readily from the tongue, has a beauty which English cannot capture, but English mst be used for those of us who are of the English-speaking world.

#8 Guest_Philip Mathew

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 05:15 PM

Is the Greek that is used in the Liturgy Ancient Greek or Koine (or NT) Greek? I have never gotten the same answer twice. Thanks!


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Posted 08 March 2003 - 06:22 PM

The Greek used in the Divine Liturgey is the Koine Greek. Koine Greek was the market
place Greek ; i.e. the spoken Greek when the Gospels were written. Evan

#10 Fr Averky

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Posted 09 March 2003 - 06:05 AM

Dear All,
The argument for both sides of this question will go on until the end of time, so it seems. Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow has made mention that he attempted to have divine services served in Russian in his diocese of Estonia, but it met with popular resistance. I am told that a proposal for the use of Russian was to be brought up at a meeting of the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, but failed to even to make it to the agenda. The Serbian Church has started to have divine services in both Slavonic and Serbian, and I hear from Serbs that visited there, that there are many Serbs who will not attend a church that has Serbian in the services. Believe it or not, even parishes of the Church Abroad (to which I belong), are beginning to use some English! In my early days, after joining the Orthodox Church if even the Epistle and the Gospel, one litany, or the Our Father would be said in English, it would be enough to make me feel that I belonged.. The Church Abroad always has seen herself as being in a temporary situation, thus "justifying" her need to preserve Slavonic and Russian culture. However, after 80 years, she sees that many non-Russians have become part of her flock, and she must see to their needs. As long as the Orthodox Churches in this country have strong ties to "Mother" churches in Eastern Europe or in Arab nations, the use of English will always be an issue. In this country, the Antiochean Orthodox Church and the Russian Church Abroad have experienced new growth in recent years from refugees and in the case of the Synod, "new" russians, who fully expect services to be in Slavonic, and the parish to be essentially Russian. It causes a dilemna, but I firmly agree agree with those who maintain that the language of church services should include all worshippers, not excluding those deemed "foreigners." Our Saviour commisssioned the Apostles to baptize all nations, and sometimes people like the Russians forget that it did not stop with them. I love Greek and Slavonic, but English is my native tongue, and I want to be able to pray in that language when I pray to God publicly.

#11 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 09 March 2003 - 04:54 PM

Philip asked:

Is the Greek that is used in the Liturgy Ancient Greek or Koine (or NT) Greek?

Actually, it is neither, even as it is a little of both. The parlance of the New Testament writings reflects the koine of the era; but overall the language of the services, the correspondence and the theological writings of the Church represents a mixture of this koine with the unique character of Septuagintal Greek of the Old Testament and the philosophical (largely Classical) Greek used in the principal controversies of the first Christian centuries. It is not truly 'classical' (i.e. Attic) Greek; but someone who has only studied the koine will have trouble with much of the Church's writings that still reflect a predominance of classical elements.

INXC, Matthew

#12 George Hawkins

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Posted 09 March 2003 - 11:38 PM

I am a parishoner at the Rocor Church in NZ. Right next door to us, we have a Serbian Church. At the moment we don't have a permenant Priest at the Russian Church. Just recently, our Churches have begun having English Liturgies on Saturdays, and it is a real blessing, as although numbers are small, there are a few of us native English speaking Orthodox, and it is so good to have Liturgy in your own language. The Serbian Church has been doing this for a few weeks now. Previously when we had a permenant Priest at the Russian Church, there was also an English Liturgy. Next week we will be having an English Liturgy at the Russian Church.
In Japan, the liturgy is conducted in Classical Japanese, known as bungakugo, which was used as the written form of the language (but not the spoken) until the end of WW2. It takes a while to get used to as it is quite different from the vernacular, (everyone studies classical Japanese at school though), but as with using an older form of English in Liturgies, the otherness of the liturgical language is a treasure.

#13 Guest_Damon Nestor Ploumis

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Posted 11 March 2003 - 12:40 AM

The notion that more people would attend services if the language were to be modernised is belied by the reforms precipitated by Vatican II. In that instance, the liturgical language was entirely replaced by local languages yet attendance has declined precipitously since the reforms.

As a Greek American I often have heard from fellow Chrisitans that they would attend church more often if the services were in English and I do belive in the case of fourth generation Greek Americans,this demand is not wholly unjustifiable. It is one thing to have to make an effort in understanding an archaic form of one's native tongue and another thing to have to learn a totally new language foreign to the country in which one lives.

That being said, most people are willing to make the effort to learn a new language or refine the knowledge of their maternal tongue for the sake of their career prospects but are wholly unwilling to do the same for the sake of their souls. Christ says knock and you shall enter seek and you shall find. The quest for salvation is not passive but rather active. If one attends services and makes an effort to understand, after some time elements of the service become comprehensible in the same manner with an infant who must learn by engaging those around him. In his humble position, a child must piece his language together. The Church is dealing with elevated issues and we must not expect Her to always conform to our needs; rather we must strive to engage ourselves in the salvation scheme offered by the Church.

As to the specifically Greek issue of modernising the language of the sevices, the same priciple applies. As a student in Athens,I lived like a king, teaching English as a second language to those droves of Greeks who saw the necessity of learning it to improve their prospects. If parents were even a tenth so zealous in ensuring that there children learned their own language as well as they do English, there would be no case to Bishop Apostolos' use of demotic Greek during service.

For much of history, the bulk of the faithful, I would hazard to guess, could understand little of the Greek and probably less of the Slavonic, (being that Russian is even more remotely related to Church Slavonic). Yet the Church has always born great fruits of piety for worship is not limited to speech alone. Although one may not understand the language completely, one can still comprehend through humility and patience.

#14 Guest_Damon Nestor Ploumis

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Posted 11 March 2003 - 01:41 AM

Apologies for the typos, I am a dreadful typist! DNP

#15 Michael Astley

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Posted 01 September 2006 - 03:49 PM

I wonder why there is such resistance to such a change. I mean, Christian worship in English has traditionally been conducted in either Elizabethan or Stuart English, which is both comprehensible and dignified. However, there are Orthodox churches that use modern English. In fact, there is a joint contribution of the churches under the Oecumenical Patriarchate, Moscow Patriarchate and possibly Antioch as well, which is the Divine Liturgy with the old Greek on one side and the translation in modern English on the facing page. I find it a little odd that there is a willingness to use modern English, which is a complete departure from English Christian tradition, yet there is a refusal to use modern Greek.

#16 Boulos


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Posted 01 September 2006 - 06:29 PM

Personally, i believe that the less we translate scripts and liturgies according to our nowadays wishes, is the more pure we pass them to our future future generations.... Is our responsibility to stick to the Word as it was before, and it is now, and will be later.
This is the main Title of our faith.
Whoever who listens without hearing, won't hear even if we use all languages of the world....

#17 Peter Farrington

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 09:34 PM

I find it difficult that the idea that liturgies should not be translated into English is promoted here.

It is the use of foreign languages which is one of the main reasons why ordinary people are put off Orthodoxy in the UK.

Im my own Church we celebrate in English and for some of the 'ethnic' members it is the first time they have really felt they could understand and participate. I don't know of any members who switch off during the liturgy. Certainly responses are as loud at the end as at the beginning.

I find it incomprehensible that we can confess that God became man in every way like us save sin so that the Word could communicate life to us, yet we resist the need to communicate this life to others in a language they can understand.

No person should have to learn another language to hear about Christ and to worship him. To say otherwise is surely to deny the mission of the Church as far as I can see, which is to make disciples of all peoples and cultures, not to make disciples of Greek or Russian or Coptic culture.

I look forward to the day when the British Orthodox liturgy is celebrated in Cornish, and Welsh, and Scots Gaelic as well as English, rather than the day when Cornish or Welsh learn enough Coptic to pray it in someone else's tongue.

If God desired us to impose alien tongues on folk then why are we not all praying in Aramaic with the Syrian Orthodox?

The main reason I never even considered Greek Orthodoxy was that it insisted I become a Greek to become a Christian. Yet in Christ there is no Greek, nor Russian, nor Copt, nor Arab, nor Syrian, but Christ is for all men in all cultures and languages.

There is no need to produce a bland, populist, easy-reading English or other liturgy. Ours is in good traditional English. But it is definitely English. The Bible is clear that worship must be comprehensible, if it is not then we cannot use anecdotal evidence of people who have been blessed during worship which they cannot understand, to cover the fact that we are not following the New Testament instructions of St Paul.


#18 Andrew


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Posted 16 September 2006 - 03:54 AM

My spiritual father says that the solution to this problem is putting out two authoritative Orthodox English liturgies - one in heightened, "Classical" language, and one in everyday English. Each parish could pick which one they want to use, or something like that...

#19 Laura


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Posted 16 September 2006 - 07:55 PM

I am preparing to convert to Orthodoxy whilst living in Cyprus. As the service is in Greek and I am an English speaker, I am prepared not to understand the liturgy and I follow along with my book. What I was not prepared for was the priest telling me that most of the people in the church also do not understand the service and that with my book, I probably understand more than most. Many people that I have asked, say that they do not understand the liturgy.

#20 John Charmley

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Posted 20 September 2006 - 10:27 PM

I am preparing to convert to Orthodoxy whilst living in Cyprus. As the service is in Greek and I am an English speaker, I am prepared not to understand the liturgy and I follow along with my book. What I was not prepared for was the priest telling me that most of the people in the church also do not understand the service and that with my book, I probably understand more than most. Many people that I have asked, say that they do not understand the liturgy.


This sounds like the pre-Reformation English Church, and may have worked fine in a preliterate society where books were difficult to acquire (although the evidence is that by the C15th it was not fine), but I wonder about its appropriateness now?

Sts. Cyril and Methodius did not preach to the Slavs in old Greek, and they translated the scriptures so they could effectively preach the Gospel of the Lord to those who could not read Greek.

Peter is correct to remind us that had St. Paul taken the attitude you describe, we should have had to speak Aramaic.

We preach the word so that all might come to Christ and be saved in Him. Am I being obtuse in thinking this process would be helped if we understood the words being used?

In Christ,


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