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Liturgical language

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#1 Guest_sotirmou

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Posted 14 September 2004 - 09:32 AM


A friend of mine told me recently that the Greek now used in the EO is Byzantine Greek, and not Koine. Could someone kindly confirm this for me?

thanks, sotirmou.

#2 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 14 September 2004 - 03:34 PM

I am certainly no expert on this but I see that no-one has answered your question yet.
From the Greek we learnt at seminary I think that whereas the Greek in Scripture is Koine (only NT or also Septuagint OT?)while that of the hymnography is Byzantine Greek ie of a later stage.
Hopefully someone of greater knowledge will answer this in a fuller way than I have.
In Christ- Fr Raphael

#3 Guest_sotirmou

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Posted 14 September 2004 - 03:39 PM

I thank you very much, Father. That's a very good answer! Hopefully either yourself or someone else can tell me then about the differences between Byzantine and Koine. Does this also mean learning the hymnography requires to 'relearn' Greek?


#4 John P. Nasou

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Posted 14 September 2004 - 08:00 PM

The Father's answer is as complete as you will find anywhere. As you can tell by reading Koine Greek, there is a marked difference from that of ancient Greek, which was not a uniform language in all the city states. What most Greeks don't realize is that Greek grammar was not codified until very late in the history of the language. One of the most complete efforts to do so was by Aristotle. What we have in our services is a continually evolving language which has undergone minor developments to bring it back in line with ancient Greek. It cannot be understood completely by those who know only modern Demotic Greek. It is interesting that at the memorial services conducted by the Archbishop of Athens Christodoulos over the coffin of Patriarch Petros of Alexandria this week, the readings from the scriptures were in Demotic Greek. Greece is in the process of changing her services into the language which is completely understood by all the people.

But what is BYZANTINE? That word has no place in speaking of anything Greek following the founding of New Rome by Constantine. It was devised by a Roman Catholic French historian in the 1600's writing a history of the latter Roman Empire of Constantinople, and applied in a derogatory manner which has been perpetuated by western historians from that day.

The true Orthodox churches do not use that word in respect to themselves, their liturgy or their humnography. Those eastern churches that have accepted papal domination use this word frequently. It is an utterly blasphemous word in my opinion, yet our people are slowly adopting it also.

#5 Olga



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Posted 15 September 2004 - 04:17 AM

I always understood the form of Greek in liturgical use was known as "katharevousa" (spelt phonetically), which was routinely taught in schools in Greece at least into the early 1950s. I also find it remarkable that Archbishop Christodoulos used Demotic Greek in a church service, when only recently a priest in Northern Greece was hauled over the coals for conducting Liturgy in Demotic Greek! My recollection of the incident is hazy (feel free to correct me), but the disciplinary action may even have been handed out by Christodoulos himself.

#6 Guest_sotirmou

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Posted 15 September 2004 - 10:31 AM


Please forgive me - I didn't know I was using a derogatory word with negative connotations. It's good I asked so that I am taught.

Thank you Olga and John for your answers. So, just to summarize, the current Greek in liturgical services.. is it closer to Koine or Attic? thank you, sotirmou.

#7 Arsenios


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Posted 15 September 2004 - 02:36 PM

Sotirmou writes:
"So the current Greek in liturgical services: Is it closer to Koine or Attic?"

Koine. And indeed, Demotic Greek is much closer to Koine than to Attic, because it is the cultural development of Koine Greek, and that culture, being predominantly Christian, has been very stable.

When I took Attic Greek in college long ago, we had a couple of guys from Athens there, and they did no better than we did once we got the alphabet mastered in our sophmoric brains... Yet they had no trouble with koine Greek, having only an occassional question with it...

Katharevouska Greek is a fairly recent development, in that it is seen by some as a "reaching back" to the glory days of classical Greece, from Homer through Aristotle, and a kind of revival of those times in their language and culture. It is seen by many in Greece as an attempt to paganize the culture. Katharevouska is very close to Attic Greek - As close to it as can be obtained in the revival of any language... Some like to think that it IS Attic Greek...

Yet there is another Greek, the Ekklesiastical Greek, or the Church Greek, that is virtually identical with Koine Greek of the Bible, and that has not 'developed' as the Demotic has... And this Greek is the Greek spoken in the Church outside of Greece, and is the Greek of the Liturgy of the Church, indeed is the Greek of ancient Constantinople, and the whole of the Greek speaking "Roman Empire" of ancient times. Latin never became a "Lingua Franca" of that empire, but Greek. It never even became a Lingua Franca of the west, but instead became the ecclesiastical language of the west. It was born in Italy, and was used by Rome to administer the Roman empire. It just never became popular like the Greek did when Alexander first conquered the territories...

So the upshot is that the Greek Liturgical language is virtually identical with the Liturgical Language of St. John Chrysostom, and before him as well... The differences should be as small [or smaller] than that between a rural southern Alabama priest in the US saying the same chanted liturgical words as a New Yorker in services.

I am told that learning Katharevouska Greek is really hard for Athenians... And that the country is very divided on issues of language and the revival of the pre-Christian classical pagan culture which it is seen as re-introducing...

But asking a Greek is best, and asking a bunch of them is far more entertaining!


#8 Guest_sotirmou

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Posted 26 September 2004 - 04:24 PM


Thanks very much. Excellent, beneficial answer! God blesses you.

Now, related but more detailed questions: I struggle with some pronounciation issues in Greek generally.

1) The first being the 'nt' cluster. A simple example is the word 'panta'. Could you (or anyone else) provide how you would pronounce this in Attic, Koine, and Demotic? To my very limited knowledge, it seems like it's 'panda' in Demotic and 'panta' in Koine/Attic. Is this correct? If not, corrections please.

2) The second s 'pn' as in 'pneuma'. What's the rule with the p? Are there times when the p is silent? Again, clarification please.

I know I ask a lot of questions. It is my cross. Your prayers. mina.

#9 Olga



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Posted 27 September 2004 - 03:02 AM

The T in the "nt" is a soft T, not a hard, sharp T as is usual in English. Greek does not have a hard T. The sound would be closer to "panda". The P in "pn" words is always pronounced, as is the P in words which start with "ps". For some reason, English drops the P in words like "psychology" etc.

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