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Author Topic: Use of Language in Orthodoxy  (Read 1482 times) Average Rating: 0
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Super Apostolic Bros.
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« on: September 11, 2009, 12:31:21 PM »

Greetings.

Full disclosure: My background is that my father's side of the family is devoutly RCC, my mother's side is protestant, and I would describe myself as protestant. I've recently had a historical and spiritual interest in Orthodoxy.

My question is, what do Orthdox consider the "appropriate" language to use in Liturgy? I know some of the saints translated the scriptures and liturgy to, say, Slavonic in order to evangelize to the Slavs and therefore are a bit more liberal in this regard than the RCC (of old). The thing is some Orthodox today argue against modernizing liturgy, insisting on "old" languages like ecclesial Greek and church Slavonic as opposed to modern Greek, Russian or English.

Thought?

And apologies in advance if this sounds assinine.
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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2009, 12:50:47 PM »


Welcome to the Forum, Super Apostolic Bros.

I've been to a number of churches, and have heard the Divine Liturgy prayed in various languages.

I don't believe there is any one language "preferred" over another.

The point of the Liturgy is for "communal" prayer and worship.  Therefore, it is best to attend a service where the prayers are said in a language you personally understand, so you can participate and get the full benefit of the service.

I am against the use of a language that the majority of the populace does not understand...and which leads them to just be spectators during the Liturgy.



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« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2009, 01:31:49 PM »

The thing is some Orthodox today argue against modernizing liturgy, insisting on "old" languages like ecclesial Greek and church Slavonic as opposed to modern Greek, Russian or English.

The Russian Orthodox Church came very close to translating its liturgy into, if not the vernacular, at least something closer to modern Russian. However, the events of 1917 sidetracked that when the puppet church set up by the Communists (the Living Church) used modern Russian, so the Russian Orthodox Church kept with the old tradition to avoid looking like it was comprising with modernity.

Some minority peoples of Russia had the liturgy in their own tongue, such as the Komi. Unfortunately, these liturgies are no longer permitted in the Russian Orthodox Church, but the reason for that is the Kremlin's desire to wipe out minority cultures, not any theological issue.

The Greek Orthodox Church continues to use Byzantine Greek, incomprehensible to the ears of many. When you are speaking with your modern language's sound system a language that had a rather different sound system, what can you expect besides confusion? In any event, the maintenance of archaic Greek in the Church is understandable when the entire educated Greek population maintained archaic Greek as the country's written norm until the 1970s.

So basically the reasons for retaining the old languages are, at the official level at least, inertia and politics, not theology. You will encounter plenty of simple churchgoers claiming that the old languages must be retained because they are especially holy, but this is the Heresy of the Trilinguals that was spectacularly refuted by St. Cyril some 1200 years ago.
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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2009, 01:33:10 PM »

My question is, what do Orthdox consider the "appropriate" language to use in Liturgy?
First of all, welcome to the forum.

Now to your question: you and I are speaking and understanding English, so I'd say English is an appropriate language for us to use. There are many parishes in the US which use other languages, because these parishes serve communities with a large population who speak a language other than English.

It used to be that churches would use a common language, such as Latin or Slavonic, so that anyone could understand what was being said anywhere they went. People from England, Germany, France, Italy learned Latin in the churches, and could therefore speak with anyone from any of these countries in Latin. Same idea with Slavonic among the Eastern Europeans. Over time, people got used to these languages and opposed changing to the vernacular.

I know this is oversimplifying the issue, but I hope that helps you to get an idea of why some parishes in English-speaking countries don't use English in their services.
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« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2009, 06:52:34 PM »


Welcome to the Forum, Super Apostolic Bros.

I've been to a number of churches, and have heard the Divine Liturgy prayed in various languages.

I don't believe there is any one language "preferred" over another.

The point of the Liturgy is for "communal" prayer and worship.  Therefore, it is best to attend a service where the prayers are said in a language you personally understand, so you can participate and get the full benefit of the service.

I am against the use of a language that the majority of the populace does not understand...and which leads them to just be spectators during the Liturgy.





This is true.  There is no preferred language.  The language to be used is that in which people can participate comprehensibly in prayer to the Lord.   
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« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2009, 07:11:25 PM »

When you are speaking with your modern language's sound system a language that had a rather different sound system, what can you expect besides confusion?

Tonal pronunciation fell by the wayside in the 3rd century BC. Vowel sounds were conflated at the same time. The Greek of the Septuagint and the New Testament sounded very similar to modern Greek.
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« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2009, 07:24:47 PM »

Super Apostolic Bros.,

I think your questions have been reasonably addressed above.  Welcome to the forum!

(And I think you've got the best screen name I've seen on this forum!)
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« Reply #7 on: September 11, 2009, 11:48:52 PM »

I've not yet attended a Divine Liturgy, but I figured before going to any one church in San Diego I'd first figure out what language they used and see if I could get a translation before going.

I'm all for using the vernacular in preaching the Word, but I can sympathize somewhat with pre-Vatican II Catholics who prefer the Latin.  A single language can bridge the gap between believers in far off parts in the world. The problem is not everyone is enthusiastic about learning a language they won't use everyday.

(But then again, I'm fascinated with old languages).
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« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2009, 11:51:57 PM »

I've not yet attended a Divine Liturgy, but I figured before going to any one church in San Diego I'd first figure out what language they used and see if I could get a translation before going.

I'm all for using the vernacular in preaching the Word, but I can sympathize somewhat with pre-Vatican II Catholics who prefer the Latin.  A single language can bridge the gap between believers in far off parts in the world. The problem is not everyone is enthusiastic about learning a language they won't use everyday.

(But then again, I'm fascinated with old languages).

Most Churches that use a foreign language in worship will at least have a bilingual edition with English available.
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« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2009, 01:37:25 AM »

Tonal pronunciation fell by the wayside in the 3rd century BC. Vowel sounds were conflated at the same time. The Greek of the Septuagint and the New Testament sounded very similar to modern Greek.

Vowel sounds were not conflated fully until much later. The high rounded front vowel /ü/ persisted until the turn of the second millennium.
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« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2009, 11:24:37 AM »

Vowel sounds were not conflated fully until much later.

Yes, there were still changes, as there are in every language. But the idea that Liturgical Byzantine Greek in particular would be phonetically "incomprehensible" to a speaker of today's Demotic is just not true. They are remarkably similar in phonology. That's really the point.

This bears repeating because many people who have taken an undergraduate or seminary course (especially in the U.S. or Britain) think that NT or Patristic Greek sounded similar to Homer, Herodotus or Thucydides -- and very unlike modern -- despite the fact that Western Classicists have documented that the notable shift occurred between Ancient and Hellenistic times.
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« Reply #11 on: September 12, 2009, 11:34:36 AM »

Yes, there were still changes, as there are in every language. But the idea that Liturgical Byzantine Greek in particular would be phonetically "incomprehensible" to a speaker of today's Demotic is just not true. They are remarkably similar in phonology. That's really the point.

Liturgical Byzantine Greek retains a system of endings that is easily distinguished only when older pronunciations are applied. The morphological changes of modern Greek began once the phonological changes made the old flexions less and less distinguishable. And any young Greek with especial training in liturgical language can tell you how frustratingly difficult it is to understand the liturgy when sung as compared to when read from the page.

Quote
This bears repeating because many people who have taken an undergraduate or seminary course (especially in the U.S. or Britain) think that NT or Patristic Greek sounded similar to Homer, Herodotus or Thucydides -- and very unlike modern -- despite the fact that Western Classicists have documented that the notable shift occurred between Ancient and Hellenistic times.

Plenty of changes can be dated to the first millennium AD. Yes, some vowels began merging into /i/ early, but all mergers were not complete until Byzantine times. The change of /eu/ to /ev/ was also fairly late.
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« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2009, 01:41:31 PM »

Liturgical Byzantine Greek retains a system of endings that is easily distinguished only when older pronunciations are applied.

I've never seen that demonstrated in linguistic studies, nor in practical experience. Very different from the work of Browning or even Kontosopoulos. I'm curious where you're getting that idea? Having taught many different kinds of students, including speakers of modern Greek, the phonetic recognition of a verb in the subjunctive mood is not the challenge -- the morphology and syntactical rules are. And even that becomes incredibly easy to recognize on the fly in the Liturgy because it is used in such predictably repetitive, consistent patterns (e.g. as a hortatory).
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« Reply #13 on: September 14, 2009, 07:09:39 PM »

I've not yet attended a Divine Liturgy, but I figured before going to any one church in San Diego I'd first figure out what language they used and see if I could get a translation before going.

I'm all for using the vernacular in preaching the Word, but I can sympathize somewhat with pre-Vatican II Catholics who prefer the Latin.  A single language can bridge the gap between believers in far off parts in the world. The problem is not everyone is enthusiastic about learning a language they won't use everyday.

(But then again, I'm fascinated with old languages).

I think you'll find it varies by jurisdiction, and even by parish.  (In my own VERY limited experience, the Greeks tend to use Greek more than the Antiochians use Arabic, for whatever that's worth. I'm not sure that can be said universally though.)

The beautiful thing is that the liturgy is more or less universal (Eastern Rite anyway). So, once you're familiar with the flow of the liturgy, you'll know what's going on regardless of language.  It's almost like Pentecost in a way. Cheesy  (From one linguistics nerd to another, that's pretty neat to experience.)
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Super Apostolic Bros.
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« Reply #14 on: September 28, 2009, 08:16:57 PM »

I visited St. Nicholas Church in San Diego, which is an OCA parish. So, they used both English and Slavonic. It was an interesting experience.

On a different topic, one choir member and the (deacon?) asked me to join the choir even though it was only my first time there and I told them I was a protestant  Huh
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« Reply #15 on: September 29, 2009, 02:21:52 AM »

Unless you sing badly I don't see a problem Smiley
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« Reply #16 on: September 29, 2009, 02:25:44 AM »

I consider it like going to second base on the first date (sorry, it's a very American expression). Moving a little too fast, in my opinion. I guess they were just to see another warm body in their building.
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« Reply #17 on: September 29, 2009, 05:44:52 AM »

I consider it like going to second base on the first date (sorry, it's a very American expression). Moving a little too fast, in my opinion. I guess they were just to see another warm body in their building.
Or, perhaps, their choir is in need of people of your range. I was asked to join the choir after attending for about two months, precisely because there was no one of my range at the time (and, in fact, many weeks there were no men at all). Many Orthodox parishes are small, and if they know you have talent in an area and are enthusiastic about the Liturgy, chances are they'll ask you to serve in that area. Take it as a compliment.

In addition, unlike many Protestant churches which do not have an episcopacy, "warm bodies" (as you call them) do not benefit us, as we have to pay a certain amount of money each month to the diocese for each of our members. We're actually financially better off if we have a small group of committed members rather than a large group of relatively unattached members.
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« Reply #18 on: September 29, 2009, 08:43:59 AM »

I consider it like going to second base on the first date (sorry, it's a very American expression). Moving a little too fast, in my opinion. I guess they were just to see another warm body in their building.

Another reason is that there is no better way to learn about the Liturgy than singing in the choir. After all, you have the music and words right in front of you. Smiley
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