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Author Topic: May I offer advice to potential converts who feel frustrated w/ liturgy language  (Read 2697 times) Average Rating: 0
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Blissfully Unaware
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« on: May 14, 2010, 03:08:13 AM »

Shlomo (That's Aramaic/Syriac for peace) Smiley

I am a prospective convert to the Syriac Orthodox church of Antioch. I am actually Italian American and speak hardly any Arabic or Aramaic, but I have learned some things that I wanted to share with some potential converts who feel frustrated with the liturgy and hymns being in a foreign language, which I have seen from various posts on this website.

I was inspired to write this after reading the frustrations of a potential convert on this thread:
http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,10415.0.html

It is not the first time I have seen this. I have also felt a little frustrated when I could not follow along and sing the beautiful hymns along with the others, but I would like to offer advice that I have followed with success.
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Background: I grew up Roman Catholic in a heavily Chaldean Arabic neighborhood and I enjoyed it. I am also enamored with many languages and cultures and spend the majority of my time with friends from other cultures. I have also learned Spanish, Italian, and Turkish - But not Aramaic or Arabic, the languages in which the divine liturgy at my church is conducted.

My church conducts the liturgy in Aramaic and English the first 3 Sundays of the month, then Aramaic and Arabic the 4th Sunday of the month. Guess which Sunday happened to be my first visit to the Syriac Orthodox church? You guessed it -  the 4th Sunday  Cheesy

I was intrigued by the divine liturgy, the priest, the deacons, the chants, the incense. It was beautiful. I loved hearing Aramaic. I loved the hymns, but I couldn't sing them. After the time for making peace with one another, a wonderful family, seeing that I was alone, invited me to stand with them and they gave me the liturgy book. I tried to follow along, but the transliteration sometimes sounded nothing like what I was hearing! They kept showing me where they were, but I lost my place so easily. As a life-long language enthusiast, I was discouraged and humbled. Yes, I could read the English side, but how fast would I have to read to keep up with the Aramaic being sung? I had no idea. I just wanted to close the book and watch the service, instead of being lost in the liturgy book.

The family that invited me to stand with them will forever have a place in my heart and I was welcomed with open arms at that church. I planned to attend the very next week, which would be in Aramaic and English.

Visit #2: It was nice having the Aramaic AND being able to understand what was going on. However, I was still struggling with the hymns. One of the hymns was especially beautiful!  But I didn't know where it was in the book Sad I was frustrated, trying to find it. I felt too shy to ask people around me. I closed the book, disappointed.

Then, on the way home, I resolved to find all of the hymns online, I would listen to them and read the Aramaic transliteration until I could recite it perfectly (as well as the English translation so I would understand what was being sung). I found a wonderful website zmirotho.org. I downloaded each hymn and wrote down each transliteration. I also found a beautiful performance of Abun Dbashmayo (the Lord's Prayer) sung by St. Ephrem's Patriarchal Choir and was moved almost to tears it was so beautiful. I recognized it as one of the hymns that was sung during the liturgy, so I set out first to master the recitation of this hymn. I was determined to sing it perfectly and happily along with everyone else the following week. It took me a few days of listening and reading the transliteration, but I got it! I sang it 10 times that night before I went to bed.

My third visit to the church (last Sunday) I had my little piece of paper with Abun Dbashmayo written down. Finally, it was time to sing it. I knew how to follow every last syllable and I was overjoyed to be able to sing this beautiful hymn with everyone.  Cheesy I love that this is in Aramaic. I am singing the hymn that our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, in his own language!

Now I have been working on all of the other hymns, for the past week. I have my own little hymn book. I am counting the days until Sunday!

What is my purpose of my writing this post? I want to encourage others to keep at it! Don't give up! It broke my heart to read about this person giving up and leaving because they were frustrated with not understanding what was going on and not being able to sing with the others. Hopefully others can try the aforementioned approach (with Greek, Russian, or other liturgical language of the church in which they attend) and be able to enjoy the liturgy as I have.

Good luck to everyone and thanks to everyone on this website for your help in my journey exploring the Orthodox faith. I love my church, its people, priest, deacons and everyone else who makes it possible for me to enjoy this beautiful and fulfilling experience that brings me closer to God each day.

God bless!
« Last Edit: May 14, 2010, 03:22:34 AM by Blissfully Unaware » Logged
Maj
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« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2010, 03:14:27 AM »

One of the things that attracted me to learn more about the Orthodox Church was the fact that the services sounded beautiful and well, holy, even when I understood nothing about them! I have been searching since I was 15 (I'm 31 now) and have always been leaning towards the RC Church as that's what I'm familiar with, but never felt so sure about officially converting. I enjoyed going to mass, but theere is something there (not mass, but with the Church) that I'm not completely comfortable with. I'm not in th US, I'm in Finland, where the Finnish Orthodox Church (ecumenical patriarchate) is the other state church, the other being the church I'm still a member of, the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (state Church means the two churches have the right to tax their members directly but because of this they have some civil duties.)

Anyways whilst I every now and again have considered the Orthodox church, I never really studied it, as I though I would go RC. Then only last summer I was in Istanbul in Turkey and to get cover from the cold wind, me and my host, a muslim girl, went in to an orthodox church to look inside there. A service started when we were in there and we stayed. I had no idea what was being said, but I felt really good. I started thinking that there might be something in this. I definitely would not shy away from a service just because of some parts being in an unfamiliar language especially when you know that they are relating to the bible and worshipping lord. I don't think you can get this from every church, and it sparked my interest into looking at te other "native" church a bit closer. Though, I have to say it took a visit to Belgrade in Serbia and a couple of churhes there that really got me start this process. The way how people would come into church, go pray and get back to their normal routine, that impressed me. For people of all ages, it's just a natural part of their daily routine.

Bit off-topic at the end, but I agree with the poster, don't shy away because of the language.
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Alpo
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« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2010, 07:20:14 AM »

Tervetuloa foorumille, Maj!

It's nice to see other Finns in here.  Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2010, 07:59:25 PM »

Kiitos! Alpo, which parish are you at? I'm in Espoo, so would be Helsinki parish.
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« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2010, 09:07:10 AM »

I have a bit funny situation since I attend services in Joensuu but technically I'm a member of Mikkeli's parish and I've never even visited there. Grin
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« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2010, 01:28:21 AM »

Considering that the RCC used Latin as its only liturgical language up until the mid 60's, it shouldn't deter you to try and follow the services in another tongue.

Try and see if you can get one of those prayerbooks with phonetic spelling on one page and English on the other.  I have a book called "Chlib Dusi" which does this with OCS and its a great help if your going to an ROC parish and don't speak Russian.
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« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2010, 01:59:11 AM »

I know enough Greek and Russian that I can follow along in the services and not get lost -- and even sing sometimes! However, I still prefer services in my native English.
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« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2010, 02:52:44 AM »

Considering that the RCC used Latin as its only liturgical language up until the mid 60's, it shouldn't deter you to try and follow the services in another tongue.

Try and see if you can get one of those prayerbooks with phonetic spelling on one page and English on the other.  I have a book called "Chlib Dusi" which does this with OCS and its a great help if your going to an ROC parish and don't speak Russian.
LOL. You mean Slavonic. And no one speaks it.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2010, 02:53:03 AM by ialmisry » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2010, 04:09:54 AM »

Welcome to the forum Maj  Grin

Thank you for your post, Blissfully Unaware . I'm also struggling with the liturgical language, Finnish in my case (my mother tongue being Swedish). Belonging to the "other" national Church and speaking the "other" national language is not always an easy combination.  Grin
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« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2010, 06:22:18 AM »

Cool, more of us Finns here! I went to a information session yesterday on the catechumen classes starting in september in the Helsinki parish and there was a swedish speaking lady there who attends services at Tapiola (my local church). She said that she has problems understanding but prefers the Finnish services to her native Swedish. It's weird how so many people are okay with going to service in another language when at the larger national church everything is so separated by language and I don't think anybody or very few attends services in a non-familiar language.

The lady also said that St. Hermans (tapiola) is a very friendly,open and multi-cultural place. I can't wait to go now. I have plans on saturday night, so cannot attend vespers, so will need to wait until sunday! 
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« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2010, 06:27:14 AM »

I'm also struggling with the liturgical language, Finnish in my case (my mother tongue being Swedish).

BTW, noticed (sneeked at your profile  Grin) you are in Vaasa; is there any services in Swedish in Österbotten? The lady I met said there are bilingual services in Hanko. 
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« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2010, 08:28:48 AM »

...is there any services in Swedish in Österbotten?
Yep, once a year  Grin
Our priest knows quite a few languages though and he usually "spice" the services with Russian, Serbian, English and/or Swedish depending on who is in attendance. But that only applies to the priest parts, most of the services are sung by the choir (in Finnish).
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« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2010, 07:15:35 PM »

At Uspensky Cathedral they sometimes repeat a line or two of the liturgy in English. I personally find that distracting, and most of the visitors at services are not native English speakers.  

As for frustration with the language of services, I guess I'm lucky that I'm an immigrant to two countries whose liturgical languages aren't very different to their vernacular. If you learn a new word or phrase from attending church services in Finland or Romania, you can usually integrate it into your studies of the local language that you have to do in order to survive in the country. Sometimes it might sound a bit odd, but it's useful.
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« Reply #13 on: June 20, 2010, 08:04:24 PM »

Cool, more of us Finns here! I went to a information session yesterday on the catechumen classes starting in september in the Helsinki parish and there was a swedish speaking lady there who attends services at Tapiola (my local church). She said that she has problems understanding but prefers the Finnish services to her native Swedish. It's weird how so many people are okay with going to service in another language when at the larger national church everything is so separated by language and I don't think anybody or very few attends services in a non-familiar language.

The lady also said that St. Hermans (tapiola) is a very friendly,open and multi-cultural place. I can't wait to go now. I have plans on saturday night, so cannot attend vespers, so will need to wait until sunday! 

Tapiola.  I don't know why, but I swear I've been there (I think it was where I picked up medication sent to the embassy for me).
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« Reply #14 on: July 01, 2010, 09:03:17 AM »

If non-Arab Muslims can learn to speak Arabic (I think it is basically a requirement for them), then there is no reason why we shouldn't learn the language of our respective Churches. There is no reason for us to go to Church if we can't understand at least a little bit of what is going on.

I don't know if other languages are similar, but even knowing modern Armenian helps me understand my church's services which are in Classical Armenian. The desire to learn the language has to come from the inside though, as I have offered to help many but they either did not put in the effort or outright refused. I think it is a shame.
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« Reply #15 on: July 01, 2010, 12:30:39 PM »


Welcome to the forum, Gisasargavak!  Smiley

If non-Arab Muslims can learn to speak Arabic (I think it is basically a requirement for them),
As a former Muslim, in my experience, learning Arabic wasn't a requirement that was verbally communicated to me.  However, I was expected to be able to recite the 5 daily prayers in Arabic.  From what I observed, and from what I personally felt at the time, most converts were/are eager to learn Arabic.

then there is no reason why we shouldn't learn the language of our respective Churches.
I agree; if you do not understand what is being said and taught, services tend to get boring (for me at least).  This is why I advocate using the vernacular of whatever particular country the services are in.  So, in Romania, the services should be in Romanian.  In America, the services should be in English and so and and so forth.  This is just my opinion though.  Smiley


 
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« Reply #16 on: July 01, 2010, 12:49:35 PM »

Thank you for your welcome, GabrieltheCelt. Smiley


then there is no reason why we shouldn't learn the language of our respective Churches.
I agree; if you do not understand what is being said and taught, services tend to get boring (for me at least).  This is why I advocate using the vernacular of whatever particular country the services are in.  So, in Romania, the services should be in Romanian.  In America, the services should be in English and so and and so forth.  This is just my opinion though.  Smiley

I don't agree that the services of a church should necessarily be in the language of the host country, in fact with the exception of the OCA, I think the churches should have liturgy in their original languages. I think that the Armenian Church is one of the few Orthodox Churches left in America that do the Liturgy completely in the original language. It is the duty of the parents to teach the language to their children, and the duty of adult Orthodox who do not know it to learn it. That's my humble opinion.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2010, 12:50:26 PM by Gisasargavak » Logged
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« Reply #17 on: July 01, 2010, 01:05:31 PM »

Thank you for your welcome, GabrieltheCelt. Smiley


then there is no reason why we shouldn't learn the language of our respective Churches.
I agree; if you do not understand what is being said and taught, services tend to get boring (for me at least).  This is why I advocate using the vernacular of whatever particular country the services are in.  So, in Romania, the services should be in Romanian.  In America, the services should be in English and so and and so forth.  This is just my opinion though.  Smiley

I don't agree that the services of a church should necessarily be in the language of the host country, in fact with the exception of the OCA, I think the churches should have liturgy in their original languages. I think that the Armenian Church is one of the few Orthodox Churches left in America that do the Liturgy completely in the original language. It is the duty of the parents to teach the language to their children, and the duty of adult Orthodox who do not know it to learn it. That's my humble opinion.

I think it depends on who the majority of the parishioners are. In my GOA parish, only a few people consider Greek their first language. Most are either children of mixed marriages or completely non-Greek. Some of them seem to be willing to learn at least some Greek, some do not. So, our services are always in English, with just a few hyms or liturgical exclamations in Greek. Yet, I personally like to learn foreign languages generally, and it is only good for me when I hear or read more Greek.
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« Reply #18 on: July 01, 2010, 04:04:31 PM »

While deploring most Americans' "monolingualism," and also as one who got goosebumps when I heard the Gospel in Greek for the first time, I still agree with Gabriel and Heorhij - the service should be mostly in the language of the country, and the majority of the parishioners. Isn't that the Orthodox (t)radition, anyway?
Really, should it be required that I learn Greek or Arabic or Russian or Serbian in order to understand the Gospel when I attend the Divine Liturgy in a country where the standard language is English?

(on a side note, I was once in my misspent youth an HR manager for a large commercial bakery with several hundred employees, many of whom were immigrants or refugees from over 20 different countries. I tried to learn how to say phrases such as "Hello, how are you?" and "Good job!" and the like in every language.
But I also taught ESL classes for the employees because they were living and working in an English-speaking environment and the only language we all had in common was English.)
We live in an English-speaking country, for the most part, and it is the language we have in common.
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« Reply #19 on: July 01, 2010, 10:38:12 PM »

I think if we fail to realize that the ethnic Orthodox Churches (sans OCA) is not only a Church, but a place where people of the same ethnic backgrounds come to have fellowship with one another, we are deluding ourselves. For many, going to church on Sunday is the only time they will get to meet people who are of their country and/or ethnicity and hear the liturgy in (some form) of their native language.

It may seem too worldly to many on this forum but I value the preservation of my culture, even outside the confines of the country of origin. Furthermore, it is obvious that you cannot separate language from culture: change the language, you change the culture. It is a pity that many have forgotten their ancestral languages, be it Greek, Russian, Armenian, Ukrainian, Arabic, etc. even when their very Saints and martyrs died for its preservation. I shudder to think what the 1.5 million martyrs of the Armenian Genocide would think if we had forsaken our language - in which so many rich spiritual works have been written - because it was the "easy" thing to do. Maybe non-ethnic Orthodox have some sort of hang up about this but that shouldn't be the case. These are the cultures and countries that Christianity was first brought to. Of course Christ should be and is the purpose of our Holy Church, but to ignore the cultural aspect of the respective church is ignorance at best and foolishness at worst.
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« Reply #20 on: July 02, 2010, 10:00:00 AM »

I think if we fail to realize that the ethnic Orthodox Churches (sans OCA) is not only a Church, but a place where people of the same ethnic backgrounds come to have fellowship with one another, we are deluding ourselves. For many, going to church on Sunday is the only time they will get to meet people who are of their country and/or ethnicity and hear the liturgy in (some form) of their native language.

It may seem too worldly to many on this forum but I value the preservation of my culture, even outside the confines of the country of origin. Furthermore, it is obvious that you cannot separate language from culture: change the language, you change the culture. It is a pity that many have forgotten their ancestral languages, be it Greek, Russian, Armenian, Ukrainian, Arabic, etc. even when their very Saints and martyrs died for its preservation. I shudder to think what the 1.5 million martyrs of the Armenian Genocide would think if we had forsaken our language - in which so many rich spiritual works have been written - because it was the "easy" thing to do. Maybe non-ethnic Orthodox have some sort of hang up about this but that shouldn't be the case. These are the cultures and countries that Christianity was first brought to. Of course Christ should be and is the purpose of our Holy Church, but to ignore the cultural aspect of the respective church is ignorance at best and foolishness at worst.

I was raised German Lutheran, emphasis on the German  Wink or at least it seemed like that to me! My grandfather spoke German at home as a child, until he went to school. My former congregation had services, church council meetings and catechism in German up until WWII. Up until fairly recently, in Lutherland (Wisconsin, Minnesota) you would find several Lutheran churches in a small town - the Finnish, Swedish, German congregations and the English one that the children and grandchildren of all the Finns, Swedes and Germans went to.

My husband grew up Irish Catholic, with all that entails. He is second-generation off the boat. He lived in an Irish Catholic neighborhood, in an Irish Catholic parish with Irish Catholic priests, went to Irish Catholic parochial schools and was not allowed to play with Protestants. He used to collect change for the "widows and orphans of the Struggle."

I say all this to point out that this is the common immigrant experience in America. What happened to the Germans, Finns and Swedes is now happening or will be happening to the Greeks, Romanians, Serbs, Russians, Armenians.

Culture is a living fluid thing. It cannot be preserved like a fly in amber, no matter how much you try. For example, a GOA bishop that I know says that the Greece he grew up in - the culture, the way of life - no longer exists, and he no longer feels at home there.

It is not the business of the Church, IMHO, to preserve a particular culture or language.

My OCA parish has Russians, Greeks, Arabs, Serbs and white-bread former Evangelical Protestants, what liturgical language should we use, since the only language we all have in common is English?
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