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