Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Do you think that English translations of Ethiopian Liturgy/hymns could be done as beautifully? I agree that Geez/Amharic is an incredibly beautiful sung language, but would be more meaningful if it can be understood. Case in point, I was just listening to a playlist of Ethiopian hymns but they could have been singing the phone book for all I know. The only word I recognized was "Mariam" so I assume one was a song to the Mother of God.
The simple answer, yes, of course
I am a native English speaker, though I now have learned Amharic with a decent pronunciation and fluency, I even got my own particular manner of speaking which is distinct and I enjoy my Amharic persona, and I also learned much of the Divine Liturgy chant in Ge'ez.
I am terrible with languages, so the Amharic has been a constant battle, but steadily it has gotten through. However, the Liturgy is different, I learned much of the Liturgy within my first year at the Church using a phonetic transcription into latin/english characters of the Ge'ez words.
The first words are
"Ahadu Ab Qidus, Ahadu Weld Qidus, Ahadu witu Menfes Qidus" (phonetic transcription) which means in english something like "Having Been Made Into One, Father is Holy; Having Been Made Into One, Son is Holy, Having Been Made Into One, also the Holy Spirit [is Holy]"
The Chant is in one of three tones which are determined seasonally by the the various interacting parameters set by the Calendar or the purpose, for it is the beginning of any liturgical service be it a Baptism (or just the blessing of any holy water in general even), Wedding, Ordination, Unction, etc..
I learned this chant in its three tones by ear through my experience in the Church services and in careful study and practice with my Liturgy book with its phonetic transcriptions. I am a talented improvisational musician with a lot of varied musical experience, so I will admit plainly that it helped me learn the Liturgy so quickly, but I am convinced that with similar effort even a musical dolt could learn the Liturgy in Ge'ez in time.
To answer you question more particularly then, I would say that I have learned to chant the tones of the Yared's chants of the Ethiopian Church in a variety of English prayers, specifically from my Agpeya (Coptic Orthodox prayer book of the Hours) which I use daily for my devotions. I taught myself through a prayerful effort, keeping in mind Saint Augustin's advice that he who sings a prayer prays twice, to chant the Psalter and the Litanies in English but in the Ethiopia tones. I really really enjoy these prayers and sometimes just sing them walking along the road, in the Ge'ez tones and melodies.
That being said, of course they could be equally sung in English in the Church! But let me give you the insider info, the secret to the beauty of the Ethiopian Church services is the absolute sincerity of many of the clergy. It is obvious to anyone who attends one of services that the priests have a bit more "unrestrained joy" (as you rightfully phrased it above) in the prayers. Our priests are the polar opposites of the Pharisees who were distant in prayers, and were merely pretending even!
Orthodox has taught me to revere all Orthodox and even Catholic clergy as a Sacrament of God, however I have easily met more enthusaistic priests than others. Some services are sublimely more ecstatic than others. The major complaint of Catholics has been the revisions of Vatican II, and they are often nostalgic and taken back by their experience of Orthodox services to the point of jealousy because we across the jurisdictions keep it old school and original.
The reason today there are not English liturgies in the Ethiopian Church is that there are not very many of the priests who are sincere or enthusiastic about singing these prayers in English. The few attempts I have witnessed were rather uneventful and unfruitful in the long term.. We then should pray about the matter, that if God Will's it, He will bless the clergy with the same spiritual zest and zeal they have for the ancient and venerable Ge'ez as they may with English one day (or fully Amharic or Oromo or Tigranya etc etc)
What do you love so much about it, if I may ask? From what HabteSelassie wrote, it looks like it wasn't much of a blessing the past (causing controversies, tensions, divisions, schisms, etc.).I love icons too! We all know how much bloodshed accompanied them!
Deliberately not having icons is theologically incorrect. Is it the same with not observing the Sabbath? I don't think so. On the contrary, I believe that observing both Sabbath and the Lord's Day is theologically questionable. It's like observing both the Jewish and the Christian Pascha, or like keeping both Jewish and Christian fast-days, or like receiving both circumcision and baptism. After all, we are Christians, not Jews.
True, this is exactly the bone of contention across the centuries in the Ethiopian Church. For example, in the Church Law it is actually explicitly forbidden for public observance of any of the distinctly Jewish high holidays, with Passover and Yom Kippur mentioned specifically by name even. The Ethiopian theology teaches that all the sacredness of the Old Covenant rituals, liturgies, observances, regulations and holidays were transferred fully into the New Covenant relationship with the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. So the Fasika/Resurrection is quite legally our Passover observance, our reception of the Eucharist is quite literally our observance of the Mosaic prescribed sacrifices for sins, our Pentecost celebrations are the Feast of Weeks, our Sunday quite literally the snuffed candle Sabbath (which has been quite strictly observed at different times). This is both Church Law and the teaching of our theological Fathers through specifically Ethiopian
Church history in reaction to particularly Ethiopian
nuances (such as the serious political/military rivalry between Ethiopian Jews and Christians which sparked in open war in the 5th, 10th, 13th,18th and 19th centuries!!).
But there are other nuances as well, for example the Ethiopian Church observes strict circumcision, dietary restrictions on pork and fish, and ritualistic purity in regards to menstruation and sexual activity, very much akin to the Laws of Moses. However, it is almost very much a coincidence, as these are deeply rooted, Pan-Ethiopian, indigenous Semitic cultural traits particular to Ethiopia in its richly diverse heritage. Even the "pagans" sincerely maintain these same cultural traits, and in fact is has been one of the major reasons for success of the Ethiopian Orthodox.
Where the Roman Church has to Latinize and Romanize the mostly Semitic/Eastern religion of Christian to suit the sociocultural needs of the Western Christians, the Ethiopian Orthodox had to over emphasize even the Semitic/Eastern aspects of Christianity to suit the sociocultural needs of its indigenous Semitic societies.