Author Topic: Elegant contemporary English in the liturgy  (Read 679 times)

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Offline wgw

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Elegant contemporary English in the liturgy
« on: June 10, 2015, 10:23:17 PM »
I am a supporter and enthusiast of liturgical English and hope that it endures as long as some of the other great liturgical languages.  However, I readily admit we are reachimg a point where, perhaps as soon as the year 2100, it will be unintelligible to the majority of churchgoers.  To that end, what are the best examples of contemporary English in the liturgy you've seen?  For me, the unusual prayerbook Praying with the Orthodox Tradition sports the cleanest and most natural-sounding prayers I've found; it reads like the way my mother prays informally.

The worst examples I've seen, aside from forgivably poor translations of some Oriental service books by non-native English speakers, are the 1969 original text of the Novus Ordo Missae, portions of the 1979 Anglican BCP, and other Protestant service books revised in the style of the 1969 missal.  These are inaccurate ("and also with you" rather than "and with your spirit"), and sometimes seem condescending, as if written for a primary school student.  While I am all for ease of comprehension, there is a difference between that, and talking down to the congregation.  For that matter, the new English edition, while a huge improvement in every respects, seems a tad ponderous, and still sounds condescending the way many RC priests say it.  The best I have heard in mainline service is the modern language translation of the Coptic liturgy, but this is not perfect.  It does closely match the ecclesiastical English one finds in many of the printed Euchologia in the pews.

So what have you found in modern language liturgical texts that strikes you as the way to do it?  The criteria seem to be a hieratic difnity and reverence, a sense of respect for the reader/worshipper, and clean, elegant prose that rolls off the tongue and is a joy to read.


Offline Tikhon29605

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Re: Elegant contemporary English in the liturgy
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2015, 09:31:19 AM »
I think the 1967 translation of the Divine Liturgy by the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America (now the OCA) is a fantastic translation for a number of reasons:

1.  It is very, very singable.
2.  They tried to model the translation on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (RSV) which totally eliminated the 3rd person singular archaic verb forms.  For example such archaic usages as "he walketh not" and "then spake he unto her" would be translated as "he walks not" and "then he spoke unto her". 
3.  And like the RSV, the 1967 OCA translation keeps the archaic 2nd person singular for direct address to God Himself, such as "Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all."

I like it because the vocabulary is practically all modern and because it has some continuity with the past by keeping the Thou and Thee for God.  It is also significant because it was one of the first English translations to popularize the use of the word "Theotokos" (a term that I love) although I respect those that use the term Mother of God or Birthgiver of God

I have also seen the 1967 OCA translation slightly modified in some dioceses with the Thee and Thou replaced with You and Your.  Usually those are the only changes that are made and the rest of the 1967 translation is left intact. I had found this flows very well and naturally with the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.  It is a very similar style.

The Antiochians also have a fine translation of the Divine Liturgy, in my humble opinion.  It is very similar to the OCA translation except that it tends to use the archaic verb forms a little bit more.  But I've never had any problems understanding it.  And it also sings well.

I am not a fan of Holy Cross Seminary's (Greek Orthodox) translation of the Divine Liturgy into English.  It is kind of ugly, pedestrian and clunky.  It just doesn't flow or sing well. Thank goodness there are still a lot of GOA parishes that use lots of Greek!  I would too if I had to suffer through that horrible translation.

If you want a totally modern translation of the Divine Liturgy into contemporary English, with no "Thees" or "Thous" I recommend the Romanian Episcopate of the OCA translation of the Divine Liturgy into English.  The text is completely modern, but it sings well and it flows well.  It has a certain dignity to it.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2015, 09:35:05 AM by Tikhon29605 »

Offline Iconodule

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Re: Elegant contemporary English in the liturgy
« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2016, 02:55:53 PM »
My feelings about the subject of English style (using archaism or fully modern English) flip back and forth a lot.

I'm still not sure how I feel. I see advantages to both sides. I am comfortable with the so-called "liturgical English" but I've also come to recognize some good points from the advocates of "modern English."

Some points I would make:

1. Archaism is a stylistic trope which has long and venerable use in English as in other languages; in fact, its deliberate presence to convey a sense of elevation or stateliness indicates that it is being used with a modern sensibility. One could even shift into and out of it within a given text. Like with other tropes, it is not the only way to get a point across.

2. Both forms of English being used are in fact modern English. And no, I don't mean one is early modern English, and one is more contemporary. They are both contemporary forms of English- one happens to make a pervasive use of archaism as a stylistic trope. This archaism only extends to some pronouns and some syntax. Truly obsolete usages are typically left out and words are used in their contemporary meaning. Hence, these "archaic" liturgical texts are in fact much more readily intelligible to unschooled moderns than Shakespeare or Spenser. To put it briefly, archaism is modern.

3. Regardless of whether one opts for archaism or not, a liturgical text, faithfully translated, is going to sound very different from what usually passes for "everyday speech." These are poetic texts expressing profound movements of the spirit and high theology. They are naturally elevated.

4. To an extent, the difficulty which some attribute to following the "thou's" and "thee's" is imaginary; any confusions can easily be dissipated by a minute's worth of explanation. The problem is few are able or willing to make (or hear) such a simple explanation. It is also evident that some translators attempting to employ archaism are not very clear on what they're doing either.

5. All things being equal, I am personally comfortable and preferential towards archaism, but I have seen many elegant non-archaic translations and many very clunky, tin-eared uses of archaism.

6. At this point, even if Orthodoxy in the USA and/ or Canada were to unite into one jurisdiction, we are going to have a lot of incongruent translation styles even within the same parish. Our best bet is to embrace the chaos.



« Last Edit: May 25, 2016, 02:58:23 PM by Iconodule »