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Author Topic: Liturgical languages in the Diaspora  (Read 600 times) Average Rating: 0
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lord doog
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« on: May 15, 2013, 01:34:35 PM »

I was wondering whether the different OO groups in the diaspora kept their ancient liturgical languages (Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, etc.) or transitioned to solely the language of their adopted home (English, French, German, etc.). I started thinking about this when I came across the French Coptic Orthodox Eparchy, and wondered whether they conducted their liturgies in French-Coptic-Arabic (like many Coptic churches in the US do with English-Coptic-Arabic) or kept everything in French.
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« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2013, 02:20:22 PM »

Armenian churches in or outside of Armenia are barred from using anything other than Classical Armenian in their liturgies, except in a few instances. Insistence on using the language of the host country is an easy way to be deposed.
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« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2013, 02:40:43 PM »

Very simplistic: the Church in India used Syriac well into the 20th century; the transition to vernacular roughly coincided with the rise of emigration.  At "home" and in the diaspora, Malayalam (the language of Kerala) is the primary liturgical language; English is increasingly used as a second vernacular, though the composition of communities typically requires using both.  Use of other vernaculars is on the rise as well.  Certain Syriac and Greek words/phrases are typically retained, but it is rare outside of seminaries and (maybe) monasteries for Syriac to be used as the dominant language for any liturgical service.   
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« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2013, 02:56:00 PM »

Armenian churches in or outside of Armenia are barred from using anything other than Classical Armenian in their liturgies, except in a few instances. Insistence on using the language of the host country is an easy way to be deposed.

Do you see any progress toward vernacular usage happening in the the foreseeable future?   
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« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2013, 03:10:17 PM »

Armenian churches in or outside of Armenia are barred from using anything other than Classical Armenian in their liturgies, except in a few instances. Insistence on using the language of the host country is an easy way to be deposed.
It plays its part in keeping the Armenians from assimilating (of course important in the long absences of an Armenian state)  .  But it does present a problem for Christian witness.  I recall that the Horom (Armenian Chalcedonians) were required to have certain parts of the Divine Liturgy (i.e. the Trisagion) in the language of the host country (or occupier of Armenia).

Btw, Armenian was widely used-and, more surprisingly seen (Syria insists on everything in Arabic)-in the Armenian quarter of Aleppo.  Since the Armenians also spoke Arabic, no one seemed to care.  Which also provided Armenians a way to prove their usefulness to the powers that be-as interpreters, Armenians speaking Armenian among themselves and translating into the languages of their respective hosts.
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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2013, 07:20:51 PM »

Armenian churches in or outside of Armenia are barred from using anything other than Classical Armenian in their liturgies, except in a few instances. Insistence on using the language of the host country is an easy way to be deposed.
Well, sort of.

Vernacular/modern Armenian is allowed in the sermon/announcements/etc., recitation of the Nicene Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the confession. Though I think you'll find that a certain amount of economia is applied in local situations when it comes to these kinds of things. There are many parishes in America (dare I say most) who pepper in a bit more English than that, though pretty much only in spoken prayers.

And, no, it's not "an easy way to be deposed." Name one instance in which this has occurred. I'm not aware of any. Has pressure been put on priests who try to push the envelope a bit, when they know what the guidelines are? Sure. But at the end of the day, being deposed? No.
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Aram
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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2013, 07:23:08 PM »

Armenian churches in or outside of Armenia are barred from using anything other than Classical Armenian in their liturgies, except in a few instances. Insistence on using the language of the host country is an easy way to be deposed.

Do you see any progress toward vernacular usage happening in the the foreseeable future?   
Not really. The current situation works for our communities, especially as they grow even more multilingual. When you have parishes that have English, Turkish, Arabic, Russian, and two different dialects of modern Armenian-speaking people, what really is the "vernacular" anyway?
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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2013, 09:42:40 PM »

Insistence on using the language of the host country is an easy way to be deposed.

I've heard the same thing, although like Aram I've never heard of it happening.
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« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2013, 09:46:39 PM »

Armenian churches in or outside of Armenia are barred from using anything other than Classical Armenian in their liturgies, except in a few instances. Insistence on using the language of the host country is an easy way to be deposed.

Do you see any progress toward vernacular usage happening in the the foreseeable future?   
Not really. The current situation works for our communities, especially as they grow even more multilingual. When you have parishes that have English, Turkish, Arabic, Russian, and two different dialects of modern Armenian-speaking people, what really is the "vernacular" anyway?

That's exactly the situation at my parish.  I'm not against the idea of a vernacular liturgy, but in a lot of places the Classical Armenian works almost like a liturgical lingua franca.
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« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2013, 10:07:17 PM »

Insistence on using the language of the host country is an easy way to be deposed.

I've heard the same thing, although like Aram I've never heard of it happening.
Speaking from the Diocese perspective (not sure how the Prelacy is dealing with this)...

It's my understanding the language guidelines have been handed down in writing from Etchmiadzin through the diocesan primates to the individual parishes in the United States and Canada, which is where this is actually an issue. Ultimately, it's up to the diocesan primates to enforce it. And being that I've seen one said diocesan primate use far more English than the guidelines allow (sacraments, the liturgy, other kinds of services) on a routine basis... I'm inclined to believe that as heavy-handed as the decree may sound, it really isn't anything to worry about.

And even at that, the idea of liturgical language being a deposable offense... That's someone spinning a rumor, as far as I'm concerned. It's probably best not to perpetuate it.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2013, 10:07:45 PM by Aram » Logged
lord doog
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« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2013, 03:50:17 PM »

I guess then the Armenian Orthodox keep their traditional liturgical language. Does anyone know of any parish or group (US or non-US) that eschews the traditional language and opts instead for the adopted language?
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« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2013, 03:59:36 PM »

"Eschew" is a rather strong word.  Armenians and, I think, Ethiopians/Eritreans use their traditional liturgical languages exclusively; everyone else tends to make use of vernaculars to a greater or lesser extent, but this is not because they "eschew" the traditional liturgical language.  That makes it sound like they have a disregard or distaste for their liturgical heritage when, in most cases, it just has to do with the fact that most people haven't studied the ancient languages, but do share a vernacular. 

In parishes with many languages represented, as in the case of the Armenians above, it makes sense to use the language that levels the playing field, so to speak; if you're not dealing with that many languages, and there's definitely ignorance of the ancient tongue, what levels the field may be a vernacular.   
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« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2013, 04:22:11 PM »

I might have already told this story here before, but I'm reminded of it whenever the topic of liturgical languages vs. vernacularism comes up, and it says everything about the mix of languages I experience in the liturgy exactly as I would say it, so please permit me to tell it again:

There was a man at my church who used to complain a lot that we don't use enough Arabic, and how can we use so much English when I'm the only native English speaker (and I know enough Arabic to at least follow along and give the congregational responses). It's not fair to the majority of the parishioners, and they can't possibly be getting as much out of the liturgy since it's not in their native language, etc.

Abouna listened to the man, as he often did, and let him finish his reasons. He then asked him "Do you think America is an Arabic country?" The man said "No, of course not." Abouna replied "So America is not an Arabic-speaking country, but you came here anyway. Bravo! What a blessing. So did all of us. So we will use the language that is already here, since we are not the only people who deserve to be so blessed."

The man has not complained about our language ratio (~80% English, 20% Coptic and Arabic) since then. I have heard subsequently from friends in Coptic churches in other parts of the country that they are envious of our ratio, though they did not explain why (maybe some of Coptic parishes don't even use 20% Coptic...thank God both of our priests love the language). Speaking for myself, I know that I am biased and ignorant, but I don't really see what the big deal is either way. 20% of a three hour liturgy is still over a half-hour, and it's not like you're going to hear a half hour of spoken Coptic anywhere else! And Arabic...it's still in there, plus there are plenty of chances to use it even within the mostly English liturgy (e.g., our priests only start the Lord's prayer in English or Arabic, and then the person can choose how they want to continue it; I see many of our parishioners continuing it in English even though they are not native English speakers).

I have long made the case (well...long in the sense that I started asking about it after I first moved here, a little under two years ago) that it would be a good idea to at least have some liturgical materials available in Spanish, as well, perhaps on a church website now that we have a church building. That is also a local language where I am (and spoken by the majority of people here), and is much easier to learn than Navajo, the real local language. So far everyone has looked at me like I'm nuts, but in the next nearest Coptic church, St. Mark COC in Scottsdale-Phoenix, a number of the youth have volunteered in the church in Bolivia on mission trips, and there they use Spanish only (unless the priest doesn't happen to know a particular part in Spanish; even our priests here in ABQ absolve me in confession in Arabic for this same reason, though they are both fluent in English). So the materials are definitely out there. We'll see. I think everybody sees me as the crazy American with the weird ideas (like how we should have a billboard to counter the giant "Why Islam?" billboard that is literally the first thing you see when driving into the city from the airport...ughhh).

So, uh...yeah, chalk us up here at St. Pishoy COC as a majority English parish.
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« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2013, 04:35:38 PM »

So, uh...yeah, chalk us up here at St. Pishoy COC as a majority English parish.

If I may ask, does that include the hymns being sung in English as well? And do you prefer keeping coptic as part of the liturgy or would you like to see all coptic replaced with English (this question goes for everyone else too, not just dzheremi. Just replace "coptic" with whatever native language your parish uses)?
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« Reply #14 on: May 16, 2013, 05:05:50 PM »

If I may ask, does that include the hymns being sung in English as well?

It depends. The Hitenis are always in Coptic (less often in English, and very rarely in Arabic), while the communion hymns are very rarely in Coptic, but usually in Arabic, then English (this might be because we are a very small church, so we would rarely have any reason to extend the communion hymns beyond the time it takes to do them in Coptic in addition to the other two, except on occasions when we have lots of people, like during Holy Week).

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And do you prefer keeping coptic as part of the liturgy or would you like to see all coptic replaced with English?

I prefer keeping them in Coptic, because that's how I learned them and that's generally what best fits the rhythm of the hymn since that's what they were originally written in (except for the Greek ones, of course). Even though it is my native language, it feels awkward to me to say the Hitenis or Tai Shori or whatever in English. For other hymns, I am more used to Arabic and so prefer that. I first learned "Ounof emmo Maria" in Arabic (Efrahi ya Mariam), and so I found it very difficult to follow the one time that I can remember chanting it in Coptic. Some I've only ever experienced in Arabic, like "Ya kol al-Sefoof", and don't even know the Coptic texts for these (I don't recall even seeing it on the projection screen during the Holy Week that just passed, but maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, since we were doing it in Arabic as usual). I can't think of any that I know only in English.
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« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2013, 07:59:28 PM »

And do you prefer keeping coptic as part of the liturgy or would you like to see all coptic replaced with English (this question goes for everyone else too, not just dzheremi. Just replace "coptic" with whatever native language your parish uses)?

It's a problem with no easy solution.  Personally, I prefer that the language of the worshipers (presuming that there is one predominant language) be used in the Liturgy.  But I fear the loss of the traditional liturgical languages that inevitably results when we focus on the vernacular.  Already, the numbers of our people for whom Coptic or Syriac or classical Armenian or whatever is comprehensible (beyond a few "stock phrases") are slim.  If there is no effort to preserve knowledge of these languages, we lose a lot of our heritage.  I'm not arguing that the Church is the custodian of a particular ethnic culture as a primary focus, but our traditions were formed in these languages, and so they keep us connected with our past and help us understand our present worship and way of life so we can pass them along to future generations faithfully.  It shouldn't be a requirement of church membership to learn a language, but I think we owe it to ourselves and to posterity to maintain it in some way. 

And there are often certain practical benefits to preserving these languages in worship.  Our Armenian brethren have already mentioned the benefit of classical Armenian as a common language for worship in communities divided along linguistic lines.  It's ironic that they've done this, while other denominations, like the RC's, have gone to the vernacular even in places with a lot of diversity: one Mass in Latin would probably be easier to manage than incorporating eight or nine languages piecemeal in some large parish in California, but Latin's out for them, and Armenian's in for us.  But there are other reasons for maintaining the classical languages.     

Syriac music, for instance, is metrical (disclaimer: I don't know musical terminology, so I will try to describe what I mean).  It's not like other traditions of ecclesiastical music where you can play with the melodies to fit the text (e.g., "typewriter chant", which was how some of my brethren and I referred to the music executed during some services at seminary).  The melody has a tight structure, and the words in Syriac fit that perfectly.  When you translate into another language, you run into a problem: how do you translate the whole text accurately in good English (or whatever language) and sing it?  Frequently, the compromise is made on the text because that's easier to deal with than composing a whole new Octoechos.  And so you'll either use awkward syntax/grammar to fit the music, or you'll just leave certain phrases or ideas out of the text, impoverishing the prayer.  I've done enough liturgical translation from Syriac to English to appreciate the minefield.  I've also compared existing Malayalam translations to the Syriac enough to know that, while in English we try to fit in all thoughts however awkwardly, they chose to just leave out stuff.  The results are singable, but hardly satisfactory if you know better.  Keeping Syriac would solve those problems, but then you have to settle for not knowing what's going on or buying a grammar and enrolling in a class.  Perhaps a new Octoechos is the ultimate solution, but that's an even bigger headache at present. 

And, because translation is always interpretation, sometimes certain translations are preferable to others.  For example, after "Holy things are for the holy", the English translation currently in wide use has, as the people's confessional response, "None is holy except the one holy Father, the one holy Son, and the one Holy Spirit, Amen."  But in Malayalam, it seems (to me anyway) to pack more of a punch; were you to render it into English, it'd be something like "Other than the one holy Father, the one holy Son, and the one holy Spirit, there is no one at all who is holy, Amen."  I prefer the latter in Malayalam for its punch, even if you can obviously play with the English, because the English becomes a bit verbose, but it's not so in Malayalam.  You can do that sort of thing all over the Liturgy with regard to translations, but often the Syriac packs its own punch, and it's hard to render adequately. 

In my experiences in Coptic parishes, I've always appreciated the use of Coptic if English wasn't being used for a very simple reason.  Much of what's chanted in Coptic is basically Greek, which I've studied, and so I can join in easily.  And what's not Greek is written in Coptic, which resembles Greek enough that I'm ever so slowly picking it up.  Arabic is for another day.  Tongue 

It's a complex issue, and basically a pastoral one, so there's not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.  But personally I'd prefer to keep the old languages in some way; we already do it with things like "Amen" and "Alleluia", so it's not without precedent, but on the contrary shows that we can make them a part of our life. 
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« Reply #16 on: May 23, 2013, 10:56:50 PM »

And do you prefer keeping coptic as part of the liturgy or would you like to see all coptic replaced with English (this question goes for everyone else too, not just dzheremi. Just replace "coptic" with whatever native language your parish uses)?

It's a complex issue, and basically a pastoral one, so there's not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.  But personally I'd prefer to keep the old languages in some way; we already do it with things like "Amen" and "Alleluia", so it's not without precedent, but on the contrary shows that we can make them a part of our life.  

I can certainly sympathize with translation issues and the 'potency' of the original liturgical languages, but when it comes to most of our faithful I think it'd do more for them to hear the services in the vernacular - and comprehend them somewhat - than to hear them in a dead and/or foreign language and just get a sentimental feeling about the nonsense syllables or, perhaps worse, have their heads stuck in prayer books the whole time following along with a translation so that they can understand the prayers.

It is nice to at least keep tokens of a church's liturgical heritage, whether it's a "Kyrie eleison" or "Barekhmor" or whatever...
« Last Edit: May 23, 2013, 10:57:41 PM by kijabeboy03 » Logged

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« Reply #17 on: May 23, 2013, 11:00:30 PM »

So, uh...yeah, chalk us up here at St. Pishoy COC as a majority English parish.

If I may ask, does that include the hymns being sung in English as well? And do you prefer keeping coptic as part of the liturgy or would you like to see all coptic replaced with English (this question goes for everyone else too, not just dzheremi. Just replace "coptic" with whatever native language your parish uses)?

My parish uses English, the local vernacular. We do still sing one hymn in Slavonic - the former liturgical language - on Sundays, and on Pascha we repeat several hymns in Slavonic and even use a little Greek, Arabic, and Spanish, but the vast majority of the prayers are in English.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2013, 11:00:52 PM by kijabeboy03 » Logged

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