I have noticed that the Church language issue can be very emotional, and at
times rather destructive if not kept in proper context. Father Peter clearly
noted the problems of over romanticizing of Church Slavonic. I have never taken
a poll, but I am sure that nearly every priest in the Russian Orthodox Church
Outside of Russia (within the United States), would easily and without
comment serve in either and all English, all Slavonic, or a mixed parish, if asked
to by proper diocesan authorities. When I started a parish in Columbus, we
used a mix based on need and ability. In other words, I did not have anyone who
could sign the stikhirions in Slavonic, but they could sing in Slavonic several
parts of the services. That parish still serves (although we are looking for
a priest), but already a history has been established, and I hope a healthy
mix will continue.
What troubles me is when certain individuals or groups, regardless of their
language desire, attempt to impose a position without taking into consideration
the history of the parish, current makeup, and feelings of others who attend
regularly. This causes great hardship and divisions which at times leave deep
scars. Often these problems could have been avoided, but stubbornness and
arrogance on BOTH sides lead to destruction, demoralizing the clergy.
I particularly note the importance of history of the parish. For example, if
a parish was founded to be "All English" (as I believe was the case in Fr.
Peter's parish) and the vast majority of the her members wish to keep it that
way, I would see as improper for a recent emigre to start "demanding'' more
Slavonic. Likewise, many of our parishes in the US were founded by emerges after
World War II and they had other options, but chose to form their own parishes
with Church Slavonic and keeping an ethnic feel. While it may be true that
often their children or grandchildren, for a variety of reasons, may no longer
attend, these sensibilities cannot be ignored. In my parish, the situation is
different, we have actually grown with a Church Slavonic formula. Sadly, many
of the founders' children and grandchildren don't attend, but we have a wave of
new parishioners who have become part of our parish fabric. When we put out
pamphlets from Vladyka Alexander's website to be given out for free, the
Russian texts are taken 9 to 1 over the English text. That does not mean we don't
have people who regularly push and push and push for more English (and shorter
vigil services!). These demands can be demoralizing, but I suppose a cross
many modern day clergymen must carry.
As for the Russification of Church Slavonic, this too is a loaded question.
The problem for me is culture and the state of the world and Churches.
Normally, this would be a very logical process, one which was occurring before the
Revolution. It cannot be dismissed out of hand as modernist. The idea is not a
bad one in itself. However, I fear the slippery slop. Just as the same people
in my parish keep pushing for more English, and then remind me that our
services are too long, I am concerned that the Russification of Church Slavonic may
be tied to other issues which may alter the nature of the services themselves.
The greatest concern is who will do it? My understanding that in our Synod,
the standardization of an English text has been problematic and a sore spot
for many of our translators. However, no one would question the integrity of any
of our translators as we have nothing but praise for their talents and
motives. I am not so sure that would be the case in Russia at this time.
Priest Victor Boldewskul
In a message dated 9/3/03 7:59:56 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
> GLORY TO JESUS CHRIST-GLORY TO HIM FOREVER
> Dear Father Peter,
> Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.
> Love in Christ,
> Sub-deacon Lawrence
> frpeterjackson <frpeterjackson@...> wrote:
> >In the end pious people who care will try to learn the language so
> >they can see the greater beauty of the service. Those who don't
> >really care about the language....just don't really care about the
> >purity of the church anyway.
> I think the Greek-speaking early Church Fathers would be puzzled to
> hear that Slavonic, a Slavic language, is closer to what they wrote
> in than Russian or English. Church Slavonic has parallels with Greek
> for two reasons: 1) Sts. Cyril and Methodius and their disciples
> borrowed vocabulary from Greek and coined new words (e.g. blago-
> slovit' to render the Greek eu-logein) out of existing vocabulary and
> 2) Church Slavonic's grammar attempts to artificially mimic Greek
> grammar in a way that is unnatural for a Slavic language. New
> vocabulary was needed for the Slavic languages, and it wasn't
> difficult to do so, but grammar is a different issue. Anyone who has
> had training or experience in translation or interpreting will know
> that slavishly trying to adhere to the source language's grammar will
> more often distort the true meaning than reflect it.
> Slavonic was not naturally suited to convey liturgical texts. It was
> artificially tinkered with. Any language be it Russian, English or
> Swahili, can borrow or coin vocabulary in order to preserve nuances
> of meaning. Any language can adapted for liturgical purposes just as
> Slavonic very consciously and intentionally was. We can listen to a
> Slavonic service and appreciate the *idea* that it is faithfully
> rendering the Greek, but what good does it do those who do not
> understand it? Even most Russian speakers do not understand it, in my
> If the argument put forth is that we should have an accurate language
> regardless of whether it is understood, then the optimal choice would
> be Greek, of course. But I don't expect anyone in our Russian Church
> to propose that. The issue, then, is really an emotional one: this is
> the language I heard while I held my babushka's hand at Pascha.
> Emotion is a powerful factor, and I am not diminishing its importance
> in our lives and in our worship, but we must not dress up an emotion-
> based desire for preserving Slavonic in purportedly intellectual
> To use a local language instead of Slavonic is not to "dumb down" the
> services, as some have suggested in this string. It is not justified
> to point to the Roman Catholics after Vatican II. The problem was not
> that they abandoned Latin, but that they rewrote the text of the
> Mass, leaving out references to the Mother of God, etc. Obviously, no
> Orthodox advocate of local language use would countenance any
> revisions of the liturgical texts themselves. Indeed, the whole
> intention is to actually have access to those texts.
> Finally, I find it outrageous when anyone suggests that everyone
> should "just learn Slavonic". Tell that to St. Stephen of Perm who
> translated our texts into Permian, or to St. Innocent of Alaska
> (Aleut) or St. Nicholas of Japan. None of them advocated imposing
> Slavonic on converts. Sts. Cyril and Methodius never took Slavonic to
> non-Slavonic speakers. Indeed, their philosophy -- and that of the
> whole Church -- was to make the services accessible to everyone in
> the own tongue. I doubt they saw themselves as "creating a sacred
> language". They just wanted people to understand, plain and simple.
> Nowadays, we want to prevent people from understanding the services.
> God forgive us.
> Priest Peter Jackson
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