In a message dated 9/28/2001 9:47:36 PM, stephen.r@...
<< Dear Nicholas,
You had a legitimate question about a rather difficult text. I hope no one
was seriously offended by any of the discussion. No one even superficially
acquainted with the history of translations of Eastern liturgical texts into
English can fail to appreciate the heroic service that Reader Isaac has
rendered; anyone who recalls when Orloff, Hapgood, and Nassar were 90% of
what was available will thank God for blessing us with the translators of
recent decades, and none more than Reader Isaac, whose work is used regularly
in the parish I usually attend and which I greatly appreciate...... >>
A few years ago, I was choir director at a large Orthodox parish, where I
served for several years.
There was a new priest who came a few months before I did (he was newly
ordained as well) and with his support, we decided to begin to bring the
liturgical practice of the church up to standard.
For years, the propers of the Liturgy were not sung according to the tones by
the choir, but merely read recto tono by a reader. Included in this were the
Troparia and Kontakia. The Alleluia verses were not done at all. Even the
Beatutides themselves were abbreviated--forget about doing the Troparia
Never mind about the Lenten Presanctified Liturgy. The standard midweek
Lenten devotion in this parish--in the diocese as a whole, in fact--was a
hodgepodge of highlights from Holy Week called "Passions."
Of course, they did not have a full set of liturgical books in their
traditional liturgical language. (I'm trying to avoid mentioning the
jurisdiction by name. Let him who can decipher.) The Epistle Book in their
"native language" contained merely the Sunday and Feast day readings, and
none of the Prokeimena and Alleluia.
Of course, the older priests of this jurisdiction were brought up on nothing
but Liturgy and Molebens; that's all they ever did at the seminary. They had
never even heard of what else existed in any language at all--much less in
English. (God bless them and their ministry; it's because of their like we
have any Orthodox Churches here to start with!)
Now, can you imagine the difficulties involved here? People are very
persnickety about services, prayers, and hymns in their church! (ANYBODY'S
We got them to understand that with the emigration, it was a case of getting
something out in a hurry for immediate use, and filling in the gaps later. Of
course, what happens to often, the provisional emergency version became the
accepted use. We compared the old "mother tongue" epistle book with a
complete one in English, and eventually most of them understood that there
was nothing wrong with the old one. It was ok as far as it went, but it
wasn't complete. Their accustomed lenten service was done because there
simply was not a copy of the Triodion available in English--and I showed them
one, explaining that this was the official Lenten prayer book with the
prayers that the Church wanted us to use during this time. "Do these first,"
the priest explained, "and then whatever else devotioin prompts, after we've
said the official appointed prayers."
Most of them were satisfied. A few who had been elsewhere knew what a fuller
standard Orthodox liturgical life was all about.
Hapgood, Nassar, and Orloff--God bless them! They at least provided the
basics for English services.
But we have gone beyond a selective phase. There's nothing wrong with their
works, but they are compendia and selections. We need, and now have,
Thanks to the labors of Reader Isaac and others we now have everything
avaible for full daily liturgical celebrations in English. God grant them
Eventually a generally accepted English liturgical diction will develop,
though it may not be in our lifetimes. A book on the Romanian recension of
Byzantine chant says that it took centuries of work to come up with the
definitive Romanian version of our holy services, but that it is truly the
work of the Church, and not that of any one person.
The same thing will happen in English, but it will need the CHURCH--that is,
the faithful--to actually use and alter translations to make them sound
better and more singable. All we choir directors here know that what we
prepare at home won't always work in rehearsal--and what worked in rehearsal
may not work in an actual service. "Back to the drawing board--or desk--or
computer" is the summary of a choir director's life.
Whatever the definitive English text will be, it will exist because it
recommends itself to the faithful because of its intrinsic excellence, not
because it was artifically imposed, as the editors of the Old Orthodox
Prayerbook from Erie remind us.