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Liturgical Books of the Orthodox Church in Chinese (1885)

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  • Nelson Mitrophan Chin
    http://orthodox.cn/localchurch/1885KristianskoeChteniePg490-502_en.htm published originally in Russian by Kristianskoe Chtenie, 1885, pg 490-502 English
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2009
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      http://orthodox.cn/localchurch/1885KristianskoeChteniePg490-502_en.htm

      published originally in Russian by "Kristianskoe Chtenie," 1885, pg 490-502
      English translation by Igor Radev

      Liturgical Books of the Orthodox Church in Chinese

      Recently, the library of St Petersburg University received more than 20 volumes containing translations of the Liturgical books into Chinese, which were made by the members of our Spiritual Mission in China. These books have been sent as a consequence of Fr. Nikolai's letter to Prof. Vasilev from Beijing dated on August 6 this year. Here, we find translations of the Psalter, Octoechos, the Book of Hours, the Panakhida, Paschal Service, the Festal Services on the Dormition of the Mother of God, Nativity of Christ, the Nativity of the Mother of God etc…, translation of St John Chrysostom's Liturgy, as well as the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, among other. I am convinced that to the readers of "Christian Reader” it will be of extraordinary interest to get acquainted with the history of these translations (in a general way, through the letter), and also I'll make sure to share with them my own views on the Chinese translation of the Holy Scripture and the impressions I got from reading those books. The translation of the Holy Scripture into the native languages, as a main vehicle for the spread of Christianity, is, of course, highly desirable and it constitutes the main obligation of the evangelizers. But unfortunately, the very characteristics of the Chinese language sometimes get in the way of this good intention: The most basic notions of our religion, all of the theological terms cannot be translated in their entirety correctly and comprehensibly into Chinese. For example, all the hitherto efforts to translate the word "God” into Chinese could be considered not quite successful; "Shangdi”[1], "Tianzhu”[2], etc, do not convey completely the concept we unite with the word "God”. As a consequence of the peculiar view of the Chinese (Confucians, Daoists and Buddhists, regardless) on the existence of the world and the relationship to it of the Divine, it becomes hard to translate into Chinese accurately and fully comprehensibly the phrase -- "God created the world”. It is similar with other issues too. Therefore, we cannot expect perfection from the translations of the Holy Scripture into the Chinese language, no matter which experts have produced them, how good they were, since within these translations there are many things still unclear, while other things could be understood in a distorted way. Even some of our sinologists from the Mission (Fr. Pallady and Fr. Avvakum), were arguing for the impracticability of translating into Chinese of the Holy Books. However, the urgent need to have these books made us forget all the difficulties that still seem insurmountable and are just alleviated by the profound knowledge of the Chinese language and literature, especially after the translation and the dissemination of the Holy Scripture by the Protestants and Roman Catholic missionaries is performed so effectively in China, so even Fr. Pallady himself recognized the necessity and took part in the translations. Still, there isn't a completely perfect translation of the Holy Scripture and the Liturgical Books into Chinese and this is impossible to achieve, so all of our translations are marked by greater or lesser deficiencies, which is quite understandable. Our Mission in this respect was in a favorable position, since it never lacked good and sometimes even excellent experts on the Chinese language. Just one needs to remember Fr. Hyacinth, Fr. Isaiah, and especially Fr. Pallady, and therefore if it was possible to perform this endeavor with perfection, it would have been done, if not for the mentioned circumstances.

      But let us first investigate when the translation process of the Liturgical Books began and how it was conducted. During the 1830s, the translations into Chinese of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Evening and the Morning Prayers, as well as the Canon of the Holy Eucharist were conducted by Hieromonk Daniel Sivilov (who was present at the Mission from 1820 till 1830 and later taught Chinese at Kazan University beginning from 1844). These translations were edited and inscribed onto wooden planks (until then they were preserved as manuscripts) during the 1850s by the Head of the Mission (and later archbishop) Gury (he headed the Mission 1856-1865, during which time Fr. Isaiah Polikin was also present). At that time all of the Services were conducted in Slavonic. The translation of the Liturgical books into Chinese was started by Fr. Isaiah (1858 - 1871), who having compared the Greek and the Slavonic texts, proceeded to translate sections of the Book of Hours and the abbreviated Cycle of Paschal Services, including the first dogmatic stichera and the odes of the canons, doing this with the help of Chinese instructors (useful in the sense of giving elegance and Chinese spirit to the finished translation; however, if the translator isn't well versed in the Chinese language, there is little use for them either, but that of course does not apply to Fr. Isaiah). He further compiled a collection of stichera, troparia and odes of the canons pertaining to the Twelve Feasts, the first and second week of Lent, as well as Pascha. Based on the Septuagint, he also rendered into the vernacular[3] the Psalter, and commenced the translation of the All Night Vigil, St John Chrysostom's Liturgy, the Akathistos and the Supplicatory Canon of the Mother of God and the Panikhida[4]. Finally, near the end of his days, he rendered into two different versions (in the classical language and the vernacular) the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete. Together with Fr. Pallady, in 1870 he translated the prayer stanzas for the New Year and supplications of forgiveness. From 1860 till 1868, Fr. Isaiah worked on his Russian -- Chinese Dictionary of Theological and Ecclesiastical Terms (containing over 3300 entries), which was reviewed, edited and supplemented by Fr. Pallady.

      The latter in 1878 made a translation from Russian of 12 Psalter Kathismata. The remaining Kathismata were translated by Fr. Flavian with the help of the teacher Lun and referring to the translation of the Psalter made by Fr. Isaiah. This text was available in numerous manuscripts. All of them where carefully collected and reviewed by Fr. Flavian, who endeavored to continue his efforts. "However, the unfamiliarity with the Greek language and the lack of formal theological education (says the author of the letter) affected the possibility of tackling the many difficulties pertaining to the Slavonic text of the Liturgical books. Therefore, the work of Fr. Flavian remained in that respect partial. He nevertheless resisted the opposition from the behalf of the Chinese to the introduction of the Chinese language in the Church Services, which was done by Fr. Isaiah.” This opposition, as it came out, originated among the Chinese officialdom, due to the fact that Christianity isn't one of the so-called "San Jiao”[5] that are free to perform their rituals in China (these include: Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism); even the Mongol Lamaists only within a single monastery in Beijing can perform the religious rituals in their mother tongue.

      In 1882, the Mission was joined by several members with competent theological qualifications who also knew Greek and modern languages. From then on, the translation process got accelerated. From March 1883 till February 1884, the members of the Beijing Mission started the work on a full translation of the complete Paschal Services from the Octoechos[6].

      This work was consecutively performed by six men. In the beginning, Hieromonks Nikolai and Alexey went to compare the Slavonic text of the Octoechos with the Greek original according to the Athens publication of the Church Service cycle, made in 1860-62 by Archimandrite Dionysios Pirros. Carefully examining the Slavonic text and eliminating its ambiguities and inaccuracies, these people communicated the original meaning in Russian to Fr. Flavian, who in turn dictated it, employing ordinary Chinese, to the Chinese priest Fr. Mitrophan Ji[7]. The latter, having comprehended the meaning of a given phrase, rendered it into the "scholarly language”[8], which in fact is sufficiently familiar to the majority of Orthodox Chinese, who are descendents of the Albazinians.

      After this, the teacher Hosea Zhang edited the finished Chinese text and gave it somewhat more elegant Chinese expression. The translator Eumenius Yu made the references and checked the correctness of rendition of the translated text by Fr. Mitrophan and the teacher Hosea. Furthermore, the initial results of Fr. Isaiah's translation of the Octoechos were analyzed and reviewed. This kind of translation has many good points but it also harbors some disadvantages, namely that it isn't quite guaranteed the Chinese would comprehend correctly the text, which was first changed from the vernacular to the "scholarly” language, thus obscuring in a certain way its transmission into Chinese.

      However, after the translation of the "full Sunday Services of the Octoechos and the weekdays' Vespers accompanied by the stichera and the exaposteilaria” (but without the Canons of Saturday night Services and Sunday midnight Service), these same people (with the exception of Fr. Alexei who went into icon painting, making blueprints for the Spiritual Mission and doing other Chinese translations) started the translation of the Twelve Feasts Services. Of great help to their work were the translations of the Canons by Prof. Lovyagin, then the adaptations into understandable Slavonic of the Festal Canons by Bishop Augustine, as well as translations of some complete Services of the great Feasts done by Priest Vladislavlev, which can be found in "Soul-edifying Reader” and "Spiritual Conversation”.

      Here, the edited and corrected collection of Odes on the Twelve Feasts done by Fr. Isaiah has been also included. They then continued with the editing and supplementing of the translations of other Services from the Church cycle which were dating from the time of Fr. Isaiah and in addition translated the complete Services of Holy Week, Bright Week[9], three Liturgies (for people attending church with the prayers read by the priest in secret) and the Panikhida. These last Services were proofread by Fr. Nikolai according to the edition of Goar. He also checked the Book of Hours according to the Greek text, and Fr. Flavian made additions to the Augmented Psalter. Edits have been also made to the Midnight Service, Matins, the Hours, the Great and Little Compline Service, and in addition, Troparia and Kontakia on Lenten weeks and on Pentecost, from the Octoechos (with the Theotocaria), on the Twelve Feasts and on the Feast days of some revered Saints were partially retranslated or gathered from already existing translations. The major part of the work was done by Fr. Mitrophan and Fr. Flavian, who managed to carry out this endeavor in a systematic way, upon which the success of the whole project depended. His exemplary knowledge of the Church Typikon helped harmoniously to arrange the order of translated Services with some necessary clarifications. In the course of the translation of the Holy Scripture and the Liturgical Books into Chinese, the members of the Beijing Mission were led by different opinions on different occasions. His Eminence Gury, who mainly translated the Books of the New Testament, made effort to write in the classical language and did not adhere to word by word rendering. His endeavor to translate into the scholarly language, the language of the classical books and the literature based on them is praiseworthy, since the book could be made comprehensible to the Chinese (with the exception of some terms, on which I elucidated earlier) and draw them to the contents by the beauty of the language. However, the downside to this was some divergence from the original text caused by the translator. This had made Fr. Isaiah to seek the middle ground between the classical and the plain language, and near the end of his life, he completely went in favor of the plain tongue. Fr. Pallady, on the other hand, kept close to the Russian text which was rendered from the Hebrew original. "The following translators tried even more closely to approach the meaning of the Greek original, at the same time maintaining their goal to make Chinese text of the Liturgical Books understandable to the widest possible number or listeners and readers. During the translation of the Old Testament Paroemia, on my insistence -- writes Fr. Nikolai -- the text of the Septuagint (in the edition of Tischendorf) was given preference, as most agreeable with the traditional Slavonic text, from which the translators did not want to deviate.” In 1876, the teacher Innokenty Fan under guidance of Fr. Flavian has translated the Paroemia on all of the Feasts and on Lent, consulting the Protestant translation of the Bible by the missionary Shershevsky done from the Hebrew text, which in some places differs from the Greek original and its Slavonic translation.

      The result of these efforts performed by the Beijing Mission was the emergence at the beginning of 1884 of a large number of notebooks, which, according to the words of Fr. Nikolai, contained more than 300,000 characters. All of them, beginning from January that year, were rewritten, carefully examined and carved on wooden tablets. In this way, adding to other translations, 20 odd books pertaining to the Orthodox Divine Services came into existence. These tomes, thanks to the Mission, were printed very beautifully and meticulously in two typefaces (with larger characters -- the text itself, and with smaller -- the notes and comments to the rubrics of the Service). The majority of these editions were made in 1884. The Psalter was preceded by a short Introduction (3 pages), printed in fine large typeface recounting the origin of the Book, its importance and usefulness as a good reading for pious people on each occasion. Within the many books, the names of those who made the translation were mentioned -- Archimandrite[10] Flavian, Hieromonk Nikolai, Priest Mitrophan, Missionary[11] Hosea and the translator[12] Eumenius. Fr. Isaiah is mentioned as the primary translator in the translation of the Services during Bright Week.

      The Mission, however, did not stop with this effort. Following the return to Russia of Fr. Flavian, Fr. Nikolai took on himself the responsibility of continuing the translation work. Together with his instructor Lin, he made attempts at translating into Chinese the separate Stichera for the feast days of St John the Theologian (May 8), St Nicholas the Wonder Worker (May 9), John the Baptist (May 24) and the Apostles Peter and Paul (May 29), Prophet Elias (July 20), the Procession of the Venerable Wood of the Life Giving Cross of our Lord (August 1), the Beheading of St John the Forerunner (August 29) and the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God (October 1). These specimens were examined by Fr. Mitrophan and approved by Fr. Flavian. More translations are being made according to the capabilities and the needs.

      The Beijing Mission started to disseminate all of the mentioned works in Japan and Korea too, due to the fact that the Chinese writing system is wide spread in these and some other countries. So, in 1882, it provided the Japanese Mission through Fr. Flavian with its still incomplete and unedited manuscripts of the translations of the Liturgical Books. These translations were then translated by the educated Japanese from the Japanese Mission into their language and introduced in the Liturgical life. Subsequently, new and corrected translations of the Beijing Mission were sent there. The Kamchatka Diocese received the translations from the Mission in 1881. Of course, all of its translations are put to use by the Mission during the Divine Services in the two churches belonging to the northern and southern parish in Beijing, where there are two choirs singing: on the right -- Slavonic, on the left -- in Chinese. The allocation of the choirs had been made very cleverly: Among the Chinese the left side takes precedence over the right (they, when determining the sides of the world, face south), while among us is the other way around, so everyone gets one's own due share.

      Let us now have a word on the translation itself. First of all, I cannot agree here that Jesus Christ should be written as -- Yiyisusi Helisituosi (it is such a long expression pronounced with utter difficulty by the Chinese), especially bearing in mind that until now everywhere and by everyone this name has been transcribed as "Yesu Jidu”. No need to make a point that this rendering is equivalent to Jesus Christus, hence it goes without saying that the European missionaries have preceded us and so this transcription, due to the longstanding use and the ardent Roman Catholic and Protestant propaganda, and now enjoys a universal acceptance and is applied in Chinese books. And all at once, such a dramatic change! This becomes even more unacceptable, since, as it is well known, Chinese have a deep respect for antiquity and usually detest novelty and unnecessary change, especially when sacred books are in question. The second, even greater mistake, in my opinion, is consisted in the fact that the translators were following too closely the Greek and the Slavonic text. My own opinion holds that if we are to translate the Holy Scripture and the Liturgical Books into Chinese, we have to keep to the language of the classical books. All the expressions from there have entered the wider literature and their use is considered the pinnacle of beauty and good taste, so the author that is able to employ them can be sure in the success of his book. The European missionaries (as it is evident from His Eminence Gury's letter) understood this very well, and as a consequence, imitated this style in their translations of the Holy Scripture even at the cost of sacrificing some of the closeness to the original text. And that isn't everything, they further wrote Christian books in direct replication (in regard to the outside form) to the Chinese classical works which are in widespread use. Therefore, in parallel with the first book that is given to those learning to read in China -- "Three Character Classic” [13] , English missionaries have written their own Christian "Sanzi Jing”, also written in three-character phrases, in which the basic truths of Christianity are exposed. It would be very good if our Mission too followed their example. It could be possible to concentrate on the translation of several prayers and passages from the Holy Scripture, which wouldn't pose too much difficulty and ambiguity in translation, and try to communicate with a similar method the Christian truths to the sensibility of this nation. However, the Mission succumbed to the urge to have all the Liturgical Books fully in Chinese while perfectly adhering to the original text and thus made a serious mistake. The intention to keep as closely as possible to the text of the original caused many phrases and expressions to sound strange in Chinese, and these places, while comprehensible to a Russian speaker, remain completely ungraspable or misleading to the Chinese. In order not to bother our readers with many details, of interest only to specialists (besides, the presentation of Chinese text in transcription isn't much in common use), I will limit myself with some general observations. The word Lord is translated as "Zhu”[14], and God -- "Tianzhu”[15]. Also, whenever there is -- "Lord! God!” in Slavonic, the translators added the particle "yu”, so they translated it as -- "Zhu yu, Tianzhu yu”! Thus we get an expression which doesn't sound very Chinese with absolutely no need for that, since the following "er” (you) refers to being addressed (look, for example, at Psalm 3:4, where in verse 2, it is successfully used "wu Zhu”. In Psalms 53: 3; 85(86): 3,7; 141(142):5; we have the same, where "Lord, I have cried” - is translated as "O Lord, I called upon You, I cried unto You” [16]. But, it would have been better to translate it as: "Our Lord, …”[17]). Even more un-Chinese sounds the translation of the phrase -- "Lord, God…”[18] or: "(blessed is the) Lord, God of Israel[19](Psalm 40:14),” Lord, King…”[20] -- (however, in the exaposteilarion on the first day of Pascha -- "In the flesh Thou didst fall asleep as a mortal man, O King and Lord” … - it is translated with no "yu”: "Tianzhu Zhu zai er yi rou cu”… ), Christ!... "Helisituosi yu!” As I've already remarked, it could have been better to translate the word "God” with "Shangdi” instead of "Tianzhu”, and get the phrase -- "Wodeng Zhu Shangdi”[21], which is better that "Zhu Tianzhu yu”. Similarly, it would have been much better if instead of "Zhu Yisilǎyile zhi Tianzhu yu” the phrase "Wodeng Zhu Yisilǎyile zhi Shangdi”[22] was used. Furthermore, this objective to keep as closely as possible to the original made them express future tense always with "jiang”[23], though in the Chinese language this expression is commonly avoided, so "jiang” is either altogether omitted or (for emphasis) replaced with "bi”[24]. Then, there is "to obtain” (e.g. happiness, blessing) is always translated with the word "huo”[25], although more appropriate would have been the verb "de”[26], and instead of "huofu”[27], it would have been better if "defu” or "xiangfu”[28] were used. In Psalm 140:2 where "poured” is encountered, it is better instead of "yi” (effuse, dip out) to make use of "chen”[29] as a translation for this word. Also -"The Doors, the Doors!” (in wisdom let us attend) how on earth is going to be correctly comprehended by using- "men, men!” (so painfully literal)!?"He” is rendered as "yi” and "His” as -- "yi zhi”, but these pronouns are better to be replaced with the appropriate nouns, e.g. "God”, "Lord”, which is more common in the Chinese language and it is even recommended. "Ruoshi jian ren yi ci wei dao, zi yishi jian ren jian he wei zhen” -- "If all the people in the world took it to mean the crooked, what would they consider as right?” -- says Buddha in one of the sutras. So, within the sutras, instead of "you”, there is always a personal noun, or both the noun and a pronoun "er” (you). Besides, if it is impossible to put a noun, then "ci” could be used (e.g. in Psalm 135).

      To give an impression of how the Russian text sounds in Chinese translation, I'll present now some literal translations of several passages from the Psalter, the Liturgy and the Paschal Services. Psalm 1:1 -- "Blessed (fuzai) is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way (daolu) of sinners (zuiren), nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful (huairen).” 1:4 -- "The ungodly (eren: sinister man) are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.” "Let God (Tianzhu) arise and let His enemies be scattered and let those who hate Him flee from His face” Closely but nice is translated the sticheron during the Litany: "Angels in the Heavens, O Christ our Savior, praise Thy Resurrection with hymns; deem us also who are on earth worthy to glorify Thee with a pure heart.” Also, the 7th and the 8th ode of the Paschal Canon are nicely translated: "We celebrate the death of death”…, and - "This is the chosen and Holy Day” Now, I shall make some private remarks. In Psalm 4:3, the words -- "sons of men” is translated with "ren zhi zi yu”, but I think it would have been better to replace this with -- "er shi ren” (men of this world). All in all, the verse itself doesn't sound very well, apparently out of a desire to keep closely to the original text. Psalm 4: 6 -- "Offer the sacrifices of righteousness” is rendered as "you shall be offering righteousness as sacrifice”[30], but it is better instead to have -- "do righteousness as a way of offering sacrifice”[31]. Psalm 4: 7 -- "Who will show us good?” is translated literally as "shui shi wo yi shan”, but it could have been better to render it as -- "who shall give us wellbeing”, or simply -- "shui fu wo si (hu)”. Psalm 19: 5 -- "(the Lord) give you according to your heart” is translated in a way that makes it possible to understand this verse as -- "Let the Lord give you a heart obedient to you”[32]. Psalm 49: 2 in translation could be comprehended as -- "and the power, which in time of affliction steadfastly comes for help”. Psalm 66, in turn, is translated both close to the original and pretty good, just this "yu” following an address seems out of place. In Psalm 107: 8, the phrase "God hath spoken in his holiness” is given a rather clumsy formulation, where the word "yan”[33] could be connected with "suo” (instead of "Sheng suo”[34]), and thus have the meaning of -- "God, in what have been told by the saints, is saying”[35]. That will do for now, since I am afraid the readers have already had enough of me. I'll just make one more small remark concerning this word "yan” in the translation of the Second Antiphon -- "Only-begotten Son and immortal Word of God”. This phrase is translated as: "The Only Son of God, the Word of God undying”[36]. The use of the word "yan” in this particular place seems to me a not very happy solution. Generally speaking, the meaning which we adjoin to the expression "Word”, speaking of Jesus Christ in John's Gospel 1: 1, will be incomprehensible to the Chinese, and there were several attempts already to translate it, but all seem rather unsuccessful. In the Mongol translation of the New Testament of E. Stallybrass and W. Swan (Saint Petersburg 1880) and the Kalmyk translation of St. John's Gospel, the Greek word "Logos” have been left in place, which is another extreme. Much better seems to have been the solution given by the American and English translators, who made use of the word "Dao”. This word has multiple meanings (way, to speak, to know…) and is widely used among the Chinese. It can be encounter within the works of Confucians, Daoists and Buddhists (with two meanings: "marga”, i.e. "way”, and "bodhi” -- "holiness”). That's why it has been translated and is still translated in the European languages in many different forms: "Way”, "la Voie”, "la Raison”, "la Inteligence”, "die Vernunft”, "die Ursache” etc. So, this word in its metaphysical connotation seems most appropriate in our case too.

      In conclusion, I feel obliged to say that, regardless of the zealous aspiration of our honorable translators to keep as closely as possible to the original leading to some obscurities and awkwardness, we also find very nice passages among the translations of our Mission. In addition to the already mentioned, I'll point as examples Psalms 91, 144, 150, and the supernumerary (i.e. 151), and if the Mission in its subsequent works wouldn't so strictly adhere to the original text, we are convinced that their translations could come close to near perfection in such a demanding endeavor. In any case, I, as a Russian person, gladly hail the efforts of the Mission, seeing in them sincere desire on the behalf of its honorable members to serve according to their abilities our Fatherland and the Church, upholding the dignity of the Russian name in the East.

      Alexey Ivanovskiy (1885)
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