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English-language Orthodox services in Athens

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  • Fr. John-Brian
    From: JHForest Greece Now - Greece English Orthodox Church A church in downtown Athens offers
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 29, 2004
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      From: JHForest

      Greece Now - Greece


      English Orthodox Church

      A church in downtown Athens offers liturgy in English for the English-speaking community

      It is a bold step to take for a conservative institution; a necessary evil, as it were. The Greek Orthodox Church is now holding regular services in English at the Sacred Chapel of Saint Andrew (Aghios Andreas) in Plaka. An initiative of the Archbishop of Athens to cater to the growing number of English-language speakers who wish to go to church, the move has been very positively welcomed by the community.

      GreeceNow spoke to Protopresbyter Thomas Synodinos who was responsible for executing the Archbishop's wishes. "There are many English speakers who live and work in Athens and come to church, but don't speak Greek," he explained. "A few days ago, an English man, who's been living in Athens for years but never learnt the language, came to thank me. He was very happy."

      To accommodate English speakers then, the services will be conducted by Father John Raffan on Sundays between 7.30 and 9.15 a.m. (for the Orthros service) and between 9.15 and 10.30 a.m. (for the Divine Liturgy), but also on special occasions, including Easter.

      "This is the first time the Greek Orthodox Church has organized an English-language service on a regular basis," said Father John to AFP . And while media reports note that the announcement comes just months before a massive influx of foreign tourists for the Olympic Games, Father Thomas explains that it is simply the Church's aim to provide an accessible service to the existing community, made up of English-speaking diplomats from Orthodox countries, Greeks of the Diaspora (many of whom already follow the Greek Orthodox liturgy in English) and foreigners attracted to the faith.

      Linguistic riddles

      A Scotsman who converted to Orthodoxy back in 1982, Father John stresses, "Many people believe the Orthodox faith appeals more to the heart, more to the senses also - the liturgy is very rich, they just feel at home with it." He adds that the liturgy translation is 'borrowed' from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The Church there already exercises a policy of "flexible bilingualism" , with hymns sung in Greek and all plain texts, announcement and the sermon delivered in English.

      This gesture will certainly make church-going a more meaningful experience for English speakers, but the majority of Greek church-goers do not understand much of the liturgical Greek either. That's because the service hails from the medieval Byzantine church tradition and is spoken and sung in third-century Greek, Koine , also the language of the New Testament and of texts attributed to historian Polybius and philosopher Epictetus .

      While proposals have been made to perform the liturgy in modern Greek, to make the service accessible to the majority of Greeks, especially the youth (in the same way that the Vatican allowed the use of the vernacular) the Church continues to support the preservation of the Koine Greek, because it contributes to the "mystery" of the liturgy. It is generally believed that the use of modern Greek will not attract more people to the church, because the "beauty" and "splendour" of the traditional liturgy far outweighs the precise meaning of the words.

      Copyright (c) Greece Now Project 2001

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