The Liturgical English discussion
- In contrast to the story about the Romanian monks who pleaded for thoroughly modern English, I should like to relate the story of my son, George, who was 14 when we moved here to Michigan to take on an Old Calendar Greek parish. They had never sung or read in English much and had no English liturgical books except for a forlorn Apostolos I found lying about - the Greek Archdiocese edition which employs the RSV. At the first Liturgy during which George used it, he came to me after the Gospel had finished and exclaimed sotto voce in sincere and childlike disgust, "I WILL NEVER read from that thing again!" Since then, he has dutifully typed up the prokeimenon, epistle, and alleluia for each Liturgy at which he reads, using the ROCOR translations which he knows, loves, and - yes - quite easily and naturally understands, along with, of course, the KJV (or the Douay-Rheims, now and then). He cuts out the reading to make it fit inside one of our fine old silver-covered Greek epistle books, and afterwards we save it for the next occasion when the typicon calls for it.
All three of my children, now ages 11 to 18, would be nonplussed upon learning of educated clergymen who believed that somehow the English of Shakespeare and the KJV was an incomprehensible tongue, that it was not, in fact, our very own dear tongue, which it is. It has changed remarkably little since the 16th century, thanks to the fact that the printing press arrested the rapid evolution of the language which had been going on until that time. To understand it requires far less effort on the part of an educated native English speaker than most people put into classes devoted to job training or even into fervidly cherished hobbies.
Vast numbers of people without degrees in English enjoy thousands of Shakespeare performances every year. Millions of rough-hewn backwoodsmen, rednecks, hillbillies, oil-rig roughnecks, and semi drivers have memorized, digested, slept with their KJV's, thumbed them to tatters, quoted them with gusto and complete fluency, and never thought the language "too hard."
I am fervently grateful to the late Isabel Hapgood as well as to our contemporaries - Isaac Lambertsen, Fr. Lawrence, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, et al - who undertook the gargantuan task of passing on this beautiful living language to us English speakers who have by the unutterable mercy of God come to the Orthodox Church but wish to remain faithful to the scriptural and liturgical language of our English-speaking ancestors. If their efforts are not perfect, if there are inconsistencies, technical failures, even if they indulge themselves now and then (as artists are wont to do)- well, what of it? It is a work in progress and a work worth doing. G.K. Chesterton wrote that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing badly. Let's go on doing it till we get it right.
Priest Steven Allen
Church of S. Spyridon
St. Clair Shores, MI
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