Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Faith and speaking today’s language

posted by Rod Dreher

In Philadelphia, several historic Orthodox Christian parishes are on their last legs, because times have changed and so have the demographics of the areas they serve. From a long, interesting report in the Philadelphia Inquirer;

Therein lies the challenge for the five historic Eastern Orthodox churches in Northern Liberties, some hanging on for dear life on this one-third-square-mile patch north of Old City. Their very reason for existence – the Eastern European immigrant wave of the early 20th century – has come and gone from a neighborhood transformed into Philadelphia’s trendiest avant-garde niche, population about 5,000 and climbing.

“I don’t see much interest in religion in these people,” said the Rev. Vincent Saverino of St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church, which marked its 100th anniversary last month.

Attendance may swell to nearly 300 on holy days – including the Orthodox Christmas on Thursday – but on routine Sundays it is about 60. As in the other Orthodox churches, not one member is from the neighborhood.

“They come from all over, just not here,” Saverino said, twirling a finger to indicate Northern Liberties.

A sad story. While it’s true that younger people today aren’t as religiously inclined as folks were 50 years ago, why would someone go to liturgy in a language he or she doesn’t understand? How many of these hipsters are going to be inclined to worship in Old Church Slavonic? As one neighborhood resident tells the reporter, he would “love to have a conversation with the Orthodox, but I’m not sure how to start it.” To paraphrase Burke’s ironic observation, a religion without the ability to change is one that is without the means of its own conservation.

Interestingly, St. Nicholas’s, an OCA parish in this group, does worship in English, but there are other barriers to outreach, it appears:

The two other Russian Orthodox churches, St. Nicholas and St. Michael, tried to widen their appeal decades ago by switching to English liturgies. “We wouldn’t have survived otherwise,” said the latter’s pastor, Saverino.

Both also dropped Russian from their names.

But an infusion of young ecospiritual neighbors is not necessarily what they want.

At St. Nicholas, membership was 1,000 when Bohush arrived 33 years ago. Now it is 100, and the nearest congregant lives in King of Prussia. They are generous enough to keep the church alive, he said, and he would not want high-powered newcomers threatening “their authority, their prestige.”

 

 

 



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John D

posted January 4, 2010 at 3:20 am


Why would someone go to liturgy in a language he or she doesn’t understand?
Why indeed? Oh, but wait, I’m well aware that big chunks of my husband’s family understand less Hebrew than I do. Yet my husband can sing “Ma’oz Tzur” better than I can. Sure, he sings along without comprehension for almost all of the songs. So do I.
Orthodox Christians aren’t alone in this. Liberal Jews sing the traditional songs (mostly in Hebrew, some in Aramaic, the occasional one in Yiddish). There was a movement years ago to get rid of Hebrew in Reform Judaism. Later this was realized to be a mistake. So, back to singing “Lecha Dodi.”
I think for a lot of people, you sing the songs that you sing. You may not know what all the words mean, but that doesn’t matter.
When people start complaining that they can’t understand the words in the songs, they’re probably complaining about something else.



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Jon

posted January 4, 2010 at 6:31 am


An occasional song is one thing, but an entire hour and a half liturgy is something else. And the Orthodox liturgy is not just intended to be pretty; it’s intended to communicate things; our verses are packed with theology and church history. You evangelize people in their own language.



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Rod Dreher

posted January 4, 2010 at 7:52 am


I agree with both of you, actually. In most cases, I’d agree it goes too far to eliminate all foreign language, or at least liturgical language, in a venerable religious ritual. But as I understand it, Orthodoxy has a different view of language in the liturgy than, say, the way Jews relate to Hebrew, or even Catholics (historically) relate to liturgical Latin. In this country, if you’re hearing, say, an entire Orthodox liturgy in Greek, it’s almost certainly for cultural reasons. As Jon says, should it really be normative that the entire liturgy is offered in a language only few people understand? As I’ve blogged here before, an Ethiopian friend of mine in Dallas has told me that his Orthodox parish there struggles to hold on to its young people, who have been raised in America, because they either don’t understand the Amharic language in which the liturgy is offered, or they don’t relate to it. But most of the immigrants in the congregation don’t want to give up the liturgical language in which they were raised, because they (understandably) see the language as the carrier of their culture. What they’re going to have to decide is if it’s more important for their children to be culturally Ethiopian, or Christian.



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Steve in NYC

posted January 4, 2010 at 8:21 am


The Orthodox practice of liturgical repetition, with many hymns sung three times, leaves room for a middle version in the old language. And certainly some words are not really translatable and are kept as Church- or Orthodox-specific vocabulary (Amen, Alleluia, Theotokos, Kontakion, etc.) but having grown up in a old-language parish and having become a master of following booklets in English, I will attest that English (Spanish, French, Aleut) has to be the default option.
As regards older parishes in general:
1) a lot of “Church growth” in the 60′s & 70′s was really the creation of a new, more acculturated, parish in the suburbs overlapping with the temporary survival of an older parish in former immigrant neighborhoods with no members under 50 years of age–and thus basically doomed.
2) More interesting would be case studies of parishes that were seemingly in this situation but have come back to become again full and vibrant. The OCA parish in St Paul comes to mind, but I assume there are others.



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mdavid

posted January 4, 2010 at 9:10 am


In Philadelphia, several historic Orthodox Christian parishes are on their last legs, because times have changed and so have the demographics of the areas they serve.
You could write this sentence and replace the “Philadelphia” with about any other city with a historic tradition of Orthodoxy. Start in Siberia and work your way westward to Alaska. It’s nearly without exception.
Orthodoxy has the unfortunate position of existing in locations with the most rapidly falling demographics in human history (outside of war, famine, or disease). The real question: is there cause and effect going on here, or just bad luck? Hard to say. One thing of note is that the East does not subscribe to feminism, so that’s out as a potential cause (it certainly effects the West’s demographics negatively). It’s very interesting to watch the demographic decline of traditional Orthodoxy in the West, since it allows for cross-comparison between the mother locations (Russia & Eastern Europe) and the new local. That is, religion and race stay the same, while the economy and culture change. I think culture, not religion, has proved itself dominant (see Orthodoxy in Africa). In other words, it’s how you live, not what you say you believe, that has legs.



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B

posted January 4, 2010 at 9:23 am


I think there’s definitely room for both English and old languages in Orthodox liturgy. I’m not Orthodox, but I’ve been Synagogues where most is in English, but many songs are in Hebrew, with little translations beneath or beside the hymn. Perhaps the same could be done with Russian, Greek and what-have-you. I don’t think anyone would mind the flavor/spice of another language (especially if it’s of their own heritage,) but if it’s converts you want, and my generation you want to keep, we want to feel like we’re a part of it, not distant from it – not excluded.
As for the feminism, yeah, I tend towards old-school feminism – equality, thanks. My boyfriend is Orthodox, and do you know how absolutely terrified I am of the Orthodox church because I view it as so anti-women? I don’t feel like I’d be a person in the Orthodox church, much less a member of the community. He has never asked me to go to a service, but I’m not sure I’d be able to say yes, simply due to fear.



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Franklin Evans

posted January 4, 2010 at 9:29 am


Rev. Mark Shinn of St. Andrew’s was an acquaintance of mine for a while, and I regret losing that connection. We each had daughters at the same school, and had occasion to talk a few times outside that context. There used to be an ongoing social scene there, as well, for Russian and Eastern European music and dance, now (alas) long gone.



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Ivan

posted January 4, 2010 at 9:51 am


B, I wouldn’t say that your fear is entirely warranted. One need only look at the thousands and thousands of female saints glorified throughout Orthodox history: Ss. Photini, Thekla, Nino, Helen, and Olga, among others, are held up as “equal to the apostles.” And of course, the Mother of God is honored as the “champion leader” of believers. And in the Orthodox spiritual and monastic tradition, many women become spiritual advisors and guides (“spiritual mothers”) to others. Finally, the Church allows women to serve in nearly every possible capacity in church life on both the local and ecclesial level, including as preachers, chanters and choir directors (if you know anything about Orthodox worship you’ll realize it’s not the priest but the musicians who hold it together), parish council members, scholars, theologians, counselors, composers, hymnographers, artists, and far, far more. The one exception lies of course in membership of the ordained clergy, but historically women have been able to do everything men have done in the Church except for sacramental ministry. In fact, even this is changing — Metropolitan +JONAH of the OCA has advocated for the reinstitution of the office of deaconness, which would not be a liturgical position but a kind of leader in church social action. (Far more on the role of women in Orthodoxy here, at the hands of the most prominent Orthodox writer in America, Frederica Mathewes-Green: http://www.frederica.com/writings/womens-ordination.html)
Perhaps the fault lies less with the Orthodox Church and more with Orthodox churches. Many parishes fail to implement the example set by historical reality in the church, but many embrace it.



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the stupid Chris

posted January 4, 2010 at 10:50 am


What we see here is that ethnic Orthodox members moved to the suburbs, but the parishes did not.
Ecumenism proves a problem, as the Orthodox can’t very well start attempting to convert Catholics and Protestants after having worked to stop the RCC and others from targeting Orthodox communities.
And so there’s a bit of a standoff.
Lastly, converts who seek out Orthodoxy as refugees from what they see as liberal trends in their own churches are problematic for the Church as they never really come to an Orthodox view of the world, but demand that Orthodoxy come to their view of the world. That’s how you come upon these refugees telling cradle Orthodox people that they’re not “really Orthodox,” or that they’re just “holiday Orthodox.”
Those refugees tend to wind up just as frustrated with the Orthodox Church as Orthodoxy having proves to be more resilient to their particular views of how things ought to be than the churches from which they fled.
And that’s because Orthodoxy is not another variant of Western Christianity, but a different beast entirely.



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Joe Magarac

posted January 4, 2010 at 11:22 am


Why would someone go to liturgy in a language he or she doesn’t understand?
Western Catholics attended Mass in Latin for over a millennium, and for most of that time the Latin was unintelligible to the people attending the Mass. There’s a historical debate over whether the people attending were largely ignorant of what the priest was praying about and viewed the ceremony in the way a pagan might view a shaman’s ceremony, or whether the people knew very well what was going on through prayer groups, annual ceremonies (e.g., feast day processions, shows that acted out the stations of the cross, etc.), and other cultural traditions. But there is no debate over whether people were attending – they were, and in large numbers.
Unless human nature changed radically after 1950, a Latin Mass or a Greek or Slavonic Divine Liturgy can still attract people. If it doesn’t, the problem is probably not language but something else.



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Geoff G.

posted January 4, 2010 at 11:33 am


Rod Dreher wrote (in the comments):
But as I understand it, Orthodoxy has a different view of language in the liturgy than, say, the way Jews relate to Hebrew, or even Catholics (historically) relate to liturgical Latin. In this country, if you’re hearing, say, an entire Orthodox liturgy in Greek, it’s almost certainly for cultural reasons.
Is this true of Old Church Slavonic in the Russian Orthodox Churches? I assume there is some difference between Slavonic and modern Russian, although the difference may be slight (there’s an old story in my family about my grandmother, who spoke fluent Polish, being able to understand Khrushchev’s Russian quite well when he visited the US in 1959, so perhaps the same is true of Slavonic as well).
This may also be somewhat true of the Greek used in the liturgy, although my understanding is that Greek children are taught to read and understand classical Greek (as well as Demotic) from a fairly early age, so a failure to understand the Greek liturgy is probably a negligible problem.
***
To paraphrase Burke’s ironic observation, a religion without the ability to change is one that is without the means of its own conservation.
This is a very interesting point in light of the frequent railing we read here about liberalizing denominations here in the US. The reality is that the Anglican and Lutheran churches are experiencing the very same problems (even without the language barriers) and are attempting to adjust in their own ways.
It may well be that some of the very things that drew Rod to Catholicism and Orthodoxy in the first place drive many potential converts away.
It’s interesting that these problems seem to afflict national churches that draw upon people of a particular ethnic heritage more than churches of no defined ethnicity. Or perhaps it’s that the more successful denominations have sold themselves as “American” national churches and have turned themselves into the de facto “established” churches here in the US. They certainly act like established churches.



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Geoff G.

posted January 4, 2010 at 11:47 am


Joe Magarac
There’s a historical debate over whether the people attending were largely ignorant of what the priest was praying about and viewed the ceremony in the way a pagan might view a shaman’s ceremony, or whether the people knew very well what was going on through prayer groups, annual ceremonies (e.g., feast day processions, shows that acted out the stations of the cross, etc.), and other cultural traditions.
In the later part of the Early Middle Ages, I can see the “shaman’s ceremony” being the view, at least in some parts of the Europe (especially northern Europe). Bear in mind that before that, Vulgar Latin would have been spoken by the majority of the population, which in most cases would have been close enough to understand the Vulgate and the Liturgy,
In the High and Late Middle Ages, there were all kinds of different ways that people were made to understand their theology, from those magnificent stained glass windows, which were first and foremost educational tools, miracle and mystery plays, even popular music (we have religious music written in Anglo-Saxon for example).
But there is no debate over whether people were attending – they were, and in large numbers.
One thing to keep in mind is that attendance at Mass was (and is) obligatory. And, unlike today, the Church had the means to back up the obligation, mostly through ecclesiastical courts. “Punishment” was generally meant to be corrective in nature, but was public which would, of course, be highly embarrassing.
And also, bear in mind that if you live in a small community where everyone is of the same faith (as the overwhelming majority of people did), then everyone knows if you’re attending Church or not, which brings considerable social pressure to conform.



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Hector

posted January 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm


Geoff G,
Yes, I wonder how different Old Church Slavonic is vis-a-vis Russian, or liturgical Greek vis-a-vis modern Greek. Is it as great as the difference in Latin vs. Italian or is it more like the (fairly minor) difference between 16th century and 21st century English.
I must say that I greatly prefer Anglican/Episcopal liturgies using old-fashioned language (e.g. ‘the quick and the dead’ instead of ‘the living and the dead’, ‘hath holpen’ instead of ‘has helped’) to ones in more contemporary English.
For what its’ worth, I’m from a largely Hindu family, and our native language is one of the Southern languages that it as far away from Sanskrit as English is far away from Hungarian. Nevertheless, Hindu rituals are always in Sanskrit, and I’ve never heard anyone complain about not being able to understand.



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stari_momak

posted January 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm


The US could have experienced a large wave of immigrants from historically Orthodox counties, including the USSR, Eastern Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, etc, in the 1990s and perhaps even today, if our immigration policy was not nepotistic and slanted far in favor of non-white, non-european peoples. I personally know many young Eastern Europeans/Caucasians (from the Caucus ) that would like to try their fortunes in the US. However immigration slots are taken up by Mexicans and other Latin Americans, Indians, Chinese, Haitians, etc.



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Franklin Evans

posted January 4, 2010 at 12:20 pm


To my dilettante’s ear (I am not a linguist, but I do have more than a passing familiarity with Slavic languages), Old Church Slavonic is much closer to modern Russian than (say) Latin is to Italian.
That, of course, is of no help to the Orthodox congregant who has no familiarity at all with either language.



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Barbara C.

posted January 4, 2010 at 12:46 pm


Is this really that much different than what has happened/is happening to many Catholic churches?? Catholic churches used to be very ethnically split, even if unofficially. There have been many Catholic parishes closed and combined in recent years, partially due to bad childhood catechesis/cultural shifts and partially due to demographic shifts.
The thing with the “necessary changes” is that they have to be in practice and not in faith and morals. This is where the Orthodox and Catholic Churches have been bastions together…they haven’t allowed their teachings on faith and morals to be swayed by public opinion and democratic religion…but the Catholic Church has been willing to change certain aspects of religious practice (the externals of the Mass for instance) which have perhaps helped it hold on better.



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Rod Dreher

posted January 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm


This is such a thorny question for me. I’m with Hector — I much prefer the elevated and poetic language of the old Anglican prayerbooks for liturgical prayer. It’s such a treat when I get to hear it prayed. As a Catholic, I completely hated the ugly modern translation of the Novus Ordo — something that did not have to happen; the Catholic translators of the Roman ritual into English could have consulted the Anglican tradition for an example of how to pray liturgically with beauty. During my Catholic years, I attended a couple of regular Novus Ordo masses in Latin, which were absolutely beautiful (versus the Tridentine mass, which I didn’t like because I couldn’t hear a word that was said; it felt like being a spectator at a mumbled ritual). I don’t speak Latin, but I knew enough church Latin to follow along, and the missalette offered clear translations. It was so special to hear the mass in another language, and if my children were raised doing so, it would come naturally to them. Or so it seems to me.
On the other hand, how does one evangelize a pluralistic, post-Christian culture using liturgical languages other than English? I’ve been to Greek-language Divine Liturgies, and I’ve spent most of the time in those 2 1/2 hour rituals praying privately, instead of corporately. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.



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Connie Connie in Wisconsin

posted January 4, 2010 at 1:37 pm


You may not know what all the words mean, but that doesn’t matter.
Oh yes it does matter. Christians are not Satanists, where the syllables said are supposed to have power, even if the person uttering them doesn’t know the meaning, or that what they are saying is “powerful.”
Take someone new to Christianity–how will you ever reach them by performing the critical rituals in a tongue they do not understand? Take the (largely Protestant) missionaries to Africa, South America, and Asia: spreading the Word is impossible if it’s not a word that the hearers can understand.



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Turmarion

posted January 4, 2010 at 1:37 pm


Here’s a good article about the relationship of Church Slavonic to Russian and other Slavic languages. The oldest form, Old Church Slavonic, was actually more like Bulgarian.
I second Rod’s feelings about the ICEL translations of the Novus Ordo. The revised translations will be instituted in the next couple of years, and from what I’ve seen of them, they’re a great improvement, althogh like Rod, I think the Anglicans got it best. I like the Tridentine Mass in principle, but in the times I’ve been to one, there are mostly older (pre-Vatican II) congregants who are “spen[ding] most of the time…praying privately, instead of corporately.” I think for some (not all), that is the appeal, sad to say–they don’t want to bothered by all that participation.



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Joe Magarac

posted January 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm


Rod and Turmarion both suggest that in liturgies, the people are supposed to pray corporately and not privately. This is a hot topic in certain Catholic circles: Vatican II called for “active participation” in the liturgy, but what that means is disputed. Reformers in the 1960s and 1970s thought it meant saying the prayers aloud and in one’s native tongue. Currently, some who want a “reform of the reform” say that “active participation” really means quiet but heartfelt interior prayer, which one can perform at a quiet Tridentine Mass by following along in the missal or (at most) saying the server’s responses in Latin. Rod’s initial comments seem to support the “reform” view that the best participation is loud and in the native language, but his later comments (on the Latin Novus Ordo he attended) suggest that the “reform of the reform” view has merit.
Thanks to Geoff G. for his comments on my post and others. I agree that while lots of people attended Mass in Latin for centuries when that was the only game in town, it’s a harder thing to ask people to attend a Latin Mass when there are other options available to them. Still – American Catholics attended quiet Latin Masses, often in large numbers, from 1800 through 1950 despite the availability of Protestant services in English and despite the lack of any civil or ecclesiastical sanction that punished non-attendance.
My guess is that a Latin Mass or a Greek or Slavonic Divine Liturgy will attract American English-speakers, even today, if it is done reverently and as part of a community that provides other avenues (festivals, etc.) for evangelization. In other words, the Orthodox Churches in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties are dying not because they pray in a foreign tongue, but because the community that founded them has moved away.



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Maria

posted January 4, 2010 at 2:46 pm


I’ve been Greek Orthodox all my life and I’ve actually never been to a service outside of Greece that was entirely or even mostly in Greek.
Perhaps it’s just because I’m a West Coast girl now living in Oklahoma and most of the churches I’ve worshipped in are farther removed from the immigrants of the East coast than others.
Still, my husband is American through and through and doesn’t speak more than a word or two of Greek and says he doesn’t like Liturgies all in English. I can’t say why for sure, but he’s mentioned awkward translations and ugly hymnology.



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High-church libertarian curmudgeon

posted January 4, 2010 at 2:49 pm


I have slightly known several people in the article for many years. Didn’t think St Michael’s dropped Russian from its name.
One good thing about Orthodoxy especially in churches like these is all they did was translate the services (and really translate not paraphrase/dumb down); other than that it’s the same as in 1962.
Slavonic is closer to Russian than Latin to Italian. It’s like Tyndale’s English is to this, halfway between Chaucer and the modern English of the Book of Common Prayer.
High-church libertarian curmudgeon



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Geoff G.

posted January 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm


Rod Dreher wrote (in the comments):
I don’t speak Latin, but I knew enough church Latin to follow along, and the missalette offered clear translations. It was so special to hear the mass in another language
I’ve heard precisely one Mass sung in Latin, in a Victorian Church in Cambridge. Aesthetically, it was lovely. And, of course, it helps that I know a bit of Latin (although my skills are generally limited to reading; in addition there are different traditions regarding pronunciation, which, while minor, do complicate attempts to understand the spoken language).
Oddly enough, Oxford and Cambridge are the two places in England that retained the right to pray in Latin following the Reformation (due to the historical requirement that students have facility in that language—only dropped in the 1960s!). I have heard prayers before meals uttered in Latin and of course you will see it in the various college chapels (St. Catherine’s college chapel, for instance, was dedicated in 1704 and yet has “Sursum Corda” inscribed over the altar).



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the stupid Chris

posted January 4, 2010 at 3:46 pm


Still, my husband is American through and through and doesn’t speak more than a word or two of Greek and says he doesn’t like Liturgies all in English. I can’t say why for sure, but he’s mentioned awkward translations and ugly hymnology.
Divine Liturgy has always been more poetic than literal, and there’s something transcendent about hearing the poetry in different languages.
Holy God…Svati Boze…Agios O Theos…



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Joe Magarac

posted January 4, 2010 at 4:31 pm


Divine Liturgy has always been more poetic than literal ….
Mencken agreed:
“A solemn high mass is a thousand times as impressive, to a man with any genuine religious sense in him, as the most powerful sermon ever roared under the big top by Presbyterian auctioneer of God. In the face of such overwhelming beauty it is not necessary to belabor the faithful with logic; they are better convinced by letting them alone.
A bishop in his robes, playing his part in the solemn ceremonial of the mass, is a dignified spectacle; the same bishop, bawling against Darwin half an hour later, is seen to be simply an elderly Irishman with a bald head, the son of a respectable police sergeant in South Bend, Ind. Let the reverend fathers go back to Bach. If they keep on spoiling poetry and spouting ideas, the day will come when some extra-bombastic deacon will astound humanity and insult God by proposing to translate the liturgy into American, that all the faithful may be convinced by it.”



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MikeW

posted January 4, 2010 at 5:50 pm


On the other hand, how does one evangelize a pluralistic, post-Christian culture…?
I think, Rod, your question is critical. We can debate our preferences about what language should be used in liturgy until we are all blue in the face, but I think that’s one of the problems…we’re debating an issue that has relevance within the context of the church but no one outside of the church cares other than to probably wonder why any group that purports to be reaching out to the broader community would deliberately choose to hold its “meetings” in a language alien to most of the community. Of course, if you’re a church that is specifically targeting native Koreans, or Chinese, or Albanians, that’s one thing, but if you aren’t trying to be ethnically exclusive than what’s the point of adhering to a tongue that no one understands? My own parish priest occasionally uses Russian or Greek in the liturgy and I suppose that’s fine, but it all reminds me of the English prof I had in college who would routinely demonstrate how much more smarter and cultured he was by dropping in a sentence of French or Latin every now and then during a lecture, and then pausing to rub it in before translating it for us. So, how does traditional religion appeal to a post-Christian culture? I’d argue that traditional religion (and its followers) better have something that the a- or non-religious not only don’t have, but actively desire in some fashion or another. If traditional religion doesn’t, people won’t bother with it, and that seems to be what’s been happening the past few decades in the western world.
Happy New Year!
Mike



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Jon

posted January 4, 2010 at 7:00 pm


Geoff,
The gap between Church Slavonic and Russian or Byzantine Greek and modern Greek is not as large as that between Latin and Italian, but it is larger than that between our English and Shakeseare’s. The best analogy might be our English and Chaucer’s: plenty of words still quite recognizable, but plenty of archaicisms and some rather different rules of grammar and syntax too. Additionally Church Slavonic is not directly ancestral to Russian; it is the direct ancestor of Bulgarian, which however has changed a great deal more than Russian has (no cases, an appended definite article, no infinitives) so that Russian is still closer to Slavonic than Bulgarian is. Now, if you grow up hearing Slavonic or Byzantine every Sunday you’re going to be OK with it, but newcomers will not have an easy time, even if they are fluent in the modern language.
Rod (et al),
the Orthodox churches, IMO, have done a good job with translating all the major prayers and services, though occasionally one runs across something that was not done well and it grates. My (Bulgarian) church back in Michigan had a translation of the Lamentation Hymn of Good Friday that was obviously done by someone with very poor English skills and it ranged from incomprehensible spaghetti syntax to unintentionally funny gaffes (and that isn’t cool for Good Friday)



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Chas S. Clifton

posted January 4, 2010 at 7:39 pm


Everyone wants to talk about language and translations, but to me, this sentence is the telling one: “They are generous enough to keep the church alive, he said, and he would not want high-powered newcomers threatening “their authority, their prestige.”
Perhaps it is a human tendency to rather see the ship sink than to let “newcomers” take the helm?



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Roland de Chanson

posted January 4, 2010 at 9:01 pm


An ancillary point about Church Slavonic and modern Russian. There are several “recensions” or ethnic variants of Church Slavonic (which was itself dialectically differentiated). Russian Church Slavonic (generally minus the nasals, archaic pronouns, obsolete tenses and some other local changes) is readily understandable to modern Russians, though many of the words have a more recherché nuance. A example of this is the prayers of the starets Anatoli in the film “Ostrov”.
I agree with Chas S. Clifton — that statement jumped out at me too.



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Brennan

posted January 4, 2010 at 10:12 pm


As far as evagelizing goes, I would take someone to a traditional Latin Mass with Gregorian chant and the people singing the parts proper to them in Latin. I would take them to that over and above a “low” Tridentine Mass as Rod experienced.
With the politicizing and fighting over the liturgy which inevitably happened after Vatican II it has been, and perhaps always will be, a fight to the death to get a decent (much less poetic) translation in the vernacular. Which is just one reason why having the liturgy in Latin is better overall.
Of course, the Tridentine Mass in the vernacular (particular with the translations afforded in the older missals) would be welcome as well over the NO in Latin or English.
The substantive changes to the liturgy with the NO in the altering and dropping of so many prayers makes it difficult to desire the NO in Latin (although certainly it will most likely be more reverent than what one experiences in a typical vernacular NO).
Completely altering the liturgy in the 60′s and throwing the whole thing into the vernacular has not only not helped us “hold on” but did nothing to prevent the mass exodus (pun intended) from Mass attendance and almost every other facet of Catholic life.
The aritcle linked to at top goes into some arguments for the traditional Latin Mass.



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Brennan

posted January 4, 2010 at 10:20 pm


Further, beauty and reverence attract, mediocrity and ugliness don’t.
Here is a favorite quote by Fr. George Rutler from his book, “A Crisis of Saints” (Ignatius Press):
A Liturgical Parable
The Hard Truth
….We seem to slip out of that golden sense of ultimate truth in two ways. The first is by losing any real awareness of the holy. The second is by denying that it has been lost. Without lapsing into cricitism that would be out of place, suffice it to say that the worship of holiness is weak in our culture, and the beauty of holiness has been smudged in transmission through the revised liturgy. For without impugning its objective authenticity in any degree, its bouleversement [Complete overthrow; a reversal; a turning upside down] of the traditional Roman rite marks the first time in history that the Church has been an agent, however unintentionally, in the deprivation of culture, from the uprooting of classical language and sensibility to wanton depreciation of the arts.
….It is immensely saddening to see so many elements of the Church, in her capacity as Mother of Western Culture, compliant in the promotion of ugliness. There may be no deterrent more formidable to countless potential converts than the low estate of the Church’s liturgical life, for the liturgy is the Church’s prime means of evangelism. Gone as into a primeval mist are the days not long ago when apologists regularly had to warn against being distracted by, or superficially attracted to, the beauty of the Church’s rites. And the plodding and static nature of the revised rites could not have been more ill-timed for a media culture so attuned to color and form and action.”
(pp. 107-108)



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David T

posted January 5, 2010 at 12:25 am


I’m with Chas Clifton – the reluctance to invite in a new, different group is much more telling than the problems of translation or liturgy.
I’m watching this same phenomenon from a very different corner – in a Unitarian Universalist church. Now the Unitarians have had a mix of Christians, humanists, atheists and Eastern religions for over 150 yrs, but over time the proportions have waxed and waned. Circa 1970 the humanists were regnant. For a certain number of these folks, not being Christian was a central part of their UU identity; many were still quite angry at the Christian churches of their childhoods.
In this last decade, we’ve had an influx of Christian UUs. This drives at least a few of the older humanist UUs bonkers. It’s not that they are afraid to give up power. It’s that they want to hand over the reins to somebody who practices UU the way they did 35 years ago. These young UUs with crucifix necklaces, having monthly communion in the foyer … it’s knocking the legs out from their personal, private definition of UU is.
It’s not about threatening “their authority, their prestige.” Its that they are afraid of a new generation that redefines what their faith is.
But that’s what it means to have a living tradition.



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John D

posted January 5, 2010 at 3:25 am


Hector,
For what its’ worth, I’m from a largely Hindu family, and our native language is one of the Southern languages that it as far away from Sanskrit as English is far away from Hungarian.
Further. Much further.
Actually, Hungarian is more closely related to Sanskrit than it is to any Dravidian language. While there has been cross influences between Sanskrit (and its successors) and the Dravidian languages, they’re not related to one another at all. Sort of the relationship between Castilian and Basque. A few loan words, and that’s that. Actually Castilian (and English) are closer to Sanskrit than is any Dravidian language.



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Grumpy Old Man

posted January 5, 2010 at 10:41 am


Hungarian is related to Finnish, Estonian, and some languages of Siberia, such as Samoyedic. If related to Sanskrit, as a few linguists believe, it’s as distant as the Dravidian tongues of South India.



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Anglican Peggy

posted January 5, 2010 at 1:44 pm


Sadly, my memories of attending my grandparents Ukrainian Orthodox parish when I was a kid are fading by the year. While I am not good on the details anymore, the parish seemed to accomodote both Ukrainian and English well. Since I grew up understanding many liturgical phrases in Ukrainian from having heard them also in English.
Fortunately, I still remember those. Grandma and Grandpa are likely very happy with me.
I wish I could remember more of how they swung it. They seem to have alternated languages at times, but there were long portions that were in one language or the other, perhaps an early service was all in Ukrainian and the later service was a mixture? Like many Orthodox, my grandparents got to church when they got to church. It could be earlier. It could be later (esp with five rowdy grandkids to round up.) They might have come in at the tail end of one service and the next one started without pausing which I hear is pretty common.
The only other thing I remember is that the Gospel would be read in both languages but the sermon was always in English.
I think some kind of arrangement similar to this is the way to keep all parties happy. I just wonder why there aren’t more parishes that do the same. It seems a given to me at least for other parishes to communicate their experiments in this regard to others. Why the two language solution is not more widespread (I attended Orthodox services in the 70′s and 80′s) by now or why some parishes still feel that it has to be one or the other is really suprising to me.
I don’t understand why not.



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B

posted January 5, 2010 at 4:31 pm


I’ve been looking at Taize…aren’t their services in several languages? And Taize attracts thousands of young people.



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MH

posted January 5, 2010 at 4:50 pm


Besides the linguistic barrier, don’t the Orthodox churches use a different calendar because they never accepted the Gregorian Calendar reforms? I was under the impression that they celebrate Christmas in January. I would think that would create a significant cultural barrier for these churches in getting converts.
This isn’t an issue for Judaism because while they use a different calendar they have a completely different set of holidays



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Jon

posted January 5, 2010 at 9:17 pm


Aargh! The calendar issue! Run away!
But seriously, practice on the calendar varies (and is a source of contention) for the Orthodox. The Russians, Serbs and (I think) the Geirgians use the original Julian calendar: they will be celebrating the Nativity this weekend. Variouis small schismatic groups will be joining them. The rest of the Orthodox world uses the Reformed Julian calendar, promulgated by the Patriarch of Constantiniple in 1920. It’s basically the Gregoian Calendar but with some additional tweaks for accuracy that 16th century astronomers were unaware of. So tomorrow is the Epiphany (AKA Theophany) for most of us, and I am sitting here with a bottle of newly blessed holy water I brought home from Church tonight.
However: the dating of Easter (AKA Pascha) is still done in the traditional manner so that (almost) all the Orthodox world celebrates on the same date, usually after the West though this year is an exception, and all of Christendom is together for a change. The one wrinkle even in that is the Orthodox Church of Finland is required, by Finnish law, to celebrate Easter per the Western reckoning.



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John D

posted January 5, 2010 at 9:29 pm


Thank you, Grumpy Old Man. I had completely forgotten that Hungarian was in a distinct language family and not an Indo-European language. Thank for the correction.
Hungarian is related to Finnish, Estonian, and some languages of Siberia, such as Samoyedic. If related to Sanskrit, as a few linguists believe, it’s as distant as the Dravidian tongues of South India.
Yes, if there is ultimately a single ancestral language from which all languages are sprung, then Hungarian would be related to Sanskrit (and the Dravidian languages).
Perhaps Hector’s original comment should have read,
our native language is one of the Southern Indian languages that that is not related to Sanskrit (unlike, say English).



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MH

posted January 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm


Jon, thanks for the additional information. I think the Finns should light up a bit.



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Heritage Hills

posted January 7, 2010 at 1:20 am


“I don’t see much interest in religion in these people.”
That’s because religion is boring. A relationship with God—anything BUT.



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Thom Nickels

posted January 8, 2010 at 10:50 am


An article in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer about the Eastern Orthodox churches in Northern Liberties got me thinking about hipsters and religion, among other things. In that piece, writer David O’Reilly quotes some Northern Liberties residents who say they have no interest in going to (or visiting) any of these unique churches because organized religion isn’t necessary for spirituality anymore. That stuff, the feeling went, belongs to an older time and to an older generation.
Reading O’Reilly’s piece, I couldn’t help but envision 2,000 years of Christianity being made irrelevant by the invention of the blackberry, Liberty Lands, and Sunday brunch in a chic new neighborhood restaurant.
What the hipster hipsters seemed to be saying is that the new religion of Northern Liberties is the environment, and that “living” that religion amounts to sprucing up Liberties Land, planting new trees, or discovering new doggie day care centers. The hipsters seem to agree that this is not an age for pie in the sky, for priests in gold vestments and funny hats, or for following somebody else’s rules. The New Age is all about finding the truth within as long as it does not hurt somebody.
Ah yes, the truth within: My truth is not your truth, but hey, that’s okay. We are all the same, all religions are the same, everything’s on an equal footing, and one truth is as good as another. But is that really true? If all truths are the same, you mean to say that there’s not one truth that stands out as The Truth?
One thing’s certain, and it’s this: the hipsters didn’t invent “doing your own thing” when it comes to spirituality. That was my generation, the baby boomers. When I was 20 I walked out of a Catholic Ash Wednesday service. My exodus was meant as a slap in the face to my mother, who was with me at the time. I was demonstrating my new found independence. “I believe in the Church of Man,” I told her then, “a higher spirituality. Heaven is here on Earth.”
But if heaven is here on earth, why can’t we fix the economy, leave the doors of our houses open when we go to work, or pick dollar bills off money trees? The concept of heaven on earth is a fantasy that never seems to make the transition to real life. Put all your faith in Man, or humankind, and chances are you will be disappointed.
I did feel sorry for these Orthodox and Eastern Catholic priests who told writer David O’Reilly that their Northern Liberties churches are not attracting any of the local residents. These are the same residents, after all, who claim to have an interest in everything arty and esoteric, from casino politics to micro breweries to trolling the streets on First Friday’s for a monthly infusion of art and crafts. They’ll talk about Tibetan monks, take up Hindu or Transcendental meditation, go Vegan, tattoo their body, but still nothing compels them to sample an ancient liturgy that once caused ambassadors from the court of Kiev who visited the Aghia Sophia in Byzantium in 987 to exclaim, “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.”
The Orthodox churches must take part of the blame for this. Visitors to these churches can sometimes be made to feel unwelcome. When I visited Saint George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Center City some years ago, an old woman approached me in the vestibule and stated rather emphatically, that “This is NOT a Catholic church!” It didn’t help that she then asked if I was Greek, as if an Irishman had no business soiling the province of Orthodoxy.
For a Church to be vibrant and successful, wouldn’t it be wise to purge itself of too strong an ethnic identity? The keyword here, I think, is universal. If these NL churches want to attract the local population, they should opt to be more than just ethnic enclaves. But they should not, as one hipster commented on Philly.com, make themselves “more relevant” and “attractive” by staging environmental sermons or trying to compete with local activist organizations.
After all, have these hipsters ever heard the quotation from Scripture, “Render unto Caesar….?”
Reading the Inquirer article, it was easy to feel the priests’ resentment of NL residents. I got the feeling that a couple of the priests came very close to suggesting, albeit in a joking manner, that the hipsters should go out and create their own church, a Northern Liberties Church of the Dog, or a Northern Liberties Church of the Environment, or a CasinoNo chapel of the Delaware River Rite. In the Church of the Dog, for instance, hip congregants could show off their dogs, sing dog mantras, and sip Starbucks coffee while periodically playing with their blackberries. Then they could all head out for a communal brunch. I’m stereotyping, of course, and for that I apologize, but I am hitting on a few general truths. (By the way, I’ve got nothing against dogs, or the concept of relative truth— a hot Johnny Brenda’s band as one’s temporary personal messiah– I just don’t like stepping in dog poop while making my way in the neighborhoods).
While I don’t pretend to have even half the answers, I do know that should that awful Mayan prophecy come true in 2012, people won’t be running to the Church of the Dog, or to the Church of the Environment for advice and solace, but more likely than not they’ll be knocking on the door of that priest in the funny hat around the corner.
Thom Nickels



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Joe

posted January 11, 2010 at 6:27 pm


“In 2004, a Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff stated in a presentation at the OCA’s Evangelization Conference that the Church’s census population in 2004 was 27,169, and that membership from 1990–2000 declined 13 percent. It further stated that the OCA population in the continental United States declined between six and nine percent per year.”
It’s not just an language/culture thing, otherwise one would think that the OCA would have had that problem licked already.
People in this country including many within the Orthodox Church do not want to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling” when they’ve got so many choices in America like: “once saved always saved,” “prosperity gospel”, or even variations on the (little “o”) orthodox themes in the form of ecumenistic compromises.



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Donna

posted January 17, 2010 at 10:03 am


In reading this article, it came to my mind that, people are truly LOOKING for God…but, many churches aren’t interested in answering their questions. I know I have attended many churches of differing congregations, and many have an attitude that they only want people who are already similar to themselves.
I knew a girl once, who had never been to church, never knew or learned anything of The Lord, but was curious and knew that she needed Him in her life….but, where to start? She went into a church when she saw the people exiting from services, walked up to the preacher/pastor/priest…and bluntly told him, “I want to know about this Jesus.” He promptly showed her the door.
As we were taking a break at work, she relayed the story. I was shocked, upset, and heart-broken. How many others were there out there, here in America, who have no idea of where to begin to find Him?? I talked to her, brought her to my church, patiently answered her many (sometimes bizarre) questions, and she accepted Jesus Christ as her Saviour and Lord. I was with her when she was baptized.
Perhaps all Priests/Preachers/Pastors need to be more available to answer honest and sinecere questions. So many people have never heard a sermon, read a Bible, prayed a prayer. But, they still have that “God-shaped hole” in their heart. I think that the Pastors/Preachers/Priests ought to spend some time each day, just sitting on the front stoops of their churches…ready and eager to speak with anyone who stops to chat. I think the churches would explode with the in-flux of new-comers. Of course they must be taught, like the little “babes in Christ” that they are. But, one would soon see many “feeding on the meat” that Paul talks about in his Epistles.
Please try it! I would love to walk by a church and see a man of the cloth there to talk with. (How cool would THAT be??!!)



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