Up for discussion is the proposal to enter changes in some of the Liturgical texts of the Russian Orthodox Church, which, since the time of Saints Kirill and Methodius, enlighteners of the Slavs, have been what is known as the Church Slavonic language—a language used only in religious writing and Church service books, including the Bible. The changes would involve exchanging some words that have a different meaning in modern Russian, and are thought to be confusing. One example is the word живот (zhivot) which means "life" in Church Slavonic, but is the modern Russian word for "stomach." (The cause for the transition would be a subject fascinating to any linguist, but the result is perceived by some as bothersome.)
Other changes would be made to the areas of syntax. The Church Slavonic language is based upon what is referred to as Old Slavonic, or the language spoken by the Slavic peoples enlightened by Sts. Kirill and Methodius. These equal-to-the-Apostles saints were Greeks scholars raised amongst Slavs, and knew both languages well. Their translation efforts did not seek to entirely subject the majestic and rich Greek liturgical texts to the much simpler language of medieval Slavs, but rather to transform the Slavic language into a vehicle suitable for lofty, complex, and divine expression. Thus, Church Slavonic texts contain many words and phrases that mirror the original Greek, together with its syntax.
These changes are intended by their architects to make the language of the divine services in the Russian Church more understandable to newcomers. It is seen as a missionary effort.
A presidium of the interim council reviewed the project on June 15, 2011, and requested that it be sent to the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church and published on Church websites for general discussion by the faithful. This was recently done—the document appeared on the websites Bogoslov.ru and Pravoslavie.ru, and on an official blog of the interim Council.
The faithful did respond. Hundreds of comments were posted, ranging from simple cries of the soul ("No, please don't do it!), to highly informative historical reviews by qualified scholars. The overwhelming majority of respondents were against the changes.
Although the topic of Church Slavonic language is one that, strictly speaking, is of concern only to the Russian Orthodox Christians who attend services conducted in that language, the phenomenon of changes to key Christian texts, such as the Bible and the church services, is relevant to the Anglophone world as well. Orthodox Anglophones can only watch, shaking their heads, as the Gospels are continually "updated" and reconstructed to conform not only to an ever linguistically declining contemporary language, but also to various special interest groups, some of which are not even Christian, never mind Orthodox (or even orthodox). With a long history of battling heresies that began with seemingly insignificant changes in the language but would eventually distort the pure image of Christ, the Orthodox faithful are justifiably leery of "tweaking" sacred text as it was given to us by God-bearing fathers of the Church. Our only consolation is that we do have a voice to retain our Orthodox heritage.
Thus, OrthoChristian.com has decided to present some highlights of the discussion taking place on these Russian language websites concerning proposed changes to the Church Slavonic texts.
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Section 1. The Church Slavonic language is an integral part of the liturgical tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church. It has assimilated many characteristics of ancient Greek—the language of the New Testament and the holy fathers—as well as the particularities of the living speech of ancient Slavs, and the experience of holy ascetics who prayed to God in the words of Church Slavonic prayers.
The Church Slavonic language is commonly used language of the services of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is not only the heritage of our Local Church, but also our cultural heritage, which must be protected and saved.
Section 2. Over the course of its history, Church Slavonic language, like other languages that remain in continual use, has developed without interruption.
The first translations of liturgical texts into this language were made in the ninth century by the holy brothers from Thessalonika, Equal-to-the-Apostles Kirill and Methodius. The body of liturgical books in Church Slavonic, created by the disciples of the brothers from Thessalonika, were accepted at the end of the tenth century by the Russian Church. After this, an uninterrupted process began of the creation of new service book translations from the Greek, and from the original liturgical monuments of Rus'. An important stage in this process was the period beginning with the late fourteenth century, and ending with the early fifteenth century, when the older body of ancient Russian service books of the Studite era were gradually replaced by new ones, oriented upon the Jerusalem typicon.
From the beginning of book publishing in Rus', the question of which specific manuscript copies of one or another book to publish became of particular importance. Therefore, a centralized publications bureau was guided by the basic principle of selective use of one or another specific Slavonic manuscript.
Later, printed publications of Greek service books from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries were used as examples, as well as books published in southern Russia in the first half of the seventeenth century that were already corrected according to the Greek books.
The revisions made to service books under Patriarch Nikon and afterwards were called to resolve the problem of making the translations closer to the original Greek, but in some instances they were too linear—to the detriment of the structure of Slavonic speech—produced by the particularities of Greek syntax, word order, and morphology, making the Church Slavonic texts more difficult to understand. Furthermore, certain portions of the Greek books during the second half of the seventeenth century were translated not entirely well—this is especially noticeable in the Triodions and Menaions. Finally, the comprehensibility of Church Slavonic texts was also affected by the fact that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Russian literary language significantly departed from the Church Slavonic.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of understanding liturgical texts had already become recognized as serious. St. Theophan the Recluse (+1894) wrote, "Something needs to be done about a matter affecting all of Church life. And there is a matter of that nature, a very needed thing. I am referring to a new, simplified, clarified translation of Church service books. All our liturgical hymns are instructive, deep, and lofty. In them is the entire science of theology, and all Christian moral teaching, all consolation and all warning. Whoever pays attention to them can do without all other instructive Christian books. Meanwhile, a large part of these hymns are completely incomprehensible. This deprives our Church books of the fruit that they could produce, and does not allow them to serve those aims which they were assigned and do possess. Therefore, a new translation of the service books is needed without delay. We need to start doing it now, tomorrow, if we do not want to bear the reproach for this defect and be the cause of the harm that comes from this. One of the factors that drive the Orthodox to Stundism (a Protestant biblical study movement that gained popularity in the German colonies of nineteenth century Russia) is precisely the incomprehensibility of Church hymns… A new translation of liturgical books [should be] begun. Let them begin to translate all the books over again… Translate not into Russian, but into Church Slavonic. There has already been experience in this… And they were both reverent and understandable."
Many others shared St. Theophan's views—bishops, priests, and laypeople. In the "Review of diocesan bishops regarding Church reform" (1905–1906), compiled during the period of preparation for the Local Council of the Russian Church, many noted that it is necessary to make the Church services more understandable to laypeople. Thus, St. Tikhon, as Patriarch of All Russia, wrote, "It is important that the Russian Church have a new Slavonic translation of the service books (the current ones are outdated, and in many places, incorrect), which could forestall the demands of certain people to serve in the everyday Russian language."
In 1907, the committee established by Holy Governing Synod for the correction of service books began its work. It was headed by Archbishop Sergius (Starogorodsky) of Finland, the future Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, and its membership included famous theologians, liturgicists, and linguists of the time. The committee set two main goals for itself—to correct the obvious mistakes in the translation from the Greek, and to make the Church Slavonic text more accessible to the ear.
During the years of its activity, the committee succeeded in preparing an edition of the Lenten Triodion and the Pentecostarion, as well as the Octoechos and part of the Menaion. Order No. 6679 of the Holy Synod from August 25–September 24, 1909 assumed that the Triodion would from then on only be published in that edition. However, their work was interrupted by the dramatic events of 1917 and the following years.
Section 3. In our days, the problem of understanding the service books is no less relevant than it was at the turn of the twentieth century, and it requires a decision, as a way to raise our contemporaries' level of knowledge of Church Slavonic, and as a means of continuing what the Holy Governing Synod had begun in the work of revising the service books.
Corrections to the service books should be made with extreme caution, and only with the blessing of the Holy Synod, followed by resolution of the Council of Bishops. Only those books which have been approved by the higher ecclesiastical authorities may be used in the services conducted in the parishes and monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Section 4. The need to solve the questions posed above has been noted in the resolutions of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church. In part, the Council of Bishops of 1994 resolved to "Continue the work begun, but not finished by the Local Council of 1917–1918 to order liturgical practices" and "to continue revision of the liturgical texts, begun at the beginning of the current century." At the Council of Bishops in 2000, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia stated that this resolution was not carried out, and noted that it would be appropriate to create a special Liturgical Committee, separate from the Synodal committee for Divine Services, which could also concern itself with carrying out this resolution. The Council blessed the "Continuation of the work of revising the liturgical texts with the aim of making them more easily understood by the faithful", and determined that "for this, there should created a special liturgical committee of the Holy Synod."
In order to accomplish these tasks, the Holy Synod must create a working body with the participation of hierarchs, clergy, liturgicists, historians, and linguists. The task of the working body would be a systematic comparison of the Greek original and the ancient Church Slavonic translations of the liturgical books. During the course of this work, it would be necessary to clarify those areas that are difficult to understand. In this work, it would be appropriate to be guided by the thoughts of St. Theophan the Recluse, also using liturgical and linguistic searches of the nineteenth–early twentieth centuries.
The fundamental principles of the work ahead are:
I. The main language of services of the Russian Orthodox Church is the Church Slavonic language. The sermon is an inalienable part of the Church service, and is given in modern language (Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, Belorussian, and other languages of the people who make up the multi-national flock of the Russian Orthodox Church).
II. In the Russian Orthodox Church, with the blessing of the Church hierarchy, service books are used in the national languages. These texts should convey the exact meaning of the original, be understandable to the faithful, and preserve the tradition of the exulted language of services, inherent to Orthodoxy.
III. An explanation of the Church Slavonic translations of Greek texts, first of all, should be applicable to those portions that are difficult to understand.
IV. The most attention should be given to the lexical composition of the language: complete replacement of little understood Church Slavonic words, as well as of those words that in modern Russian language have a completely different meaning in comparison with the Church Slavonic. Equivalents for them should be found, for the most part, not in the Russian literary, but Church Slavonic languages, which would provide for the preservation of the unity of style and successive tradition of the liturgical text. Furthermore, in those cases where this is necessary and possible, the excessive emulation of Greek syntax should be eliminated, because it complicates an understanding of the text.
Section 5. An important task remains to organize the work according to a broad study of the Church Slavonic language. The majority of believers limit themselves to a non-systematic acquaintance with it during services. In connection with this, it is necessary to prepare new educational aides for Church Slavonic language of varying complexity and detail, as well as academic materials in modern media formats—audio and video courses, television programs, etc.
In order to provide for scholarly work on correcting the service books and successfully teaching the Church Slavonic language, it is necessary to begin active research work, dedicated to the language of modern services, including the creation of dictionaries and grammar books.
Within the framework of international conferences, preceding the "Days of Slavonic literature and culture," it would be judicious to conduct round table discussions on the theme of the role of Church Slavonic language in the life of Slavic peoples.
Section 6. To a significant extent, acceptance of the text depends on its quality. Often, excellent texts remain incomprehensible due to the inaccessibility of the Church Slavonic language, and bad reading and singing in church. The Council would like to direct the attention of diocesan bishops to the need for establishing control over the quality of reading and singing of liturgical texts, and recommends that they expound upon their deep, instructive meaning in sermons.
Aside from the quality of presentation of liturgical texts, the acoustics in the church are also of significance. The Council calls all to take these conditions into consideration, and to use modern audio technology where needed.
Section 7. I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also (1 Cor. 14:15), says the Apostle Paul. Speaking about these words, St. Athanasius the Confessor, bishop of Kovrov, wrote, "Revision of the Church service books is a matter that should not be put off. It is not only needed that the Orthodox would be moved by the words of prayer, even if they do not understand them. It is necessary that the mind not remain without fruit. Chant ye to our God. O Chant ye with understanding (Ps. 46:6, 7). I will pray with my spirit, I will pray with my mind." The holy hierarch considered it necessary to bring "our wonderful services, our marvelous hymns" nearer "to the mind of the Russian people." His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of blessed memory also considered the fulfillment of this task to be important, noting that the "deep spiritual meaning of the Church services is at times not comprehended" by our contemporaries, and called us "to think about making the services more accessible to people."
Following the resolution earlier accepted by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1994 and 2000, the Council now calls down God's blessing upon the labors ahead in this sphere, which must be done in a spirit of obedience to the hierarchical leadership, a reverent and protective relationship to the Church traditions, combined with zealous pastoral care for the instructive of God's people.
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Reactions to the document posted on Pravoslavie.ru and Bogoslov.ru
Drawing conclusions from comments posted on internet sites is not an exact science, but it can expose us to arguments, either for or against. One cannot say for certain that a writer is really who he says he is, and an academic or clerical title can be no more than part of his pseudonym. However, the majority of comments were written by ordinary people who simply want their voice to be heard by those vested with deciding whether the proposed changes should be made. On both sites, one or two people who stand for the changes seemed to be having a running debate with a whole host of those who are against it.
The main argument in favor of making changes is basically as was stated in the document: Most people do not understand Church Slavonic when they hear it, and there truly are some passages that sound strange to the modern ear. These comments more than once mention the use in Church Slavonic of a certain word that in Church Slavonic means deception, or falsehood, but in modern Russian is a very crude epithet for a woman of ill repute. Thus, the services on Holy Thursday rebuke the "falsehood of the rhetors", which would at first glance be taken by a newcomer as implying that the rhetors kept a harlot, only in stronger terms. (There are other morphed meanings here and there in Church Slavonic, but this word probably inspires the most giggling.)
(Now, a poetic soul is astounded at the wisdom of Russian language, which reveals the rhetor’s mental commingling with falsehood as something akin to whoremongering, and the harlot’s love as false and deceptive. But arguments against retaining such morphed words in the service books are convinced that liturgical texts must be aimed at a lower common denominator, untaught to restrain untimely snickering.)
The advocate of changes scoffs at all the fervent pleas not to change anything at all, reminding readers that the document does not advocate the wholesale re-translation into modern Russian, but only some minor adjustments that would eradicate words such as the one referred to above, and change the word order in Greek-sounding passages to be more like that of modern Russian.
Those who argue against making any changes in fact cover more ground, and address the document's points more specifically. Here are the most often repeated arguments against the proposed changes, presented point by point.
1. Those against making changes wholeheartedly agree with this preamble: "The Church Slavonic language is the commonly used language of the services of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is not only the heritage of our Local Church, but also our cultural heritage, which must be protected and saved."
2. Church Slavonic is the Russian’s language of conversation with God. That the body of liturgical books were in the developmental process from the tenth century to the fifteenth century, when everyday Slavic language had not yet changed so drastically, does not justify updating texts in the modern era, when the language, mentality, and religious awareness are drastically different from that of Medieval times. That the changes made under Patriarch Nikon were aimed at bringing the texts closer to the ancient Greek portrays a desire to make texts more faithful to the meaning of the originals, even at the cost of syntax. If this was a mistake, then, as one comment suggests, we should go back to the pre-Nikon texts, rather than modernize them. If nineteenth Russian literary language has so significantly departed from Church Slavonic—this was a period of Russian intellectual departure from the Orthodox Faith as well, and the changing language reflects that influence. Church Slavonic is the language of prayer, of conversation with God, while literary language is quite often aimed in a different direction, away from God.
Reforms cause schism. Furthermore, everyone knows what happened in Russia after Patriarch Nikon's revisions: a schism occurred, known as the Old Believers, which has yet to be fully healed. This is a long story, and we will not recount all the woes caused by the Old Believer schism, but suffice it to say that instigating a schism is not something to be taken lightly. The Russian Church has been much more cautious about even justifiable reforms after that experience.
Not all the saints agree with St. Theophan on this point. St. Theophan did make the statement about needing new translations—not into modern Russian, but into better Church Slavonic—however, most feel that much has changed since St. Theophan's time; it was not done, and now it is not viable to make a revision in the spirit he expressed. People's qualifications have too seriously declined. Furthermore, for this single statement by St. Theophan there are many statements by other Russians saints who came after him, which cogently renounce any need for rewriting. For example, St. Nicholas of Japan wrote, "I feel that the translation of the Gospels and service books should not be lowered to the level of the folk masses, but to the contrary, the faithful should rise to an understanding of the Gospels and service books." Holy Hierarch Philaret (Amphiteatrov), Metropolitan of Kiev (+1857), wrote, "God deliver us, should a translation of the Bible end in the translation of service books…, the content of which in Church Slavonic is first of all both satisfying and instructive, and a source of grace-filled inspiration."
Patriarch Sergius recognized his own mistake. The polemic around the Synodal committee of 1907, headed by Metropolitan Sergius (Starogorodsky), the future Patriarch of Moscow, was particularly heated. An edition of the Lenten Triodion (along with the other texts mentioned above) was approved by the Holy Synod in 1909, and the Synod intended to make that the only edition of the Triodion published from then on. The revolution of 1917 is cited as the intervening factor that prevented this.
No one doubts that the Synod had good intentions, and that the committee was qualified to do the best work possible, but the Russians also have the saying that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions"; the committee's five years of meticulous labor were in vain even without the revolution. The people simply did not accept the new text. Not out of stubbornness, or reactionary tendencies, but simply because they didn't like it. One comment cites the well known Moscow Liturgics scholar and respected archpriest, Fr. Sergei Pravdoliubov, on this subject:
"Before the revolution there was a translation of the Lenten Triodion into a modernized Slavonic language. This translation was prepared by a special committee, which was headed by Metropolitan Sergius (Starogorodsky), the future Patriarch. In 1912, this book was published. The question is this: Why didn't this translation take root on the cliroses or amongst the clergy? This question is a hot one. Do you understand what a colossal labor it was to prepare such a translation? These people worked for five years, and they weren't the worst people! But for some reason it did not take, for some reason it wasn't liked. This was a terrible disappointment, and very bitter for Metropolitan Sergius, when the people did not accept his committee's translation. Furthermore, professor of Liturgics of the Moscow Theological Academy, A. I. Giorgievsky, once told us how the people did not accept the new edition of the Triodion in 1912.
"After the many years of work spent on the translation, Met. Sergius came out to read the Great Canon on Monday of the first week of Great Lent [in the modernized form]. "With what shall I begin to lament the cursed deeds of my life…" After the service, the people did not disperse, and stood there silently. When the future Patriarch started leaving the church, someone asked him "Your Eminence, when will they read the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete?" Met. Sergius grunted, was upset, and on the next day, Tuesday, he read the old text. He had worked on the translation for five years!"
It is furthermore noted with regard to Patriarch Sergius that he was drawn into the Church renovationist movement of early twentieth century Russia—a tool created and cultivated by an anti-religious regime to use against the Orthodox Church—through his text revision efforts, as were many other well-meaning clergy of the time. Sergius renounced his participation in this movement and repented of it. In fact, the movement finally died out during his time as Patriarch.
3. Education of Orthodox Christians vs. changing their liturgical texts. There is a problem in our own day of understanding the services, and revisions are seen as a way to "raise our contemporaries' level of knowledge of Church Slavonic," and to finish what the Synod had begun. The obvious objection to changing the text as a means of raising the level of knowledge is that knowledge levels can and should be raised in other ways: classes in Church Slavonic for those interested, sermons that elaborate upon and explain the texts of both the scripture and the services, making dictionaries available, putting more dictionaries and explanations on the internet. If the people who attend church regularly do not like what the Synod had begun, then what need is there to finish that work? Why deprive newcomers of making their own choice: the older texts, or the new translations?
4. Perhaps there is a good reason why the work was never completed. From this section one gets the impression that council after council has talked about continuing "the work begun, but not finished by the Local Council of 1917–1918 to order liturgical practices" and "to continue revision of the liturgical texts, begun at the beginning of the current century." Again, perhaps it has not been carried out precisely because it just does not sit right with the majority of people who go to church. There have been numerous, well-written articles circulated in periodicals and on the internet, written by respected authorities in the fields of liturgics and linguistics that present strong reasons for not touching the Church Slavonic language as it is. Articles by Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov and Archimandrite Raphael (Karelin), were cited in the comments, along with other language specialists.
5. Most are in full agreement with this section. Broader education is needed, and people should make use of it once it has been made available.
6. Technical issues should be addressed. Aside from the language, there are purely technical problems recognized: poor reading and singing, bad acoustics, no sound systems. Most respondents fully agreed with this point. Many churches in the larger cities are crowded to over capacity on feast days, and those people standing inside the church have difficulty hearing the words, never mind those standing outside.
7. Praying with understanding. All likewise agree that we must pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also (1 Cor. 14:15) as the Apostle Paul says, and that we must pray with our spirit, and with our mind. But not all agree that only a revision of the service books can accomplish this. Many stressed the need to not be lazy about looking over the texts before going to services, looking up difficult words in dictionaries, and attending catechetical classes.
If you can learn foreign words, you can learn Church Slavonic words. Predictably, others complain that there simply is no time for this educational process, and it is not so easy to do. But many writers chided that Russians are nowadays very keen to learn foreign languages, especially English, which takes a great deal more time and effort than looking up the meaning of a limited number of words in a more archaic form of their own native tongue. And of course, it is everywhere restated that one has to work hard to get anything good in life. Where there is a will, there is a way. As for these difficult words, one writer was able to come up with a long list of English words and expression that have crept into everyday Russian language without evoking any complaints from the general public.
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Beyond and in addition to the arguments cited above, most often found in the anti-modernizing dialogue are these reasons for not making changes to the texts:
Small changes lead to large changes. The history of the rest of the Christian world has proved this. This view could be readily supported by our many Protestant and Catholic converts to Orthodoxy in the West. It is also a foregone conclusion that vernacular language will morph even more. Does that mean that the changes made now to modernize liturgical language will need to be revised again to accommodate future vernacular language? Wouldn't it have been wiser to leave the Liturgical language as it was, in that case?
The Church Slavonic language is a national heritage, and a living link between modern Russian Orthodox Christians and their religious past. "There is but a thin thread linking us with our cultural past after the violence done to Russian national consciousness over the past century, and you want to break even it?" was the thought expressed by several people. Church Slavonic is the language that a host of Russian saints used to turn in prayer to God. As one man who is new to the church said, "I associate the Church Slavonic language with sanctity. How could anyone change sanctity?"
Church Slavonic is a language used by other Slavic Orthodox people as well. It unites a whole group of nations in the same religious culture: Bulgarians, Serbs, and others. Some of these nationalities are even under the same Patriarch, such as the Ukrainian and Belorussian Orthodox. As one comment pointed out, wouldn't it be "Russian nationalist" to revise the commonly used liturgical texts to conform to modern Russian? What about modern Ukrainian, or modern Belorussian? In fact, some respondents were writing their thoughts from the Ukraine, where there are currently three "Orthodox" churches. Of course, diversity is considered a virtue in the West, but in the Orthodox Church, a schism is a great tragedy. The schismatic Ukrainian Church led by "Patriarch" Philaret, a mainly Ukrainian nationalist, political phenomenon, has rejected the use of Church Slavonic as something from Moscow and therefore accursed. (This is, of course, far from historically accurate.) Those commenting on this recalled Philaret’s woefully unsuccessful translation into vernacular Ukrainian a monstrosity of liturgical reform. Revisions in Moscow could be easily construed as another attempt to "divide and conquer" the Orthodox Slavs.
4. The Church Slavonic language is beautiful, rich, and expressive. Linguists agree that just as the liturgical Greek is incomparably more subtle and expressive than Modern Greek, so also does Church Slavonic greatly surpass modern Russian as a vehicle for expressing the depth and beauty of our Christian faith. One woman comments, "As for 'comprehensibility' and 'incomprehensibility,' I can argue with that. Church Slavonic language is so much deeper, rich in content, and fuller than Russian, that many texts in the Bible, both New and Old Testaments, are much more understandable in Church Slavonic than in Russian. In the Russian translation, half of the meaning and depth of content is lost."
Simplification leads to loss. Any translator would admit that much true meaning of an original is inevitably lost in a translation, and the more you simplify, the more you lose. It has even been said outright that every translation is a lie. Those of us who have converted to Orthodoxy must content ourselves with whatever are the best existing translations of the scriptures and service books—something difficult to discern if we are not scholars of ancient languages. Russians, however, know that the Church Slavonic texts are the best existing translation for them of the ancient Greek texts. (Let us not forget that before the Turkish Yoke, the Russian Orthodox Church was under the Patriarch of Constantinople, and many bishops of Russian dioceses were Greek. A Russian hierarch had to know Greek, and Russian priests celebrated the Church services in both Greek and Church Slavonic.)
Translation of ecclesiastical text is a very responsible work. Few are fully qualified. The ancient translators of the Septuagint Bible come to mind. Tradition has it that St. Simeon the God Receiver was one of these translators. The saint was translating a book of the Prophet Isaiah, and read the words: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son" (Is 7:14). He thought that "virgin" was inaccurate, and he wanted to correct the text to read "woman." At that moment an angel appeared to him and held back his hand saying, "You shall see these words fulfilled. You shall not die until you behold Christ the Lord born of a pure and spotless Virgin." According to this tradition, St. Simeon died at age 360, after receiving the Lord, born of a Virgin, in his hands. This is a lesson to translators, that not all revealed truth is logical and understandable at first glance, and the translation process of sacred Christian text takes place not without unseen, divine supervision.
Therefore, as the council's document has stated, this problem must be approached with great reverence, and a desire to preserve the meaning of the texts.
5. This leads to the next and final point made a number of times by those responding to the council's document concerning revisions to the Church Slavonic texts. With all the serious issues and problems of today, is this work really necessary? One woman said in all practicality that, "When a house is burning, it is not time to clean the windows." Missionary work must be done, the baptized must be enlightened; and just look at what is going on around us in this day and age, how many factors of modern life prevent people from going to Church and participating in its life that have nothing to do with Greek syntax. One Igor from Moscow pointed out that, "To those who consider that the most important thing is that the services be understandable: A Church service is not a lecture directed at us, but rather us directing ourselves to God, something we learn how to do over many years. Those who demand a translation into Russian not only do not understand the complexity of the task, but also do not understand the services in a traditional way. They look at them as lectures that we have to comprehend immediately, or we won't understand what happens next, and we'll be hopelessly left behind. They understand this 'method of assimilating material' from their university days, but they were never taught the religious method, which is understood by the simplest grandma."
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Conclusion for Western Orthodox Christians
We would like to conclude this overview of the current discussion on revisions to the Church Slavonic texts by suggesting that the arguments made by concerned Russians against revisionism in this essential aspect of Church life be applied to our state of affairs in the West. Renovationism cannot justify itself in a well-meaning effort to "bring Christianity closer to the people." It is up to us to bring ourselves closer to God, and the refinement and subtlety of our services books help us to do this. We need to start with the best, most elevated and refined translations, and strive to understand them—not to simplify them. Scholasticism has shown itself to be a complete dead end, and the Protestant reformation only deepened the tragedy. The Russians have studied the history of Western Christianity as a textbook on what not to do, because the fruits of renovationism are evident. One of the cruder fruits is, for example, a Bible that is not gender-specific, in which God is not called the Father. One modern, ecumenical version of the New Testament has Jesus Christ saying that He is "the way to the truth and the light." That Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6) was apparently hard for that publisher to understand, and thus, a minor "correction" was made.
Let us also remember that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Mt. 11:12). We must never cease our efforts to warm our souls in the prayers and services of our Church, and not seek an easy, efficient way to the Kingdom of Heaven. The siren song of earthly logic and practicality has always lured Christians out of the warmth of the Church into the coldness of faithlessness and unbelief. Many have perished in that barren cold. May we reach ever higher, and delve ever deeper into the beauty, wealth, and live-giving significance of our sacred Orthodox services.
I have made a poor attempt at corrections and made editorial notes for my own purposes. If you would care to see the marked document, I would be pleased to share it with you. My e-mail address is ompohotsky(at)aol.com.