Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On the Dangers of a "Feel-Good" Culture

The danger is that language should not be an end in itself. Often Greek Parishes resist the implementation of English in the services because they claim to understand the Greek better. Most Modern Greek speakers cannot understand Classical Greek and can barely make their way through New Testament Greek unless trained, particularly in aural interaction.

For these Parishes, the insistence on Greek is aimed at nothing less than a desire to "feel good" about conducting the Divine Liturgy in Greek, and less about an active engagement with the Liturgy. Thus, "Greek for the sake of Greek".

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many Greek Americans have regrettably lost their zeal for preserving the Greek language. For many--though neither all nor most--it is a matter of convenience to institute English in the Liturgy, minimizing the amount of work they would have to do to participate in Liturgy. This too is not about an active engagement with the Liturgy. Thus, "English for the sake of English".

American converts to Orthodoxy have an absolute right to understand the Liturgy. Orthodoxy is not particularistic or an ethnic phenomenon. American converts often find themselves in the middle of the contest between Hellenizing Greek-Americans and the Anglicizing Greek-Americans.

What we really need is an active engagement in the Liturgy: Education in the Typikon and the Liturgical structures. Whether the liturgy is in English or in Greek, or mixed, language cannot be an end in itself. We still need to do some intellectual work--whether in English or in Greek--to be engaged.

In the absolutely worst category is a mere passive, non-engaged presence in liturgy, whatever the language.


Anonymous Fr. Patrick Danielson said...

In the article “On the Dangers of Feel-Good Culture,” one reads two paragraphs the burden of which is to establish parity between a mentality that seeks Greek in the divine services for the sake of Greek and its mirror image that wants English for the sake of English. No doubt there is something in this claim that recommends it, but the parity that is attempted in these paragraphs is forced. The assertion that we need an active engagement in the liturgy is true enough, but that follows an active engagement in Orthodox spirituality. The claim that language cannot be an end in itself is meaningless. Certainly it is vanity to insist upon using of a language in liturgy which few people understand simply because our ancient forebears used it. Let us bear in mind St. Paul’s admonition (I Cor. 14:9-16) concerning unknown tongues in church. But the statement is ultimately meaningless because it is offered in the context of a parallel between Greek for the sake of Greek and English for the sake of English. The Greek at issue is archaic while the English at issue is contemporary (or nearly so). Moreover, limited as we human beings are, we cannot communicate without language. To desire liturgy in a language one understands is natural and absolutely not an expression of a mere desire for convenience or for something called “feel-good culture.” The Divine Liturgy, matins, and the other services of the Church instruct us in how to pray, involve us in glorifying God which is man’s reasonable service, and, when we might not think it, elevate our spirits in moments of heavenly joy—itself a great encouragement on the often arduous path of Orthodoxy. These wonderful benefits are frustrated in the souls of people who do not understand the language in which we pray. The door of entry into the services is language. It is a mistake, then, to say that those who desire to hear services in English because they understand it are displaying the same mind as those who want archaic Greek even though they grasp little of it. The desire of the first is reasonable; the desire of the second is not. It would be better for those whose first language is Greek to arrange the labor of updating the language so that Greek speakers can understand the totality of the services. To resist this, and instead to demand the use of archaic Greek, displays a cultural truculence, antithetical to the mission of the Church, which the desire for English in an English-speaking land cannot do.

We non-Greek Americans who have found the Church must not forget the vital service our Greek brothers have done for us in keeping the faith after we lost it. But most of the souls on this continent who are looking for the truth can understand it best, or understand it only, in English. When an American enters an Orthodox Church and everything is in Greek, the first and most urgent impression he gets is that this is religion as it is expressed by this culture. What I need is religion for my culture. In this way, the services can have little missionary effect. This is easy to see. If the West had kept the faith while the East lost it, and we went to Greece and established English-only parishes, how much success would we have in planting the faith among Greeks?

This is an important and pressing issue, and so it is encouraging to see it aired with candor. We should bear in mind, however, even as we proceed at whatever pace is tolerable, that words are not a laver at which we can wash our hands of our deeds. Every soul in the Church is precious to God and to the Church, and every soul who wanders in darkness, looking for the heavenly salve that gives sight to the spiritual eyes, is precious too. Our Gentle Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep of his flock to seek the one that is lost. We are here in the land of the lost, but some of them are looking for truth. By the grace of God we have truth, and wherever possible, we should not conceal the truth in a language the seekers cannot understand.

Fr. Patrick Danielson
St. Augustine, Florida

7:04 AM  
Blogger Nea Romaiosyni said...

[These are some posts from the Facebook site]

Anastasios Dustin Hudson replied to Leonidas

This is a topic I'd like to discuss at length. I have had quite a number of varied experiences in different Orthodox environments. My personal history is a bit unique in that I attended a New Calendarist Seminary in New York before I was even Orthodox to learn about Orthodoxy, and while there I found St Markella's and decided to join the Genuine Orthodox Church instead of the New Calendarist Church.

While at this Seminary, though, I had quite a chance to meet people from every possible point of view on such topics. There are two extremes: "This is a Greek Church! Why are you here?" and "Orthodoxy is about reaching out to people. All English, 100%, that is the only way! and scrap Byzantine chant as well because it is too foreign!"

Hardly anyone holds one of these extremes, although there are a few. Usually, it is reflected subtly in our approach to things. An all ethnic parish might have people pass up the jello casserole at the coffee hour if there is a Greek pastry available, hurting the feelings of the American who took time to make it. Or the Greek in an mostly-convert parish might be told flippantly, "we don't do that here" when he asks the priest to say a few words about Greek Independence Day. In both cases, real people are hurt. Now, these are two examples, and probably not the best examples, but we need something concrete to flesh this out.

What is key is mutual sharing and allowing diversity. Some parishes are going to keep using all Greek for some time--it is a bit unrealistic to imagine that St Markella's, with it large and vibrant Greek population--is going to start switching to English any time soon. Yet at the same time, there is an English liturgy there and sometimes it is not well supported. So we can support this mission.

On the opposite side is what the converts can do. In the GOC in America we do not have a lot of converts, YET. That is going to change, but it is going to take some time. When it happens though, we have to be careful to allow the synthesis of Hellenism--not Greek secular culture but Roman Christian Hellenism--to merge and mingle with the good aspects of American culture. We cannot throw out Hellenism as some converts in other Churches want to do, assuming that Hellenism is just Greek nationalism. In Russia, over hundreds of years, the two cultures mixed until a Russian Hellenic synthesis was achieved. The same must be allowed to mature on its own time and terms in America, and it can' tbe rushed. So the convert must respect that some things of the Church will remain a bit foreign to him, and he may have to adjust. Still, the ethnic members of the Church can facilitate this by incorporating American customs into the life of the parish where appropriate. Coffee hour is itself such a thing on a small scale.

One thing that I have to say that fits with Leonidas's theme is that we must work hard. I say my prayers in English at home since that is my tongue, and I use a traditional English book. I had to use the dictionary to learn such words as "plenteous", "heartsease", etc. It required work, but the payoff was great. I have learned the liturgy in Greek pretty well as well. What has not been mentioned though is music. As misisons are opened in our country, some will still be focused on Greeks because the Greek people are not being blessed by the New Calendar Church, and only the Genuine Orthodox Church can meet their spiritual needs. So it is conceivable that we could have several more Greek-majority parishes open, and this is fine. We also will have more English missions forming in our lifetime--hopefully dozens (with God all things are possible)--and they will use mostly English (I am in favor of keeping a quarter Greek or so even in mostly convert Churches if possible, to keep the link. Roman Catholics being used to Latin in many places should have no problem making the adjustment, although Protestants and secularists may find it difficult so we may have to examine this idea).

What is especially needed though is people to learn Byzantine chant in English well. English missions many times have problems even with singing. The Byzantine music is in my opinion non-negotiable, unless of course there are people from a Russian background coming into communion with our Synod and they wish to keep their practices. There is oftentimes heard a quip that Byzantine music is too foreign, so we should create something new. I don't wish to answer that idea since I think it is not worth a response, but I will say that when we do Byzantine Chant in English, we need to be doing it with the Byzantine notation, and with skilled cantors. Almost all of the music needed for Byzantine chant in English with traditional notation now exists thanks to several sources that I can provide links to. So we need to get people serious about learning this musical tradition in English for our missions in the future, or for if a Greek parish wishes to use more English. If the music is bad, it WILL turn people away and off.

I apologize for the extremely long and verbose post. These are just my personal opinions and I am open to correction by the bishops if I have erred in anything I have said.


Post #5

Alexia Ioannides replied to Leonidas

I believe the purpose of Orthodox liturgy is to capture the essence of the truth, majesty, beauty, and holiness of God's presence. If we are to reach the world with the universal message of Orthodoxy, we must all "speak the same language". Unfortunately, Greek is no longer the language of the day. English is the modern world's universal language. The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) emphasizes the power of unity as the people all spoke one language and it was spoken by Almighty God that nothing was impossible to them.

I do agree with the idea that people need to be educated concerning the purpose and symbolism of liturgy. God calls us to be active worshippers, worshippers of spirit AND truth, engaging our hearts, bodies and minds in order to partake of an experience which was designed to be life-changing and awe-inspiring. How can we truly express this love and adoration towards God unless we understand what type of faith we're participating in? Only after this goal is accomplished will language have true relevance.

After all, restoring and knowing our identity as the true Orthodox Church is of much more eternal significance than identifying ourselves as Hellenists, important as this may be.

On a personal note, I prefer a mixed liturgy because although I do not understand Classical Greek, I enjoy singing the hymns in their original language for added depth and richness.

Post #6
Sister Irene replied to Leonidas

This is a good description of my experience here as nun expected now to read and chant in both Greek and English (as long as no one is around to hear the English.)

Post #7
Sister Irene replied to Anastasios's post

Re: music. I wholeheartedly agree that "the Byzantine music is...non-negotiable." Read the introduction to the new Meniaon (in the September volume) from Holy Transfiguration Monastery for an fascinating look at the process of choosing language to reflect the intentions of the original hymnographers. Yes, the effort to learn English well enough to pray and chant using the best translations is worth the work.

Fr. Savvas Anastasiou To:Leonidas Pittos Subject:Greek language

I disagree with the excuse of non-Greek speakers for replacing the liturgical language with English that Greek speakers don\'t understand liturgical Greek. I think they do. Even a village education up to 6th grade includes \"ancient\" Greek (which is I think koine). I think they understand it as much as an American youth can understand any English translation that is presently in use. Anastasios’ comments about having to look up words in his Prayer Book are very telling and I think it applies to native Greek speakers as well. Whatever the liturgical language is, it takes some work getting used to. If education is required in order to obtain a deeper engagement with the services then why not learn the original? I did, or at least I am (or am attempting to). Greek was as foreign to me as to anyone else, but I felt that learning the language of my Church was important enough to warrant my attention. Of late I am of the opinion that ignorance of the liturgical language comes not so much from inability as from desire. In other words if you want to learn you will, if not you won’t. That might seem a little harsh to some, I know that there are many who are not anti-Greek, they wish they could speak Greek but cannot, so accusing them of not wanting to speak Greek seems unfair. I look at it this way; who wants to lose their soul? No one, of course. But many will. Why? Because they don’t want to enough to actually do something about it. Anyone who truly wants to learn Greek can. Is it important enough to spend the effort?

Leonidas to Fr. Savvas:

I agree. I was writing about those parish-council people who oppose English speaking priests at their parishes. They claim they understand Liturgical Greek (ranging from Classical to Koine) better than English, but they don't completely, and usually they won't put in the effort to be consistent with their claims about understanding Greek.

There are the exceptions, such as those who have spent their lives at the Analogion and by sheer repetion have learned what the texts say (my grandparents and many elderly at are prime examples). But they put in the time and the effort and cared about actively participating in the serivces. For Old Calendarists who were persecuted in the 1920's to the 1960's, learning the services for one's self was the only interaction one could have with the church for weeks or months.

The solution is not to replace Greek with English, any more than it is to keep Greek. The solution is changing people's attitudes toward a) learning the Typikon and b) and taking seriously the fact that they have to put their brain to work if they want to survive spiritually, including studying Greek.

9:54 AM  

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