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AGAIN, again — postcript

My Divine Liturgy in English review generated a letter to the AGAIN editor over a not-unexpected issue — that of the use of “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion. Here are the highlights:

I’m uneasy with regards to the language [Cappella Romana] would institute. Changing the music is one thing; changing the language it’s written in is another thing entirely.

It’s important we don’t discard and/or replace the words that stir mind and soul, just to smooth some inconvenient bumps that have come about with the coupling of the Byzantine chants to English. If the truth be told, there’s a strong benefit inherent in the older English words. Simply because it takes an act of self will to use them, just like enter our church buildings leaving the physical world for the spiritual. The uncommon older words in our worship allow for the erecting of a similar barrier for the mind allowing separation from the offal baggage of our degenerate common day to day language. It’s a mistake to replace the word mighty with the word strong; to do so is to lose the Divine Authority inspired by the first in exchange for the wrongly elevated physical insinuation of the second.

Whatever the history regarding these two words, as well [as] the translations that have brought us to this point, the fact is the word strong is no longer capable of instilling the divine contemplation needed to lift the mind from the physical to reflect on the mystery of the spiritual. Our modern English speaking society throughout the world has mitigated this awe inspiring word by making an idol of strength.

Mighty, another word that carries much the same thoughts as the word strong once did, is currently used in the Liturgy. It has been for the most part spared the jaded attention of our society. Retaining its potency it bears well its burden, conveying the authority, the astonishment, the respect required of us. It commands us to humility, and as much as our puny minds can attempt, to contemplate and reverence the trenchant* power of our triune God.

If people don’t understand the meaning of such words, we should follow the example of our early church fathers that developed though God given inspiration the Divine Liturgy and a system of enlightening the ignorant, and educate them.

So when we think of our risen Lord seated at the right hand of the Father, do we want to glimpse him in the Divine Authority of his Majesty, or as…a glorified strongman?

Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal; have mercy on us.

Phillip, your brother in Christ

* Keen, Sharp, vigorous, intensely perceptive, Penetrating, clear-cut, Distinct

My response:

Dear Phillip,

Thank you for your reflections on the translation of the Trisagion as sung by Cappella Romana. I am agreed wholeheartedly that it is a mistake to replace or discard words capriciously. What might help clarify things for you is that Cappella Romana followed the official translation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira; that is to say, Dr. Lingas and co. did not write their own translation or change words as they saw fit. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, neither an amateur nor a shrinking violet when it comes to the matter of rendering biblical or liturgical  texts into English, was the chief architect of the Thyateira translation, and he has a detailed essay regarding the proper translation of the Trisagion, found here: http://www.anastasis.org.uk/THE%20TRISAGION02.pdf

In any event, the two most salient points might be:

  1. The Greek word “ischyros” is translated as “strong” virtually every other place it is used, and in other liturgical languages (such as Slavonic) the equivalent of “strong” is employed rather than “mighty”; “krataios” is the word which better corresponds to “mighty,” as in “Pantokrator” – “All-Mighty” being how that is often rendered in English.
  2. Translating “ischyros” as “mighty” in the translation of the Trisagion, ironically enough, appears to date back to the 1772 translation of Dr. John King, a Protestant. The earliest known English translation, that of Dr. John Covel in 1722, uses “strong.”

I hope this helps!

In Christ,

Richard Barrett

No denying it’s a sensitive matter; this is a tricky instance where a translation of a prayer, regardless of its relative merits, has taken on a life of its own beyond that of its source. The 20th century certainly demonstrated that you mess with the language in which people pray at your own risk. On the other hand, Phillip makes the excellent point that in such cases an effort should be made to educate the people, and I think Fr. Ephrem’s essay does that quite well. The other side of that bargain is just that the people need to be willing to not refuse the instruction out of hand.

For my own part, I’ll note that I don’t consider myself my own authority on Greek, particularly not where these kinds of issues are concerned. I’ve been there for Fr. Ephrem Lash sight-translating a Gospel reading from Greek during a Liturgy without realizing he wasn’t reading from an English version until I was told later, so if he says “Holy Strong” is what the prayer actually says and means, I don’t think I have too much of a basis to disagree with him.

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5 Responses to “<i>AGAIN</i>, again — postcript”


  1. 1 Esteban Vázquez 21 January 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Very good response; I’m glad you further referred him to Father Ephrem’s excellent paper on this subject.

    (And by the way, it wasn’t a Liturgy: it was the Small Paraklesis.)

  2. 2 Richard Barrett 21 January 2009 at 3:36 pm

    So it was! Much of that particular event I’ve tried to forget, but Fr. Ephrem was definitely a highlight.

  3. 3 Sbdn. Lucas 22 January 2009 at 8:21 am

    Heh, I remember my Old Testament professor (and later to be my Hebrew prof as well) teaching class from his Bibelgesellschaft Hebrew. As he read Scriptural passages out loud in English, many wondered why he was reading from right to left…


  1. 1 AGAIN, again, and again « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 15 April 2009 at 12:34 pm
  2. 2 Kanon of St. Kosmas for the Nativity of Christ by Jessica Suchy-Pilalis « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 6 January 2012 at 12:27 pm

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