In which the author laments the state of English language liturgical books

Last Saturday, it being Great Vespers for the Feast of St. Luke, there were Old Testament readings appointed for the service. I normally leave those to other people so as to save my voice, but I got asked to do one of them anyway since we were short some people we might otherwise have had. “Just read off of the printout of the liturgical guide?” I asked. Yes, I was told, since the parish doesn’t own a Prophetologion.

Well, long story short, nobody owns an English-language Prophetologion, because it doesn’t exist. There’s Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash)’s draft version online, and I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that if I were to be involved in starting a mission I would argue passionately for the use of his translations, but obviously an electronic version just isn’t quite the same thing as actually having a printed liturgical book. Besides which, Fr. Ephrem has done the exactly right thing of translating liturgical texts as a self-referential whole, being aware of biblical references, internal references to other liturgical texts, and so on and so forth — and while this is exactly right, it also renders his liturgical texts somewhat difficult to use unless you’re using them exclusively.

Which gets us to the broader question of English language liturgical books, and the practical situation in various parishes.

The situation at All Saints is interesting, and I expect reasonably common — we use Nassar as the spine, but not everything is in there, and there has been cobbling together of things from various sources over the years. This effort has been by necessity a real “do it yourself” matter by many people, for reasons I won’t go into here but I’m going to assume can be guessed by a sufficient number of people in similar situations. As a result, we use one translation for the proper texts for weekday services, a different translation for Great Vespers, Sunday Matins and Sunday Divine Liturgy, and still another translation for some of our Lenten texts. Sometimes we use the HTM Psalter; sometimes we use the KJV/NKJV variants that are used in the Antiochian service books. For the epistle reading, we have the Holy Cross Apostolos, which we bring out during services, but we insert a sheet with the NKJV text into the book so that the reader is actually reading from that and the book itself is really for show. In other words, we have a fundamental disunity of English translations, thereby achieving a fundamental disunity in the texts themselves. It used to be worse; our Divine Liturgy music used to be a patchwork of things from all over the place, so that there was no textual consistency whatsoever within the service — “Thee/thou” in one section and “You who” in the next. I am also told that for awhile we were trying to use the Orthodox Study Bible liturgically, but since it’s not arranged as a liturgical book (i. e., no prokeimena etc.), that was a non-starter from a practical standpoint.

These are the moments when I see an excellent argument for sticking with ecclesiastical Greek or Church Slavonic.

(On the matter of the HTM Psalter — HTM obviously publishes liturgical books that a lot of people use. I will note for the record that I find the use of liturgical materials by schismatic groups problematic, but I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me.)

I’m not sure what the solution is; what I’d hate to see is the worst kind of “by committee” translation, where all of these texts which were composed by saints and monks are rendered into bland, inoffensive, artless English. There are good “by committee” translations, like the Thyateira translation of the Divine Liturgy, but on the other hand, their committee includes Fr. Ephrem as well as Metropolitan Kallistos.

Maybe if any of our seminaries start offering doctorates, the problem of establishing a fundamental unity of English language liturgical books, and doing it right, can be taken on as a dissertation — or rather, several dissertations, more than likely. Best of all would be if modern-day Ss. Cyrils and Methodiuses would make themselves known for the English-speaking world. I understand that a hundred years ago for the most part the books didn’t just exist, and thus we’re better off than we used to be, but I’d like to think that we’re at a point where we can respect the efforts that have been made, re-assess where we’re at and try to move forward from here nonetheless.

Is a unified English translation of all the liturgical books a realistic goal? Or is the hodgepodge one of those things where we need to accept that it’s not going to happen because Things Are Different In America?

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36 Responses to “In which the author laments the state of English language liturgical books”


  1. 1 rwp 22 October 2009 at 1:24 pm

    We use the menaion, psalter, apostolos, and octoechos published by St. Tikhon’s monastery.

  2. 2 Christopher Orr 22 October 2009 at 2:12 pm

    St John of Kronstadt Press also has a full set of liturgical works in consistent English translation. We use these primarily, with some admixture of traditional OCA/St Tikhons’s translations.

    I believe St Vlad’s is working on a great deal of material, set to music.

    Also, St. Anthony’s Monastery has translated and set to Byzantine chant most of the services, and a good deal of the regular hymns required. More than enough to chant well over half of any regular service in consistent English.

    I agree with the state of translation, though, especially when the Scriptural readings are taken into account, as well as printed music. The first thing the jurisdictions should have done is given their imprimatur to a handful of translational styles and types and allowed only those to be used – at least until the vast majority of required texts were translated in that style. One style could have been built off of the HTM Psalter, another the St Tikhon’s thee/thou texts, another the St Vlad’s you/who texts, another on Holy Cross’s texts, another on Nasser. I can’t believe that Hapgood and Mother Mary/Ware’s translations hadn’t been used as the model for translating everything else.

    It’s really all pride, a mistaken sense of linguistic ability in English, and the necessity of peculiarities of a given national tradition that are essentially the same as another’s (Arab particularities are not that far off from the Greek). Bracketed or footnoted ‘options’ for certain terms or phrases could have been provided quite easily – as can be seen in Mother Mary and Met. Ware’s translations noting Slavic and Greek differences.

    It was never done because it was just easier to go back to the Greek or Slavonic or Romanian, etc. It was also easier than cooperating with the Greeks, Russians, Romanians, Arabs, converts, publishers, etc.

  3. 3 Basil Crow 22 October 2009 at 4:17 pm

    One advantage of the liturgical publications by HTM is that the prosomia are translated metrically, which is necessary in order to chant them according to the model melodies. While Fr Ephrem Lash has done good work, he has not yet completed and published the entire Menaion as HTM has, nor are there musical settings of his translations. Indeed, I am not aware of any translation of the Menaion (in any language) that is as thorough, consistent, and well-metered as the HTM Menaion. I think it is here to stay for English-speaking Orthodox Christians.

    Would you care to explain why you “find the use of liturgical materials by schismatic groups problematic”? Bear in mind that the monks doing work there are under obedience to their abbot when it comes to canonical matters. Even still, good work is good work, and even more so when it is complete and readily available.

    • 4 Richard Barrett 22 October 2009 at 7:55 pm

      As I said, I recognize I am in a minority, and I will happily change my opinion if it is due to ignorance on my part, but here goes:

      I am uneasy using HTM’s liturgical works because to me it looks like we’re giving legitimacy to a group with whom we’re not in communion (I seem to recall hearing people saying things like this over the whole SVS/Nashotah thing over the last couple of weeks) — and by all accounts, we’re not in communion with them because of behavior of on the part of HTM’s (former?) abbot, behavior for which ROCOR was going to bring him to an ecclesiastical trial, and behavior that appears to have been papered over by calendar and ecumenical issues. This is not a judgment of individual members of the monastery or that organization in general, but it nonetheless strikes me as an inconsistency, one with which I do not find myself entirely at ease. We should be doing that kind of work ourselves in the first place, and I don’t understand why we aren’t.

      This is actually a broader issue that I find really strange — how is that the schismatic groups, who think all of us canonical types are graceless modernist ecumenist heretics, wind up with such slick publishing houses?

      Conceptual question — is there capital-N “Not in communion” and lowercase-n “not in communion?” Why or why not?

      • 5 Basil Crow 24 October 2009 at 4:38 pm

        I do not have the expertise to comment on your opinion. But I fail to see how “blacklisting” quality work advances the state of liturgical music in America. I suspect that the devil is truly happy watching us quibble over such things rather than learning how to chant together and pray. Christ said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The objective truth is that HTM has set a very high bar with their recent publication of the Menaion, and no one has yet surpassed it.

      • 6 Richard Barrett 24 October 2009 at 6:37 pm

        Well, I’m not “blacklisting” anybody. I said I’m uneasy using their materials given the source. I have also acknowledged that I am in a minority. I’m not going to elevate the use, or non-use, of their materials to a necessary point of unity one way or the other; I am saying that, personally, I find it problematic. This is not a judgment one way or the other on the quality of the work itself or the individuals who have prepared it; it’s probably most accurate to call it “my problem,” and I treat it as such.

    • 7 Richard Barrett 22 October 2009 at 9:08 pm

      On the other hand, for a separate, but related problem — does this text look familiar to anybody:

      The liturgical use here set forth conforms to current (name of Jurisdiction deleted) practice in this country; no attempt has been made to present the various Services in an archaeologically complete form. The English text of the prayers and services has been compared with the… originals [of various linguistic provenance].”

      How are we to interpret “archaeologically complete” beyond being rather obviously sneering and dismissive? What was the objective, and subsequent result, of comparing the English text with the “originals”? Or was it just done to say it was done?

      To relate it to the current discussion, when certain canonical liturgical books contain this kind of comment, it’s easy to see why the HTM materials, and those like them, are so attractive.

  4. 8 Esteban Vázquez 22 October 2009 at 11:47 pm

    To use the OSB for Epistle readings is, of course, to use the NKJV, and this practice is riddled with problems: for a start, the NKJV is a translation of the Textus Receptus, which is not the Church’s text, and in several places the translation does not reflect an Orthodox understanding of the passages in question. It must be acknowledged, however, that using the NKJV is better than the alternatives (with the exception, of course, of the KJV, and perhaps the Douay-Rheims). But even if we had an English translation of the so-called “Majority Text” (and, in a sense, we already have it in Fr Cleenewerck’s EOB), still this would not suffice: as Fr Ephrem has noted more than once, the liturgical text of the Bible is that printed in the service books, not that printed in critical editions of the New Testament.

    As for the prokeimena, alleluiaria, and koinonika, the problem is the lack of a suitable Psalter in English. I don’t share your reservations about using HTM materials, but I thoroughly dislike their Psalter, and have long refused to use it. There is a soon-to-be published Augmented Psalter based on the BCP’s Coverdale Psalter, and this might be the way out of the HTM Psalter hegemony (it’s even used in Bishop Basil Liturgikon!). Regrettably, however, many of the more idiosyncratic renderings of the Coverdale text are retained, but I’m afraid that beggers can’t be choosers.

    (Anyway, doesn’t the Antiochian Archdiocese have an official Epistle Book whose use is mandated in its parishes? I had thought this to be the case, and have even seen the book, but perhaps they’re not printing it any more.)

    The wish for the appearance of the likes of Sts Cyril and Methodius for the English-speaking world is noble, but I’m afraid that it is also a practical impossibility. Not only are we at a stage of the linguistic development of English that would necessarily preclude the kinds of bold translational tactics that these Saints used (for instance, routinely importing the syntax of the Greek texts wholesale), but even if we all agreed to have a single committee of translators, they would have to produce two versions of the same texts: one using Jacobean English, and another using contemporary English! I’m afraid the hodgepodge is here to stay.

    • 9 Richard Barrett 23 October 2009 at 9:28 am

      I’m aware of some of the various issues surrounding the OSB. There is, for better or for worse, a great deal of internal support at our parish in particular for the OSB, for reasons I won’t go into here (but should be obvious with a quick look at our website). While I don’t necessarily agree with its most extreme and angry critics, I acknowledge it’s not a perfect publication by any means. I like to consider it a well-intended start that will get better with subsequent editions, particularly if future editors see things like the EOB and say, “Ah, that’s a good idea. Let’s try to do it more like that.” Anyway, it’s not likely to go anywhere anytime soon at All Saints.

      If the Antiochians have a proprietary Epistle book, All Saints doesn’t use it (not surprising, for a number of reasons), and it’s not on the current list of Archdiocesan publications.

      In terms of the liturgical text of the Scriptures — well, I started out talking about the lack of a Prophetologion. A translation of the entire set of liturgical books, including the Gospel, Epistles, Psalter, and Prophetologion, conceived as a textual whole with the Octoechos, Menaion, Triodion, Pentecostarion, etc. is the effort I would love to see. Fr. Ephrem seems to be busily trying to produce something approximating this before he reposes (he has links to a Gospel and Apostle on his site, there just isn’t anything on those pages yet), but the other side of that is that I don’t exactly see anybody rushing out to make them available as printed books, thus making them practical to use liturgically.

      If this is a practical impossibility, what’s the way forward? Accepting that English exceptionalism and American exceptionalism go hand in hand?

      • 10 Esteban Vázquez 24 October 2009 at 9:17 pm

        My comments were not about the use of the OSB per se, but about the use of the NKJV NT in our liturgical services. This is only relevant to the subject of the OSB where that publication is being used for liturgical readings, which you mentioned had been done at our parish.

        Of course, the textual problem is not insurmountable: the NKJV does have an excellent body of notes that point out every instance where the TR differs from the MT, and even offers a translation of the alternate reading. Where the Church’s text agrees with the MT over against the TR (which is often, but not always), an appropriate change could be made quite effortlessly — especially in a situation like yours, where the actual text the epistle is typed up and printed for every service.

        It is a shame that the Antiochian Epistle book no longer appears to be available. It was a beautiful book, and used an edited RSV text brought into some conformity with the Church’s text. I would have much preferred it to the St Tikhon’s Apostol.

        As for your question on exceptionalism, I relly wish I had an answer.

      • 11 Richard Barrett 24 October 2009 at 9:39 pm

        I wish you did too! Or at least I wish somebody did.

      • 12 Richard Barrett 26 October 2009 at 3:27 pm

        (“I wish you did too!” being in response to Esteban saying he wishes he had an answer to the American/English exceptionalism question. The comment nesting seems to have failed us here.)

  5. 13 Richard Barrett 23 October 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Conceptual question — one significant practical issue with English (I’m not certain it’s a problem, exactly) is that it is a language that already has a Christian heritage and vocabulary. To what extent is this useful from an Orthodox standpoint? To what point does the Christian English which already exists adequately translate Orthodox meaning? The other side of that is, to what extent do we have to privilege Greek, either implicitly or explicitly, to maintain Orthodox meaning?

  6. 14 Christopher Orr 23 October 2009 at 2:01 pm

    The “Christian heritage and vocabulary” of English – as well as its intellectual and cultural heritage and vocabulary – is not useful when attempting to use the example of Sts Cyril and Methodius. They had to create a vocabulary (as well as alphabet) for the Slavs who had no comparable intellectual tradition. In our case, there is an immense intellectual and Christian religious tradition that Orthodoxy has to contend with. That is, this isn’t a greenfield build, it’s more like a remodel or redesign. Sts Cyril and Methodius could essentially create a language that had Slavic vocabulary with Greek grammar and loan words. That can’t be done across the board in English – especially since the Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Romanian, etc.) intellectual and cultural world isn’t as far ‘above’ the West as was the case between the highly cultured East Romans and the backwards, illiterate Slavs.

    Greek privilege should be taken into account, but with a specific caveat learned from the Old Believer schism: contemporary Greek practice is not always the oldest, most original tradition. Often, more ancient practices have been retained in translation in the Slavic world (or, in Romania, Georgia, Syria and Palestine). So, the current understanding of a given term may be skewed a certain way, whereas the choice of translation into another language in the past represented the then current understanding of the term, e.g., ‘sobornost’ for ‘catholic’ in the Slavic translation of the Symbol. The same is true of modern Greek practice: they sometimes represent quite local and modern changes.

    There should always be respect for venerable local traditions, but this should stretch back more than 50-100 years. For instance, Alaskan Native practices often diverge from more recent Great Russian practices; Carpatho-Rusyn practices are sometimes far older or far newer than Great Russian practices (both often being described as ‘Western’ interpolations, which is not always correct); modern Greek practices do not represent the full Typikon of St. Sabbas as used in most of the Orthodox world (and often do not even follow in full their own Biolakis Typikon).

    I’m not sure we love enough or understand enough to not push ‘our’ traditions onto others in a zero-sum game.

  7. 15 Adam 23 October 2009 at 2:16 pm

    You might want to get your hands on the journal LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies vol. 41-42 (2000-01), which published papers by Met. Kallistos Ware, Anthony Ugolnik, Robert Taft, Paul Meyendorff, and others from the International Symposium on English Translations of Byzantine Liturgical Texts (a conference held in Stamford, CT in June 1998).

  8. 16 ochlophobist 23 October 2009 at 6:20 pm

    My Antiochian parish uses The Epistle Lectionary printed by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies in Etna, CA. We took to using this particular Apostolos because of the recommendation of our godly subdeacon, a grad of St. Tikhon’s who is soon off to monastic efforts.

    • 17 Richard Barrett 23 October 2009 at 9:16 pm

      Yyyyyyeeeeeaaaaahhhhhh… the Etna boys are another group I just don’t quite know how to handle. Their stuff is gorgeous, but I run into the same problem of using the liturgical materials of a schismatic group. Maybe I’m overthinking that point; I don’t know.

  9. 18 Fr. Raphael Daly 24 October 2009 at 5:35 pm

    For Heaven’s sake, HTM starts the foreword to their menaion with a warm remembrance of Fr. Georges Florovsky. How “schismatic” can they be if they’re commemorating the founder of modern Orthodox ecumenism? They began their work while they were part of ROCOR -in other words, when they were in communion with all of us.

    Relax. They publish good work. Their main translator, Fr. Pachomius is a Lebanese guy with a good head on his shoulders.

  10. 19 Fr. Raphael Daly 24 October 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Oh and by the way. In 2000, Bishop Basil sent Fr. Paul Agiopavlites back to Agiou Pavlou to find a copy of the Prophetologion he could translate. Fr. Paul came back empty-handed. There’s no English Prophetologion because Greeks stopped using the Prophetologion as a separate text centuries ago. You’re on a liturgical snipe hunt.

    • 20 Richard Barrett 24 October 2009 at 6:57 pm

      Bless, Father!

      I don’t know anything about this particular trip of Fr. Paul’s, but there does appear to be at least one edition of the Prophetologion current in Greece, found here. I don’t know anything else about it, but it does seem to exist. Fr. Ephrem also appears to consider it a book worth treating separately, and my experience of his judgment when it comes to issues surrounding liturgical texts is that he knows what he’s talking about. I don’t know what else may or may not be happening here.

      I apologize if your impression is that I am on a “liturgical snipe hunt.” That is not my goal. With respect to the question of “how schismatic can HTM be” — well, they are indisputably under HOCNA, aren’t they? I think HOCNA’s own statements about themselves, as well as their history, speak for themselves in terms of answering that question. Perhaps, as I mused earlier, they are out of communion with us in a way that makes it less of an obstacle than it would be with other groups, in which case I’d be curious to know more. If there’s another way to understand that situation, I’m all ears.

      Setting aside issues of who publishes what, I am still left with the broader point about the lack of a fundamental unity of English language liturgical texts, including our Scripture lectionary, whatever book in which it may be found. Maybe it’s not really the problem it appears to me as being? Or maybe Esteban is correct and even if it is a problem, it is not really solvable?

      • 21 Basil Crow 24 October 2009 at 8:16 pm

        Fr Ephraim Lash writes: “The Orthodox Church has always used the Greek Bible of Alexandria as its text of the Old Testament and therefore the text on which the translation is based is that of the Greek Septuagint [lxx], as it is found in the Greek Menaia.” Indeed, the Old Testament readings can always be found in the Triodion, Menaion, or Pentecostarion proper for a given commemoration. Thus there is no particular need for a separate Prophetologion. The HTM Menaion does include the necessary readings for each feast.

      • 22 Richard Barrett 24 October 2009 at 8:26 pm

        I’m curious, then, why Fr. Ephraim is putting in the effort to compile a Prophetologion — unless what he’s really doing is using it as the pretense for his own translation.

        At any rate, there is a separate problem being demonstrated here, which is that of a parish having as its normative practice reference to something other than the usual liturgical books. As noted, our sources are a hodgepodge, I don’t see that changing any time soon (even if we had a proper Menaion, we wouldn’t have a place to put it), and I’ve seen this more often than not at other parishes I’ve visited. This is, of course, a different problem from that of a textual unity.

      • 23 Fr. Raphael Daly 24 October 2009 at 11:04 pm

        O Kyrios!

        I think you have the right of it. The Prophetologion is a historical liturgical book -like the Asmatikon or the Tropariologion. Fr. Lash is extremely learned and being clever when he organizes his translations thus. My point was simply that there’s no “lacuna” here in the English liturgical library. Did you notice the release date on the Greek publication? They’re resurrecting this book from the dead.

        Re: HTM, indeed, discussing their canonicity is a dead end. I say let their texts stand on their own merits (and not only I, but the Antiochian Archdiocese dept. of music and the dept. of liturgics and translations). Anyways, it sounds like you’re half way there. I’m just encouraging you along the way.

        As to (what I take to be) your larger point: if we’re going to start keening over the state of English language liturgical books, then lets go whole hog and wail over the lack of a critical edition for much of the original Greek. Oh wait, Fr. Lash already did:

        http://www.anastasis.org.uk/sun8m.htm
        http://www.anastasis.org.uk/holyweek.htm

        Good times!

      • 24 Richard Barrett 24 October 2009 at 11:30 pm

        I guess, conceptually, my trouble is why HTM’s canonicity is a dead end. Since when do we not consider the source? I suppose there is an argument to be made that because they are a schismatic group, they are perhaps more free to publish an uncompromised effort and let the chips fall where they may than any canonical jurisdiction would be, but I can’t say I’ve heard anybody suggest that. As I said, however, I find this to be the least interesting subject on which my post touched, so I’d prefer to simply leave it there at this stage of the game.

        I’m also not persuaded, at the end of the day, that what I suggest regarding the English liturgical books is a small point. There may not be critical editions for much of the Greek body of text (as anybody who has worked with the texts for scholarly purposes knows), but the practical editions which are out there still largely agree with each other. In the English-speaking world, where we have God only knows how many different possible English renderings for “Fos ilaron”, it’s not that simple. This is particularly a problem if you have a reference to a prosomion title in one liturgical book that doesn’t agree with what you have elsewhere. I’m pretty sure we can agree that this problem by and large doesn’t exist in Greek or Slavonic.

        (By the way, if you think the Greek books are bad in terms of critical editions, let’s talk Coptic liturgical books some time. Boy, are those a mess.)

      • 25 Fr. Raphael Daly 25 October 2009 at 12:38 am

        Because if we consider source, then we must turn the looking glass back on ourselves. For example. There was a point when Fr. Kassab, the man who edited what would become (in translation) our beloved 5-lb Nassar was out of communion with half of what is now the Antiochian Archdiocese. So Nassar is schismatic? Obviously not. How about the evening divine liturgy booklets Antiochians use? Ever looked who typed them up? Are you familiar with the story behind how the Rt. Rev. Basil Kazan became Mr. Kazan? Are you positive that none of the thousands of hymns that fill our liturgical books were penned by a person who was at one point a schismatic? Source is interesting and important but not everything. Again, I don’t want to chase around this HTM goose, but your version of how they ended up in schism missed out on some crucial mitigating details. What if their liturgical texts are a part of their path to reconciliation with us?

        Your second paragraph starts with one problem:internal disagreement in English texts. It ends on another: a cacophony of multiple renderings (for everything). Resolving the first will of necessity add to the cacophony in the second.

        Na’ni evlogimeno.

        You ever notice how amazing the chain of scripture references in the long prayers of the baptismal service is? It’s obvious in the Greek, but even the best translation in English would be opaque to a non-Orthodox visitor. Footnotes do help though.
        http://docs.google.com/View?id=ddm39bjz_137ct77n8cs

      • 26 Richard Barrett 25 October 2009 at 7:28 am

        So any comprehensive solution will be by necessity worse than the problem? We can’t get there from here, in other words?

        I am not familiar with the various points of history regarding Antiochian texts you mention, so I can’t speak to their relevance one way or the other (although I assume that, regarding Fr. Kassab, we’re talking about the situation which existed before the unification of the Antiochian archdiocese). With regard to whatever mitigating details there may be concerning HTM’s status, I am not familiar with those, either. If HTM’s liturgical texts are part of the means by which reconciliation may happen, then from your lips to God’s ear. I haven’t heard such a thing suggested before. I keep saying this was the point I wanted to discuss the least, and yet it’s the one people have latched onto for some reason. I’ve said what I have to say on it; I remain uneasy. This doesn’t mean their materials aren’t used at my parish, as I noted originally (since we use their psalter in some cases, and their translations are hard to get away from for some hymns). It means, plain and simple, that I find the issue problematic, no more and no less, and I haven’t yet been given a reason to think otherwise, beyond “Don’t worry about it because it’s such good work.” Certainly it’s good work; the source remains what it is, however. My preference, as stated, would be to leave the HTM issue there for now — again, it was the issue I was interested in discussing least of all.

      • 27 Fr. Raphael Daly 25 October 2009 at 6:41 pm

        Well, you raised a broader point -not HTM’s canonicity, but this question of “source.” It’s a reasonable question -does ‘source’ count. I say ‘not much.’ Source as a method of evaluating liturgical texts is very problematic. Almost to the point of being completely useless. Stop grumbling and give thanks to God that *somebody, somewhere* did an adequate job.

        >So any comprehensive solution will be by necessity worse than the problem? We can’t get there from here, in other words?

        Oh dear. Actually, that isn’t what I said. I said you either want internally consistent texts, or fewer translations. In order to have internally consistent liturgical texts, you would have to re-translate a mountain. That means more translations in the field. That means more people fighting for their particular favorite text.

        The comprehensive solution you’re talking about is so monumental it’s on par with wishing that we could rebuild every church in North America to conform to the architectural traditions of the Orthodox Church. It presupposes so many things: a critical edition to translate, a translator who boasts a truly rare skill set, administrative unity strong enough to enforce an internally consistent translation, the financial resources to publish all this, etc. etc. It’s fun to dream. I’m not unsympathetic. You have correctly identified something that is annoying, especially to folks who can read a little liturgical Greek. Lack of internal cohesion in English is jarring. It would be nice if this was all simple, like it is in Greek.

        But. Rather than ‘lament’ the enormity of the ‘problem,’ why not use your own impressive academic resources to try and make the situation better. Footnoting the red service book was one idea-hook I threw out there, on which you did not bite. I don’t take credit for coming up with this idea: Bishop Basil was doing it a long time ago. Anyways, I think we’ve lamented this into the ground.

      • 28 Richard Barrett 25 October 2009 at 7:08 pm

        I am done discussing the matter of HTM, so I will note that you have expressed your opinion on it, and I will otherwise leave it there.

        In terms of the rest — I’m not sure how you intended for me to “bite” on footnoting the red service book, since I am not a publisher of liturgical books. It’s a fine idea and I don’t understand why such things aren’t actually in the published books. As far as trying to make it better, I have some facility with Greek, but I don’t consider myself the kind of person with the kind of poetic understanding of both languages to be able to translate liturgical texts in the manner it seems to me would be required. As noted before, if I were involved in starting a mission, I would certainly argue for as much textual consistency throughout as would be possible, but I’m not sure what else I’m able to do. You clearly know more about the efforts that are out there than I do, so if you have any suggestions, I’d be more than happy to hear what they are.

        As far as the presuppositions you describe — well, yes. I don’t disagree with you on any of that. So my question remains — how do we get there from here?

        Thank you for your contributions to the discussion, Fr. Raphael.

    • 29 Esteban Vázquez 24 October 2009 at 8:58 pm

      I find it very odd to suggest that Richard is on a “liturgical snipe hunt” here. For one, there is indeed a current (critical!) edition of the OT liturgical texts for Vespers (i.e., the Prophetologion), to which he has linked. This was jointly published by the Greek Bible Society and the Apostoloki Diakonia of the Church of Greece. Incidentally, they have also published a new (critical!) edition of the Eklogadion — that is, a book containing the Epistle and Gospel readings for Sundays and Feasts. Now, neither one of these books has been readily available for a few centuries before now for a number of historical reasons, but this doesn’t mean that producing their English-language equivalent is a futile enterprise. After all, these books are nothing but compilations of the Biblical texts as they appear in our liturgical books, and therefore as they should be used in the Orthodox Church (with their textual peculiarities, smoothed-over composition, and the like). It would be hard to underestimate the importance of such a collection, and its liturgical usefulness, in a world of Biblical translations produced by the heterodox.

      • 30 Richard Barrett 24 October 2009 at 9:28 pm

        I am not under the impression that Fr. Raphael meant to attack. He may have misunderstood what I was getting at, which is totally fine — I misunderstand people all the time! Or he may simply disagree that this is a worthy line of inquiry, which is also totally fine — I expect he knows far more than I would about the matter.

        More than anything, though, I find it somewhat odd that the focus of the comments have been on either a point which I find terribly uninteresting to discuss at length (the HTM matter), or on the point which mostly functioned as the hook (the Prophetologion) that got me onto what I intended as the main point in the first place (our liturgical books, all of them including the ones that contain our Scripture readings, in a unified English instead of a hodgepodge).

  11. 31 maximus daniel greeson 26 October 2009 at 3:22 pm

    I am honestly left wondering at the end of this: “why did Fr Raphael came in with such an awful attitude?”

    • 32 Richard Barrett 26 October 2009 at 3:30 pm

      Daniel — I don’t think he did. Tone is difficult to read over the internet. I’m thankful for the contributions of knowledgeable people, and I take what was said in what I presume to have been the spirit in which they were offered.

  12. 33 Christopher Orr 26 October 2009 at 3:55 pm

    The exceptionalism at hand would seem to be that there are interests that wish to continue to see Orthodox in America as ‘really’ a part of __________ church in the Old World. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it isn’t necessarily a good thing and there are positives galore with maintaining close ties with monasteries, holy people and churches abroad.

    No one seems to have figured out how to be Orthodox in America without succumbing to americanization or liberalization or minimalization, or their opposites. The lack of even a single full, consistent set of available liturgical books is simply the result of this. I don’t believe this is exceptional at all in the ‘diaspora’: it is assumed that Orthodoxy is primarily by and for those with cultural roots in ‘Orthodox countries’ (remote, recent or ongoing) or those with great affection for those cultures (grecophiles, russophiles), so services are simply held in their ‘Orthodox languages’ (or ‘should be’, so little effort or resources are placed in translation and publishing).

  13. 34 Basil Crow 28 October 2009 at 10:34 am

    Music has not been brought up much in this discussion, yet it is important from a practical point of view. A good translation is not enough; there must also be a good musical composition using that translation for it to take root. Inconsistencies and errors should be eliminated both textually and musically, through the use of consistent and accurate translations as well as formulaically and orthographically correct music.

    Your (valid) complaints about consistency will become less relevant over time as a complete English repertoire of genuine Byzantine music is composed using a consistent set of quality translations. This work is happening quickly. Already, the situation now is better than it was even ten years ago, and far better than it was even thirty years ago. I am very hopeful about the next thirty years.

    To answer your question: “how do we get there from here?” Support those who are advancing the field of excellent translation and composition. Utilize their work, and say no to the status quo of mediocrity. This is not a theoretical topic. You can start today.

  14. 35 Anthony Stokes 28 October 2009 at 11:04 am

    In the OCA Diocese of the South, we of course use the Priest’s Service Book translated by now-retired Archbishop DMITRI. But, those of us in the actual Dallas area also have other books that match this that are not yet published. +DMITRI and his assistants have also translated the horologion, the psalter, and prepared a KJV Apostol that matches the other books. I’m not sure when or if these will be published, as they are all still in draft form and being updated. This helps keep some consistency throughout certain parts of the service. +DMITRI has also done translations for some feasts and parts of the octoechos, but those are not as widely available.

    We supplement with the SJKP Menaion and the Mother Mary Octoechos, making minor changes if needed to be consistent.

    I also work to make sure that our music matches the Priest’s Service Book, which is not a common occurrence outside of the DFW metroplex.


  1. 1 In which an English-language Prophetologion makes an appearance « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 12 August 2012 at 10:38 pm

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