Liturgical Language

My last post has started me thinking about language. Now I hope I do not insult anyone with my ramblings but I have been thinking of this for sometime now. How do we, the Orthodox Church, grow in this country? In many places immigrants are still arriving and sustaining parishes. But here in the village for example there has not been an immigrant for years. How do we reach converts or others and bring them into the church? The name of my parish is St. Michael’s Romanian Orthodox Church. All of our liturgical services are in English with a sprinkling of Romanian. However, when one looks for a church, and sees the word Romanian or Greek, or Albanian I think one would assume that everything would be in that language. If you do not speak that language, then your not going to show up.
My parish is third generation and many of the parishioners no longer speak the language and the language that they do speak is a very different dialect of Romanian than people speak now. As a historian I look at things from history and allow history to color things for me. When Christianity was on the move and spreading into various places on the earth, the church of the east spread faster in places than the church of the west. One reason for that was that the missionaries did not use their own language they would learn the local language and have services in the vernacular. St. Herman of Alaska, Enlightener of North America and one of American Orthodoxy’s greatest saint, came from Russia but learned the local Alaskan language and taught the people.
Now fast forward to today, and if one comes to an Orthodox Church, for the most part, they have to learn another language. I said this last night and I have seen this in my own Romanian Archdiocese as well. I love that people will just assume that you speak the language of the people. Folks would come up to me last night speaking Greek. I barely speak English let alone Greek or even Romanian for that matter. Anyway I digress, again…
So what do we do? The attendance at Vespers last night showed me that in some parishes using another language other than English does not hurt, but if I was to switch to Romanian here in my parish I would loose people. What is the answer? How do we proceed into the next generation? How many people have we lost from our churches because the liturgical language is a language that they do not speak anymore? Are we holding on to things that are hurting us and a people rather then preserving us? These are hard questions to answer and have caused many heated discussions over the years. Language is culture, and culture defines us as a people. And we should hold on to that. It makes me sad that many people here no longer speak the language that their ancestors spoke, but I guess that is progress.
I don’t have the answers and I am not sure there are answers to many of these questions. But, I feel, if Orthodoxy is going to survive on this land of ours, then we need to adapt and change linguistically so we don’t loose anyone else.
Comments? But please be nice…

1 Comment

  1. In spite of being a Catholic 🙂 I think I understand what you’re saying. But most people don’t understand that the label is ethnic rather than linguistic, don’t you think? My grandmother was Russian (spoke Russian and Polish fluently, no English) and when I was a child went to a Russian Orthodox church with her occasionally. I couldn’t understand a word – it was the mid-to-late 1960’s, and Church Slavonic was the language of the day. Since then I’ve been in numerous Orthodox churches, and it’s been almost all English with the occasional Slavonic or Arabic or Greek thrown in. Makes no difference to me – the liturgy is still beautiful regardless of the language it is offered in.

    More informational outreach, perhaps? My $0.02.

    Peace, my friend.

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!