On using other languages in worship

One of the ongoing discussions in Orthodox worship in the USA, is the use of other languages in worship. I understand the argument. However, I consider this to be an argument that is ultimately correct, but missiologically mistaken.

I absolutely agree that English should be the standard language of worship in English-speaking areas. I also am convinced that Spanish, Greek, Russian, Georgian, Romanian, etc., should be the standard language of worship in areas that speak that particular language. The rougher question comes in when you ask what you ought to do when there is a lingüistic minority within a lingüistic majority. In other words, what do you do when there is a Greek speaking minority that lives in an area where there is an English speaking majority? Or, what do you do when there is a Slavic language speaking minority that lives in an area where there is an English speaking majority? Or, what do you do when there is a Spanish language speaking minority that lives in an area where there is an English speaking majority?

Because of some political battles, we are lately tempted to answer that we must conduct worship in the English language. But, we need to ask ourselves what is the question that God would ask. Would God ask about whether we followed the correct policy about using the local majority language, or would God ask whether we bent for a limited time in order to make sure that all who could would enter the Kingdom of God? This is not a merely “liberal” question. I am not saying that Church principles should be compromised. Nor am I saying that a lingüistic minority should have the power to hold hostage a lingüistic majority.

But, I am saying that whenever possible we need to consider the missiological impact of what we do. Particularly in the area of language, we may often be found arguing something that is not reasonable, given the history of the Church. What do I mean? Well, if we look at both the East and the West, there is a long history of using one, and only one, language for worship. Thus, the West used only Latin for many centuries. The Greek used by those who are influenced by the “Greek” Orthodox jurisdictions is not modern Greek, but rather an almost classical Greek. In the same way, Church Slavonic is used by several of the “Slavic” jurisdictions. Not all Orthodox jurisdictions remained wedded to an ancient form of their language, but it is interesting to note that both Antiochians and the OCA remain rooted to an extinct form of English on the grounds that this is somehow a God-approved language of worship.

Thus, it seems strange to me to argue that we must use an extinct form of English in worship, but cannot use an extinct form of Greek or Slavonic. If we must make the argument that the local language has to be what the people understand, then we cannot, at the same time, make the argument that the language used is an extinct version that the people will not fully understand. In America, only the Greeks, who still use ancient Greek in some of their worship, actually use a modern understandable form of English in their worship!

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p align=”justify”>In other words, let’s be willing to make adjustments for those in other language groups who attend our worship services. Let’s be willing to make a limited use of other languages in our worship if it helps us reach out to other groups and bring them into the Church.