This past Monday I had an incredible eye-opening experience, one of those "aha!" moments. I have had the privilege to receive His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios' blessing to serve on the Archdiocesan Translation Committee together with himself, two brother priests and a deacon. Our task for the present is to produce a new translation of the priest's parts of the Divine Liturgy.Our first meeting was Monday. We worked hard all day, word by word, phrase by phrase, in order to produce a faithful, accurate and beautiful translation of the Greek text. For a philologist like myself, it was an incredible and exciting day; I am still exciting about the work we did and the work we will be doing in the future. As a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I also find the work exciting and important. We are a major component in the first official translation of the Greek text; this is a breakthrough in our jurisdiction's approach to the text and language of the Liturgy.

But, for me, it was not the great cosmic signficance of our work that enthralled me. I was excited about looking at each individual word, turning it over and over until its meaning in context practically revealed itself to us. I had not before looked so closely at the Greek of the Liturgy. I am familiar with it, naturally, in a general sort of way, but, given the nature of our parish, we use mostly English, and the intensity of the Liturgy as prayer and as a ritual that needs careful coordination to maintain that prayerful atmosphere, I have never examined the details of the language. Now was the opportunity, and it was truly an amazing and humbling experience. The Greek of the Liturgy is incredible, delicate and weighty at the same time, highly poetic and very “down-to-earth”. It is full of the ambience of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, and yet is not overbearing with quotations and academic references.

One example particularly struck me, as it did my fellow workers. In the prayer of the Third Antiphon we read (please forgive my transliteration; I haven’t discovered the possibility of using a Greek script here):

O tas koinas kai symphonous imin charisamenos prosefchas

The translation from the Holy Cross Liturgy book reads:

Lord, You have given us grace to offer these commone prayers with one heart.

As we examined this text, it was pointed out that, in fact, there is nothing in the Greek about “offering”. What God is giving us is not the ability to do an action, but the very prayers themselves!

You who have granted us (literally “graced us with”) these common and harmonious prayers (we did not settle on the final translation of “symphonous”)

These prayers of the Liturgy are, in fact, a gift from God for us to pray; coming from God, they have unity and harmony as their primary characteristic, so that, we who pray them participate through them in the unity and harmony of the Holy Trinity.

But the prayer goes on, even deeper:

o kai dysi kai trisi sumponousin epi to onomati sou, tas aitisis parechin epangilamenos

The Holy Cross translation renders this phrase:

You have promised to grant the requests of two or three gathered in Your name

This translation misses the amazing nature of the Greek. The translators remembered the Scripture passage to which the text refers (Matthew 18:20) and simply renders it as such:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

However, the text of the prayer actually refers to the previous verse and, in fact melds the two verses together:

Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

By conflating these two verses, the prayer draws particular attention to the repetition: symphonous–symponousin.  The repetition is nearly impossible to reproduce in English. But the meaning of the prayer is clear: Our Lord has promised to two or three who agree/are harmonious in his name to grant what they ask; in order to accomplish this, he has already given us the very means we need in order to “qualify” for his promise–the very prayers of the Liturgy! God has given us these prayers himself so that we will please him by our harmonious prayer, reflecting the very life of the Trinity.

After we worked through the translation and meaning of this prayer, I sat for a few moments in amazed silence. It was almost like the work we had been doing, struggling over each word, had been leading up to this moment! I believe the Holy Spirit truly enlightened me, and I believe also my fellow workers, to get a glimpse at a much deeper aspect of the Liturgy we celebrate every Sunday and Feast Day. I came away from our translations labors that day with a renewed appreciation for the beauty of our Liturgy and its truly divine nature. How wonderful it would be if all our people could get even a small glimpse into that beautiful jewel, to appreciate it even more!

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