The Dynamics of the Orthodox
Faith in America

A Lecture by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios,
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

4 February 2004
Fordham University
Orthodoxy in America Lecture Series

Part Two


Language is a vital expression of life. It is the main expression of communication and connectedness among human beings and between God and humanity.

Orthodoxy in the course of history has contributed immensely to the perfection of languages such as Greek, Latin, or Slavic. We think of the superb pertinent achievements in the fields of theology,poetry, and hymnography, which combine poetry and music as well. Here, we deal with thousands and thousands of pages and with myriads of ecclesiastical hymns in which the dynamics of faith helped to produce highly sophisticated linguistic achievements in terms of an amazing richness of vocabulary, a remarkably refined style, and unexpected new grammar and syntax formations. But presently, we live in America, and we have the English language. What can we say concerning the English language as a vehicle for articulating properly and beautifully the contents and verbal expressions of the Orthodox faith? And how do the dynamics of faith operate on that level?

We witness, of course, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the appearance of patristic works in English translations. These works have been the result of commendable academic efforts and fine scholarly publishing enterprises. The dynamics, however,of the Orthodox faith in the area of the English language, manifested themselves in a constantly increasing rhythm in the twentieth century, and they continue in the present century through activities initiated, inspired, and promoted by the Church. In addition to translations from patristic works and theological books written originally in a non-English language, predominantly Greek, we have today an astonishing production of Orthodox theological books written originally in English, and constituting not only significant theological works, but also excellent literary products. They cover all fields within the realm of theology, for instance, the biblical, the dogmatic, the liturgical, the pastoral, and the historical, not to mention the various combinations of theology and sociology, psychology, anthropology, environmental sciences, and even political sciences. This impressive production of Orthodox literature in the English language, be it purely theological or representing a combination of disciplines, is the result of the dynamics of the Orthodox faith. This happens predictably, one could say, in any place in which Orthodoxy is transplanted. It is an expected result. On the other hand, one could say that we already have a very rich theological language in English, the language of hundreds of theological schools and seminaries, the language used in this University, the language of literally millions of theological books, among them true masterpieces. The observation is absolutely correct. What, however, I am talking about is the very special nuance offered by the English language when it is employed in Orthodox theological works, be they patristic or contemporary. It is what I call the Orthodox linguistic idiom in English. This is not a linguistic peculiarity or an exotic feature. This is an enrichment I dare say, an introduction of a fresh nuance to an otherwise beautiful language, full of semantic suggestiveness and sometimes with subtle existential overtones.

Allow me at this juncture to inform you about two particular aspects related to the topic under discussion. The first is the difference between the 1960's and the present time in America. In the 1960's the number of Orthodox theological books in English was small and limited mostly to translations. Today, we have a very impressive publishing activity, and we deal with voluminous catalogues of Orthodox theological and ecclesiastical works in English. Today, in the United States, we have bookstores that sell exclusively Orthodox books, and they are doing very well in terms of business. Needless to say, when we talk about Orthodox theological productions available in English, we also include by natural extension DVD's, videos, electronic media, wesbsites, etc. Here, there is plenty of English Orthodox theological language, a result of the dynamism of the Orthodox faith.

The other relevant aspect which I should like to share with you is the translation into English of considerable amounts of Orthodox hymnological material. Here, the dynamism of the Orthodox faith in the area of language is well on its way to creating an amazing literary treasure in the English language. The amount of hymnological material is huge and highly diversified, but it is always inspiring and beautiful. Here, there is the challenge of taking truly magnificent hymns written mostly in Greek and producing English translations of them in such a way so as to be susceptible to musical manipulation and usage.

Allow me in passing to cite an example in order to show the magnitude and the difficulty of the challenge. I selected from among thousands and thousands, two verses from a hymn to the Mother of God where she is addressed with the words

&αι δωδεκατειχε πολις.

Literally translated:

You are a tower built with gold
And a city with twelve protecting walls.

Please make a comparison. The original Greek even without music is full of rhythm. The English needs heavy editing to make it poetic, significant, and susceptible to musical investment.

This challenge is truly enormous, but the attempts so far have been encouraging. We are justifiably entitled to expect in a few years, through continuous translations, revisions, and painstaking editorial work, the appearance of an amazing wealth of Orthodox hymns and hymnological texts, which will not only become an adornment to the existing corpus of Christian hymnology in the English language, but will also introduce refreshing musical creations for worship and spiritual as well as aesthetic enjoyment. This expectation is rendered feasible by the unstoppable action and inexhaustible energy of the dynamics of the Orthodox faith in the field of language.

Reprinted with permission from Fordham University officials.

For more information about the Orthodoxy in America Lecture Series, please contact either Professors Aristotle Papanikolaou or George Demacopoulos or visit the web site of the lecture series at The next lecturer is noted Orthodox theologian and Oxford lecturer, His Grace Bishop Kallistos Ware, scheduled to deliver an address on 5 April 2005: "Ecological Crisis, Ecological Hope: the Orthodox Vision
of Creation."

Aristotle Papanikolaou, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Theology
Fordham University

George Demacopoulos, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Theology
Fordham University

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