The Orthodox Pages




























Question 1

Is it possible to have a full service of Orthros and Divine Liturgy in English?   



Answer to Question 1


We tend to assume that a full service consists of Orthros (Matins) followed by the Divine Liturgy but this is not strictly true. The two services were joined together during the Ottoman Occupation of the Greek lands. Originally Orthros was sung as dawn was breaking (5 or 6am) and then there was a break with the Christians going home and returning at a later hour (10 or 11am) where the First and Third Hours were read giving time to the priest to prepare for the Divine Liturgy which followed immediately. The Ottoman Turks were tolerant of the Christians but it was still dangerous to be seen going and coming from church at various times of the day. To reduce the movement of the Christians to and from church it was decided to join Orthros with the Divine Liturgy.  On Mount Athos, considered the protectors of Orthodox Tradition, the monks still follow the older sequence of the services - Orthros, Hours and then the Divine Liturgy. The Russian church does something similar, they sing Orthros in the evening together with Vespers as a small vigil and in the morning they read the Hours followed by the Divine Liturgy. We see then that Orthros and the Divine Liturgy are two independent services and were not meant to be joined together as is the custom in parishes today.  Having said this it would be great to have a full Orthros and Divine Liturgy in English, but there are many difficulties to overcome before this can be done in the Greek Church. Firstly, we need translations of all the service books into English. Every day is dedicated to a feast or the Saint of the day and so every day has its own service. Many of the services of the Great feasts and popular saints have been translated, but not nearly enough to have a service whenever we what to. Secondly, what language should be used for the translations? There is the traditional old English language which to my opinion best suits as a liturgical language and the modern English language which has been used for most translations in America. Thirdly, how are these translations to be sung? The Russian Church has a very different type of chanting from the Greek. They can translate a hymn very literally and adapt a simple style of Russian chanting to it. This cannot be done with the Greek Byzantine chant. Every hymn has to be translated so that the words follow the melody of the original Greek which is extremely difficult and time consuming. With the Byzantine chant we have hymns called "Prosomoia" meaning to resemble, these are hymns which are used as the prototype standard melodies and hymns are written to be sung according to these melodies. Imagine then how difficult it is to first translate a hymn and then to find a way to poetically fit the hymn to the relevant prosomoio. I have made many translations and know first hand how difficult it is to harmonise translations with the Greek melodies.  Thirdly, English choirs will have to be taught the Byzantine chant. Existing Greek chanters may be able to sing the hymns in English, but they would sing them with a Greek accent which would sound strange to the English speaking Orthodox. At our English Liturgies we have a wonderful female choir and they have leant to sing the Liturgy exactly to the Greek melodies, but the Liturgy is fairly simple and always the same. It would need years and a great deal of dedication to teach them how to sing the intricacies of the Orthros service. So for the present the Divine Liturgy will have to suffice.