Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Abbot Tryphon on keeping children in the Church

As always, the blue sections are my own commentary (and in the case of this post, the image is mine as well).


(The Morning Offering) - When parishes are forced to close, it is not just because the children have moved away, and the old folks have died off. The problem is much greater than this. With increased numbers of immigrants joining parishes, often with the expressed desire to preserve their Russian identity, we can easily fall prey to believing our churches are on solid ground, and will thrive into the next generations. In our collective joy at seeing our churches packed for Sunday Liturgies, we forget about previous influxes of immigrants, whose children, upon growing into adulthood, became so Americanized that they saw the Orthodox Faith as relevant only for their parents and grandparents, but meaningless to themselves. It's really a trapeze act of flying through the air out of the hands of one person into the hands of another. How do you take Orthodoxy so tied into the cultural context of your elders and carry it into your new American identity? My answer is to be Orthodox because of Christ and not because of a heartstrung connection to the past. Sentimental feelings do not hold people, Christ however is an inexhaustible spring that you keep coming back to. Is the focus of coming to church to reconnect socially, or speak with God. If the answer is primarily the former, you will find it difficult to hear God's words at all.

The remedy, I believe, in forestalling another great exodus of our youth, is to wage a concerted effort to help our youth embrace Orthodoxy as their own. This means they must be able to understand the services, and since they are unlikely to learn Church Slavonic, or liturgical Greek, we must admit that it is time to serve in English. The Ancient Church saw the language of the people as the vehicle for teaching the faith, and passing Orthodoxy on to the next generations. Saints Cyril and Methodius helped to Slavic people receive Orthodoxy by translating the services into a language the people understood. Thus the Greek language did not remain the liturgical language of the newly illumined people of the Slavic lands. How many of our churches are actually performing services entirely in those languages? Is the impediment of some Greek or Slavonic so daunting that it is insurmountable for our youth? I think the disconnect has more to do with parents not instructing their children in the faith at home than it does with language. A child who is engaged with his faith at home is going to find resonance with it in church. A child who hears nothing about God or the saints and never sees his parents pray, will see no connection between getting up early on Sunday and the rest of his life. Fix that problem and a few litanies in a foreign language won't even be noticeable.

I believe Church Slavonic has it’s place, for as a common language it can be a point of unity, especially when used during joint services among Slavic peoples from different countries. Church Slavonic, as well as Liturgical Greek, are both lovely languages, and have their place in the life of the Church. However, that most lay people do not understand these languages (beyond the parts that are used during each service), should be a wakeup call. If the changeable parts of the service are not understood by life-long Orthodox faithful, what does this mean for our children, and for visitors who might be looking into Orthodoxy? The romantic attachment to an ancient language is just not sufficient if we want the Faith to be delivered to both the heart and the mind, and become the mainstay of our life. The Roman Catholics discovered this truth when they dumped Latin as the normal language for Mass, in favor of the vernacular, and the move has worked very well in those places where the Mass is served with the dignity and tradition of the ancient Western Rite. It served the Roman Church very poorly. The "rupture" (as they call it) of radically reformatting the mass and throwing out Latin has devastated the Catholic Church. The baby went out with the bath water and they know not how to find him again.

The early missionaries knew the importance of teaching the faith so as to accommodate the local population, and allow newly converted people to really know the Orthodox Faith. Just as was the case when Saints Cyril and Methodius brought Orthodoxy to the people of Kievan Rus, our children must be able to understand the services, and be taught the faith. Our children must understand why we do the things we do, why we fast, and why we worship the way we have worshiped for almost two thousand years. If these changes are not implemented by the local parishes, our youth will see Orthodoxy as nothing more than a quaint religion of a bygone age, meaningless to their own lives as modern Americans, and they will depart from the faith. Again, we have to equip parents to make this connection and reinforce it in our churches. Language is important, but you have to keep children at church into adulthood for them to press for this change. In most parishes that are holding onto liturgical languages it is influential (read: wealthy and outspoken) parishioners who adjure the parish to changing nothing.

Since a priest is allowed to celebrate only one Liturgy per day, the introduction of English Liturgies could be gradually introduced, with one Sunday given over to English, and the second Sunday to Church Slavonic. Another option, in the beginning, might be to balance the service by using both English and Slavonic in equal amounts. This is an uphill battle without the parish and the bishop requesting it. Priests are often seen as contract labor that shouldn't go "messing about with what we have always done here."

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

33 comments:

  1. Yes, the language issue is more complex than it first appears, tied in as it is with how to *be* Orthodox (which is to say, simply an actual Christian) in a secular cultural context. Some place burdens upon it which it can not hold up, as you point out when you say that unless the parents/home of a child is Christian, then the languages of the services is not going to make up for this lack.

    By the way, I had an offline conversation with Abbot Tryphon about the priest Arida just after the Wonder incident. He supported the man and said too much is made of his essay. My judgement is that Abbot Tryphon often dwells in the shallows...

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    1. FATHER-
      I'm a Cradle Catholic / Orthodox admiring reader. Regarding your comment about the removal of Latin in Catholic worship, I view the removal of Latin a little more positively than you do, but not by much. There are converts from Protestantism who would never have converted to Catholicism if the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was still completely in Latin. So that is a positive. Another positive is that the those in the pews hear the readings at Mass (O.T., Psalm, Epistle & Gospel) in their native tongue which facilitates greater understanding and familiarity. I cannot say, however, that the complete removal of Latin was a net positive. Along with all the other changes that came with the Novus Ordo (the form of the Mass instituted after Vatican II), the removal of Latin has contributed to the loss of much of the mystery and transcendence that was present previousy.

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    2. My opinion: If you can't experience the mystery and transcendence of God during the Divine Liturgy (or Mass) in a language you do understand, then you won't experience it in a language you don't understand.

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  2. It depends on whether you want the Church to be an integral and inter-generational part of the host nation or a redoubt for aging ethnics and middle-aged converts.

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  3. Also, the conflation of doctrinal fidelity with language is problematic. Why should an ancient and integral people like the Japanese, for example, have to learn Attic Greek or Church Slavonic or Latin to conduct a "true" Christian liturgy? Are the Japanese language and traditional forms incapable of expressing the Faith? There's a whole big world outside the borders of the dead Greco-Roman Empire.

    God Himself ordained the diversity of peoples. The task of the Church should be to bring these diverse cultures to their own unique, highest expressions, not recreate Holy Rome, Mother Russia, Late Antiquarian Greece, or even Lebanon wherever they happen to find themselves. That's diaspora mentality, not missionary mentality.

    I also wouldn't downplay the operational justifications for Christian praxis. Most people don't really care or even have the intellectual chops for granular arguments on the Trinity--that's for the theologians to worry about. What people want are tools that will help them get through life--connectedness, a pool of prospective spouses, patronage networks--and if the Church doesn't provide them they'll find another organization that will.

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    1. Very thoughtful and concise reply. We should also remember diversity of languages is a punishment from God (Genesis 11: 1-9). Pentecost is the Lord's overturning of that. Now all people can hear and understand. Using foreign languages in worship is a direct contradiction of the apostles example at Pentecost.

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  4. Too me language is probably the wrong starting point. I used to think it was about language but now think its about openness. I have been in some very ethnic communities that used a significant amount of another language that were very warm and welcoming. If the point is bringing Christ to and serving the world around us, language becomes a logical step. Otherwise it will reamin about nationalism or treating a symptom.

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  5. the eastern orthodox liturgy is aimed at adults and not children,,,after 10 minutes the children are fidgety and bored. in talking with cardle orthodox chrildren they say their most trying times as children was the long liturgy,,,, would it not be better to have a strong educatioal program for the children while the adults are enduring the liturgy? the children do not understand the complexities of the liturgy which is true of most aduts also. if we spent the time on educatiuon and making education fun, the time spoent in church would be more meaningful. we waste 2 hours on sunday inflicting boredom on them. any educator will tell you that our apporach is not the most prudent one.

    i am not saying that the liturgy is not beautiful, mystical, nor beautiful -- but it is not mean for little children,,,,,it took me 50 years to truly appreciate the liturgy. instead of loving the church many of our children think the opposite because they relate it to being, long, boring, and a not appealing.

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    1. We do it the wrong way around in the Orthodox Church: we play with the adults and teach the kids.

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  6. Perhaps a guitar liturgy and puppets.

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    1. typical celibate response,,this is why we loosing our children and have lost generations,,,analyze the challenge,,, look at creage solutions and implement new ideas to achieve a successful goal

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    2. But but but....r j klancko, what exactly is behind your analysis? That attention spans and literacy of all kinds, including (espically) spiritual, are really low in our secular culture and thus it is the duty of the Church to make Christ who is "boring" somehow...what exactly, "exciting"??

      Your generalized solution of "education" is just secular speak. There is not a problem in this world that modern people do not claim that at least part of the solution is "education".

      Christ is *hard*, the Cross is *hard*, repentance is *hard*. If your analysis and recommendations had this truth in them then you might be on to something, but as it is I can't tell the difference between your thinking and guitar liturgy + sock puppets...just sayin...

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    3. Christ is love, Christ chose the little children,,, we mortals who think we interprete his message correctly yet do not exhibit love and tenderness to the children,,, if we want to grow organically we need to become more user friendly not user unfriendly and HARD on the people ---- parents know that children are nurtured with love,,,, how are we exhibiting love to our children? Albeit it beautiful and mystical,the liturgy is not aimed at children,, the time children spend at liturgy is not so special to them ,, we need to recognize this and become more proactive and child focused,, on the othwerhand, another topic,,, I have a very extensive library of prayerbooks, liturgical, books, Gospels and Bibles beginning in 1669 yet none of them say the same thing,,, it is although every era, every ethnic group, every demonation have their own perspective as to which translation is correct -- we have the new testament from holy apostles convent, the new testament of archbishop theophan noli, and the orthodox study bible to begin with -- which is correct? how about the other some 200 english translations of the Bible - which of those is correct?,,, we have liturgical books in our pews, yet the liturgical book used by the clergy many times differs etc. we love complexities,, what is the differenct between an antiphon, troparion etc? and what are they so unsingableand complex?,, do we have one as simple as Jesus Loves Me for our children or even adults to sing?, oh if we only had the wisdom to see ourselves in the eyes of others and be open to our weaknesses. I say this with love and compassion because we are loosing, and have been loosing our youth at an alarming rate. Just look at the number of churches that have closed and those at the verge of closing. But most of all, we need to realize that the minute we forget that God is Love and speak of God being HARD, we have lost the battle. Amen

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    4. I understand your concerns, I really do.

      However, the Liturgy is where we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, without which we have no life in us.

      Assuming that we don't want them to miss out on that, then we end up inadvertently teaching them that it is better to do something enjoyable and just show up for the Eucharist.

      We have enough adults who do this. They view the Eucharist as something magical that will "save" them without doing the hard work of trying to enter into the heavenly worship that we mystically join each week in the Liturgy.

      Even more likely, they will not attend at all as adults. It would be like not sending kids to school and then asking them to start as teens. Sure, there are some who would do it, but most would not.

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  7. "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." (Cor 1) Can it be any clearer that dead languages are not the norm?


    Its honestly sad that this is still such a major issue and debate considering the Orthodox practice and tradition has always been clear and consistent on this issue.

    The Gospel has always been preached in the language of the people. The miracle of Pentecost alone should be proof that all languages are valid and necessary for liturgical use.

    There's not a single case of a saint forcing native populations to learn a foreign, let alone dead, language or telling them their language is insufficient for worship.

    Instead we see time and time again that the saints translated, and even created new language systems, in order to serve the people in a way that would allow them to understand and participate.

    The sad reality is, all the dead liturgical languages were in their original context, commonly understood if not spoken regularly. Its only in the 20th century that the liturgical languages were killed off in common understanding, primarily by communism and dictatorships that desired to separate the people from the Church.

    The liturgy is a spiritual event, which is why children should be present even when they don't fully appreciate it, but it is not a magic formula that we can just read without understanding and expect to benefit from and draw others in by.

    Again, nothing im saying is new or amazing, and yet sentimental ethnocentrism will keep us locked in this debate for decades to come if not indefinitely.

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  8. Bless you for your clarity of expression! O that these words were taken to heart.

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  9. As an artist, it frustrates me that the leadership of the church focuses so much on the correctness of language and translations, and so little on everything else that constitutes our divine services. Could we not just as easily assert that our children leave the church because our iconography is usually bland, our architecture is usually atrocious, and our choirs usually sing out of tune? How can it matter so much that our translations be in good order when the whole liturgical framework in which they're presented fails to live up to the basic aesthetic standards of Orthodox worship?

    I'm an American who speaks no Russian at all, but I find myself far more spiritually engaged attending a Slavonic service in a beautiful church in Russia than at an English service in a bland building with a bad choir. I'm not saying this to be pretentious - it's just an honest fact for someone like me who is a visual, rather than verbal, person.

    There is also this irony. Though I speak no Russian, I have been exposed to a bit of Slavonic in my choir directing work, and I can pick out and understand some of the repeated phrases in a Slavonic service. When I'm in Moscow, where the choirs sing with perfect diction and the priests follow the rubrics correctly, I can follow the services just fine. In some American churches, where the choirs often sing so badly that I can't understand a word they're saying, and the rubrics are treated as loose suggestions, I often find myself completely lost (and bored stiff). So is language really the biggest issue here?

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  12. Raised & served Tridentine, for me the Mass went sideways not due to the vernacular but, as humorously suggested above, guitars, bongos, tortillas, the loss of reverence and other external elements. It was as, "Service ain’t over till the snakes are put away". During Liturgy as we approach The Mystery we bring all in mind, heart and understanding. Language helps.

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    1. Analysis sounds spot on. Jives with Andrew Gould's comment as well, need language for understanding but need balance of beauty/reverence.

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  13. I spent about a decade in Latin Mass circles, not only as a parishioner, but as a choirmaster. I will tell you that this is where the "growth" is in the Roman Catholic Church with the youth who are wanting to be faithful. I had no problem filling each of my choirs (to the point I had no more room to accommodate), and some in my children's choir begged me to be part of the adult choir. Compare that other parishes I have worked at - even with conservative EWTN-esque pastors - where it was very difficult to recruit and the youth were not at all engaged.

    Language, be it Greek, Latin, Syriac or Slavonic, is only a roadblock if you let it be. From my experience, what youth are most searching for is a sense of authenticity, a wellspring that will not run dry, unlike the liturgical novelties that have been experimented with over the past 50 years that have neither substance or depth.

    On the other hand, as Pope Benedict roughly stated, liturgy should not be treated as a museum piece. It must not only be authentic, but active and alive. Find this combination, and liturgical languages no longer are a barrier, but a living language and expression of the people of God.

    As I explore Orthodoxy, show me a priest and parish who embody this authentic, living spirit. That's where I want to be, and I suspect many other converts would share the same sentiment. We don't want some watered down version of the faith, and are ready and willing to make the sacrifices needed to become a member of that living body.

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  14. Very well stated Lug. If we want to inspire our children it must begin at home, with the father. The domestic church feeds the parish in a unique manner. If dad is commited the children have the vital link to the Faith. Statistics are reflecting this reality.

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  15. I'm not going to comment on this much, but I think Abbot Tryphon was absolutely right when he said that changing into the vernacular in RC churches specifically where "the dignity of the ancient western rite has been preserved" has absolutely helped those churches with evangelism and retention of parishioners. My RC friend goes to a traditional parish that preserves most of the TLM and has perpetual adoration, but the mass is said in English; and from what I can tell the parish is thriving. When talking about novus ordo there are varying degrees of traditional-ness depending on the priest at any particular parish. What really causes converts and young people to leave in droves is when the mass is bastardized, the church is a concrete box, everything is modern, etc.

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    1. I will also say, that my Cousin Paul, even though he is a die hard liberal; absolutely adores the old Latin mass he used to be able to attend as a kid before his parish switched to the novus ordo. He said "yeah it was in Latin, but I remember learning the Latin well, and that was really cool to have a connection like that to an old language like Latin."

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  16. ". . . ENDURING the Liturgy?"
    Why on earth would someone who would write such a horrible comment even bother showing up to the Liturgy AT ALL???
    Furthermore, if the Liturgy "is not meant for little children", then I had four space aliens in my family. They all loved the Church and services from infancy on into adulthood. In other words, their love has been life-long, and shows no hint of ever abating.

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    1. Worst of all, an Orthodox Subdeacon wrote those words. I'm done engaging the man. I'll leave that to the rest of you.

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  17. An old starets instructed his disciple, "Go to the window and tell me what you see." Obediently, the young man walked to the window and reported, "I see a blue sky, a shining lake, green mountains, and beautiful wild flowers and bees. The birds are taking flight and the clouds are silently sailing." The starets replied, "excellent. Only a fool goes to the window to see the window. You have seen beyond it. Now go to the Divine Liturgy and tell me what you see..."

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  18. I think you underestimate the number of parishes that are using a liturgical language for the majority of the service. This is very common in the Greek archdiocese, at least in the Metropolis of Boston, where I attended a church faithfully for several years before moving west. All the Greek churches I ever visited in New England used Greek for about 60%-80% of the service.

    I can tell you from inside experience that this really is a problem, with real world consequence. It didn't bother me much personally. As an amateur classist, I enjoyed the opportunity to practice reading Greek, but it definitely made it harder for the younger generation of Greek-Americans to maintain any interest, and even for their parents who honestly didn't understand Greek either. Why, even the grandparents, some of whom had Greek as their first language, could not really understand the liturgical Greek. It was no more comprehensible to them than Chaucer's Middle English is to regular Americans.

    I haven't yet said anything about the other non-Greeks at my old parish. One man from Ethiopia, who is very devout, had trouble making himself drag his kids to church because he knew that they would understand nothing that was said and would have no idea where to focus their minds. I dare say it would have easier to worship despite incomprehensible language if the music were glorious and the sanctuary beautiful, but the sanctuary at our church was not especially inspiring, and the music was downright awful. Awful music would be a minor distraction if one could focus on the words, but without any grasp of the words you're hearing, the music and the icons are about all you've got to help orient your heart to God. I would point out that not all icons (or pictures used as icons) are up to this task, especially in some Greek churches I know.

    Look, I'm sympathetic to those who love their language even without understanding it, and I actually do want my own children to learn Greek, but love of the world greatest language must not take priority over the message and meaning of the hymnography. Again this is not a mere matter of a couple of Greek litanies or hymns sprinkled into an otherwise English service: there are still many parishes where we have only a couple of English litanies and hymns sprinkled into an otherwise Greek service.

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  19. The time to introduce English was around 100 years ago. To this day, as my confessor mentioned to me a few days before he died, a Russian hears "Christ is risen from the dead..and upon those in the tombs bestowing a stomach". Gibberish. I have never met a Greek American who knows the Greek used in church. Ever. They know sounds. Which is not a language. I can't imagine why a Greek (not Greek American) convent is in Washington State. They use only Greek in services, but strange wonder, do all fund raising in English! Some things are important. If people think in 2019 they should *start* English, it's too late, no brians left in that parish. Just close now. People born here need the language spoken here. Russians need Russian, not Slavonic, which none of them know, as Greeks need actual Greek, not Byz Greek. And no one anywhere ever needs or needed phonetic Greek-in-English, the "3rd language" in archdiocese liturgy books. It's amazing these things have to be discussed.

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    1. Gibberish. I have never met a Greek American who knows the Greek used in church. Ever. They know sounds. Which is not a language.

      This is correct. The language you and your peer group spoke in your formative years is the one that burns paths in your brain. The secondary and tertiary languages you learn later will never replace them. Kyrie eleison and Ya ra borham may sound nice and tonal, but your brain is not receiving them in the same fashion. "To thee O champion Leader" is simply not the same phenomenon to a native English or other speaker when rendered in Greek or Arabic.

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  20. "Christ is risen from the dead..and upon those in the tombs bestowing a stomach"
    I'm sorry I know that this is a serious subject that has to deal with the churching of our youth and the liturgical life of the church, but I can't help laughing at the "bestowing a stomach" part.

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