Divine service in Russian: what is the argument?
The question of the language of worship in the New Testament church could not, in principle, be raised. After all, there was a call from the Lord: go and teach all nations, and you can teach in a situation of missionary sermon only in a language understood by the audience. There is not a word about this in the materials of the Ecumenical Councils: they answered current issues of the present, and did not create some kind of universal code for the future. The issue of the language of worship was not among the relevant ones. And he has nothing to do with theology as such, ”said Alexander Kravetsky, candidate of philological sciences, head of the Scientific Center for the Church Slavonic Language Research.
– When and why did the idea arise that worship should be performed in one language and cannot be multilingual?
– In the patristic texts you can find the complaints of an educated ancient man on barbaric languages. For example, Blessed Jerome writes that his beautiful Latin is now greatly corrupted, because he has to read a lot in barbaric languages. Considering that at that time he worked hard on translating the Holy Scriptures, under barbaric languages, apparently, this refers to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. These, of course, are the statements of an esthete, let’s say so. But such statements can still be found a lot, since for antiquity there were only two languages: native and barbaric.
The church began to struggle to limit the number of liturgical languages in connection with the growth of the Empire and in order to somehow monitor what was happening on the outskirts of the Christian world. The church went in a very simple way: let the main texts be in Latin – so from the center they could see that the priests would not fall into heresy and serve according to the right books. And then, they say, let them bring the creed to the flock to the best of their understanding. Local languages become the language of preaching, and worship is in Latin with frequent readings of Scripture in local languages.
This pattern of coexistence of Latin or Greek and local languages became ubiquitous and at some point acquired a doctrinal character. There was an idea that you can serve in those languages in which, on the orders of Pilate, on the cross of the Savior it was written: "Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews." That is, in Latin, Greek and Jewish.
– In the 9th century, Slavic writing appears, and after a series of adventures, Slavic texts come to Russia with Christianity. What were these texts?
– Initially, these texts had the character of a supranational liturgical body of books. Initially, translations from Greek were created with a focus on South Slavic dialects, then Cyril and Methodius brought these texts to Moravia to the Western Slavs, adapted them to the local language, then these texts from Moravia moved to Bulgaria, and then to Russia, to the Eastern Slavs. These texts wandered between the Slavic peoples, adapting to local dialects and perceived both as their own and as a little alien. But they were well understood by the people.
What does “liturgical texts understand” mean? From the standpoint of the culture of the New Age, “understandable” is what you can retell in your own words. For the Middle Ages, such a task of translation and retelling did not exist; here, understanding is rather an opportunity to reproduce a text, to know it by heart.
Slavic literacy was taught by memorizing the texts of the Psalms, the Hourly Book, and the Gospel. Moreover, the text is perceived as his own, as close, but was the person able to retell it? He had no such task. For the Middle Ages, the inability to retell the text in their own dialect was not perceived as a problem.
How did the Slavic liturgical language and living dialectic speech coexist? Apparently, this correlated in this way: if the situation in the temple – it says so, but in ordinary life – in a different way. For example, when a person speaks with a child or when he gives a lecture on a professional topic, his speech is very different in terms of vocabulary, so it is here.
– Why did they talk about the obscurity of worship only in the middle of the XIX century?
– The question of understandability and the question of translations arises in the era of Peter I, during the division of Russian society into two cultures. As you know, Peter made a basic reform, as a result of which a civilian font appeared, which we now use. Further, throughout the XVIII century, the process of creating a modern Russian literary language was going on. And from the end of the 18th – beginning of the 19th centuries in Russia there are actually two literature in two different languages, focused on two different classes. This is in a curious way connected with the social structure of society.
Until the middle of the 19th century, the new Russian literary language remained the social dialect of a narrow circle of educated people. The social elite is gradually moving away from the Church Slavonic language. Statistically, this layer is very small, but this is the layer whose culture we call the Golden Age of Russian culture.
Their training in reading and writing begins with the Russian alphabet and with the French and German languages. But the vast majority of the population: peasants, petty bourgeois – if they learn to read and write, then in a completely different way. They study according to the traditional medieval model – according to the Hourglass and Psalms in Church Slavonic. There are many examples of such education in memoirs, for example, from the memoirs of actor Shchepkin: “As soon as I was 6 years old, I learned all the wisdom, that is, the ABC, the Book of Hours and the Psalter.” It is clear that at the end of the 18th century he could read these books only in Church Slavonic.
According to numerous testimonies, a peasant reading Church Slavonic texts was perceived as the norm, but this is not the situation when a book is a source of knowledge. For example, Leskov many times describes a man who didn’t learn anything, only he had a Bible that he read.
Why is this important for our topic? It turns out that for the overwhelming majority of the Russian population translations from Church Slavonic were not needed. For the peasants, reading texts in the Russian literary language could be no less difficult, or even more difficult. The task of translation was needed, rather, by educated sections of society, whose teaching of the mother tongue was already oriented towards the new Russian literary language and foreign languages.
A copy of the Bible translated into Russian. XIX century
– What were the first translations of the Bible?
– The Russian translation of the early 19th century was very interesting. It was much less Slavonic than the usual translation that came out in the last quarter of the 19th century. It was a very vivid, interesting literary experiment in creating the Russian language of the Holy Scriptures. At the same time, the missionary potential, at least at the time of creation, seemed to be rather small; this was addressed not to the peasantry, which made up the majority of the country's population, but to people who studied the Russian literary language and who were few. Nevertheless, an option arose, and society gradually began to get used to it and put up with it.
In 1858, the Synod returned to work on the translation of the Holy Scriptures, and the first discussions began on the translation of liturgical texts into Russian. In the church periodicals, translations of individual liturgical followings appear, made on the personal initiative of various priests. By this time, as a result of the success of public education, the number of people for whom the Russian literary language is more understandable is growing. And these translations, which at the beginning of the century seemed exotic, are now becoming in demand. In society, a discussion begins on whether to worship. More and more often, the thought begins to sound that worship is incomprehensible. The concept of understanding is changing: I can know the Psalms by heart, but I can’t translate into Russian, which means I don’t understand.
– How did the church authorities try to solve the problem of clarity of worship?
Active discussions about this began after 1905, when they began to talk about the preparation of the Local Council, designed to solve the basic problems facing the Church. Many articles appeared in the church press about the language of worship and the understandability of worship.
The argumentation of these articles, despite their huge number (several hundred), was pretty standard: supporters of the translation spoke about the incomprehensibility of the Slavic language, cited all kinds of anecdotes arising from a misunderstanding of the liturgical text, and believed that all this would be decided as a result of the translation. Opponents of the translation pointed out that there is still slurred reading and singing, and that the texts themselves are rather complex, yet they are translations of Byzantine poetic texts, which are difficult to understand without understanding the context. That is, yes, the language is incomprehensible, but you will not solve all the problems with a translation. Of course, it was such a journalistic polemic: spectacular, loud, but she could hardly bring any results.
In 1905, a questionnaire was sent to the Russian bishops about what reforms should be carried out in the Church. There was no question about the language of worship, however, many bishops pointed to the problem of the obscurity of worship. Some wrote about the need for translation, while others wrote about the need to simplify liturgical texts. The paths were different. The fact that a significant part of the episcopate saw this as a problem indicates the seriousness of the issue.
In 1907, a commission was created under the Synod, whose task was to review and simplify the texts of liturgical books. Archbishop Sergius (Stragorodsky) headed this commission. The commission, firstly, corrected the syntax: the word order in liturgical books is quite complicated and oriented to the Greek syntax, now the word order is close to Russian. Secondly, words were removed that were not harmonious for the Russian ear, for example, “stink” in the meaning of “fragrance”. Or they simply corrected the synonyms, for example, the verb “drive” – with the meaning “follow”, “take out” with the meaning “always” and so on. A certain work was done, and the Synod believed that gradually the service books would appear in the new edition and the old ones would be quietly supplanted. This was done in complete secrecy, they tried so that information about the correction of books did not leak anywhere. The output of the newly published books does not indicate that they are corrected, only an attentive bibliographer can see that the stamping number is not indicated, as usual. That is, conspiracy was serious. They provided for everything except the revolution.
They were waiting for the previous editions to be sold out in order to put new ones on sale, but by the beginning of the revolution most of the circulation of new editions was in stock and was destroyed. And those who released, the people did not quite understand. The church joke has survived already from the 1920s: a second choir comes to the feast and sings other texts, since the choirs have different editions.
The project, of course, is very interesting, but it did not have much influence on the subsequent history. On a massive scale, he did not affect church life. As a result, the project was published only in 1992–93, when, based on archival data, they began to study all this.
1917 Local Cathedral
– What role did the Local Cathedral of 1917 play?
– As we know, the Local Council was convened not primarily to discuss the language of worship, but for other issues, but a department was created at this Council called the Department of Divine Services, Preaching and the Temple. He dealt with the whole range of problems associated with worship. The department prepared a draft on the liturgical language, in which it declared that the main language of worship is Church Slavonic, but translations of liturgical texts into Russian are allowed. This project remained just a project, like many projects of the Council, since the plenary session simply didn’t get around to it. As a result of political events, no work on the text of liturgical books could take place at that time.
– Have the Renovationists made any contribution?
– Renovationism of the 1920s was a political movement initiated by the authorities, which proclaimed many declarations on the need for church reforms, but in practice practically did not carry out such reforms. The 1923 Renovation Cathedral on the language of worship issued a vague form stating that “we bless the initiative” and that’s all. But in the public mind, the opposition between the Renovationists and the Tikhonovites arose very clearly, they say, the Renovationists are for the Russian language, for the new calendar and for the whole set of reforms, while the Tikhonists are conservative and do not want anything like that. And when such a contrast arises, all parties have to play by these rules. It is very characteristic that when Patriarch Tikhon at some point allowed the transition to a new style, and then refused this decision, he argued the refusal this way: the idea was compromised by the renovationists, so this should not be done. The rhetoric is very revealing: if the Renovationists are doing something, then the Tikhonovs are no longer doing it.
As a result, one author’s translation of the Liturgy from Metropolitan Antonin (Granovsky) and translations of the priest Vasily Adamenko remained from renewalism. These books were published, but the Renovationist Synod did not approve them, but when Vasily Adamenko came to repentance to Patriarch Sergius, Vladyka Sergius blessed these translations. It turns out that the only blessing of Russian translations came from Metropolitan Sergius, and not from the Renovationists. But the reputation of this idea was once again very badly damaged.
– What happened to the idea of transfers during the perestroika period?
– In the early period of perestroika, the Russian language could sound in temples, you could hear the Apostle being read in Russian. When people were preparing for communion, the akathist “Glory to God for all” was read everywhere, but gradually this topic became the focus of church controversy. To a large extent, this was due to the fact that the Transfiguration Commonwealth of Small Orthodox Brotherhoods was legalized in the early 90s, trying to translate the service into Russian and to Russify it in one way or another. There was a sharply negative reaction to these transfers. The public claims were not about the quality of these translations, but about the very idea of translation.
Now the situation is very hindered by the sharp polarization and perception in society that there are evil Renovationists who want to translate everything into Russian, and there are terrible obscurantists who want to leave everything in Church Slavonic. For business, this played a cruel joke, because it became very difficult to properly deal with the issue of clarity of worship. After all, this is the subject, rather, of scientific-cabinet work, and not of controversy.
As a curious case, I can tell the following story: in 1993, two articles were published in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate. One is Russian Translations: Pros and Cons, and the other is the material of the 1917 Council on the language of worship. The author of one of these articles was my wife, the author of the other was me, but when two articles are published side by side, this is perceived as a controversy between two irreconcilable opponents. Our surnames are different, and now we began to ring on the same apartment, on the same phone. Only supporters of the Russian service called me and sympathized that they invited "some lady to pull me", and they called her and thanked me for how well she pulled me.
– What problems do translators face today and what has already been done in this direction?
– In 2010, the Inter-Council Presence proposed a project on the liturgical language of the Russian Church. The project, in general, is not reformist, but rather “toothless”. It only said that a church-wide body should be created to deal with the problem. Nevertheless, the project caused a storm on the website of the Inters Cathedral Assembly and the Bogoslov.ru portal, where these documents were discussed. 1180 comments were left, while on other projects the number of comments did not exceed hundreds. There was an explosion of popular anger, as a result of which the project was postponed until better times, and we still do not have such a body that would deal with the problem.
But some particular solutions arise. Over the past 30 years, several attempts have been made to create translations of liturgical texts into Russian. Now there are three large corps of liturgical books translated into Russian. Firstly, these are translations of the father of Vasily Adamenko, about which I have already spoken. Secondly, translations of Father Georgy Kochetkov from the Preobrazhensky Commonwealth of Small Orthodox Brotherhoods, translations of Hieromonk Ambrose (Timroth) and poet Henri Volokhonsky. We already have a fairly large set of texts, the main texts have been translated more than once. For example, I know 9 different translations of the liturgy of John Chrysostom, 4 different translations of the rank of Wedding, and so on. That is, an object is already appearing in order to talk about the quality of the translation. Are we supporters or opponents of the translation into Russian, the translation is needed even if only as a parallel text, I think no one will argue with this.
– How do these known translations differ?
– Three approaches can be distinguished:
1. A variant of pure interlinear, when translated not from Church Slavonic, but from Greek. Such translations are very useful, but completely unreadable, like any substring.
2. Probably the most popular option: the translator builds on the Slavic text. Maximally rejects Slavism, but tries to keep the meaning. With this type of translation, many problems arise due to inter-linguistic differences between Church Slavonic and Russian.
3. In my opinion, the most productive option: the translator is trying to use the Russian language to make an analogue of the whole text. Примерно в такой технике работал Анри Волохонский, он опирался в первую очередь на славянский текст, но делал его аналог средствами русского языка. Такой текст читаем и прозрачен. Пожалуй, из всех русских переводов, которые я видел, это единственное, что не вызывает протеста, где не спотыкаешься.
Как филологическая проблема всё это должно обсуждаться. Я уверен, что в какой-то момент работа переводчиков будет востребована Церковью, но в каком виде — сказать сложно. В любом случае понятно, что есть огромный материал, который нужно готовить, так как в какой-то момент какое-либо решение по этому вопросу всё-таки будет принято.
Подготовил Павел Ершов
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