Why We Need an All-English Liturgy


In 2007, Christianity Today published an article, “Will the Twenty First Century be the Orthodox Century?”  In it Bradley Nassif argued that Orthodoxy will indeed grow and expand in this coming century.  But in an Again Magazine article, “The Orthodox Christian Opportunity,” Nassif noted although many people are converting to Orthodoxy, significant numbers of these converts are also leaving through the backdoor discouraged and disenchanted.  Much of the reasons for their disenchantment lie not with the Orthodox Faith per se, but with the realities of Orthodox parishes.  Nassif refers to this problem as Orthodoxy’s backdoor.

One of the major obstacles to the twenty first century becoming the Orthodox century is the language barrier.  In many American Orthodox parishes the Sunday Liturgy is either in a foreign language or a mixture of English and non-English.  Orthodox parishes with an all-English Liturgy tend to be in the minority.  This blog posting addresses why we need all-English worship services, what can be done about the present problem of people exiting through the backdoor, and how we can help make the twenty first century the Orthodox century.


The Liturgy as the Front Door

The Liturgy is Orthodoxy’s front door.  It is often the first place where people encounter Orthodoxy.  There they see Orthodoxy in action: people worshiping the Holy Trinity.  The Liturgy is also essential for becoming Orthodox.  One cannot become Orthodox just by reading Orthodox books or visiting Orthodox blogs, one becomes Orthodox through participation in the right worship of the Holy Trinity.

However, people sometimes find Orthodoxy’s front door blocked when they attend a worship service where the Liturgy is done in a foreign language.  Many visitors walk out after hearing nothing but Greek for the first few minutes of the Liturgy.  It can be a painful experience.  Many feel excluded, bewildered, and lost.


Linguistic zigzags — where the priest prays in English and the choir responds in non-English — are not uncommon in many ethnic parishes.  For the unwary worshiper, it is like driving along on a smooth asphalt road then all of a sudden hitting a pothole.  This can lead to a jarring, frustrating, and tiring worship experience.  What should be a meaningful worship encounter with God becomes more like a tutorial in Greek, Slavonic, Serbian, Arabic, etc.  Even several years after becoming Orthodox, many converts find themselves struggling with the Liturgy in a foreign language.  People lose their place in the order of the Liturgy.  It is not realistic to expect all converts to adjust to the Liturgy not being completely in English; some can make the adjustment, but many cannot.  Continuous exposure to the Liturgy in a foreign language does not necessarily make it easier over time.  As a result converts often find the Liturgy more a burden than a delight.  And so converts are becoming frustrated and some are dropping out.  These are not conditions conducive for spiritual growth.

Worship in the vernacular is the long-standing Tradition of Orthodoxy.  This liturgical principle is rooted in the miracle of Pentecost.  On that day the Christians spoke in tongues to a international gathering who were astonished to “hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  (Acts 2:11, NIV; italics added)  The Apostle Paul emphasized the importance of worship engaging our understanding.  He wrote: “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (I Corinthians 14:19, NIV)



St. Innocent of Alaska

St. Innocent of Alaska

Orthodox Missionary Practice

The history of Orthodox missions is full of examples of the use of the vernacular.  A prominent example is Saints Kyril and Methodios translating the Liturgy into Slavonic.  Another example is Saint Nicholas of Japan laboring many years to master the Japanese language before translating the Liturgy into Japanese.  A third example is Saint Innocent of Alaska who translated the Gospels into the Aleut language.  Non-vernacular worship — so widespread in America — represents a departure from historic Orthodoxy.  Thus, it is an innovation inconsistent with Holy Tradition.  This innovation arose more from circumstance than deliberate choice.  What was the vernacular for the first generation immigrants later became an incomprehensible language for the second and third generations, and for converts from another ethnic background.  An innovation that arose from inaction requires deliberate action to bring the church back into conformity with Tradition.


St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church – Springdale, Arkansas

Let Us Be Attentive!

The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.”  But the people can’t do their job of worshiping God effectively if the language is not their own.  We are called to love God with all our mind (Mark 12:30) but worship in a foreign language gets in the way of our being able to worship God intelligently.  Rather than assisting in worship, the non-vernacular hinders us.

One reason why the Liturgy should be entirely in English is Orthodoxy expects its members to be fully attentive in their worship.  On several occasions during the Liturgy, the priest will call out: “Let us be attentive!”  But if peoples’ minds start to drift when the priest switches to Greek (or some other foreign language), they are not really being attentive to the Liturgy.  The problem is not with the worshiper, but the fact most people find it difficult to worship in an unfamiliar language.

Another reason for an all-English Liturgy is the Apostle Paul’s insistence that worship be in a language understandable to the listener.  He wrote: “Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?  You will just be speaking into the air.” (I Corinthians 14:9, NIV)  The danger here is that the Liturgy will turn into empty worship — something that the Old Testament prophets and Jesus denounced in no uncertain terms: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8-9, NIV)


The Liturgy as Catechism

The Liturgy constitutes an ongoing catechism for Orthodox Christians.  It continually reminds us of the fundamental doctrines of Orthodoxy.  When understood, the Liturgy has a profound impact on our faith and worship.  But, is not the Liturgy’s power to shape our thinking weakened by it being sung in an incomprehensible tongue?  A danger of non-vernacular worship is parishioners can become so focused on phonetically reproducing the Liturgy they barely pay attention to the great truths being proclaimed in the Liturgy.  If it is shrouded in language that is not comprehended, then the Liturgy will become an ethnic rite having little power to challenge us to live holy lives for God.

I visited a number of Orthodox services while I was at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, but they were mostly in Greek.  It was not until I came to Berkeley and attended the all-English Liturgy at Saints Kyril and Methodios Bulgarian Orthodox Church that I was able to connect with the Liturgy and that the Liturgy began to reshape my theology and spirituality.  It was the two years of hearing the Liturgy there that laid the foundation for my becoming Orthodox.

In addition to teaching us what the Church believes, the Liturgy also protects us from heresy.  However, if the Liturgy is sung in a language poorly understood, its catechetical function is compromised.  A priest once discovered a parishioner did not really believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary.  He pointed to one of the antiphons which is sung every Sunday, “Only Begotten” (Monogenes), which affirms Mary’s perpetual virginity.  However, the parishioner never got the point because in that parish the antiphon was normally sung in Greek, not in English.  In the long run, a non-comprehended Liturgy makes Orthodoxy vulnerable to heterodoxy and nominalism among the laity, not to mention people dropping out of the Church altogether.  Orthodox laity whose grasp of Orthodox doctrine is weak or hazy will not be able to defend their Orthodox beliefs, nor will they be able to effectively live out their Orthodox convictions.


Ethnic Parishes

Many Orthodox parishes in America today are what can be considered ethnic parishes.  They were founded by immigrants and continue to be under the care of hierarchs in the old country.  The ethnic parish preserves the old country’s culture through the following means: (1) the language used in the Sunday Liturgy, (2) the food served on special occasions, (3) ethnic festivals and holidays, and (4) language classes.  Ethnic parishes tend to diligently celebrate the lives of their ethnic saints while hardly making mention of American Orthodox saints.

Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese observed:

We consider ourselves Americans, and we are proud of it —except when we go to church, we suddenly become Greeks, Russians, Arabs, and Albanians.

(Again Magazine vol. 28 no. 2, p. 5)

Ethnic parishes are an important part of Orthodoxy in America.  It is in large part because of Orthodox immigrants who founded Orthodox parishes that Orthodoxy has such a widespread presence in American society today.  Yet it is not realistic to expect that ethnic parishes are capable of evangelizing America.  Orthodoxy is growing in America, but much of this growth is due to the planting of Orthodox parishes with all-English Liturgies.  Ethnic parishes are not built that way; they are primarily suited to preserving the language, customs, and holidays of the old country.  As such, they are designed for the first generation immigrants and their descendants, but not for American converts.

The term “old country” is not a pejorative term (as some might think) but a term accepted and used by social scientists, especially in the emergent field of postcolonial studies.  Robin Cohen in Global Diasporas: An Introduction described “diasporic communities” as a community who live in one country while acknowledging that the “old country” has some claim on their loyalty and emotions (p. ix) and exerts a powerful influence on their social identity.  Ties between the diasporic community and the “old country” can be especially intense in cases like the Greek-American community.  In the Report to His Eminence ARCHBISHOP IAKOVOS (1990) it was noted that Greek-Americans are understood to be viewed either as an extension of the Greek homeland (homogenia) or as entrants and then participants in American history (p. 22; emphasis added).

Ethnic identity becomes even more complicated and fraught when a diasporic community shares the same social space, e.g., a local church, with Americans for whom the US is the only homeland they know of.  This is what happens when an ethnic parish finds a growing presence of mainstream Americans joining them.  They are confused that people would want to join the parish just because they want to be Orthodox.  Many Americans want to become Orthodox, but very few want to assimilate into an ethnic parish and learn a foreign language and abide by foreign customs of the old country.  To compel others to assimilate into a culture is contrary to the Orthodox tradition of missions and can even lead to cultural imperialism.

Jesus’ parable of the need to pour new wine into new wineskins and the foolishness of pouring new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:22) applies to the present situation.  Ethnic parishes are not well suited to meet the needs of converts from the outside.  They can handle small numbers of converts, but if the numbers of converts become more than a trickle then the ethnic core can start to feel threatened resulting in a backlash.  They will fear that the new members will undermine the ethnic identity of their parish, especially if the newcomers want more English in the Sunday worship.

There is no question that people have come to Orthodoxy via ethnic parishes, but their numbers are such that the long term impact will be minimal.  If America is to embrace Orthodoxy, this trickle of converts will need to become a broad stream of converts.  Ethnic parishes throw an unnecessary hurdle for non-ethnic for the above reasons.  When it comes to evangelism ethnic parishes are like the eagle which is well suited for soaring in the sky, but unlike the duck is not well suited for life along the lake.  In short, ethnic parishes are not set up for effective evangelism.

If Orthodoxy is to effectively evangelize America, an all-English Liturgy is essential.  Orthodoxy’s future in America depends on the availability of an all-English Liturgy to ordinary Americans.  The vast majority of Americans are monolingual English speakers.  They are not comfortable with worshiping in a foreign language; nor will they be interested in shedding their American identity at the church entrance on Sunday morning.  See my article on the three waves of Orthodoxy in America.


Changing Ethnic Parishes?

Can ethnic parishes be moved towards all-English liturgies?  For the most part, I don’t think so.  I’ve heard priests tell me they are gradually moving towards more English in the Liturgy, but what I have seen has been more of a back and forth movement in which very little change is made in the long run.  Many parish priests are caught in a difficult situation of holding together a diverse parish community.  While they personally may favor an all-English Liturgy, they also need to accommodate the needs and concerns of the longtime members (many of whom contribute substantially to the priest’s salary).  It is a good idea to tell your parish priest you want an all-English Liturgy, but my advice is not to expect much to happen.  Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that ultimately it is the bishop who has the final say over the language used in the parish’s Sunday worship.

There are Orthodox hierarchs who have called for the “preservation and promotion of our Hellenic ethos and tradition.”  Thus, ethnic Orthodox parishes are more than the result of circumstances, rather they have their roots in the priorities and policies of both local parishes and the hierarchy.  Those of us who desire all-English Liturgies need to respect their understanding of Orthodox missions and work actively with Orthodox jurisdictions that support all-English Liturgies and the evangelization of America.

Pan-Orthodox Parishes?

Pan-Orthodox parishes represent a different kind of missions strategy.  Where there is not a large enough immigrant community to form an ethnic parish, one finds various ethnic groups cobbled together to form a single parish.  In these parishes one can find the Lord’s Prayer in Greek, Slavonic, Serbian, Arabic, as well as English.  The underlying premise of pan-Orthodox parishes seems to be that we should all hold on to the culture and languages of the old country, even though we’re all Americans, and our children are Americans, and most of us have no intention of moving back to the old country.  The problem with pan-Orthodox parishes is they hold little appeal for many Americans.  Pan-Orthodox parishes resemble the synthetic culture of the United Nations than real cultures that people inhabit.  Because the culture of pan-Orthodox parishes are alien to mainstream American society, they are not capable of effective evangelism.

Pan-Orthodox parishes are like ethnic parishes in their retrospective focus on the old country.  They therefore share all the problems mentioned above in regards to ethnic parishes.  People without doubt will join these parishes but in the long run such parishes will exert only a minimal influence on the city or area they live in.


Dual Track Strategy

If we are to bring America to Orthodoxy then we need a dual-track approach.  We need Orthodox parishes with all-English worship services, and we need ethnic Orthodox parishes whose ethos and language reflects that of the old country.

The dual track strategy is as old as the book of Acts.  In the beginning of Acts, we read how multitudes of people converted to Christianity.  But what is often overlooked is the fact that this movement was taking place among the Hebrew speaking Jews of Palestine.  When we come to the sixth chapter, tension was growing between the Hebrew speaking Jews and the Greek speaking Jews.  Communication difficulties led to many Greek speaking widows being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  Unlike the Jews who were fluent in Hebrew, the Hellenistic Jews’ mother tongue was Greek.  The root of the problem lay not in sinful attitudes, but in honest linguistic and cultural differences.  The problem was resolved by the creation of a dual track or bicultural leadership structure.  The Apostles who were ethnically Palestinian Jews appointed Greek speaking Jews to the diaconate.  This is evident by the prevalence of non-Jewish names: Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas (Acts 6:5).  Also noteworthy is the fact that one of them, Nicolas, was a Gentile who converted to Judaism.  The result was that “the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.” (Acts 6:7)

Precedence for the dual track strategy can be found in the Antiochian Archdiocese allowing for both the Byzantine rite and the Western rite.  A parish can elect to use one or the other but not both.  This policy makes much sense and is practical.  It also gives a parish liturgical stability.  I would suggest that each parish be given the option of worshiping either in English or in the language of the old country, but not both.  As noted earlier, mixed language worship is an innovation that has no precedence in the history of Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy can learn something from the experience of the Japanese American churches.  They encouraged their children to learn English, and they gave strong support for English services.  Where the older isseis (first generation) worshiped in Japanese, the younger nisseis (second generation) and sanseis (third generation) met in a separate service to worship in English.  In other words, what looked from the outside like a single parish, was in actuality a dual-track parish.  This missions strategy allowed the Japanese American churches to preserve church unity in the face of inter generational differences and avoid large numbers of youths dropping out for lack of interest.

Under the dual track strategy, the parish will have a main sanctuary for the English-speaking congregation and a side chapel for the ethnic congregation.  This is needed to follow the rubric that only one Eucharist be celebrated per day.  This means that a dual-track Orthodox parish will need to have at least two priests assigned to the parish to celebrate the Eucharist.  This calls for a deliberate longterm missions strategy fully supported by the bishop of that city.    If successful, we will see a network of dozens Orthodox parishes in each major city.  Some parishes will worship in the language of the old country, but the majority of the parishes will worship in English.  In this twenty first century diocese, Orthodoxy’s ethnic diversity is affirmed without any blurring of ethnic identity.  This arrangement will reflect not just America’s growing cultural diversity, but also the catholicity of the Orthodox Church.

People might object that liturgical rubrics call for only one Eucharist to be celebrated in a parish per day and that the dual-track strategy being proposed is contrary to the established rubrics.  My response is that what is being called for is an oikonomia or pastoral dispensation in light of unusual circumstances.  It should be noted that we already have a de facto oikonomia given the widespread tolerance of two violations of Orthodox canon law: (1) multiple bishops in the same city, and (2) the widespread usage of non-vernacular in the Liturgy. The dual track strategy should be seen as an oikonomia, a temporary measure, until we have an American Orthodox Church.  What is presented here is more of a suggestion to get a discussion going.  The Orthodox community, both laity and clergy, need to have an open and frank discussion about how Orthodoxy can deal with the serious problem of the non-vernacular Liturgy.


Antiochian Breakthrough

In The Bridges of God, Donald McGavran, former professor of missions at Fuller Seminary, observe there are two approaches to missions: the mission station approach and the people movement approach.  The mission station approach tends to be static with the mission station serving as the religious and cultural center for a group of expatriates and their converts.  The people movement approach is dynamic with multitudes becoming Christians.  The difference lies in their long term focus.  Where the mission station is content with establishing a beachhead presence in a country, the people movement approach seeks to move inland to where the vast majority live.  Orthodoxy today is situated in an awkward in-between situation.  Thanks to the immigrants who founded ethnic parishes, Orthodoxy has a beachhead presence in every major American city.  At the same time, Orthodoxy has barely moved inland where the vast majority live.

In the book of Acts we see the tension between the mission station approach and the people movement approach.  In the opening chapters of Acts we read how thousands accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  The early Christian movement was largely Jewish in makeup and centered in Jerusalem.  This is characteristic of the mission station approach.  Although we read of Gentiles becoming Christians in the early chapters of Acts (e.g., the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius the Centurion), these conversions represent little pockets of converts that lay on the margins of their culture.  Christianity did not become a broad people movement until the Antiochian breakthrough.

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  (Acts 11:19-21, NIV; italics added)

What is notable about this passage is that some spoke “only to the Jews.” Although the persecution dispersed Christians geographically, much of the communication of the Gospel flowed within the confines of Jewish culture.  It was not until Antioch that some spoke the Christian message “to Greeks also,” that is, to the non-Jews that the long standing cultural barrier was breached; Christianity became a broad multicultural movement and the evangelization of the Roman Empire began in earnest.


Opening the Door to the Future

Business as usual cannot continue.  Orthodoxy in America needs to restructure and retool itself if we are to effectively evangelize American society.  One important (if not essential) way of retooling is to encourage and support all-English Orthodox services across America.  If we have the Liturgy in English, people will come and they will stay.  There is a growing spiritual hunger in America, and we can help these spiritually hungry people discover Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and Life.  By committing ourselves to all-English services, Orthodoxy will be opening the front door and closing the back door.

Having an Antiochian breakthrough in twenty first century American society will require brave men and women who will sacrificially commit themselves to starting Orthodox missions in areas where there are no Orthodox parishes or where there are language barriers.  The aim here is to have all-English Orthodox parishes across the country within reasonable driving distance.  Two particular jurisdictions have been notable for their willingness to engage in starting up new missions:

Interested readers are encouraged to contact these offices and inquire about opportunities for starting up an all-English Orthodox parish in their area.

It is also important that we not seek to change ethnic parishes.  Attempting to do so is likely to be met with stiff resistance, while wasting precious time and energies.  Rather than complain about the difficulties of non-English services, the better approach is to have a positive attitude and to take positive steps like helping to start all-English Orthodox missions.  It is also important that mainstream Americans be supportive of ethnic Orthodox who wish to affirm their ethnic heritage.  Ethnic Orthodox Christians have a rich cultural heritage that has been shaped by the Orthodox ethos over many generations.  This is something many modern Americans lack.  I once asked an Orthodox friend how he understood his ethnic heritage, all he could say was that he was a “mutt” — a hybrid of Scot, Irish, English, German and what have you — and that his ethnicity is “American.”  We need to regard each other with respect and charity.

Twelve Reasons

Here are twelve reasons Orthodoxy in America need an all-English Liturgy:

  • Liturgy in the vernacular is part of Holy Tradition;
  • Scripture teaches the importance of intelligible worship (Acts 2:11, I Corinthians 14:19);
  • Scripture teaches the priority of loving God with our mind (Mark 12:30);
  • The Liturgy means “the work of the people” and the use of incomprehensible non-vernacular languages hinders people from doing their work of worshiping God;
  • The use of the non-vernacular impairs the Liturgy’s function of educating worshipers in fundamental Orthodox doctrines;
  • The use of non-English met the needs of the first generation immigrants but is ill-suited for the needs of second and third generations, and mainstream Americans;
  • Compromise solutions like pan-Orthodox parishes have in many instances failed to work;
  • The use of the non-vernacular have caused visitors to walk out;
  • The use of the non-vernacular have frustrated converts and caused some to become discouraged and drop out of church life;
  • The use of the non-vernacular combined with a parish identity centered around a particular ethnicity have caused many converts to feel like outsiders;
  • The use of the non-vernacular is contrary to Orthodox missionary practice; and
  • The use of the non-vernacular is a major impediment to the evangelization of American society.


Orthodoxy in 2100?

As we stand at the start of the twenty first century, we need to ask ourselves what our vision is for Orthodoxy in America.  If we maintain the present course, what will Orthodoxy in America look like in the year 2100?  Will there be the same small number of ethnic Orthodox parishes (maybe a little bigger) or will there be dozens of Orthodox parishes all over our city and people coming to Orthodoxy by droves?  This is beginning to happen.  The May 2007 edition of The Word reported that twenty-five catechumens were received into the Orthodox Church at St. Barnabas, Costa Mesa, CA.  If we pass up this challenge, American Orthodoxy could end up an obscure religious curiosity.  The present interest in Orthodoxy represents both an opportunity and a challenge for Orthodox laity, clergy, and hierarchy.  If we rise up to the challenge, we can expect to see unprecedented growth and vitality for American Orthodoxy, and the twenty first century will be on its way to becoming the Orthodox century.

Robert Arakaki

Amended 25 January 2013 in response to a correction provided by Fr. James Kordaris, Director of Stewardship, Outreach and Evangelism for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
This entry was posted in Missions and Evangelism, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

70 Responses to Why We Need an All-English Liturgy

  1. Julia says:

    wow very good! my hubby and I are catechumens at a Greek Orthodox Church and most of the service is in English, but some is in Greek. we are adjusting well and so far can follow along and we actually love hearing the Greek too and are picking up some Greek words and can sing some in Greek. But I definitely do agree that we need all English services here in America. As Converts instead of leaving we should petition to start Orthodox Churches that are all English speaking so that we can reach those in America that don’t speak other languages. Definitely will continue to pray!

  2. I formally endorse the contents of this post. While Robert always points out to me that “Orthodoxy is more than just books,” the truth of the matter is that the books are in English while many of the liturgies are not. Therefore, if I want cognitive content of Orthodoxy I have to go to the books.

    The question everyone must ask: “What would Sts Cyril and Methodius do?”

    • david says:

      Outlaw, I’m not sure, and could be wrong here, but to see Robert’s call for the Divine Liturgy to be in english so we can garner more “cognitive content” and answer our “epistemic questions” — might largely miss Robert’s point alltogether. (If I were more skilled in using Kant’s critique of Pure Reason, this might be place! :-) )

      But if I’m understanding Robert rightly, the muti-sensory music, smells, mystery and prayers of the Divine Liturgy open up to us far more fully when we understand the language. Maybe you’d be just as happy reading the Divine Liturgy in your closet — as if one “gets” and the fullness of an opera reading the text home alone? Yes, we are cognitive creatures, but not exclusively. Or perhaps our cognitive faculties have a broader band width assimilating more than just the written word on paper? Robert can speak for himself…and I suspect you really do know these things (given the vast multitude of pages you’ve read about all things Orthodox) far better than I do. :-) Godspeed brother.

      • that wasn’t what i meant, though cognitive content cannot be disallowed (hence your assumption that I could understand your post). On the other hand, Paul explicitly warns against worship services that aren’t intelligible.

        • I also apologize for any perceived “tone” in my remark. I am not a rationalist and I agree with what you are saying.

          • robertar says:


            Don’t worry, I haven’t perceived any “tone” in your remarks. The Orthodox Liturgy is meant to be a holistic experience but that can’t happen unless all the parts the work together, that is, synergistically. When I attend all-English Liturgies, I leave feeling more integrated than I do in mixed language Liturgies.


  3. Lucian says:

    Why We Need an All-English Liturgy

    I’m not saying that you don’t need it, all I’m saying is that “we” ALSO need OUR All-Romanian, All-Slavic, All-Greek, All-Georgian liturgies as well… you little Imperialist ! 😉

    • robertar says:


      I agree with you. That is why I proposed a dual track strategy for parishes. But you would agree that for immigrants the goal is for our children and their children to become full participants in American society fluent in English, right? And, I’m sure you would agree that to reach the American mainstream we will need all-English services.

      I find it amusing that you would label me an “imperialist,” especially in light of the fact that having grown up in Hawaii my first language is Hawaii Pidgin. In my blog posting on the late Fr. Peter Gillquist I identified all-English as a second wave of Orthodox evangelism and noted that there is a third wave that is only just beginning to occur, reaching out to the ethnic minorities with no background in Orthodoxy. So we are not as far apart as you may think.


  4. It made me realize how lucky I as a convert to Orthodoxy have been that my initial reaction to your post was not to nod in agreement but to think, “Of course! Why is he having to make this point?”

  5. Pingback: Journeys Around the Web – August 11, 2012 Edition « A Mere Handmaid

  6. Antonia says:

    Yes, the historical norm is to worship in the language of the indigeneous people. In the U.S., English is the primary language of most — but not of all. Pan-Orthodox parishes offer an inimitable opportunity to cherish our unity with Orthodox Christians around the world. I prefer a primarily English-language service when I attend church. Nonetheless, I would not wish to be so obstinate and close-minded as to reject the presence of any foreign language during the course of a service. (I have met a handful of people with that mindset over the years.) I converted as a college senior in 1976, and have enjoyed the blessing of worshiping with fellow Orthodox of many nationalities, and in multiple languages. The problem is not with the inclusion of non-English languages, but is with a mindset that some particular language exceeds others in value or beauty. I personally dislike the sound of French, for example, but I never would turn up my nose at speakers of French (both native speakers and secondary-language speakers) who wish to worship Christ in that tongue. My first service was at an “ethnic” Greek parish, where not one syllable of English was uttered during the Liturgy. It did not matter, because my soul understood that I finally had “come home.” English was needed, subsequently, to reinforce that initial firm conviction and to teach me the foundations of our Holy Faith. Hence I might speculate that a strong discomfort with hearing another language, after one has converted to the faith, sometimes derives more from insecurity, or sometimes from the very same “ethnocentricity” of which we often accuse “the others”. What is my “bottom line”? That there is room for everybody in God’s Holy Church in the United States!

    • robertar says:


      Thank you for sharing your views with us!


    • George says:

      It sounds like you are defending the indefensible. For what it’s worth; I do not find that using a foreign language during liturgy serves any useful purpose. If people can’t understand what is being said, it is a meaningless exercise then. Having a liturgy were many languages are used sounds like an even more horrible idea. I really dislike it when people will defend church practices that defy common sense and then turn it around in some pseudo-clever way. The right thing to do is that liturgy is celebrated in a language that people can understand, that is just basic common sense.

  7. Hinterlander says:

    I grew up Calvinist in the Dutch Reformed heartland of West Michigan but have since moved to the Southwest. I would like to visit an Orthodox mission or church but the closest ones are 2 hours away by interstate highway. I appreciate this website and this particular post. Thanks.

    • robertar says:

      Dear Hinterlander,

      I’m glad you found this blog helpful. I encourage you to get in touch with the Evangelism department of the OCA and the Antiochian Archdiocese. In the meantime let’s keep praying that Orthodoxy will grow and flourish in America.


  8. Michael says:

    This is not just an American or western problem, but a worldwide problem. You mentioned Cyrill and Methodius and their translation of the Greek liturgy into Slavonic. You also mentioned Saint Nicholas of Japan. Yet in places where Slavonic dominates and Japanese dominates, there is a huge language barrier for the people.

    While these languages were originally the vernacular, they no longer hold that position. Russian and Slavonic are not the same language, and most Russians (and other nationalities who use primarily Slavonic) do not understand Slavonic very well, if at all. I read an article once about a Protestant pastor in Russia who said his rather large church would cease to exist if the Russian Orthodox Church adopted the vernacular. What a telling comment!

    Instead the Russians have adopted Church Slavonic as sort of a liturgical language that cannot be messed with amongst any parish in the Orthodox lands. They certainly understand the need for the vernacular for everyone else (ROCOR, for example, has no problem with all English missions, and St. Nicholas came from Russia) but strongly resist any suggestion of putting the services into the vernacular in the Orthodox homelands under their jurisdiction.

    The same problem exists in Japan. Saint Nicholas’ work was originally in the vernacular, but now is a language that most modern Japanese do not understand. And I could go on and on.

    The problem is much larger than English, though the solution in the west is probably far easier than elsewhere. As it stands at the moment. while Orthodox tradition is to translate into the vernacular, we have functionally become no different than the Roman Church back in the day when it insisted all liturgy must be done in Latin. They of course have long given up that stance, and are actually a model in many ways in doing the liturgy in the vernacular (both English and in ethnic cultures who speak English as second language but have no Catholic background).

    Funny thing is, the Catholic Churches in Russia have their liturgies in the vernacular.

    • robertar says:


      Thank you for your insightful remarks. I think part of the problem is the attitude one has towards the Orthodox Tradition. Jaroslav Pelikan wrote: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” (The Vindication of Tradition, p. 65) That same problem can also happen with an all-English liturgy. There are some Orthodox Christians who favor King James or Elizabethan English which many Americans have a hard time understanding. Language and culture tend to change over time and we need to be sensitive to these changes lest we become trapped in the past. Fidelity to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) requires occasional adjustments in order to remain faithful to Tradition until Christ comes again in glory.


      • John says:

        Here is a great podcast by Clark Carlton on an all English liturgy. Though his final thoughts may surprise you (he’s for a venerable use of KJV style English) I think he makes a great point.



      • (Formerly known as Outlaw Presbyterian)

        When the “KJV” language is spoken aloud, it’s actually not that difficult to understand. The “language” of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is very familiar even to the “unchurched.”

        Ditto (below) on the Carlton podcast. I could (and have) listened to him all day.

      • Archpriest John W. Morris says:

        I have several comments. My experience is that you are exaggerating the nature of the problem. I have been an Antiochian Orthodox Priest for 33 years and have never been to an all or even mostly Arabic Liturgy. I have seen two Patriarchs of Antioch serve in English. I have always served entirely in English.
        However, I also am used to and like the Elizabethan translations used by the Antiochian Archdiocese. The language is not that archaic. Anyone who speaks English can understand them. Once all English speaking Chrisitans used the Elizabethan English.The traditional English is beautiful, and is the kind of English that I was used to praying in as a child in the Methodist Church.

        • robertar says:

          Dear Fr. John,

          I’m sorry but I’m going to have to differ with your statement: “Anyone who speaks English can understand them.” That may be the case if one grew up WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), but in my case I did not. As a matter of fact I only went to a Christian church two times when I was growing up. I did receive a KJV Bible after attending one Sunday School class but I could not understand what I was reading. I came to faith in Christ through the Living Bible translation. There are a lot of people in Hawaii who grew up without a deep exposure to Protestant culture. As a matter of fact a significant proportion about 20% struggle with Standard American English. As a matter of fact some 27% of Hawaii residents do not speak English at home. Furthermore, over half of the Hawaii populatin 51.1% are unaffiliated. See the Wikipedia article on Hawaii. Until we (the Orthodox Church) face up to the reality on the ground in Hawaii, Orthodoxy will be inaccessible to a significant segment of Hawaii’s population.

          And with respect to the Liturgy, I think it depends on which jurisdiction one visits. My initial experience has been with Greek parishes where there is more than a little Greek used in the Liturgy. My experience of the Liturgy in the Antiochian Archdiocese matches your description and for that reason I usually prefer to attend the Liturgy at an Antiochian or OCA parish.

          The point is that the demographic situation in Hawaii, and also for the rest of the USA, is extremely complex. If we simplify the situation my fear is that the effectiveness of Orthodox mission and evangelism will be compromised.



  9. Jason says:

    Have any of you listened to the recording of Capella Romana’s Divine Liturgy in English? There’s a couple of “Thy”s and “Thine”s in there, but for the most part it’s common vernacular (at least to my ears) and works extremely well.

  10. Jason says:

    There are samples at Amazon and ITunes, but sadly nothing any longer than about 30 secs to 1 minute to hear. The true title is “The Divine Liturgy in English in Byzantine Chant” in case you want to search on those sites. In the CD booklet (which is available for free at Capella Romana’s website – 40 pages with the Liturgy written out), it is discussed how they wanted to make an authentic and full Byzantine style for the English Liturgy while keeping the language accessible. Personally, I’m really impressed with their efforts and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

  11. Hinterlander says:

    I grew up with the NKJV but sang out of a Psalter with the KJV language and have read quite a bit of the KJV. I’ve been putting together a Prayer Rule and really don’t know if I feel comfortable with the KJV language of some of the prayer resources I’ve found. The words that frustrate me the most are not the nouns but the verbage. Is it the norm to use the KJV English in prayers, liturgy, etc?

  12. Jeremiah says:

    Is your dual track suggestion aimed at retaining the second and following generations of ethnic Orthodox? Or why not just let ethnic parishes stand alone and all-English standalone?
    Or is there a hierarchical end goal in mind? 😉

    • robertar says:

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

      The end goal I have in mind is the spread of Orthodoxy throughout the US. I prefer all-English stand alone parishes but it is hard in many places to get an all-English parish going hence my dual track proposal. If we are to do effective outreach to mainstream Americans we will need all-English parishes.


  13. John says:

    It would be nice to hear the services in English, especially matins and vespers as there is no books to follow along with.

    I have never heard an Orthodox service in English as I live in Greece, and many of the Greeks don’t understand the service as it is koine Greek.

    So even though one learns Greek, you still won’t understand the service as they use a dead language as did the Catholic church with Latin.

    Something needs to be done! When I go to church 98% of the people there are pensioners, the ones my age and younger don’t bother to go unless it is holy week because they don’t understand it.

    English is the international language and should be used.

    • robertar says:

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

      It’s unfortunate that many people in Greece don’t understand the Liturgy even though it is in Greek. The language situation in Greece is a complicated one. Part of the problem stems from the need to find a unifying basis for new Greek nation in the early 1800s. There were differences over whether katharevousa or demotic should be the national language. Then one has to factor in the Greek Church’s ties with the Patriarchate in Istanbul which was under Ottoman than Turkish control. I suspect that the Patriarchate being under Turkish jurisdiction has made it more conscious of its need to retain its majestic Byzantine legacy through the retention of the Greek traditionally used in its Liturgy.

      There is a need for both laity and clergy to research and discuss Orthodoxy’s approach to missions and the linguistic principles behind Bible translation. True Orthodoxy is based on a living Tradition that seeks to help people understand and grow in their faith. Traditionalism is perfectly content with mystical languages that mystify people leaving them with blank minds. Lord have mercy!

  14. Ben Holmes says:

    Here in northern New England, it has always been common in Roman Catholic parishes for a priest to celebrate Masses in English and French (at separate times, of course). With the onset of mass Latino immigration, Spanish Masses are found in Catholic dioceses throughout the United States. In every eastern American town, there is that parish known for its German roots, its Irish heritage, or its Italian beginnings. But there is no such thing as “St. Francis Cabrini Italian Catholic Church” or “St. Pierre French Catholic Mission.” We do not have multiple overlapping ethnic dioceses in American cities (with small exception to the Eastern Catholic Rite archeparchies). One diocese, one bishop, one bread, one body.

    I love my ethnic heritage (half Serbian, half Celtic), and I would never encourage anyone to sacrifice theirs. Especially seeing how bland and soulless modern American consumer culture is, why would you want to lose your identity to that? If you are of Greek heritage, and you desperately wish to conserve it, marry someone of that background. Teach your children Greek. Every five or ten years, save up for a trip to your primordial homeland. That is how you retain who you are, not by just simply calling yourself “Greek Orthodox.”

    IMHO- and it is my opinion- the cult of ethnicity, phyletism, is harming the chance for holy Orthodoxy to grow in America. Why would Presbyterians of Scottish ancestry, say disaffected by doctrinal innovations in their church, convert en masse to the local Russian Orthodox parish? “Well, I’m not Russian, so I guess I can’t join.” There is a yawning chasm of moral relativism in this nation- in this world- and it needs the spiritual healing and moral clarity of Christ and his Church.

    I think it is important to emphasize that this is not a call for “string guitar Divine Liturgies,” as what we have witnessed in the Catholic Church since Vatican II. Leave out the organ and banjos and further strengthen the chants. And, we can still have ethnic language liturgies in all Orthodox parishes, but like the multilingual Catholic churches, the one uniting liturgy should be in the vernacular of the people and this nation, which still remains English.

    God bless.

  15. Ben Holmes says:

    I think it is important to note that this is also not a call for “Protestant-ization” of the Orthodox Churches. Holy icons, chants, and all should remain in tact. I don’t think anyone is seriously stating that we must emulate the local United Methodist parish hall.

  16. Kristofer Carlson says:

    Some years ago during a workshop on Lutheran evangelism, the pastor remarked that it is easier for the unchurched and the dechurched to begin attending a new mission than an existing church run sustained through six generations of Schmidts. As a convert to Orthodoxy, I know I had difficulty with ethnically segregated parishes. One in particular actually flew the Greek flag outside their cathedral, as if to say non-Greeks need not attend. So your suggestion that these ethnic enclaves by bypassed is a good one.

    As to pan-Orthodox parishes, these need not be a problem. The church I attend has American converts, along with some Russians, Greeks, and Romanians. We will often sing the “Lord have mercy” in the various languages as a way of making them feel welcome (something that is especially meaningful to the Greeks and the Romanians, who only recently began attending.) Occasionally an older retired priest will serve, and he will say a couple prayers in either Greek or Slavonic, which is comforting to those who first learned to pray to God in those languages, and serves both to acknowledge their contributions and cement their bond with our parish. But apart from those few instances, the liturgy is in English, which acknowledge the reality of the country we all live in.

    What bothers me about some ethnic parishes, and some of the ethnic divisions within American Orthodoxy, is that they view part of their mission as the preservation of their ethnic heritage. The website of one non-canonical Orthodox body specifically states as their mission the preservation of their ethnic culture. I’m sorry, but that is the function of ethnic clubs or fraternities, not of the church.

    The continued ethnic divisions among the American Orthodox is one of the major reasons why we demonstrate a lack of success in missions. No one knows who we are; they don’t know that Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox are the same thing, and we don’t help matters by not having our own autocephalous American Orthodox church, one recognized by the four remaining ancient patriachates, along with the abandonment of these ethnic divisions.

    • robertar says:


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

      Thank you for sharing your insights. Let me also add that Orthodoxy in America will need to undergo spiritual renewal and purification we are to evangelize American society. Let us become fervent and steadfast in our prayer life! Let us pray that more Orthodox Christians, priests, and hierarchs will become passionate about missions and evangelism.


  17. Maria S. says:

    I believe the liturgy does not sound good in English. It has nowhere near the beauty it does in Greek. If the liturgy is in English, I don’t see why people would prefer to go to an Orthodox Church over a Catholic one. I realize that religious scholars view the two religions as different but common people do not see the differences. The only reason I go to the Greek Orthodox Church is because it is in Greek. As for the language gap, even Americans with no Greek background study Ancient Greek. Perhaps we could focus on making the teaching of Greek more appealing to youngsters. Children pick up languages easily. It is good for them to learn more than one language. Much of the world outside of America speaks two languages.

    • robertar says:


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Some people like the Liturgy in Greek and others like it in English. I favor giving people a choice, that is, one parish where the Liturgy is in Greek and another parish where the Liturgy is in English. I don’t think we should be forcing Greek on others. But thank you for sharing your views.


      • robertar says:

        Having the Liturgy in English opens doors!

        In a recent blog posting “Into Orthodoxy: The Long Journey Home” Fr. Lawrence Farley wrote:

        Then, providentially, I discovered Orthodoxy. I always considered the Fathers paradigmatic (which is why Roman Catholicism was never “on the table” for me). Too bad the Orthodox didn’t speak English. When I soon discovered that they did speak English, I was hooked.

        What I found striking is that Fr. Farley almost passed by Orthodoxy because of its reputation for being ethnic and how discovering the Liturgy in his mother tongue drew him to Orthodoxy. Of course, the assumption here is that English is one’s mother tongue. The Liturgy should be accessible to the local population. In a multicultural situation the Liturgy should be in the languages of the local population. It is the Liturgy that unites the Orthodox faithful, not any one language.


    • Evan says:

      Maria, please forgive me for disagreeing with you.
      I was raised in a Greek parish as a child. I never understood anything at all. I went to the greek schools on weekends and i’m grateful that i did. But the greek learned there didn’t serve much during the church services. every time i went to church, it was for absolutely nothing. I learned nothing. Worshiped nothing. Because nothing was understood.

      I became an atheist Maria. I don’t mean that i became one in name only. I legitimately became an atheist and drowned in despair and violence for years. The church was no help to the darkness that took hold of me and almost put an end to my life or others.

      It’s years later that Evangelicals opened my eyes to the reality of God and our Lord Jesus. It was the first time I ever understood what is meant when we say “Trinity”. I learned from Evangelicals. Why? Not because they are the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. But because i was told in the language that i speak.

      Only after more years of research did i find that the Orthodox Church is the True Church. Thank the Lord that when I came back to my childhood parish, things had changed. English was used for around half the Liturgy to reflect the demographic. The difference shows. The amazing feeling one has to understand the prayers that are being said and to be able to exclaim in response “amen” “Lord have Mercy”, it forms us and changes us.

      For your point about people learning greek. To ask anybody to learn greek first so that they can come to our Lord and be healed is like asking a cancer patient to go to med school so that they can learn how to make their own cure instead of giving the cure that we already have. How could we do this to anybody? I’m not the only one that left the Church because of this. I personally know scores of people my age that either became atheist, agnostic, follow some New Age philosophy. Even worse, they go a couple of times of year out of some sense of habit but have no understanding of Christ at all, know nothing and live lives with no interest in anything that the Church exists for. The reason that 95% of them give for this is “i don’t understand anything”. We all did this to them. We’ve destroyed more souls then we could have saved and we’ll have to answer for what we’ve done or haven’t done.

      Please forgive me Maria if i sounded agressive. It was not my intention and i hope you read what i said in the spirit that it was intended.
      in Christ
      Evan (Evangelos)

      • Karen says:

        Thank you for your perspective, Evan. I think it is very instructive. I recently read a comment on another blog from a lifelong Orthodox educated at Holy Cross Seminary and engaged in the ministry of Christian education, where she visits many different parishes across the country. She observed with sadness how little participation and how little joy there is in many Orthodox parishes, and how many of these kinds of parishes are dying because the people simply do not understand their faith, and their young people leave as soon as they are old enough because they have never understood the Liturgy or the faith.

        I cannot tell you how deeply her description of these parishes breaks my heart! Having discovered the depth and beauty of Orthodoxy late in life and coming from an American/European Evangelical background, my faith/Christ has always been the center of my life. Christ is the only One who can give life its zest and meaning. The Orthodox Divine Liturgy is such a Feast of joy and a treasure beyond price. That anyone should be deprived of this because they do not understand the language of the Liturgy (either because it is antiquated or because it is foreign) and because they do not see living examples of a genuine Orthodox spiritual life is so very sad for me to contemplate.

        It is a fact of history that some of the earliest Orthodox missionaries (e.g., Sts. Cyril and Methodius), who took the gospel to the Slavs, also gave them the gospel in their own language. That is why Slavic peoples don’t worship in Greek, but in Slavonic. Today, the Liturgy and Orthodox writings are being translated into many languages of the people who are becoming Orthodox. I speak English (and some French). I have been blessed beyond measure by being able to hear, sing and understand the Liturgy as well as read the writings of many Orthodox, including the lives of contemporary elders, because they have been translated into my own language. I believe St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14 is very relevant to this subject.

        I do think it is critical, though, that those responsible for teaching the faith to our Priests and involved in the work of translation have an excellent understanding of koine Greek and/or Church Slavonic as well as living truly godly Orthodox lives in order to properly teach and translate the faith for others. May the Lord have mercy on us and raise up such faithful servants, for “the harvest is plentiful.”

        • I know I often disagree with the folks here, but to footnote Evan’s comment: I was listening to a lecture by Blessed Seraphim Rose and he mentioned how the satanists in a number of rock bands were from Russian Orthodox backgrounds.

          • Karen says:

            So was Madame Blatovsky, founder of Theosophy, and let’s not forget Rasputin.

            To be clear, sin and evil are ubiquitous and being nominally Orthodox is no shelter from its influence.

          • Karen says:

            Also, to be fair, OP, there are many former Evangelicals, former Reformed, former Roman Catholics, former mainline Protestants, former Fundamentalists, etc., among the rebels, atheists, cultists, and occultists of this world! That there are also former Orthodox, really means nothing other than what I stated.

        • Evan says:

          Thank you for your thoughts Karen.
          I hope that what I wrote didn’t make it sound like i was a bitter person.

          I would want to clarify that the ethno-centrism that was present in my parish when i was a child isn’t as big an issue anymore as it has changed with the demographic. So i’m greatful to our Lord for this. Though there is still room to move forward.

          I am working on internal Evangelism initiatives at my parish as I’m currently on the council and I’m really curious about this blog that you read. Would you be able to provide a link? Any documentation that i can get that helps put some perspective to those who are still ethnocentric would be great.

          God bless you my friend

          • Karen says:

            Not at all bitter, Evan, and I understand, as a former Evangelical, how you can both have discovered the meaning of aspects of the faith from Evangelicals and yet were driven to continue to research Christian faith to the point where you discovered the fullness of the Truth within the faith of your childhood. You are not unique in this. Dr. Brad Nassif is another.

            The web site was Fr. John Peck’s “Journey to Orthodoxy” under this post:


    • Blair says:

      If the liturgy is in English, I don’t see why people would prefer to go to an Orthodox Church over a Catholic one.

      Because they don’t accept the theology of the Catholic church maybe?

      I am an Orthodox catechumen, and was interested in Orthodoxy for over ten years. The main barrier to me exploring it was whether I would understand the services. It was only once I knew a church was conducting their liturgy in English that I felt comfortable enough to attend.

      I agree that there is a beauty to the Greek language in the liturgy, however. “Kyrie eleison” rolls off the tongue a lot more smoothly than “Lord have mercy”. But proper worship involves understanding what you are singing, and it is sinful for the Church to become a “club” that puts up any barrier to membership other than a willingness to hold to the faith of the Church.

    • George says:

      I came from the Roman catholic faith, and I am a common person, yet I understood the difference between orthodoxy and roman catholicism and that is why converted.
      I converted into a Greek Orthodox parish, but I’m leaving it. I am not interested in being indoctrinated into a “master culture”. I am orthodox for Jesus, not for Greece.

  18. Evan says:

    thanks for the link Karen :)

    • robertar says:


      I want to say thank you for your touching story. It’s sad when we place stumbling blocks in front of others instead of helping them to grow in the faith.

      And Karen, thank you for your encouraging words! Your edifying comments make the OrthodoxBridge a wonderful place for dialogue.


      • Karen says:

        Thanks, Robert, for providing this forum. I really appreciate the chance it affords me to learn from you and others.

        My aim is always to edify. If I ever stumble in that, delete my comment!

        Glad to be of help, Evan! I hope Fr. John Peck’s web site may serve as a catalyst to ignite a vision at your parish for putting your Orthodox light on the lampstand (and not under a bushel basket!).

        Christ is in our midst!

      • Evan says:

        thank YOU Robert for the OrthodoxBridge.
        May our Lord bless you always for your work

  19. Calvin says:

    I was a preacher for 10 years in the Church of Christ but have been on a journey to Orthodox now for the last 2-3 years. I will be so glad when the Orthodox church as a whole realizes the opportunity it has in America and starts opening it’s doors to the English speaking people. It almost seems like they want you to convert to being a Greek / Russian culture 1st, then they’ll worry about converting you to Christ and His church? I’m finding it hard to find a Orthodox church home. The closest all English Liturgy is almost a 70 miles round trip for me. I’m not giving up!

    There is a reason why one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the early church was to be able to speak in other languages ! It’s VERY important!

  20. Paula says:

    Calvin, it would be 70 miles well spent. Many of us have grown up traveling long distances to get to church, because Orthodox parishes tend to be few and far between. Like you, I hope for the day when Orthodoxy is the Christian faith of all America. Until then, remember that those whose first language is not English preserved the faith throughout terrible times in history in order for it to be brought to America. The insularity will ease up as America becomes more welcoming to those who are different, and as ethnic people intermarry and bring their spouses into the church. This is happening now, but will be more pronounced in my children’s and grand-children’s generations.

  21. George says:

    I recently converted to orthodoxy. What drew me in was a sound doctrine, historical pedigree and a good priest. Unfortunately, what initially seemed like a small price to pay has become a bigger and bigger obstacle. At our parish the liturgy zigzags between english and greek. We have a liturgy book where you can read the translation, but not knowing any greek at all I basically get lost until they go back to english and then I can skip forward to the right page. Matins is hopeless because it is all greek with no translation, and even with it, who wants to sit through that and read in a different language while trying to listen to the singing?
    Sitting for a couple of hours listening to an intermittently intelligible liturgy is really hurting my ability to engage in worship. I’m almost about to quit my parish because of this. The puzzling thing is that as far as I know, there is no one in the parish that doesn’t understand english. In fact, many people of greek ancestry don’t have a good understanding of liturgical greek as they themselves admit. But we still have a liturgy peppered with greek, and if the bishop shows up, they give you a double scoop of greek for that Sunday.
    I’m honestly not sure how I could bring any one of my friends to liturgy. They won’t even understand half of the liturgy itself, and matins would be sitting there for one hour hearing chants in an unintelligible language. Why does the Greek Orthodox church do this to us in the United States?

    • robertar says:


      I appreciate your honesty in expressing how you feel. I share many of the same feelings as well. It sounds like the only Orthodox church in your area is a Greek parish. It that is the case, please hang in there. You could let your priest know how you feel. Also, you might want to consider contacting the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese missions department. Oftentimes when I get frustrated during the non-English portion of the Liturgy I pray: “Lord, have mercy! We need an all-English Orthodox parish on the island of Oahu! Lord, have mercy! Give me a patient heart.”


  22. Paula says:

    I wonder, George, if you could take the liturgy book home to become more familiar with it between services? I grew up in a parish that spoke only Serbian and Church Slavonic. The gift that gave me was the ability to participate in the physical and feeling aspects of the liturgy before learning the verbal aspects once I joined an OCA parish as an adult. It was not a loss at all, it was a full experience. I think maybe as a convert from Protestantism, which is highly dependent upon verbal communication, you might find this to be a challenge, but don’t let it dissuade you.

  23. Martha says:

    Thank you so much Robert for speaking out,about this vexing issue. We have all the same problems here in the UK. Since I became Orthodox about 16 years ago I have become increasingly disenchanted with Orthodox parish worship because there is more and, more Slavonic and Romanian in our services since the large increase in immigration we have experienced here in recent years. It’s so disheartening. It feels like we’re going backwards. I feel that this attachment to ethnic languages is divisive rather than inclusive. It reinforces the ethnic divisions in the Church and it divides the parish churches from the communities around them. That’s all in addition to the alienation that people like myself feel.
    The Russians and Romanians usually understand English as they have to to get by and they learn it pretty quickly so the insertion of their language in the service is, for most of them, about nostalgia and a taste of home, not because it’s essential. The English priests include it as a courtesy. But the English laity like me have to accept whole chunks of liturgy that we don’t understand.
    I just don’t buy this idea of the words not mattering, which I know some people promulgate like Paula above. Of course they matter. If not why bother? Why not do it the Quaker way. And why lay so much stress on translation into the vernacular if the words don’t matter.
    I’ve been going to fewer and fewer services in recent years as I find it so frustrating and there are no Antiochian services near enough. I manage to get by with a sprinkling of Orthodox services and a smattering of Anglican services in between.

    • robertar says:


      Thank you for your frank and heart felt comment! Have you had a heart to heart talk with your priest? He should know how the linguistic situation is affecting your spiritual growth. Your need for all English liturgy is a genuine one. It is not a matter of inadequate faith or spiritual immaturity. It may help to share with the priest my article. I wrote it at a time when I felt like banging my head against the wall.

      I would also encourage you to contact the Antiochian Missions department. Don’t give up! Continue to attend the services but also do what you can to spread the word about Orthodoxy. Learn as much as you can about the Orthodox Faith and Orthodox services. When the Antiochian missions department looks into setting up a mission parish they take into account the number of people who will form the missions core group. If and when a missions parish is started, will you be able to help lead in the singing and the prayers, and other practical aspects of parish life? God bless!


  24. Karen says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I’m a recent convert to a local Ukrainian Orthodox church parish, of 3 years. I believe our head priest has done a fabulous job including both converts and first and second generation immigrants. He himself is Ukrainian but converted from Roman Catholicism before he became a priest in the Orthodox Church. The majority of our current parish members are converts from other other faiths. The way he handles this is by keeping the majority of the Liturgy in English. He always delivers the Gospel in both English and Ukrainian. There are some service in which the first half of the service will be in Ukrainian and the second half in English, especially when he knows that there are Ukrainians present who don’t know very much English. There are also special services, such as Pascha and the Nativity, in which the majority of the Liturgy will be in Enlish, but they will add some Ukrainian hymns. They also include both American favorites as well as Ukrainian ethnic foods in various events that they hold. I learned how to pinch pierogis as a result :). I think it’s important for parishes to find a way to be fully inclusive of Americans, since this IS our native land, while still perserving some of their original ethnicity, lest we forget their history, where they came from. I don’t believe you necessarily need 2 seperate sanctuaries and 2 priests to do it either, although that is an option. But none of these ideas will work if people aren’t open to change. This change, in no way, crompromises the theology or liturgy of the individual parishes. It simply provides room for anyone who is seeking true worship.

    • robertar says:


      Thank you for sharing what your Ukrainian Orthodox parish is doing to reach out to both Americans and Ukrainians! I find it encouraging and inspiring.

      With respect to your comment that you don’t it necessary to have 2 separate sanctuaries, I would say that this arrangement should be viewed as transitional — a way of launching all English Orthodox parishes all across the US. I envision a future where there will be ethnic Orthodox parishes whose membership come from the old country and all English liturgy in parishes whose members were born and raised in America. There might be some Americans who want to learn about Orthodoxy’s Greek or Slavic roots and there might be Americans who are perfectly content with their Wheaties and Wonderbread cultural heritage. As a Hawaii Local I love poke and spam musubi! I would love for there to be an Orthodox Liturgy where I can bring friends and relatives they won’t suffer culture shock but feel at home. Some people are brave adventuresome souls while others are homebodies. We need to keep both in mind as we engage in Orthodox outreach.


  25. Orthodox1234 says:

    To my knowledge, my church, St. Dimitrie Romanian Orthodox Church, Easton, CT, is the only church in CT that has two Liturgies, an all English at 9.00a and 50/50 mix Romanian/English at 10.30a. The English is done outside the Iconostasis at a separate altar, the 10.30a is done as normal, that is how we get around the prohibition of performing two liturgies at the same altar. The Bishop, I was told, suggested not to do it because it would split the community, the Romanian Priest claims the American born (majority of the Parish Council are American) pressured him into it. It’s been 7 years now like this and it isn’t working out, the community is further split and a “power struggle” has been on a long time now. The English service has grown to 80-90 people, but many people complain about the early start time. the mix service gets about 130. Definitely agree with the author about the need for English, but Romanians will never agree to dual track, indeed many do not support the church because of the English, and have made threats of leaving. New converts should stay away from getting involved in ethnic churches, it just won’t work out. Indeed, we need a healthy American Orthodox Church. I learned the hard way, I like to volunteer and help out financially, but I think it may have been better putting all that effort into an American Church with English liturgy.
    Another reason it can’t work is that we can’t afford two priests, we are fortunate that the English is done by assistant Priest Fr. George, essentially he works for free, he grew up in the parish, but he is past retirement age. So we’ll see what happens and which side “wins”. Once you’ve gotten used to an all English liturgy, going back to 50/50 mix is impossible, too much is missed.
    The other problem is Holy week and Easter, we can’t have two services, so we have the 50/50 mix, horrible experience for many of us.
    It doesn’t look like the ethnic churches will survive, and most of the OCA churches I visited appear to be going under too. The ones I visited get only like 30-40 people and many are in “bad” or depressed city neighborhoods, old formerly Russian churches. I guess they waited too long to switch to English and to get the neighborhood people involved? It’s pretty depressing isn’t it.

    • robertar says:

      Thank you for your very honest assessment of the situation. One thing I learned from your comment is that transitioning an ethnic parish to an all English American parish is going to be very difficult to pull off. This makes me think that we will need to start planting Orthodox missions for the purpose of reaching out to the local community.

      But I have a couple of questions. One, if you have 80-90 people at the English Liturgy wouldn’t that be enough to support a priest? Two, have you considered contacting the Antiochian Archdiocese? They are quite supportive of English Liturgy. There’s one Antiochian parish in Danbury and another one in Bridgeport. I don’t think they’re very far from where you are. If you believe that your area is ready for an Orthodox mission you might want to contact the Antiochian Archdiocese Department of Missions and Evangelism — Fr. Michael Kesier.


      • orthodox1234 says:

        Answers to your questions:
        if you have 80-90 people at the English Liturgy wouldn’t that be enough to support a priest?
        Yes and no, Although we have two Liturgies, we are still considering ourselves “one” community, one church, all funds go into the same account, etc., we have been running deficits past several years, huge mortgage-$2m left, problems in the building of new church back in 2009, etc., so changes are needed. It’s complicated and a long story, if the community got together the financial situation would work out, people are and have been holding back giving and getting involved, it’s mostly American born life long parishioners who volunteer and give $, many ROs won’t give because they want RO church, priest and language. Parish Council members got letter from Bishop a few months ago about the potential split situation and how he has avoided getting involved, but that if we don’t come together then he will solve it for us.

        Two, have you considered contacting the Antiochian Archdiocese?
        No we are part of the OCA, under the Romanian Episcopate of America, under OCA. There are English speaking OCA churches not too far from us, but the American born people who are in their 70’s and 80’s and are not going to leave “their” church. At one point 20 odd years ago the Liturgy was about 80% English, it went “backwards” when current RO priest was hired, and with influx of ROs after 1989 revolution. He is said to be retiring in 2016, so that may change things for the better, we’re not sure.
        The Albanians have an all English Liturgy not too far from us, but they are down to like 40 families or so and some of their people come to our 9a English service, our new church is also huge compared to most, we just finished the Icon painting of the walls, so we don’t want to leave a nicer place for something that is not so nice. A merger(s) is certainly a possibility. Instead of several small, declining churches with English Liturgies within the Fairfield/New haven counties, perhaps one bigger stronger church would be better?

        PS, last year the PC members were given 30 copies of your book “Spread the Word”, but we have not been able to get going under current conditions, we hope next year will be different.

  26. Nivk says:

    My experience with orthodoxy.
    I am baptised Russian orthodox, however my family only went to church on Easter, Christmas but rarely Sunday masses. I married into a Greek Orthodox family.
    Very religious, wife’s parents go to church when ever they can, weekly.
    I am told the orthodox faith is the true faith. Unfortunately for me after attending Greek and Russian orthodox churches with my wife for over 5 years I am a bit disappointed as I have learned close to nothing. It’s eather 90% Greek which I don’t understand. I’ve made efforts to go the Russian Orthodox Church and still do, however I don’t understand what I s happening eather and a hard time understanding it. My brother decided to become a born again Christian and many of my friends. This is something I will refuse as orthodoxy and religion is a big part of my wife’s life and family life. We are told about tradition etc however it’s 2015 and not all of us understand, especially those with limited knowledge. I was hoping to learn and understand by attending the services however, I’ve sat through all of them and learned minimal. The majority of those at church are seniors with not so many young people. I told my wife I want to learn, however seems impossible it’s earthier in Greek, Russian which I struggle to understand. I do however understands the logic behind born agains. Even the message may not be accurate for some they have a better way of describing and educating people then the Orthodox Church.
    Not being rude in any way, but orthodoxy should be described and explained at our churches properly to new comers and in English. We live in Australia and I believe if you live in a English speaking country it should be done in English. This would be easier to help the younger generation. Majority of the Greeks and Russians have migrated well over 20 years ago and should adopt.

    • robertar says:

      Dear Nivk,

      Thank you for your honest comment. I admire your steadfast loyalty to the Orthodox Church even when so much of it is cloaked in an incomprehensible language. I can relate to what you experienced. The difference is that I was fortunate to have spent two years in a Bulgarian Orthodox parish where the Liturgy was all in English. It was in this context that I was able to gradually perceive and appreciate the spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy. In many ways this was when my journey to Orthodoxy began in earnest. In my experience even liturgical services one half or one quarter in Greek can be a major hurdle.

      Rather than attempt to change the minds of those who want to hold on to their ethnic identity, I urge you to write to the Orthodox hierarchs about the need for the Liturgy to be understandable in the local context. That is the Liturgy should at least be in English in English speaking countries, in Spanish where Spanish is the dominant language, and so on. I would also urge you to let others know about this article. That way the number of those who see the need for understandable Liturgy can join forces.

      Holy Tradition is a living Tradition. It lives in the people who love God with all their hearts, minds, and strength. It is not affixed to any one language. No language is holier or superior to another. Each ethnic/cultural group has a particular language and if Orthodoxy is to effectively disciple that particular culture it is necessary that it be done in their language. Otherwise, what we have is colonialism where one culture subjugates another culture. This is contrary to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).


    • Stefano says:

      Hi Nivk,
      I also live in Australia and I agree that English here is minimal. Nearly all congregations are made up of post-1960s immigrants and their descendants with few converts. However, don’t let language be a barrier. If you look you can find English liturgies in every capital city. Take a look at a website called orthodoxyinaustralia.com for information.

      Also, be active about your faith. Ask questions. Get a dual language liturgy book and take it with you. The liturgy is 90% the same every Sunday so a bit of study will help. I am Greek and I find the liturgy in Greek to be truly beautiful but I didn’t come to this until I went to lots of English liturgies. The English really helped me understand the nuances of the Greek.
      Also, every Greek priest here speaks English to some extent. Have a chat with your local priest and ask some questions.

      The Orthodox Church is the true church but that does not mean that everything is always perfect. The issue of language and ethnicity is something that will not go away any time soon. We will have to adapt, especially in places that only have ethnic congregations.

      Yes, the majority of people who attend the church regularly tend to be older. Unfortunately, it is hard to compete with Sunday sport, social media and the other distractions that young people find to distract themselves. However, the truth of Christ still attracts the young, just when they get a bit older and mature.


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