Easter: As We Leave the Season

One of the minefields we Orthodox Christians in the West navigate is the proper terminology of the Feast of the Resurrection. Is it Easter or Pascha?

We have been told that “Easter” is wrong, that it is derived from the name of a Germanic goddess and thus we should avoid it at all costs. I myself have long believed this, hence my own use of the word “Pascha” lo these last few years.

Unfortunately, many of us –probably most of us (I dare say all of us)–have been operating under a delusion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word Easter. And more importantly, it is a falsehood that it was taken from a Germanic goddess. Indeed, there is only the scantest evidence that there was ever such an Indo-European goddess in the first place. She is found in no Norse, Germanic, or Celtic pantheon at all, and in no oral or written tradition. The Easter Bunny has more attestation going for it than this supposed goddess ever did.

A little while ago, one of my correspondents sent me an essay written by a Hieromonk from New Zealand. If you will permit me (and for the sake of brevity), I will paraphrase his essay. According to this author, the goddess’ Eostre’s existence was first postulated by 19th century Germanic scholars who were heavily influenced by the Romantic tradition. Examples of these Romanticists included the Brothers Grimm and they had a decided nationalist agenda, trying to recover a supposedly pristine, pre-Christian past. This is crucial: they found one obscure reference to her and decided to flesh out her existence in order to fit their purposes.

Even more egregiously, fundamentalist anti-Catholics jumped on the band wagon and posited that “Easter” derived from the Canaanite fertility goddess Astarte, making it their main hobby-horse which they rode off into further ridiculousness. They never bothered to explain how this Semitic goddess made her way north into the Indo-European group of languages when no other Semitic deity was able to do so. Worse, her cause was used to denigrate the Feast of the Nativity and everything else the Fundamentalists hated about high-church Christianity. Things like Christmas, Constantine the Great, and even Sunday worship services. And that’s just a start.

This cannot be said strongly enough: this was all anti-Catholic propaganda from start to finish for which there never was nothing but the scantest of evidence. And it was to our dishonor that we Traditionalists even countenanced such nonsense in the first place. We should have fought them tooth-and-nail from the start, never conceding an inch to this historical conceit.

But wait, you might ask, didn’t the Venerable Bede in his De Temporare Ratione (written in the eighth century) mention a goddess named “Eostre”? This is true but Bede is rather vague, noting only that the Anglo-Saxon month that coincided with April was named for her. He says nothing else about her at all. From an historiographic standpoint, this is mighty slim pickings. More importantly, Bede’s vague mention of her was in fact the first (and only) time is the only one in the historical record. He says nothing about her or her cult at all. This can’t be stressed enough: there is no other reference to this goddess anywhere else. By contrast, Joseph Smith had more evidence for the Israelite ancestry of the American Indians than Brothers Grimm did for Eostre.

More to the point, there were strong cultural biases among the Anglo-Saxons which caused them to resist borrowing foreign words –especially Latin ones–for Christian concepts. Examples include the continued use of the word haelig instead of sanctus whenever a saint was designated. Other examples include the word Godspell, which the English clung to tenaciously and never gave up, even after the Norman Conquest. Old habits died hard: after the Reformation, we find the English returning to form and using the word “evensong” instead of vespers and “morning office” instead of matins. Old English had the most active vernacular literature of any northern European culture in the first century.

This resistance to Latin domination in general is well-attested in the historical record. The Synod of Whitby (AD 664) shows us just how alarmed Rome was at the independence of the Britannic Church. Although the Petrine formula (“Thou art Peter…”) forced the British to accept Roman primacy in principle, they continued on in a mostly independent fashion for another four hundred years.

Then again sometimes you got to go with “the dog that didn’t bark.” In the case for Easter being the indigenous, Christian understanding of the term for the Resurrection of Jesus, perhaps the most compelling argument is that during this period of vibrant, (and largely independent) British Christianity, an Anglification for the word Pascha never appeared. (“Pascal” came much later and then only as an adjective.)

I realize that this is perhaps the weakest part of the argument; after all, the English kept the pagan names for the days of the week (i.e. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc.), but the Feat of the Resurrection was not just any day. Examples of other Anglicisms or Anglo-Latin hybrids for major feast-days include: Christmas, Candlemas, Michaelmas, and Whitsuntide. If nothing else, this clumsy marriage of Saxon and Latin words goes a long into proving the point of Anglo-Saxon stubbornness.

What solidifies the argument for the Christian understanding of the word Easter is the preponderance of Saxon usages for the word easte. In every case in which this word is found, it is only understood as being descriptive of that cardinal point on the map we have always taken to mean as east or for Easter itself. Examples include Eastengle (East Anglia), Easteraefen (Easter-eve), eastcyning (Eastern king), etc. So what word did the Saxons use for Passover? These two: Easterfreolsdaeg (the Passover Feast-day) and Easterthenung (Passover). During a time in where there were no Jews in the British Isles, the Christian Britons used Germanic words to describe this Jewish feast. And let us not forget that Passover was always understood by Christians as being a precursor (or prototype) of the Resurrection.

In other words, the preponderance of evidence is largely on the side of English word Easter having a Christian –and not pagan–origin. To the extent that the Saxons may have believed in Eostre at all (a doubtful proposition), her name no doubt came from the word for East as these pagans understood it. Much like Aurora for the ancient Greeks except that Aurora had a more established mythos, something Eostre never did.

So why is this important? Speaking as someone who is interested in Evangelism, it is important that we not needlessly alienate our mission field, especially by clinging to historical fallacies. This is not only needless but self-defeating. It puts us in the vain position of trying to win a null argument and worse, conceding too much to those Protestants and their secularist descendants who believe that they have already won the battle for shaping of the cultural narrative. They have not. It is they who are operating under an historical delusion. We owe them nothing on this point, simply to state the truth and move on. We have other mountains to climb.

If nothing else, we absolve ourselves from having to twist ourselves into pretzels every year by saying to our non-Orthodox friends “Happy Pascha (which is what we call Easter, sorry for the confusion).”

May you all have a blessed Ascension and subsequent Pentecost!

About GShep


  1. You will now endure the wrath reserved for people who say icons are painted, not **written**.

  2. Tim R. Mortiss says

    An interesting essay, George, and I hope that further corroboration is forthcoming.

    As a side note, you illustrate “high church Christianity” that “fundamentalists hate” thusly: “Things like Christmas, Constantine the Great, and even Sunday worship services.”

    Somehow the second in this list seems to yield a jarring juxtaposition. Not that Constantine wasn’t great, mind you….. But I would not be surprised if some who prize Sunday worship and Christmas do not put Constantine quite up there with them!

  3. R. Howell says

    And I get giggles annually when people refer to the pre-Christmas Fast as “Nativity Lent”.

  4. Diogenes says

    Interesting food for thought. I think there’s an implicit message here that we shouldn’t be pedantic, persnickety, and sometimes downright pharisaical about the English-language terminology we employ for certain ecclesiastical things in the Orthodox Church. Not long ago, I heard one clergyman (foreign-born) lament the use of “Christmas” as opposed to “Nativity.” I politely pointed out that “Christmas” evolved from the compounding of the words “Christ’s Mass” — the Eucharistic liturgy celebrated in the West on the Feast of the Nativity — and there’s nothing “un-Orthodox” about the use of the term Christmas for the holiday. I think there are far more important things to worry about for the salvation of one’s soul than referring to “Pascha” as “Easter,” the Feast of the Nativity as Christmas, “writing” rather than “painting” icons, calling a prayer rope a rosary, and so forth.

    • R. Howell says

      On the other hand, can we all agree that calling the nave “the sanctuary” is grounds for excommunication, and perhaps flogging as well?

    • Michael Bauman says

      Had me until prayer ropes. They perform a very different function than a Rosary, not the least of which is that the prayer usually counted with a prayer rope is directed toward Jesus.

      Also Rosaries become objects of devotion almost like an icon. Prayer ropes are much more utilitarian.

      • Patrick Henry Reardon says

        Michael Bauman writes:

        “[Prayer ropes] perform a very different function than a Rosary, not the least of which is that the prayer usually counted with a prayer rope is directed toward Jesus. Also Rosaries become objects of devotion almost like an icon. Prayer ropes are much more utilitarian.”

        Respectfully, this distinction is overblown.

        Back when I was an Anglican I normally prayed the Jesus Prayer with my Rosary. (Apparently it didn’t count?)

        “Very different function”? I don’t think so.

        First, the prayer rope is much in use by those who follow the discipline of the Optina 500. Many of those “500” prayers are directed to the Theotokos.

        Second, I have lost count of the faithful who have asked me to bless their prayer ropes. They regard those prayer ropes exactly as Western Christians regard the Rosary.

        • Michael,

          Basically, you are right. Yes, prayer ropes (and I hate that clumsy term) are usually blessed. Beyond that similarity, they serve fundamentally different functions. The prayer rope is used to count the Prayer of the Heart to focus attention on that one phrase, perhaps with the prayer of St. Efrem interposed every so often. The idea is to write the prayer on the heart so that even when you are not consciously praying it, you are unconsciously praying it with every thought, word and deed you engage in.

          The Rosary (“bouquet of roses”) is composed of meditations upon what Catholics call the Mysteries of Christ and the Mother of God. Catholics even have a system of equivalencies as to how many rosaries count the same as a mass, etc. Moreover rosaries are also said on behalf of others.

          I also see Catholics sometimes wear rosaries, though others would say that that is sacrilegious unless it is worn by a soldier in time of war. I’ve never seen an Orthodox Christian wear a prayer rope around their neck. I’ve seen them do so around their wrist, but this is actually not really appropriate either (a showy affectation) unless one is a monastic and even then one usually wears the prayer rope on ones belt.

          Just another casualty of understanding caused by ecumenism.

          • Fr. Mike Driscoll says

            We Catholics have no “system of equivalences” regarding the Rosary; am not sure to what you are referring.
            Most people I see wearing Rosaries are not Catholic, or at least not practicing. Am not sure why they do so. I don’t recall ever seeing a Catholic wearing a Rosary at Mass. Also never heard of soldiers wearing Rosaries in time of war.
            I thank you for your sincere efforts to explain the Catholic faith, however I cannot help wondering where you are getting this misinformation.

            • Fr. “Mike”

              First, one can obtain a plenary indulgence by recitation of the rosary. That much is easily verifiable on a number of Catholic websites. If i can find the source regarding the table of equivalencies, I wlll post it but it had the number of rosaries or Hail Mary’s recited with equivalencies to the effect of masses and other Catholic services.

              You may recall John Kerry remarking that he and many other Catholics wore rosaries around their necks in Vietnam for protection.

              “Wearing the rosary

              Beads may be made to include enclosed sacred relics or drops of holy water. One Catholic catechism instructs the faithful to wear the rosary as “it will help them to love Jesus more” and serve as a “protection from Satan.”[53] In addition, Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort encouraged Christians to wear the rosary, stating that doing so “eased him considerably”.[54] Many households that cannot afford Christian artwork or a crucifix, hang up a rosary.[55]

              Many religious orders wear the rosary as part of their habit. A rosary hanging from the belt often forms part of the Carthusian habit.[56] A person may be wearing a rosary as a statement of faith, to keep it handy for praying throughout the day, or to avoid losing it.[57] Canon 1171 requires individuals to treat all sacred objects reverently.[58]” – Wikipedia, Rosary

              Just because a modern RC priest hasn’t heard something does not mean it is not common practice. Catholicism has become much less monolithic after Vatican Ii. As to RC’s wearing rosaries during mass, I never made any such claim so I don’t know where that is coming from.

              Regardless, you are welcome for my “sincere efforts to explain the [Roman] Catholic faith.

          • Patrick Henry Reardon says

            they serve fundamentally different functions.

            Both the Rosary and the prayer rope are devices for counting prayers. THAT is their sole function.

            • Fr. Patrick,

              So we repeat prayers without a higher purpose? I don’t think so. Both our purposes and methods are different. Only the fact that we use devices to count is the same. So, one could say by your logic: rosary = prayer rope = {Muslim] tasbih (counting the names of Allah).

              One is prayed on a set of rosary beads to recall 5 or more “mysteries” regarding the life of Christ or the Theotokos, it is contemplative in that pictures of this or that scene and commentary thereupon is called to mind.

              A second is prayed using a prayer rope. The focus is not on contemplation of scenes but repetition of the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!” in order for this prayer to be written on ones heart and automatic.

              The third is a method some Muslims use to glorify Allah by using a string of beads to recite Allah’s attributes as expressed in the 99 names (i.e., the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Bestower, the Self-Sufficient, etc.).

              None of the three have much at all to do with the others, except the use of a counting device.

              • Patrick Henry Reardon says

                None of this has anything to do with the subject under discussion.

                We are talking about what a rosary does and what a prayer rope does. They are both used for tolling prayers with one’s fingers. What prayers are tolled is quite beside the point.

                We are not talking about the Jesus Prayer and the Mysteries of the Rosary. You keep preaching, as though anyone in the world would confuse the two.

                For the rest, I have seen rosaries made completely of knots on a small rope.

                I have also seen prayer ropes constructed completely of beads on a string.

                I have seen other chaplets that might be either.

                Indeed, these could be used for either reciting the Rosary or praying the Jesus Prayer.

                I thank Father Mike for drawing attention to Misha’s Wikipedia approach to this subject.

                This is my last effort to make a simple point. If this discussion goes on any longer, I fear I will not be able to pray either the Rosary or the Jesus’ Prayer.

                • Fr. Patrick,

                  On the contrary, it is on point. No one disputes that both prayer ropes and rosaries are used to count prayers. What prayer is being “tolled” is precisely the point. We are, in fact, talking about the Jesus Prayer v. the Mysteries of the Rosary. I am not preaching, only correcting your error. It is indeed important that no one confuse the two, as you seem to have.

                  Yes, numerous methods exist to count the prayers of either the Orthodox practice or the RCC practice, so what?

                  Fr. Mike is simply misinformed about his own faith, most Catholics I know are at least aware of the custom of Catholic soldiers wearing rosaries. It’s not like it hasn’t been in the news, as I described above, or that there aren’t any Catholics stationed in combat zones.

                  As far as your personal emotional composure is concerned, if you get upset by such discussions, refraining from participating in them may be wise.

        • Michael Bauman says

          Father, the way in which Rosary’s are considered by the faithful Catholics I have known is far different from the way in which the Orthodox I have known consider their prayer ropes.

          For the Catholics I have known the Rosary takes on almost the status of an icon, a holy object in and of itself.

          Prayer ropes, blessed or not, are tools, not objects of adoration.

          • Patrick Henry Reardon says

            Prayer ropes, blessed or not, are tools, not objects of adoration.

            Good God in heaven! Now we who pray the Rosary are being accused of idolatry!

            • Fr. Patrick,

              I’m sure Michael was not using “adoration” in the sense of worship, but rather in the sense of veneration (“. . . status of an icon, a holy object in and of itself” clearly indicates that). I’ve hear of other Orthodox, some now recognized as saints, praying some version or variation of the Rosary. Not my cup of tea. Just think it’s important to make clear that you are not pursuing the same objective when you pray the Rosary as when you pray the Prayer of the Heart.

            • Michael Bauman says

              Hardly. I never said anything about the Rosary Prayers only the way in which many Catholics I have known treat the artifact of the Rosary beads. Now, my experience is an objective fact. It says nothing at all about how you used the Rosary prayers or the beads.

              My only point remains, the ordinary use of an Orthodox prayer rope is different than the ordinary use of Rosary beads by many Roman Catholics. It does not, therefore represent as strong or useful an analogy as the original author to whom I replied meant it.

              My first encounter with the Rosary was as a young boy. There was a radio station which, on Sunday morning, had a program which was the rapid atonal repetition of the Hail Mary and the Our Father. It was apparently designed to be an aide to faithful Catholics in praying the Rosary at home. I never understood exactly what it was for but it went on for quite some time. I was not impressed.

              The last Sunday Mass I attended years ago, as a guest since a friends child was being baptized, was proceeded by the faithful there praying the Rosary. I found that to be the only authentic experience of the day. I rather like the Rosary Prayers myself, though I have never used them. They seem to hold a deep resonance of faith and devotion that is antithetical to the more modern forms of prayer and worship I have seen in the Roman Catholic Church. That is a good thing.

              Anything however, including the Jesus Prayer, can be looked at in an idolatrous fashion. But believe me Father, I hold you and you priesthood in highest regards and even I am not so arrogant as to even have a slightest suspicion that you would entrain any sort of idolatry let alone accuse you of it.

              Forgive me for giving that impression.

              By your prayers.

  5. Daniel E Fall says

    A very educational post George. Thank you.

  6. Abbouna Michel says

    If I’m not mistaken, Jesus has something to say about things like worrying about the size of tefillin and whether the tzittzit (fringes at the corners of a prayer shawl) are properly made. Loss of perspective is one of the real temptations in Orthodox world, especially among some recent adherents.

  7. Christopher William McAvoy says

    Hmm, I like the article, and I agree, but I also think that Pascha is a more interesting term,a bit more fun and multicultural in spirit. Pascha is the name for Easter in many different languages. The word Easter is rarer.

    For sake of avoiding confusion though, may as well say Easter sometimes, sure why not.

    • I think “Easter” is a variant for the Feast of the Resurrection only in English and Afrikaans. When I looked it up in various languages, all of the Orthodox languages I could find and others, I found variations of “Pascha” [Passover, Eastern and Western languages] “Voskreseniye” [Resurrection, Slavic] and “Velikiden” [the Great Day, Slavic] and that was about it. Easter is definitely the exception and the latest theory may not be true, it could refer to what Bede said it referred.

      Now, along similar lines, and as Michael mentioned, the rosary and the prayer rope serve very different functions. A rosary consists of meditations on the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of Christ – one calls to mind scenes from the life of Christ. A prayer rope, conversely, empties the soul of all distraction except the focus on the prayer regarding mercy from Christ. Christ’s Mass may be the origin of “Christmas”; however, Orthodox do not use the word “mass” for the liturgy (though I have heard some Arab Christians from the Levant do so informally). “Mass” is an informal title for the RC liturgy taken from the words “Ita, missa est.” at the end of the service.

      IMHO, Orthodoxy needs its own vocabulary to describe the Orthodox faith since it is very often quite different in substance from that of “Western Christians”. Met. Kallistos quoted Khomiakov about this in his book, The Orthodox Church, that Catholicism and Protestantism are more like each other than like Orthodoxy. Nonetheless, I often use “Easter” and “Christmas”, but never “mass” or “rosary”.

      • I have seen Western Rite Orthodox parishes use the term “Mass” formally on schedules, bulletins, etc. As I understand it, the term comes from a misunderstanding of the Latin idiom “missa est,” meaning “it’s done/accomplished.” Reading “Ite, missa est” without understanding the idiom renders “Go, it is a missa (“Mass.”). Nevertheless, it’s what it is, now. Still, “Divine Liturgy” is a more descriptive term.

        I’m certainly not above correction, here.

      • Isa Almisry says

        “Orthodox do not use the word “mass” for the liturgy (though I have heard some Arab Christians from the Levant do so informally)”
        Btw, that is because the Vatican’s Arab flock doesn’t say mass-they say “Liturgy” (Quddaas literally something like “sanctification,” “consecration”or Liituurjiyyah). Unfortunately, most Arabic-English dictionaries translate this as “Mass.”

        Btw, I say Christmas (whose etymology and meaning is perfectly Orthodox), but never Easter.

  8. Monk James says

    It’s rare that I find myself in disagreement with nearly every point of an essay posted here or anywhere, but I’m at just that place here. Almost always, I can identify some few redeeming aspects of an essay. Not this time.

    Several of our correspondents have brought concerns and opinions to the table, and I generally agree with them, but not entirely. Oh. Before I forget, I want to suggest ‘prayer cord’ as a better way of referring to the komvoskhoinion in English. ‘Prayer rope’ is unappealing on several levels, and it’s certainly not a hawser. The prayer cord and the rosary have distinctly different uses, and their authentic traditional design reflects that. Now, I’ve seen prayer cords made of linked beads, and rosaries made of knotted cords. I much prefer the soundless knots to the clicking beads. Then, too, I wonder if we might call it the ‘Jesus cord’ or (more metonymically) just the ‘Jesus Prayer’.

    Researching the etymology of ‘Easter’ shows us two things. First, it appears in anglo-germanic languages almost exclusively, or else when some unimaginative translator uncritically brings in the word from English. Nearly all other languages use some form of paskha, the Aramaic form used by Jesus and all through the New Testament, first cousin to Hebrew pesakh (‘Passover’) .

    Second — and perhaps of greater importance — St Bede’s early description of the word, attesting its derivation from the name of a prechristian germanic goddess of Spring, hasn’t ever been successfully refuted — not that some have not argued against it unsuccessfully.

    At ACTS 12:4, the AV says that St Paul was to be kept in jail until after ‘Easter’. Really! King James’s translators used the word to render the Greek azymOn (‘unleavened’); the Douay has ‘pasch’ at this location, as likely to be mispronounced as that peculiar form is. Odd, isn’t it, that these 17th-century efforts didn’t just translate this as ‘unleavened’ but went instead for a ‘dynamic equivalent’?

    Just the other day, we read that Paul was arranging his travel plans to be in Jerusalem for ‘Pentecost’ (‘fiftieth’), a hellenistic way of describing the jewish festival of shavuot, seven times seven weeks, after which the Lord’s giving the Law to Moses is commemorated on the 50th day with great rejoicing. It’s THAT festival which Paul wanted to attend, not the christian remembrance of the descent of the Holy Spirit. Let’s keep in mind that Paul was still a practicing Jew. Just today, e.g., we read that he cut his hair when his vow expired.

    Last week we observed the great feast of the Lord’s ‘Ascension’, right? WRONG! The Symbol has us say that Jesus Christ ‘went up’ (anelthonta) while the New Testament says that He was ‘taken up’ (anelEphthEs); this passive form is accurately reflected by the church slavonic vozneslsya .
    So, if we wanted to translate this accurately, maybe with a nod toward the romanizations we so often encounter, this holy day would commemorate the Lord’s assumption. , because the scriptures and the service books insist in saying that our Lord was ‘taken up’. RC books, on the other hand, always say that He ‘ascended’.

    But the RCs already use ‘assumption’ to describe the holy virgin Mary’s ‘dormition’, and we get pretty adamant about that, trying to keep our categories straight. And this is at the same time as we happily/haplessly adopt RC/CofE/heterodox terminology for lots of other things.

    Why do we insist on ‘phelonion’ instead of ‘chasuble’ while we accept ‘cassock’ and ‘stole’, and ‘tabernacle’ instead of ‘ark’?

    A dear friend, a priest’s wife, used the word ‘biretta’ to describe her husband’s cap. If she — like most of us — wants to know the proper words for our liturgical vestments and other paraphernalia, why should she learn a RC word instead of skouphos/skfuiya? She was obviously trying hard to use the right word. It would serve most of our purposes to describe such accoutrements as hats, knowing full well that what we mean by ‘miter’ is rather different from its heterodox equivalent. We orthodox might better say ‘crown’ in that particular instance.

    All the narratives of our Lord’s first eucharist with His apostles use the word ‘cup’; all liturgical texts do the same. Whence the word ‘chalice’? It’s true that the Latin translation of the gospels and the RC liturgy use the word calix, in these places, but we’re not RC. Almost humorously, I pointed out to an eminent translator that his rubrics say that ‘the priest gestures toward the CHALICE, but his text says ‘this is the CUP’. He was very embarrassed.

    And I could go on and on.

    All disciplines and bodies of knowledge have their unique lexicons, and we have our own orthodox christian vocabulary. I am not moved by accusations of pedantry when I assert this, since when people say such things they are usually just defending their own ‘comfort zones’ and somehow feel embarrassed when they hear that some of their assumptions are mistaken.

    And, yes, Virginia, ikons are indeed painted rather than written.

    Please, let’s all learn the vocabulary of the authentically orthodox catholic christian tradition, and use it effectively.

    • R. Howell says

      Monk James writes, All the narratives of our Lord’s first eucharist with His apostles use the word ‘cup’; all liturgical texts do the same.

      I am pretty sure Monk James is mistaken. “ποτήριον” is the word used in the original texts, to the best of my knowledge. It would be surprising to find the word “cup” in a Koine Greek text.

      He continues, Whence the word ‘chalice’? It’s true that the Latin translation of the gospels and the RC liturgy use the word calix, in these places, but we’re not RC.

      No we’re not RC. But we’re speakers of English, a language in which over half of all the words have Latin roots. And neither is Latin the property of the “RC”. Latin was the language of the pre-Schism church throughout western Europe for centuries. Are we to expunge half of our vocabulary to avoid the taint of association with post-Schism Rome? St. Jerome and his Vulgate are as Orthodox as Old Church Slavonic.

      • Monk James says

        Yes, indeed, ‘disingenuous’ is derived from Latin.

        Our liturgical terminology is not.

        If we can accommodate, adapt and assimilate words such as thermometer, idolatry, geography, theology, aphasia, hypocrisy, catastrophe, etc., etc., I’m sure we can do as well with bringing in less adapted forms, like Theotokos and direct translations such as ‘cup’ for potErion. and ‘ark’ for kibotos, , since our books don’t use Deipara, calix, or tabernaculum.

        Now, the latin liturgy uses its own vocabulary translated from Greek, more or less accurately. But for our purposes, translating from Greek into English, we can do without the mediation of Latin. In fact, we must.

        Whatever St Jerome did is nearly irrelevant to us, since translating from a translation is an invalid method and our orthodox liturgical vocabulary derives no small authority from its corroboration in the Greek of the Scriptures.

        Besides, St Jerome’s occasional lapses have caused serious problems for us in English.

        Consider, for instance, his inconsistency in rendering monogenEs sometimes as unicus (‘unique, sole, only’) and sometimes as unigenitus (‘only-begotten’). As a result, nearly all of our texts in English employ ‘only-begotten’ at all locations.

        But greek monogennEtos means latin unigenitus (‘only-brgotten’, and St Jerome seems not to have appreciated the distinction between that word and monogenEs, a portmanteau word which, unpacked, means ‘the only one of (its) kind’, in other words, ‘unique’.

        So the Hymn of the Incarnation, sung after the Second Antiphon of the Divine Liturgy and attributed to Emperor Justinian, does NOT begin with a kalletic (vocative) ‘O only-begotten Son and Word of God’. Rather, the first half of the hymn is a statement: ‘The only Son and Word of God’. The second half of the hymn, though, is indeed kalletic: staurOtheis te khriste ho theos (‘You were then crucified, Christ God’).

        This shift from narrative to direct address is unusual in English except in rhetoric, but it occurs frequently in the Scriptures, especially in Isaiah and the Psalter. In any case, it needs to be accurately reflected in translation, and it’s very often not. We must do better, and we need to be faithful to the Greek originals in order to get it right.

        • Bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald says

          I like Monk James’s idiosyncrasy, “we need to be faithful to the Greek originals in order to get it right.” Greek ORIGINALS? When our Lord took the bread, in what language did He speak of that bread? When He took the receptacle for drinking, what was it He and the disciples called it ‘in the original?” What was our Lord’s ‘original language? At HIS Nativity, what language was used by the shepherds? By the angels? What language was used by the Zoroastrian clergy or Magi—did they have any Greek? Even If they did, why would they choose not to use Aramaic?

          Monk James, i know that your life in the world revolves around your specialization in language, to wit, Greek, but perhaps it’s time to prepare for a society or world with other priorities.

          I think Justinian’s hymn ‘Only begotten Son, etc.” is understood properly by the Faithful who hear it and pray it. Why in the world did you have demonstrate that you know the “original Greek” for “vocative?’ That’s known as shooting oneself in the foot in the case of anyone hoping to persuade others of the probity of his linguistic pursuits. The remarkable thing about the Authorized Version or “the KJ V” is, as has been remarked, that it was written at a time when even a committee could write good English.

          You initial evaluaton of the article was fine….your perorations just made it almost impossible NOT to disregard your evaluation.

          • Monk James says

            There is inferential support in the gospels that our Lord Jesus Christ spoke Greek: He preached in the Dekapolis, He conversed with the roman governor before His crucifixion.

            If Bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald can find an Urtext of the gospels in Aramaic, I’ll joyfully revisit all my opinions in its light and make any necessary revisions in my renderings.

            Until that happy day, though, it remains unequivocally true that the greek text is as original as we’re ever going to get. In the meantime, I recommend that His Disengenuousness just drop it.

            And — pace BpT — I thought people might be happy to learn the greek names of grammatical cases. So here they all are, with their latinate equivalents:

            onomastic = nominatave
            gennetic = possessive/genitive
            dotic = prepositional/indirectly objective
            aitiatic = objective/accusative
            kalletic = direct address/vocative

            The dotic case has fallen out of use except in the moribund katharevousa experiment started a century ago, and in Athos where it’s still alive and well.

            Whatever people’s ‘comfort zone’ might be regarding Justinian’s hymn, it remains true that it’s badly mistranslated. People will have to get comfortable with a correct version.

            As I wrote here earlier, I am unmoved by accusations of pedantry. I’m just trying to share information and keep people informed.

            Yet I’m left wondering: Why didn’t BpT engage anything of substance in what I wrote, rather than just get exercised over such petty things?

            I remember a proverb I learned from my hindu friends in Chicago: ‘If you are disturbed by small things, does that not indicate something about YOUR size?’

            • Bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald says

              Oh, Monk James is a treat, a caution, and he makes the days short with his “inferential evidence!” That’s definitely a keeper. The German word “Urtext” hardly needs italics. I’m surprised that there’s no Greek equivalent? So one MAY resort to ‘Latinate” (the scorn of a mouse for an elephant) equivalents in order to explain cockeyed Grecian grammatical niceties?
              I would never accuse (and never have) accused Monk James of pedantry. But I know he privately thrives on such expletives. I didn’t spy anything “of substance’ in Monk James’s message. Give me an example, please. Surely he doesn’t think that reference to ‘The Original Greek” is a matter of substance, does he? I DID comment on that.

              Inferential evidence. Is that like saying, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s toast?”
              By the way, I did not deny that our Lord knew as much of that pidgin Greek called “koine’ as was customary in the remains of Hellenistic Judaism, but I find it, frankly, incredible that someone would opine that our Lord and Hisa Disciples would prefer to speak in private with each other in any language but their native tongue, their mothers’ language. I INFER that, Monk James, but I don’t dress it up by calling my inferences ‘Inferential evidence.”

        • Patrick Henry Reardon says

          Monl James affirms, “But for our purposes, translating from Greek into English, we can do without the mediation of Latin. In fact, we must.”

          Okay, let’s all say good-bye to:


          I offer Monk James a friendly challenge: Talk about Orthodox theology to any group of people for 40 minutes without recourse to a Latin term.

          • Monk James says

            Father Patrick has misapprehended the point and purpose of my earlier notes here.

            I am not at all suggesting that we exclude words derived from Latin from orthodox christian usage.

            Rather, I continue to insist that we not rely on intermediate translations of the Scriptures and the services — latin or otherwise — but depend solely on original texts (usually in Greek) for our translations into English.

            • Patrick Henry Reardon says

              Father James insists that “we not rely on intermediate translations of the Scriptures and the services — latin or otherwise — but depend solely on original texts (usually in Greek) for our translations into English.”

              This reliance is exactly what I have in mind to challenge. It was the presupposition of Luther and the other Reformers: Skip Latin (and/or Slavonic, Coptic, Syriac) and go directly to the Greek text.

              Saints Jerome, Cyril, and the others understood Greek better than either Father James or myself.

              When, for instance, Jerome translates nous in Saint Paul, he does not always translate it the same way. A wooden Greek-to-English translation of Saint Paul, which is what you get from Protestant translators, completely misses the nuances distinguishing intellectus, mens. and sensus.. These Latin words convey aspects of the Greek word that can be very helpful getting it into English.

              I take nous simply as one example among Pauline expressions that need to be read through more than one set of eyes.

              Father James would be the last person in the world, I think, to advocate studying the ancient texts of the faith from outside the richly manifold Tradition through which we have received them.

            • Tim R. Mortiss says

              I have always found it interesting that the Roman Catholic Church did not even permit translations of the Bible from anything but the Vulgate until the 1940s. Especially ironic in that St. Jerome translated (no doubt not alone) the OT from the Hebrew, rather than the Septuagint.

              But “intermediate translations”, especially where very old, can shed quite a bit of light on the “originals”….

              An endlessly fascinating subject.

              • Monk James says

                If I recall correctly, Pope Pius xii in his encyclical letter ‘Divino afflante Spiritu’ (late 1940s) did indeed encourage roman catholic scholars to pursue biblical studies in original languages.

                The ‘law of unintended consequences’ being what it is, this had both good and bad effects. It was good for the RCC to get beyond its entrenched latin text of the Scriptures, especially for the New Testament, but — on the negative side — caused scholars to abandon the Greek 70 in favor of hebrew texts of the Old Testament.

                This remains a point of disagreement between orthodox and RC Christians. We Orthodox consider the Greek 70 as normative, even inspired, and to be valued over any of the hebrew texts from which it was translated. And a great volume of lore has accumulated over that 4th-c BC project.

                Now I (quem timor mortis non conturbat)) would like to hope that our correspondent and Fr Patrick Reardon, too, might be a at least a little bit gruntled to know that when I work on the Psalms (my special area of interest, since the Psalter is the motherlode of our prayers and services, I use a three-language screen.

                I first write the Greek text, and then interline that with St Jerome’s latin text iuxta lxx, and then again with the church slavonic text. Once I’ve made sense of the christian readings (if I can), I compare them (if I must) to the underlying hebrew text of the Masorah — but I (like any Christian) would not translate directly from that because it is not The Church’s text.

                But this comparison is important, since the Greek of the 70 is often strange, sometimes not like Greek at all. It’s actually Hebrew in greek clothing, and needs to be treated as such. Without a working knowledge of biblical Hebrew, it’s impossible to translate the Old Testament from Greek with any hope of accuracy.

                It’s important to note that St Jerome’s original latin version of the Scriptures which he translated from the Greek 70 was very similar to the already ncient ‘Vetus Latina’. He didn’t need to make very many emendations, But he felt that he needed to get closer to the Urtext, so he later learned Hebrew with several rabbis, and, while he was living at Bethlehem, produced his iuxta hebraeum. It turned out to be very much like his earlier work based on the greek text.

                A great amount of St Jerome’s work has been lost, possibly because it turned out to be redundant. But in the 1950s, just to make sure, the RCC commissioned a fresh translation of the Psalms from Hebrew into Latin. They found that only minor revisions needed to be made to St Jerome’s work.

                And that’s how I do my work.

                • Bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald says

                  You really need your own blog, Monk James! Or you could advertise what you do on Facebook, as many do…one may endlessly post pictures of oneself there and/or ‘humbly” show off as one likes.

                  “And that’s how i do my work.’ Thanks SO much for this reminiscence of one of Lily Tomlin’s characters…’And that….”

                • Patrick Henry Reardon says

                  Father James writes, “But in the 1950s, just to make sure, the RCC commissioned a fresh translation of the Psalms from Hebrew into Latin. They found that only minor revisions needed to be made to St Jerome’s work.”

                  Respectfully, there is certainly some confusion here. My library has copies of two works that need to be strictly distinguished. Father James may be referring to either of them:

                  First, the Pian translation of the Psalter from Hebrew into Latin, authorized by Pope Pius XII, was a rush-job Father (later Cardinal) Bea was forced (not too strong an expression–I can provide details) to put together from the mimeographed class notes of certain (of my) professors of the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

                  This Latin version of the Psalter is a perfectly awful and embarrassing production that does not even faintly resemble either of Jerome’s translations of the Psalms.

                  Among its many critics, the distinguished Church Latinist, Christine Mohrmann, was arguably the most vocal. So vocal, in fact, that Pope Pius XII wrote to assure her that the work’s deficiencies would be corrected if there should be a second edition.

                  There never has been, and there never will be, another edition. When I was a student at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in the 60’s, the monstrosity was still a source of embarrassment. My own copy, gathering dust on the shelf, has not been opened in years.

                  If this is the work to which Father James refers—”a fresh translation of the Psalms from Hebrew into Latin”—then he could not be more mistaken by declaring, “only minor revisions needed to be made to St Jerome’s work.”

                  Second, Rome authorized an authoritative critical edition of Jerome’s two Latin translations of the Psalms, now produced, page-beside-page, in the Vatican’s official critical edition of the Vulgate. I have this work within reach at all times.

                  If this is the work to which Father James refers, let me note that it was not authorized in the 50’s, but much earlier—mid-20’s, if memory serves—and it was well advanced long before Pius XII became pope.

                  Indeed, I watched the work in progress many decades ago. It was not done by the Pontifical Biblical Institute, but by the Benedictines at the Monastery of Saint Jerome, where there were rooms full of tables that sagged under the weight of textual material. It was a joy and a wonder to watch that work in production.

                  I am happy to learn that Father James takes the textual study of the Psalter so seriously. If I receive his address, I will be glad to send him a copy of my own modest little book on the Psalms.

                  • Monk James says

                    Having become a bit familiar with the latin psalms of a 1940s or so edition of the Liber Usualis, it was a jarring experience for me to see the minor tweaks in the texts of the psalms in a 1960s edition of the Breviarium Romanum. (When I call the changes ‘minor’, I’m referring to the replacement of, say, neuter salutare with masculine salvator.)

                    Upon inquiring about the adjustments, I was informed that ‘Rome’ had ordered them as I wrote here earlier, that ‘in the 1950s, just to make sure, the RCC commissioned a fresh translation of the Psalms from Hebrew into Latin. They found that only minor revisions needed to be made to St Jerome’s work.’

                    Regretfully, I admit that this is all I know about the matter.

    • Michael Bauman says

      “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

      • Tim R. Mortiss says

        “Wester Neaster, Easter Neaster”, as my kids would say in the 80s and 90s when I’d have Pascha feasts on Orthodox Easter, in my long fellow-traveling days.

        Then it comes about a year-and-a-half back that my youngest son (now 37) says why don’t we just actually join the Orthodox church? Good question; and so it came to pass.

        I give Easter Neaster a lot of credit!

    • Bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald says

      I would never accuse Monk James of pedantry.. Wannabe pedantry, maybe. I find him, rather, somewhat reckless and more concerned with an erudite style than with communicating knowledge. It leads to a too-frequent reference to credentials and experiences couched in trendy MLA jargon. Oh, isn’t ‘Easter” originally a pagan goddess or nymph-like creature? I get a kick out of “Lent” in winter months, too. People like to be seen as clever, no? That’s where you get stuff like “Winter Pascha” Cutesy stuff, and EXTREMELY condescending.

  9. Sean Richardson says

    While I know that English has evolved from a variety of different linguistic roots, as a convert I am always most comfortable with those words that are easiest to understand, take to heart and repeat. When I became Orthodox, the priest I first encountered was able to speak the truth of Orthodoxy without forcing me to call upon my meager knowledge of Greek or Latin (Russian or Arabic). English has more words in it than any other language on the fact of the earth, so I do not buy the argument that this Greek word is accurate but that Latin word, or English word, won’t work.

    A number of years ago I attended a lecture in which a SVS professor was speaking, and using a variety of Greek and Latin phrases. A very Godly priest was sitting near me and I over-heard him say: “If Fr. __ says one more thing in Greek or Latin I’m leaving.” It only took about two minutes before the phrase was used and Fr. John got up and left.

    I stuck it out, but I understood his position completely. The issue is not what is said, the issue is what is understood. Let’s all use language that is Godly, truth-filled, and that people actually understand. The Light cannot shine where there is no understanding.

    • Bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald says

      Oh Sean! Was the professor one of those “nous” and “phronema” sorts?