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Choral Corner #37: Why is there no uniform, standardized series of service texts mandated for use throughout the whole Orthodox Church in America?

Q: Why is there no uniform, standardized series of service texts mandated for use throughout the whole OCA?


A: This is largely a function of our youth and diversity, and reflects the unique way Orthodoxy came to the Americas: not by imperial decree, military action or a large-scale missionary blitz undertaken by one local Orthodox Church, but through the gradual expansion of multiple ecclesial jurisdictions over a massive geographical area. With this process came the progressive translation of liturgical texts into English: a heartfelt labor of great faith and love undertaken, at times, by individuals not fluent in English (or by those fluent in English but not the source language). Furthermore, until about 25 years ago, this task had to be done without access to near-instant digital research and communication; it required consulting colleagues and expert scholars by letter, telephone or personal travel across great distances. After the translations came the period of inevitable refinement: correcting errors and polishing phrases to more accurately reflect the poetic power of the original texts. This is where we find ourselves today. 

At the recent Annual Diocesan Assembly, keynote speaker Fr. Alexander Rentel, the Chancellor of the OCA, spoke on the topic of our autocephaly and its future. He explained that when we received our tomos in 1970 (only 50 years ago!), it was not with the intent that the Orthodox Church in America would instantly become a well-oiled machine that would quickly and decisively establish itself as the sole Orthodox jurisdiction in the Americas. Rather, the tomos grants us the right to self-navigate through the rough waters before us (with the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit), in the hope that these “growing pains” would help equip us to share the light of the Gospel in a world shrouded in darkness. I believe this hope extends to our liturgical language and hymnography, which are works in progress — as we, ourselves, are. 

So, how do we react to this in media res? Let’s be real: liturgical word salad gets old sometimes. We can grumble about it and be irritated, or adopt a better disposition: gratitude to God for the spiritual pioneers who brought Orthodoxy to the Americas, eagerly translating the words of life. We’ll work the rest out in time. 

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