Elizabethan English translation

June 2, 2017
To Be Or Not To Be

My children and I were received into the Orthodox Church in a Greek Orthodox parish in another state. Much of the Liturgy and almost all of Vespers was in English.

We now attend an OCA mission parish in our new city and while all the services are in English I am dismayed at the archaic Elizabethan style translation of the liturgical services (the “thees” and “thys” and accompanying verb endings, i.e., “prayeth, ” etc.).

I am concerned that my children will have to learn archaic English to praise God and will associate the Liturgy and Church as something distinct from real life. Teaching them prayers is made more difficult by also having to teach them all that goes with Elizabethan language. I realize that translation issues are a sensitive subject but why doesn’t the Church update the text of services by a simple changing of “thees” and “thys” to “you” and “your” with corresponding verb endings?


In 1967 the OCA published an official translation of the Divine Liturgy. The style of the text, if I am not mistaken, was based on that of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, from which all direct passages of Scripture are taken.

I believe that a principle followed in this Liturgy translation was to use Thee and Thou in reference to God, while you is employed in every other instance. The translation is not, however, archaic Elizabethan style English. I have used this translation for the nearly 25 years that I have been ordained and never once have I encountered anyone state that they cannot understand the words. My children and their friends, who are all now in their early 20s, grew up on the translation, and I am happy to say that all of them are still active in the Church to this day. [Of course, there are many other elements that are involved in keeping a child active in the life of the Church once they become adults, such as a sense of belonging to the community, a solid Orthodox identity, participation in worship through congregational singing, where possible, positive experiences within the life of the Church, etc.]

Despite the fact that the OCA has an official translation, it has never been imposed or forced on local parishes, and other translations do indeed exist and are used in various places.

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