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New York City: Conference on Translation & Hymnography in Memory of Fr. Joseph (Lambertsen) held at Synod of Bishops

On Saturday, May 11, a conference on translation and hymnography held at Synod of Bishops in New York City. Dedicated to the memory of translator and hymnographer Fr. Joseph (Isaac Lambertsen) and his editor and publisher Archpriest Gregory Williams, the conference provided an overview of the current state of translation and hymnography into English and in Orthodox mission work more broadly today. The conference brought together translators and hymnographers to start a conversation on these themes, seeking to benefit the Church and Her mission.

The conference began on Saturday morning with an invocation and introductory comments by His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion. The Metropolitan spoke about Fr. Joseph’s contributions to Church translation and hymnography and about his patron saint, Venerable Joseph the Hymnographer, whose own work was of great value to the Church. Dr. Xenia Jacqueline Nenchin remarked on the pioneering work of Fr. Gregory Williams and the partnership between Fr. Joseph and Fr. Gregory that made many translations of services, hymns, and lives of the saints available to the Orthodox public. The introductory remarks were followed by two keynote speeches by Deacons Nicholas Kotar (Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY) and Joseph Kimball (St. Alexander Nevsky Memorial Church in Richmond, ME).

In the first keynote, Fr. Nicholas spoke on the topic of "Creating and Cultivating a Culture of Translation in a post-Christian West." He spoke of philosopher Charles Taylor’s types of secularity and the ways in which translations that are meaning-focused and æsthetically beautiful can help people enter Christian culture and develop their understanding of Christianity. He mentioned the need for more translation of books that can help us in these times and that can translate the beautiful experience of the Russian Church Abroad to help it realize its true mission to become the city on the hill. Among the books that Fr. Nicholas mentioned were the works of Ivan Ilyin and Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov).

He concluded his talk with three practical ways in which people can help in these lofty and essential efforts: a) give priests a salary so that they can truly be priests, b) approach two or three likeminded people and pool resources to complete translations, and c) establish a website through Patreon to enable patrons of translation to contribute to these necessary efforts of bringing forth more translations. Taken together, these should make it possible for the Church to provide people with a transformational experience of God.

In the second keynote, Fr. Joseph Kimball expounded on the topic of "Hymnography and the Renewal of Holy Orthodoxy in the Anglo-Celtic Isles and All the Lands of the West." Fr. Joseph expressed his belief that it is essential for Christians who hail from the West to venerate their own saints, both privately and liturgically, and to promote the renewal of Holy Orthodoxy in the Anglo-Celtic Isles and all the lands of the West. He reminded participants that the British Isles experienced nearly 1,000 years of Christianity before the Great Schism, and that monasticism spread from Ireland to the rest of the British Isles. In Irish life, he noted, the monastery was the center of culture.

Fr. Joseph explained that he has been diligently writing hymns, primarily for the Orthodox saints of the Anglo-Celtic Isles, but also for the pre-schism saints of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Rome. He described his current project, which is to write one troparion daily for the pre-schism Western Orthodox saint whose feast is celebrated on that day. Recently, Fr. Joseph created a website to make these hymns available, and he kindly offered participants copies of his work.

The keynote speeches were each followed by a lively discussion, during which participants posed questions and expressed their views on the topics. After the discussions, there was a lunch break. Some newly arrived participants joined the afternoon session, which followed lunch and which included four brief talks, followed by question-and-answer periods. The four afternoon sessions included talks by Dr. Nadieszda Kizenko, Lisa Priebe, Dr. Nenchin, and Priest Nathan Williams (St. Alexander Nevsky Memorial Church).

The first talk was by Dr. Kizenko, Chair of the History Department at SUNY Albany, on "Translating the Poltava Service and Other Liturgical ‘Curiosities.’" In her talk, she discussed three services from the imperial period in Russian history, including the one commissioned by Peter I for the Battle of Poltava, by the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna for her patron saint, and for Martyr Gabriel of Bielostock. She suggests that certain services are less suitable for being used in church, and are more suitable for consideration in light of their historical contexts. She concludes with the recommendation that we should ponder which texts are of spiritual benefit and which are not in our contemporary context before we translate them.

Lisa Priebe, the acting choir director of a bilingual parish in Rochester, NY, gave the second talk. Her topic was "English Translation Issues: Perspectives from a Bilingual Parish." She discussed the various translations that are used in the parish, including the work of Fr. Joseph, Mother Mary and Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), and Holy Transfiguration Monastery, and the various disconnects there are among translations. She viewed these disconnects as opportunities to find the correct solutions for translation in the future. Among the other issues Lisa discussed are the need for an Irmologion and the use of footnotes to explain acrostics and other points that translators cannot include in their translations.

Dr. Nenchin, a linguist and Professor of Education and English at Molloy College, spoke on "The Problem of English," which focused on some of the unusual qualities of English, the issues of translating into English, and lessons that can be learned by studying the work of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible. She examined various aspects of English for their characteristics, including sounds, words, syntax, and semantics. She argued that the main lessons that can be learned the KJV translators are that translations should carry the meaning and sense of the original and that they should be in beautiful prose that in every way represents the best English.

The final speaker, Fr. Nathan Williams, addressed "Liturgical Translations in ROCOR: Assets, Challenges, and a Possible Solution." After paying homage to the work of Fr. Joseph, Fr. John (Lawrence Campbell), and Fr. Lazarus (Moore), among others, Fr. Nathan suggested that there is more work to be done. He lamented the inconsistency among translations within and among parishes and suggested the necessity to establish an official ROCOR translation for all parishes. This could be done by the establishment of a board of translators and editors, with input from experts in Greek and Hebrew, and with the approval of the Metropolitan and the Synod. This board would undertake the task of editing the entire translation pool, including new translations, for consistency and would receive funding from sponsors. Fr. Nathan also discussed the issues of changes in the Sluzhebnik (Service Book) and the new Jordanville Psalter. He concluded with his hopes for a solution to the pressing translation issues.

The talks were followed by a spirited discussion of the topics of the day. Metropolitan Hilarion commented on the concerns brought up by the speakers, including the issue of the new Psalter, and suggested that it be primarily for private use. He also spoke of some beautiful translations by Greek translators that call for further study. Matushka Eugenia Temidis mentioned the necessity of preserving the hymnographic work of Ms. Valeria Hoecke, author of many Slavonic services, including the services to Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg and the Holy Martyr Edward. Dr. Kizenko suggested that all attendees provide their e-mail addresses for future contact and that they take up Fr. Nicholas Kotar’s idea about developing a network of sponsors for translations through a Patreon site. Metropolitan Hilarion made some closing remarks and concluded the conference with a benediction.

To honor the memory and translation activity of Fr. Joseph, the Committee will award two prizes for biennial translation projects. One, limited to those up to age 21, is for shorter projects – the equivalent of a kontakion and ikos – for $100. The other, for longer projects – the equivalent of an entire service with annotations – will range from $500-$1000.

Applicants for the awards are invited to submit the following by the Church New Year (1/14 September) 2019  electronically to nkizenko@albany.edu and uknen@optonline.net:


Lambertsen Translation Award

To encourage growth in the Orthodox Christian traditions of hymnody, Orthodox Christians aged 21 and below are invited to submit translations into English of previously untranslated short liturgical texts (the equivalent of a kontakion and ikos, up to ca. 250 words) from Church Slavonic. Applications must include:

  • Copy of original text with full reference information.
  • Translation in electronic form (.doc or .docx, not .pdf, .jpg, or any other format)
  • Evidence that this text has not been previously translated.
  • Brief argument for the importance of this particular text.
  • Proof of age.
  • Parish affiliation.
  • Brief biographical statement about one’s interest and previous experience with Orthodox hymnody (such a statement might begin with "I was first trained by mother in Church Slavonic at the age of seven and began reading on kliros at the age of eight. The texts that most interest me are…").

Monk Joseph (Isaac Lambertsen) Award for Translation

This award is intended for experienced translators of Church Slavonic of long liturgical texts (for example, the equivalent of an entire Vigil Service, generally ca. 2,000 words).  Application proposals must include:

For completed works:

  • Applicant’s curriculum vitae.
  • Copy of original text with full reference information.
  • Annotated translation in electronic form (.doc or .docx, not .pdf, .jpg, or any other format). Annotations should include Scriptural and liturgical references. (For example: the phrase "Who is worthily able to hymn Thy mercies, O Lord, which have been manifested to us now, neither men, nor angels; for Thou are greater than all praise, and no word is sufficient for the praise of Thy works," which is written in the Poltava service mentioned above, should include a footnote stating: "This phrasing is in reference to the priest’s prayer at the Great Blessing of Water, which takes place on the feast of Theophany, 6 January.")
  • Evidence that this text has not been previously translated.
  • Argument for the importance of this particular text and any history of its composition (500 words minimum).
  • Parish affiliation.

For proposed works:

  • Applicant’s curriculum vitae.
  • Copy of original text with full reference information.
  • Annotated sample translation (500 word minimum, the more the better) in electronic form (.doc or .docx, not .pdf, .jpg, or any other format). Annotations should include Scriptural and liturgical references (see above).
  • Evidence that this text has not been previously translated.
  • Argument for the importance of this particular text and any history of its composition (500 words minimum).
  • Parish affiliation.

In the case of proposed works, half of the grant will be awarded initially, and the remainder upon successful completion.

Awards will be presented at the next Conference on Translation and Hymnography in Memory of Fr. Joseph (Isaac Lambertsen); date to be announced.



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