A Question of Translation

It was a normal evening after Vespers. I returned the liturgical book to its proper place in the sacristy as Fr. Dcn. Nic and Fr. Slav removed their vestments. While the jovial Fr. Slav was always open to conversation whenever his children were not misbehaving, the Fr. Dcn. Nic unvested without procrastinating. Dinner and some rest were clearly calling to him after his day of work that had ended with Vespers a few minutes prior. The smell of his cigarrettes had faded from his being over an hour ago, which was likely expediting the rate of his undressing. The subject turned to the new liturgical books released by the Archeparchy.

“Yeah, I noticed a few of the prayers had two versions in the new book.” Said the deacon, as he undid his collar hurriedly.

“I was still using the old one,” answered Fr. Slav, “You mean like the ‘O Tranquil Light’/’O Joyful Light’?”

“Yeah, that one and the Canticle of Simeon,” Fr. Dcn. Nic said as he removed his epimanikia and placed them on the shelf.

“Maybe it’s like when the different churches have their own translations.” Fr. looked then to me, “You know, right?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I’ve looked at the Ruthenian, Ukrainian and Melkite translations and they’re full of differences like that. I’d say the Melkite is the most ‘King James-y’ while the Ruthenian is the most…”

I momentarily looked for the right word.

“…different.”

“Ha!”

The deacon gave a hearty chuckle as he hung his sticharion on the coat rack.

“Yes,” said Fr. Slav, “They had a bit of a liturgical reform back in 2004-2005. Before then, theirs were like ours.”

“Well, sometimes they do things because they gotta be different,” said the deacon, now fully undressed down into lay attire, “Something to give them an ‘identity’.”

Fr. Slav shrugged, “Maybe.”

***

This is something odd I’ve noticed in the Byzantine Catholic world: the “new” Ruthenian translations. The melodies were converted from standard Slavic choral and and chant to sing-songy tunes that sometimes sound like pretty Anglican hymns mixed with Marty Haugen. Many are pleasant, but they usually far more difficult to sing than the standard chants that preceded them. The phraseology is often strange and awkward, as if the translators of the New American Bible had a hand in them. Combined, the translations and melodies make for an awkward time at Vespers for one used to Greek (like the RadTrad) or Slavic (like me) tones.

What baffles me is there seems to be no clear information anywhere on why this was done. So I would like to ask any readers, if there are any who know something about this, what were the reasons – if any – for the change in the Ruthenian melodies and translations?

For context, here is a comparison:

Ukrainian Version

O Tranquil Light, light of the Holy Glory of the Father
Heavenly and Immortal, Holy and Blessed,
Jesus Christ
Having come to the sunset and seeing the evening light
We sing to God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit
It is fitting at all times for You to be hymn’d in song
Songs full of praise and sung with reverent voices
O Son of God, who gives the whole world life
Behold how all the world gives You glory
 –

Melkite Version

O Joyful Light,  light of the Holy Glory of the Father Immortal
Heavenly, Holy, Blessed, Jesus Christ
Since we have come to the setting of the sun and have seen the evening light
We praise God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
It is proper for you to praised at all times by fitting melodies
O Son of God, Giver of Life, therefore the world glorifies You

Ruthenian Version

O Joyful Light of the holy glory of the Father Immortal
The heavenly, holy, blessed, one
O Jesus Christ
Now that we have reached the setting of the sun and see the evening light
We sing to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
It is fitting at all times to raise a song of measured melody to You
O Son of God, the Giver of Life
Therefore, the universe sings Your glory
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