On Englishing the Bible of the Orthodox Church: Further Updates and Reflections

I.

While moderating my queue of unapproved comments, I was delighted to find a note from Michael Asser, whose fine KJV-LXX Psalter and Old Testament I have mentioned in the past. He writes:

I’m very glad to inform you that Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain (ROCOR) has blessed my ‘King James Septuagint’ (an adaptation of the OT of the King James Bible to the Greek Septuagint), and it is expected that it will be published by September 2013 by the St Innocent Press of Middlebury, Indiana.

This is very good news indeed. As I have noted before, the full text of his excellent KJV-LXX Old Testament is already available online at the Orthodox England website. It appears that the published volume will comprise the entirety of the material on that pageincluding, one hopes, the substantial Slavonic appendix. Needless to say, I enthusiastically look forward to the release of the printed edition, and congratulate the indefatigable translator on finding a suitable publisher for this invaluable work. Beyond this, allow me only to restate a wish I have expressed before:

I have read somewhere that Mr Asser has tentatively started to work on the KJV’s Gospel of St Matthew in order to bring it into conformity with the 1904 Patriarchal Greek New Testament. While he has not committed himself to a full-fledged New Testament project, I, for one, hope that he does carry out a full revision of the KJV New Testament to supplement his KJV-LXX Old Testament. In this way we would have, at long last, an accurate and stylistically consistent English edition of the entire Church’s Bible suitable for use at the Divine Services.

II.

Most Orthodox readers of bibliophile proclivities are no doubt already aware of the publication of A Psalter for Prayer, edited by David James (Jordanville: Holy Trinity, 2011). This project was several decades in the making, and at least a couple of editions, under such names as The Augmented Psalter and The Russian Orthodox Psalter, had been previously released electronically. This is a remarkable book, which includes not only a revision of the Coverdale Psalter (the one given, as is well known, in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer), but also an admirably full compilation of the devotional and catechetical materials often printed in Church Slavonic Psalters. I understand that in some places this new Psalter has already come to replace that old staple, The Psalter According to the Seventy (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration, 1974). Having never been an Anglican, I lack the attachment to the words of the Coverdale Psalter that others seem to have; however, I can certainly attest to their verve and beauty, since I privately used Coverdale for a long stretch as a substitute for the HTM Psalter (my distaste for which I have never exactly kept a secret).

A Psalter for Prayer retails for $44, but in a most unusual development in the marketing of Orthodox liturgical publications, the book can be purchased from Amazon for a mere $28.69, while a Kindle edition (!) sells for $12.99. Interested parties would do well to promptly take advantage of this.

III.

Some might worry that the publication of Michael Asser’s KJV-LXX and David James’ A Psalter for Prayer within a couple of years of each other will needlessly cause them to be in direct competition: after all, both of these books seek to find a place in the private and public prayer life of Orthodox who use “hieratic English.” I rather doubt that this will be the case, if only because the books have different, and in fact complementary, goals. It might well be desirable to use the same Psalter liturgically that one uses in private reading, and this is the rationale behind such publications as the CTS New Catholic Bible, which prints the text of the Jerusalem Bible together with the Grail Psalms as used in the official Roman Catholic lectionary for the UK. Still, the use of different Psalters for liturgy and private reading need not be at all disruptive, as witnesses the long coexistence of the Authorized Version and Prayer Book Psalters, on which our publications are respectively based.

IV.

The need for a suitable liturgical Psalter in contemporary English has occupied my thoughts of late. There is, of course, The Septuagint Psalms by José de Vinck and Leonidas Contos (Allendale: Alleluia, 1993), which is certainly not without its charm, but in my judgment is gravely lacking in matters of editing, accuracy, and style. There is also The Psalter According to the Seventy (Westport: WORDsmith, 2001), published under the auspices of the OCA Archdiocese of Canada, but now out of print and nearly impossible to find. In spite of my best efforts, I have regrettably never had a chance to examine this volume. I understand, however, that a second edition is in the works and hopefully will appear at some point before the Parousia. Better by far than Contos and de Vinck is the Kathisma Psalter with Canticles (Otego: Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, n.d.). As I have said many times before, while not perfect, this is a lovely and clear translation, and eminently suitable for reading and singing. It is truly a pity that it is not more widely known and used.

I should note that in his recent Prayer Book of the Early Christians (Brewster: Paraclete, 2012; also available in a Kindle edition!), Fr John McGuckin intriguingly uses the Grail Psalms, lightly emended for this purpose. Now I am aware of the many merits of the Grail Psalms and can certainly sympathize with, and even admire, this decision. It occurs to me, however, that Fr Lazarus Moore’s Psalter, at once laconic and lyrical, shares many of these merits and has yet other advantages. Could we not, with a little bit of effort, produce a revised contemporary text of this wonderful Psalter instead?

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“The Voice of Stefan” is now “Bouncing into Graceland”

Greetings, my gentle snowflakes! I realize that it has been a long time indeed since we last met, but be anxious no more: for I have returned.

The first order of business is to inform as many of you as have heroically withstood with the merciless passing of the seasons that this blog’s name and look have changed. Allow me to introduce you, then, to Bouncing into Graceland.

As long time readers might recall, not only has this blog featured the above “Graceland” header image from its inception in 2007, but for as long as it was hosted on Blogger it also carried a subtitle taken from the homonymous song by the great Paul Simon:

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

These are surely some of the greatest American lyrics of all time, and the Graceland sign with the upwards arrow was specifically chosen to match them. “The Voice of Stefan” (which, incidentally, I first used for my short-lived Vox journal in 2006) was only meant to be a provisional name until I found something more satisfactory; however, I then started to blog in earnest, and the provisional name stayed almost by default. So the new name really isn’t new, after all, but in fact picks up on a theme that has been present here from the beginning. But more on that later, when I finish that one post I started to write back in 2008 (!).

Of course, those of you who also read Nick Norelli’s blog were already aware of the name change. As noted in his announcement, Nick did provide a number of suggested alternate names at my request, and he even listed some of them. I feel, however, that he left out of his partial list some of his better suggestions, which I therefore now share with you for your edification.

  • “Maybe, something like, ‘Radical Orthodoxy, Only Less Radical.'”
  • “Anything with some interesting foreign letters in it would be cool. Something like a Spanish Ñ or a Norwegian Ø in the title would be awesome.”
  • “If you wanna go something more classic how about ‘Irenaeus is Awesome’ or ‘Machen Kills Liberals’? Both have a nice ring to them.”
  • “‘Garfunkled’ could be cool. You could end every post by saying, ‘You’ve just been Garfunkled.'”

The first two are just fun. “Garfunkled” would have made for a splendid name (and catch phrase!), and indeed one with precedent in the Paul Simon oeuvre:

I been mothered, fathered, aunt and uncled
Roy Halleed and Art Garfunkled
I just discovered somebody’s tapped my phone

However, naming my blog after Art Garfunkel probably would have haunted for the rest of my days.

I must admit that I very nearly went with “Machen Kills Liberals.” I even envisioned an image of Machen holding a copy of Christianity and Liberalism, with the words “This Machine Kills Liberals” etched around the border (after the model of Woody Guthrie’s “This Machine Kills Fascists” guitar). This would have been spectacular. I ultimately passed on it, but only with deep regret.

In the end, I decided that my traveling companions would be poorboys and pilgrims with families along the wayso, my gentle snowflakes, welcome to Bouncing into Graceland. I hope you’ll be my traveling companions too, and that we all will be received there.