Inclusive Language in the Liturgy

Public Orthodoxy is making waves again, this time by daring to talk about…women.

Actually they aren’t even talking about women. They’re talking about Greek. The GOA (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) made it about women when they opted to approve a revision of the creed from “for us and for our salvation” to “for us men and for our salvation.” The problem with this revision, the authors (Aristotle Papanikolaou and John Fotopoulos) is that it makes gender exclusive language that was originally gender inclusive. Greek, like many other languages, has gendered nouns. Anthropos is a masculine noun. But that does not mean that anthropos is male anymore than German a German girl is an “it” (das Mädchen is a neuter noun). Anthropos refers to humanity in general. Anér means “man.”

This all reminds me of something Fr. John McGuckin said at the inaugural conference of the now “retired” Sophia Institute. The topic was “women in Orthodoxy.” Noting that a number of individuals had expressed interest in the organization as a whole, but were avoiding this year’s conference because the topic was so controversial. To this, McGuckin quipped, “I did not know that women were so controversial.”

Burn.

Apparently the Facebook page of Public Orthodoxy was trolled into low ratings after two authors dared to suggest that “humans” is a better way of translating anthropos than “men.” Anthropos is inclusive. Men is not, particularly when the decision was made to add a word that need not have been there in the first place. “For us and for our salvation” works just fine. “For us men…” is clearly a jab at…(wait for it)…feminism. (Gasp!)

Papanikolaou and Fotopoulos suggest that the translation decision was a reactionary move, and it is hard not to conclude that they were right. The GOA took the most significant statement of Christian faith and turned it into a foot soldier in the culture wars.

(Because it will matter to some people, I am not a member of the GOA. My archdiocese has always used “men” in the Creed, but revising an original weak translation is a different matter than wondering why someone took a good translation and made it worse.)

In a way, the GOA translators were right though. The gospel of Jesus Christ is political. It is just not culture wars political. The Incarnation of the Son of God is the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth; a kingdom in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female; a kingdom that is for us and for our salvation; a kingdom that is for us all.

9 thoughts on “Inclusive Language in the Liturgy”

  1. Someone on my Facebook page asked me about “the proper way to translate «ἀνθρώπου ἕως γυναικὸς» in 1 Esdras 9:40.”

    Most of the versions I looked at translate it, “multitude of the people,” which seems about right, especially given the context. If there are other debates about its meaning, I’m not expert enough to speak to them.

    Also, I don’t think the article was denying that anthropos can sometimes “lean” male. The whole culture did.

  2. Mr. Dunn I apologize for my angry comment. While I heavily disagree with your article I disobeyed Christ’s commandment in Matthew 5:22 and have been detoxing from drugs over the past week which has me having bad reactions and extreme bouts of anger. It was immature of me.

  3. Dr. David, I enjoy reading your posts. May I make a small comment here about the second to last paragraph. I believe that our Orthodox Faith will be better served if we did not refer to “our” archdiocese’s memberships or statements, but rather viewed our Faith and the various “archdioceses” as part of the one true faith in which we are all in harmony with one another. With that perspective, those “outside” of our faith would see a unity that they would be drawn to become a part of regardless of the “particular” jurisdictions or archdioceses. Granted, I am not a theologian, but my heart is fully in the church regardless of the jurisdiction. I feel we should be at home in any Orthodox Church.

    1. And I hope you know that I only ask people to call me “Dr.” when I am being cheeky. :-)

    2. You earned your doctorate, titles are a form of respect which I honor. It is ok to be cheeky as well. Pray that we continue to strive towards oneness of heart in the Church. Prayers for you and your family.

  4. Mr. Dunn you are delusional if you think being a “theological troublemaker” is something to be proud of, especially as a layman. Being a theological troublemaker sounds nothing more than “I love the spread heresy and cause conflict” Repent to the Lord and cease your insane publications this instant before your words slip and the clergy will have to teach you lesson.

    1. 1. Irony.
      2. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” All. The. Time.
      3. You really just want me to shut-up and/or agree with you.
      4. Anonymous commenters are often cowards.
      5. Dr.

    2. Repent to the Lord for abominating his word and the proper exegesis of it for the sake of your own pride Mr Anonymous

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