But, first, we do have a few things to get out of the way so we all know what we are talking about. There are a number of English translations of Orthodox liturgical texts. The oldest are approximately a century old. Some of them use "Thou/Thee" for every second person singular. Some use "Thou/Thee" only for God. Some exclusively use "You/You". People often cobble together the texts from a variety of sources, so it's not all consistent. There is also the question of what Bible translation to use liturgically – I am not going to address that question. At the very least, we should be consistent, so how should we do this?
One plausible answer is that it does not really matter: we should make a choice and stick with it. If we pick up a text for something which does not conform to the mold, we can either fix it or leave it as it is (if, say, the text is only being used once).
Another plausible answer is that it does not really matter: we should only try not to sound completely ridiculous. This is much like the previous option, except that we do not care so much if some small parts are not the same as the others.
I am not competent to comment on either of these practical approaches and will, thankfully, never be in a position to decide on their implementation at any parish. However, I do feel quite qualified to discuss the theoretical questions in this debate (which the above two approaches neatly sidestep), as I have strong opinions about English style and usage. Fortunately, most people have some real opinion about how things ought to be, even if we all end as pragmatists, and I hope my few thoughts on this matter may help you realize that I am, as always, right.
Before I prove that I am right and you are, if you disagree, wrong, I ought to at least present the arguments of those who disagree with me. Here, then, is the compendium of errors:
- Thou/Thee is traditional liturgical English.
The Bible was written in such English. The Book of Common Prayer was written in such English. The Douay-Rheims Bible was written in such English. It was not until recent times that any church used any other sort of language. There are still some pockets in the English-speaking world that insist on using the Authorized Version. Accordingly, we Orthodox should use that idiom to translate our liturgy.
- The language of the liturgy should not be dumbed down like the newspaper or, worse, like casual conversation, text messages, or hip-hop music.
The liturgy is poetry. We must try to translate it in an idiom similar to that in which it was written. Also, we are serving the Almighty God. Though nothing is worthy of God, we should give what we can. A lot of modern translations of the Bible simply do not sound like they are the Bible because they are so dumbed down. Modern evangelical Protestant “praise and worship” music sounds like it could just as easily be about some girl you just fell for rather than the Almighty God. We must avoid this.
- Thou/Thee has the potential to be more theologically accurate.
There are some notable passages in Scripture where using the generic second person pronoun leads to some ambiguity where a distinction between singular and plural would yield clarity. Further, the use of the singular for God emphasizes the oneness of God: definitive proof for the Musulmans that we are not tritheists.
- Complete sets of liturgical texts exist in Thou/Thee, but they do not exist in real English.
Though this is a practical matter, rather than a theoretical matter, it is salient. If satisfactory texts already exist, why bother with all the work of ditching them just because they say Thou instead of You? Making yet another translation of the Horologion, for example, would mean a few thousand man hours, and to what end?
Please let me know if I am missing any major arguments for the use of “Thou/Thee” in liturgical translations or if these arguments can be made stronger. My next post will be my case and a rebuttal of these silly arguments.