Kelly Ramke Lardin is the author of the children's books Josiah and Julia Go to Church, and Let's Count From 1 to 20 (bilingual counting books in French and Spanish). She holds degrees in French from The University of the South and Tulane University and studied translation at SUNY-Binghamton. She has always enjoyed writing and loves studying languages. She converted to Orthodoxy shortly after marrying her husband, who is also a convert to Orthodoxy. Her journey to the faith was fraught with struggle, but she wouldn't trade it for anything. Together she and her husband are raising their two daughters in the Orthodox faith. This continuing journey still has its moments of struggle but is also a joy. Visit her at kellylardin.com for more information on her books and to read short stories and other writings. She also blogs about her faith, family, and life in Chicago at A Day's Journey. She is available for speaking engagements through the Orthodox Speakers Bureau.
History is filled with divisions that have fractured Christianity (and other religions, for that matter) into a multitude of sects. Some of these divisions were caused by heresies. As people tried to understand God by creating their own image of what He should be, it was inevitable that divisions must arise if anyone was to hold to the Truth. Other divisions are caused by traditions, and it is about these that I am currently worried. The divisions have not broken the unity of the faith, but they do sometimes break the faith of individuals. It’s time to jump into two debates on which everyone has an opinion, and those opinions are usually quite strong. Are you Old Calendar or New? Do you like “You Who” or dost thou prefer something more traditional?
Old Calendar vs. New Calendar
In this debate, I’m all about the practical. Let me confess something right from the start. I grew up Catholic, and until I began my conversion, I was oblivious to the fact that there was any other calendar to speak of. I never quite knew as a kid why George Washington had two birthdays on the calendar on my wall… So, because of familiarity, I like the new calendar. I like celebrating Christmas with my Catholic family. From a practical point of view, I believe that if we live our lives on this “new” calendar then we should celebrate our church feasts on the same calendar. I’ve heard some people argue that Christmas isn’t Christmas if it’s not on January 7. To that I can only say that when the calendars drift further apart, as they inevitably will, Christmas will not be on January 7, but I assume it will still be celebrated and remain just as meaningful to our faith. Having said that, all of you old calendarists should know that I’m not completely against you. In the last few years, I have begun embracing your calendar… not in my celebration of Christmas. I still like to celebrate that one with all of my family. However, when you’re celebrating Christmas in January, you should definitely think of me because I’ll be celebrating my old calendar birthday! Just like George Washington…
You Who or Thee/Thou (Thy)?
This one has come up in our Cathedral parish. We consecrated a wonderful new bishop during Christmastide, and he rather likes the You Who position. One reason he does is because some immigrant parishes have trouble pronouncing “th.” As a wise pastor, he does not want to force his personal preference on the diocese. So, he has been contemplating the issue and discussing it with priests and laity. As a defender of Thee/Thou, I would like to make two main points (and a few tangents?).
It has been argued to me that Thee/Thou is like Slavonic (our parish was begun by a Russian priest and still draws Russian immigrants) — people cling to it, but have no idea what it means. I think the analogy is wrong. Slavonic is like Latin in the Western Church. Indeed, very few people know either language well enough to follow the liturgy/mass. In this respect, I firmly believe in the vernacular (I wish the Roman Church had been wise enough to translate the Tridentine mass into English rather than writing a new English mass…). Within English vernacular, there is a tradition in Christianity of addressing God (and certain other holy figures) as Thou. Has anyone ever actually heard the Lord’s Prayer with the pronoun “your?” I can honestly say that I hadn’t until my husband and a German friend stumbled into a conversation about the Lord’s Prayer and began an internet search to find a version that didn’t use “thy.” In fairness, they did eventually find a Unitarian translation that used “your.” However, it just didn’t sound right to me, and I would argue that everyone knows what thou/thee/thy means.
Another argument is that we use “you” in our daily lives, and so we should use it in our prayers. (Now, if you’ve been paying attention, this is the point where you will need to start accusing me of fickleness…) I think this is exactly why we should not use “you” in our prayers. Since the end of World War II, our society has been undergoing a constant erosion of formality. Point: You wear khaki pants to work — “Why are you so dressed up?” Point: You say “yes, sir” “no, ma’am” “please” and “thank you” — “Why are you so formal?” or “Why are your parents so strict? That’s unnatural.” Everything seems to be about being egalitarian, being informal, casual, comfortable. There is no notion that formality has its place, that it can be beneficial to us. I think in a slightly more formal society, we would find a much greater concentration of civility than we now have.
When we speak of religion and our relationship to God, it is my humble opinion that we must maintain formality. For it is through this formality that we acknowledge the greatness of God and the fact that He is set apart from us. As a linguist, I am fully aware of the irony that “thou” is equivalent to the informal “tu” of other languages, but in English it has come to be understood as more formal because it has largely fallen out of use. So, I would argue staunchly that Thee/Thou should be maintained in our liturgical life (and really in all of spiritual life) because of its unfamiliarity. Should a time arise in which English speakers truly have no understanding of these pronouns, then I would heartily embrace their demise. However, now is not the time for that. They still have a valuable role to play in reminding of the sacred. When so many other aspects of our lives have become casual, even profane, do we really want to lower God to that level? I, for one, do not. Rather, I would have God remain elevated above us through the use of language that instills a sense of respect, a sense of the sacred.
I know that everyone has an opinion on these topics. Now, it’s your turn to tell me thine…