"The Sanctity of Languages"


Fr. Luke Veronis

Missions Week 2010

Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology


Why are we hearing different languages in chapel this week? Some may say, “Oh brother, why do we need to hear something in Spanish, or Mayan, or Albanian, or Swahili?”


And yet, imagine if you always had to hear something in a foreign language. Imagine only worshipping in a language that is not your native tongue?


How do you feel when you finally get to hear something in your own language?


You feel validated. You feel that someone respects who YOU ARE – and they value your language and culture. Ultimately, you may someone is interested in YOU!


The theology of our Church strongly affirms the sanctity of all languages, because we affirm the sanctity of all peoples.


Although the Church began within a Semitic culture and language, it quickly spread and grew through the universal Hellenistic culture and Greek language of their day. And yet, from the very beginning, we see how the Gospel did not stay in one linguistic form, but quickly entered into, and even transformed other cultures – whether with the Coptics in Egypt, the Ethiopians, the Armenians, the Irish, the Goths, the Slavs, and I could mention so many more.


As the Gospel spread, it didn’t insist on uniformity in language, but allowed each people and group to worship God in their own language and within their own culture. It validated the people who accepted its message!


We all should be familiar with the encounter the great Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodios experienced throughout their work among the Slavic peoples in Moravia. Frankish missionaries had been present in these lands 50 years prior to Cyril and Methodios’ arrival. For that half century, the Franks insisted that the Slavs could worship God in only one of the supposedly three holy languages – Greek, Latin or Hebrew, and not their own “barbaric” language.


Cyril responded to this trilingual heresy by emphasizing the miracle of Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit sanctified all languages. “Are you not ashamed to mention only three tongues,” he reprimanded the Franks, “and to command all other nations and tribes to remain blind and deaf? . . .  We know of numerous peoples who possess writing and render glory unto God, each in its own language…the Armenians, Persians, Abkhazians, Iberians, Sogdians, Goths, Avars, Turks, Khazars, Arabs, Egyptians, and many others.”


The evangelical and missionary spirit of our faith reminds us that we are called to reach out to all people throughout the world – in their own language! In a way that offers them dignity and respect.  Let us think about that throughout this week of Missions Week, as we listen to the many beautiful languages!