Fr. Kyrill Johnson: Review of a Protestant translation of the Divine Liturgy


Archimandrite Kyrill Johnson

Editor’s note: Yesterday, we introduced Fr. Kyrill Johnson (1897-1947), a 1920s convert who spent most of his career in the Antiochian Archdiocese. What follows is an article by Fr. Kyrill which appeared in the Orthodox American (September 1943), which was a sort of forerunner to the modern-day Word Magazine. (Just to clarify: St. Raphael did have a periodical called Al Kalimat, which is Arabic for “The Word.” After St. Raphael’s death, Al Kalimat continued for a little while, but it eventually ceased publication. Many years later, in the 1950s, Metropolitan Antony Bashir started a new magazine, also called The Word. While the two periodicals have the same name and the same general audience (Antiochian Americans), they really are two distinct publications. Anyway, before the modern-day Word Magazine began, there was the Orthodox American.

Regarding Fr. Kyrill Johnson’s article (below) — one of the things that immediately struck me about Fr. Kyrill’s writing was its similiarity to the style and tone of an earlier convert priest, Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine. The two priests never met each other (Irvine died before Johnson joined the Church), and they seem to have been very different in most other respects, but reading this article, it almost sounds as if Irvine wrote it. He almost certainly would have agreed with Fr. Kyrill’s conclusions.

In temporal warfare, when there is a desire to destroy those who do not agree with you, there are two methods open to the aggressor. The first is to marshal on a field of battle one’s material strength, and to engage the opposition in a test of strength and endurance to determine which side is to be destroyed and which side is to survive. The second is more a technique than a method, and was perfected by Hitler in recent years. It is to carry on undercover warfare through the functioning of a fifth column in the area for which there is the hidden and secret desire to destroy. The purpose of this technique is to avoid carrying on a frontal assault until there has been carried on a process of inner weakening. For this purpose everything is considered legitimate for gaining victory: lies, deception, bribery, the playing on natural human weaknesses and vanity, the deliberate misuses of terms and ideals to make them mean what they were not intended to mean and to use them as instruments of inner destruction. On the whole, this technique is pretty low and despicable, and it is disliked by civilized people.

Unfortunately, in the spiritual warfare in which the powers of darkness seek to destroy those of truth and light, one finds too often the use of methods of temporal wars; there is in some instances the clean clash of truth and error in the open, and an effort at honesty and sincerity on both sides. Then there is the Hitler technique, used to divide, to weaken, to invade the sanctities by fifth column methods through operation from within.

Recently we have observed an example of this second technique put into operation within the sanctity of our Orthodox fold here in America.

It appeared in the form of an innocent enough appearing publication, with the title inscribed “The Greek Orthodox Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Arranged for Use in English.” It comes from the press of an educational institution of one of the more wealthy protestant sects and is sent out without any official imprimatur, so that those whose point of view it represents cannot be held morally responsible for its contents.

In his introduction the “arranger” writes his purposes as follows: “Finally, in making this adaptation, the editor has had in mind two possible uses, apart from private reading: first, for public use in English speaking congregations of the Orthodox in the United States; secondly, for occasional public use in churches of the Anglican Communion,” meaning, of course, the Protestant Episcopalian Church in the United States.

We must, as Orthodox Christians, grant a certain amount of Christian charity toward this self-appointed arranger of our sacred Orthodox Liturgy for our people in this country. We trust that he was merely simple-minded enough to presume that we are so bankrupt of scholarship and initiative as to be unable to perform this task for ourselves when we need to have it done.

At the same time we must confess that the result is an amazing performance of unmitigated effrontery toward Orthodox Christians. There is not the slightest understanding of the fact that for us, our Liturgy is part of Holy Tradition and therefore is entitled to the most scrupulous respect.

Before we are misunderstood let us make it crystal clear that this work is not a translation into English of the Greek text, nor does it pretend to be. Had the author, as a scholar, set himself to render into English any of the mss. or the printed texts, we could have understood and perhaps welcomed his efforts. This was not his purpose. His task, as he saw it, was to re-write our Divine Liturgy so that it might be brought into conformity with protestant notions as to what is [sic] should be. This intrusion into a realm which the Church safeguards with the strictest limitations is something for which there can be no forgiveness either on the score of intent or of performance.

Let us also make ourself clear on this point. We do not care a hoot what Protestant Episcopalians do among themselves. For their own use and spiritual edification they can adapt the Rig Veda, the poems of Walt Whitman, the Latin Mass, or even our own Sacred Texts. But when our sacred Mysteries are tampered with in the hope that they will be used by our Orthodox People in the protestant and not in the Orthodox sense, then indeed we protest throughout the entire length and breadth of universal Orthodoxy.

Let us examine this remarkable document ever so briefly. We have not the space for a detailed analysis. First we will list those sections which are cut out entirely, viz.: the First and Second Antiphons, with their prayers; the beautiful and necessary Prayer of the Trisagion; the Ektenia for the Dead; the First Prayer of the Faithful; all that follows immediately after “It is meat [sic] and right.” the Theotokion Megalynarion. It is suggested that in place of the Megalynarion a verse from a protestant hymnal be used- which it terms a “free translation of the original,[”] which it certainly is not. Also omitted is the Ektenia which follows the Great Eucharistic Prayer.

And there is added immediately after the Words of Institution a section which does not occur in the Liturgy but which gives the whole area a protestant Theological flavor. Moreover, prayers are changed about; Petitions are shifted hither and yon; liturgical directions are given which violate the whole spirit of the accepted Diataxis. In short, our most Sacred Mystery has been re-written to make it over and to make it acceptable to protestant ways of thinking. Besides the palpable heresy which comes to notice on almost every page (such as a mistranslation of “Theotokos” which would shock the Holy Fathers of Chalcedon) the total effect is one which will strike the heart of every Orthodox Christian as something very much akin to blasphemy.

Some of the omissions the “arranger” excuses by saying that his “edition” does not pretend to be an altar-book,” but the excuse looks pretty thin because he proceeds in a manner that is more capricious and arbitrary than it is systematic. For additions to the text and deformation of it no passable excuse is conceivable in the face of the expressed desire that the Orthodox themselves shall use it.

Had the “arranger” not stated his intention and hope that it would be used by Orthodox Christians, we would ignore it as another example of the working of the untutored protestant mind intruding into fields quite beyond the spiritual and academic depth of the intruder. Under the circumstances of the expressed hope of the dual function it is presumed to fulfill, we can inform the arranger that Orthodoxy will have none of such things. Any attempt to corrupt Orthodoxy by a fifth column of protestant heresy from inside is doomed to failure. We have intelligent and learned Bishops and no text can be used at the Altar without study by competent ecclesiastical authorities and due permission.

At the same time we expect from now on, in walking through various American cities, to find advertised on the conventicles of protestantism signs reading “The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.”

Our young people must from henceforth b[e] very much on their guard; and our ancient discipline which forbids us to worship with heretics must be vigorously enforced. We remind our people once again that to attend the religious exercises of people outside the bosom of Orthodoxy is reckoned a major sin by the Church. Even though the sign may read “The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom”, the stranger should make sure that it is under the jurisdiction of a lawful Orthodox Bishop.

We cannot view activities like this “arranging” of our Divine Liturgy otherwise than with alarm and sorrow, no matter how well intentioned are their perpetrators. God may pardon the sins of ignorance, but the Faithful must be on their guard lest the wiles of evil enter into the fold of Christ.