Metropolitan Antony Bashir & the Use of English


Metropolitan Antony Bashir

Metropolitan Antony Bashir was the head of the Antiochian Archdiocese of New York from 1936 until his death in 1966. He said the following in an interview published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 4, 1939:

The Eastern Orthodox Church has many national branches, each conducting its services, as a rule, in the native language of the country. The Syrian Orthodox is narrow in its dogma and doctrine, clinging to the Apostolic Nicene creed and the seven ecumenical councils of the church. We cannot change that. We acknowledge Christ as our only head.

But we are living in America and in the twentieth century and must make our Church conform so far as we can to the American way of living and meet the demands of the rising American generation, which clings to the old religion but is no longer interested in retaining the old Arabic of their fathers. For the old people and our older priests we still use the Arabic, but a Church that would cling to the old exclusively would die with the generation that demanded it.

We are new to America and there are no rules of jurisdiction to apply to us. Our Church laws antedate America, but our Syrians become Americanized more quickly than almost any other race. We are gradually transforming the ritual into English, keeping, of course, the ceremonial traditions of the Church. Our Sunday Schools are wholly in English. Our series of music with English words, the first one almost ready for publication, will present our ancient Byzantine music in a form the new generations can understand and appreciate.

Some of the older priests do not understand English, but most of them accept the new orders without question. I am drawing young Americans into our priesthood. I have ordained eight young Americans as priests within the last two years.

We have to cater to the old, who grow fewer each year, but it is to the younger generation that the Church looks for its continuance. Our young people call themselves Americans, not Syrians. I believe that in the future all branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, especially in this country, will unite into one great American Orthodox Church, with English as the universal language.

Bashir said all this in 1939 — nearly 80 years ago. But actually, he wasn’t the first bishop, or even the first Syrian bishop, to push for a widespread use of English. That distinction belongs to St. Raphael Hawaweeny, who, by the time of his death in 1915, had over half of his parishes (13/25) using exclusively English, and 84% (21/25) using at least some English. I get the impression that the Syrians backtracked in this regard after St. Raphael’s death — certainly, they must have, if Bashir needed to re-initiate a push for English in the late 1930s.

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