Wisdom from a Failed Liturgical Experiment
Someone had asked my view of the use of "liturgical English," particularly the use of "Thee" and "Thou" vs. "You." For the Western Rite, this is simply not an issue: we use liturgical English (and this is true in both Antioch and ROCOR). I have no trouble with those jurisdictions who have used the pronoun "You" for God; I don't endorse Rev. Peter's Toon's "You-God" theory. For those with a large percentage of people who don't speak English, this also has a pastoral dimension. True, certain modernizations -- especially of the Lord's Prayer -- fall on one's ears like a ton of bricks, were often enacted out of modernist zeitgeist, and I have my strong preferences for tradition. But I don't have much wisdom to impart -- on anything -- and it's not my place to tell jurisdictions how to translate their language.
However, it's prudent to learn from experience, ideally sidestepping the mistakes of others. Therefore, it's worth exploring the experiences of those who have "updated" their liturgical language, and the results they reported. One such case is that of the Melkite Catholics. Abp. Joseph Raya, who translated the mammoth Byzantine Daily Prayer into English, recounts:
In Byzantine Daily Worship I was enticed to use the second person plural form in addressing our God for the fallacious reason that people would be better served. The pretext was “Everybody does it.” Everybody says “You” so I abandoned the formal “Thee” and “Thou” and replaced them by “You”...Again, I have no trouble with jurisdictions who translate as they feel appropriate. But it's worth hearing the lessons learned from others who have been down the same path to avoid those pitfalls.
This substitution proved to be a step in the wrong direction, a spiritual disaster that added fuel in the laicization of our religion. It re-enforced our carelessness and unconcern before the awesomeness of our God. We already were engulfed in confusion before the sacred and holy. We came to treat God as a next door neighbor. “Hey, you do this…You do that…” The “you” is too casual, too simple and easy. The use of the “Thee” and the “Thou” is more difficult. It requires attention and care and the form of verbs requires, sometimes, a challenge for a tongue twister. But the elegance of it all and the respectability are worth every effort in using them properly. They might open a path for the recovery of sacredness in our relationship with God. We are now so “laicized” that Christ, our Lord and God, became some kind of pragmatic prophet. He became simply “Jesus.” So now we have Buddha, Aristotle, Mohammed, Jesus, Martin Luther King, or any other benefactor of humanity. If the world does not know that “That Jesus” is our Lord and God where would they go to find out if they do not hear it from us? Besides, the “Thee” and the “Thou” have an elegance worth the effort they demand.