The Special Work of Translation

edited June 2014 in Coptic Orthodox Church

Some inspiration for all those involved in the work of translating Coptic or Arabic:

"Translation is an art that involves a certain ascetic discipline. It requires one to enter so fully into the language to be rendered into another tongue that the original language and its meaning becomes one's own.

A good translation does not simply render a text word for word, nor does it consist of a paraphrase that reproduces only an approximation of the original meaning. This is especially true with translations of sacred texts. To produce a "good" translation of the Holy Scriptures - one that conveys beauty as well as sense - the translator needs to approach the text globally, holistically, in order to penetrate to the depths of its intended message. That message, however, is only partially expressed by words, sentences, and all the components that make up a literary unit. While remaining faithful to the generally accepted meaning of words, the translator will find meaning beyond the words themselves through a process of "communion." One takes the text into oneself, as it were, in order to grasp its ultimate meaning at the level of the heart as well as of the mind. Truly to understand the text, and thus to be able to render it into another language, the translator needs to hear and even "feel" its meaning. In the case of Scripture, this implies that one move beyond a rational understanding of the message conveyed by a given passage, to embrace and be embraced by the Subject of that message. 

In recent years a great deal of attention has been given to what is termed "reader-response criticism." This approach, with rhetorical criticism in general, grew out of the perception that a text is dynamic. Its meaning is not fixed, but varies according to the perspective of the reader. This is the phenomenon that leads to widely divergent interpretations of passages of the Bible. Post-Enlightenment forms of exegesis have focused mainly on the "literal sense" of a text: the meaning the biblical author sought to convey by his writings. Since the earliest centuries of Christian biblical interpretation, exegetes have nevertheless recognized that a text conveys more than a literal meaning.

Consequently, they have often employed allegory and typology as interpretive tools, to enable them to discern behind and beyond the "intention of the author" a deeper, fuller, or more complete meaning, a sensus plenior, that could be applied to the reader's moral and spiritual life (in medieval Latin exegesis, the "tropological" and "anagogical" senses of Scripture). Reader-response criticism builds on these intuitions by acknowledging that there exists a dynamic relationship between the text and the reader (termed respectively the "artistic" and the "aesthetic" poles), such that the reader can constantly derive new understanding or a fresh message from a frequently read and well-known passage. To secular literary critics, this occurs as a function of the changing circumstances in the reader's life that lead the reader to approach the text with ever differing perspectives. The "dynamic" occurs between the written word and the reader's immediate and contingent perception of its meaning, which can, of course, lead to pure relativism: a text "means" whatever my mental or psychological state may bring to it at any given time. To the Christian interpreter, and translator, this "dynamic" - the capacity of the text to convey new meaning in different situations and changing circumstances - is a function of the inspirational activity of the Holy Spirit."

by Very Rev. Father John Breck, From the Preface of Dr Donald Sheehan's translation of the Psalms: "The Psalms of David: Translated from the Septuagint Greek" (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013)


  • do you translate?
  • La La. I wish I had that skill though :(
  • well if you know anyone that does, I would like my new work translated into arabic
    Would anyone like to  translate this whole website? :)
    I can't have my dad do it all.
  • edited June 2014
    WOW. Who's Abouna Athanasius Al-Maqar? This looks like a really good website.
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    Cyril - he's the foremost scholar in the Church on liturgics, history of rites and rubrics, and is a spiritual father in his own rite. He's a close disciple of Fr. Matta el Meskeen. We had the blessing of him living with us for ten days when he was giving lectures to the clergy, and he's a master. Some work is being done on translating his books, they are absolutely crucial for English-speakers and those interested in understanding dogmas, traditions, fasts, liturgics etc...

    Pray for me,
  • This is wonderful Abouna. I hope we will one day see someone like Fr Alexander Schmemann in our Church. Or someone who can speak about the significance of Liturgical Theology in our rites.
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    He's a monastic Schmemann. He's on fire and got the spirit of the desert. You should hear him talk about the unity of the Liturgy and Eucharist. He's something got me all excited!

    pray for me,
  • edited June 2014
    This is so amazing. I hope his works get translated soon.

    I wonder if parishes could all pitch in together to help fund a translation effort. Like the price of sending a group to a trip internationally could potentially fund a complete translation of these books.

    Or perhaps funding on a Diocesan level?
  • Is it possible to have Fr. Athanasius become bishop for us in NJ ;)
  • Axios :D
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    He was being considered (I heard) for Ottawa and the East in Canada, but he said he would flat out refuse. :) Sorry, Mina, no luck there.

    I think the need for us to find the funds and resources to get things translated is imperative. He has 39 volumes (I think) on Liturgics, rites, rubrics, history of all these things, spirituality of all these things, books on all the Sacraments…he's encyclopedic but with an incredible Spirit.

    pray for me,
  • @antonypaul
    Do you have any pdfs of abouna athanasius' books? You and abouna arsany speak about him in such a way, but the site does not contain a whole lot of info. 
  • +

    @lfahmy - Unfortunately, I don't. My impressions were from the hours/day he of private lectures we got and his personal stories, and the ones he gave to the clergy and the deacons. :S

    pray for me,
  • For those interested, here are some of his books scanned:

    Also, I have translated some portions of his book on baptism for a seminary project a few years ago. His books are wonderful especially for those without language skills, and cannot read scholarly material in German or French. It is also good to have a quick place to stop for possible answers or references for questions related to the Coptic rite. He has definitely opened my mind to some of the main landmarks of Coptic liturgy such as sources and historical development...things that are yet to be written well in Western scholarly circles (be it English, or German).

    That being said, he is not academically trained himself..which makes his books and ideas both impressive and to be read with caution.

    Nonetheless...great place to start if your Arabic is good and you are not already engaged with Liturgical scholarship.
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