The language of prayer

Daily Reading for June 26 • Isabel Florence Hapgood, Ecumenist and Journalist, 1929

Most Eastern Orthodox Christians in America know Isabel Hapgood by name, but possibly not much about her life and activities. And yet, she merits to be remembered with respect and gratitude, as she was a champion in the awesome task of translating Orthodox liturgical texts from Church Slavonic into English. . . . She was a formidable lady of many talents and vocations: a polyglot-translator of works by great literary masters, a prolific journalist and writer, a successful lecturer and administrator, a moral crusader, an organizer of charitable work, a liturgical scholar and a prospective musicologist as she harbored a project of a History of Russian Orthodox Church Music. Her love of Russia and particularly of the Orthodox Church with its beautiful choral singing prompted her to make available the glory and wealth of its tradition to the English-speaking world.

By the turn of the century the quest by Anglicans and Episcopalians for unity with the Russian Orthodox Church was on the mind of most earnest theologians, prelates and ordinary faithful on both sides. This cultural-historical phenomenon had a long history and, in a very real sense, culminated in Isabel Hapgood’s Service Book, first published in Boston, in 1906, under the spiritual guidance and with the moral support of Archbishop Tikhon of North America and the Aleutian Islands. . . .

It should be remembered that early attempts by Anglicans to reunite with the Orthodox Church began three hundred years ago with the English and Scottish Nonjurors, who refused to pledge allegiance to William of Orange, King of England after the Revolution of 1688-1689. The excommunicated Anglican bishops turned to the Orthodox East for reunion. Those first attempts failed due to fundamental theological and dogmatic differences. The dialogue between Anglicans and Russian Orthodox resumed in the beginning of the 1840s, when the Reverend William Palmer, an eminent Anglican churchman, Fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford University and member of the Oxford Movement, made an earnest effort to prove that there were no differences between Anglican and Orthodox dogmas. . . .Palmer’s efforts in seeking unity with the Eastern Church were continued by Anglican-Episcopalian prelates well into the twentieth century. An intense reciprocal research arose among theologians and high clergy in England, Russia, Greece, and America. Their contacts brought about sincere feelings of mutual respect and brotherly love on both sides. They were manifested in a remarkable symbolic gesture by St. John of Kronstadt at a meeting with visiting Anglican clergy. Saint John kissed the pectoral cross of an Anglican bishop exclaiming, “This is what unites us!”

As a result of this dialogue, the availability of good translations of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy became a first priority. Simultaneously there arose an urgent need for liturgical texts in English in the United States—for obvious practical reasons: the descendents of early immigrants from various countries of Eastern and Central Europe and the Near East began to lose the language of Divine Services in their respective traditions. Isabel Hapgood was the ideal person to undertake that important mission. She set to work with enthusiasm and devotion and justified her mission by confirming “the policy of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church of the East to have her services celebrated in the language of the countries inhabited by her members.”

From “A Linguistic Bridge to Orthodoxy: In Memoriam Isabel Florence Hapgood” by Marina Ledkovsky, a lecture delivered at the Twelfth Annual Russian Orthodox Musicians Conference, 7-11 October 1998, Washington, D.C.;

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