Worship Language: Some key issues / Prof. Jacob Kurian Onattu

Dear All,

I read the posts on ‘Worship Language’ (ICON Digest) with great interest. I totally agree with the fact that the language barrier is one of the key factors which keep away our youngsters from the churches in English speaking western countries.

‘Manglish’ versions of the Holy Qurbana do not give the youngsters there any ‘feel’ because Malayalam is almost a strange language to them. Without understanding the inner meaning, nobody can pray from the heart. The ‘westernized’ parents who do not speak Malayalam at home are responsible for this sorry situation. If they speak in Malayalam at home and encourage their children to imbibe at least spoken Malayalam, the children would definitely follow the prayers.

Mr. Boby Varghese has pointed out that in his own church (St. Thomas Church, Yonkers, New York), they have English service twice every month and that the English service goes better than the Malayalam one. I have attended the service there twice and addressed the congregation. The Vicar (Very Rev. Cherian Neelankal Cor Episcopa) has been there in the U. S. for more than 40 years now. His accent and command of English are excellent. He has trained his parishioners very well to follow English service. That is why youngsters heartily join the English service there. This is not possible for all Achens. Mr. K. T. George’s suggestion regarding a new seminary in North America to solve the language problem may not be practical for many more years to come. While we find it difficult to support our second seminary (STOS, Nagpur) adequately, how can we think of starting yet another one ?

Even ‘Manglish’ services can be made appealing if we teach a little Malayalam in our Sunday Schools outside Kerala. Or else, some time – frame should be made for optional Malayalam classes in the churches for our youngsters. I am happy to note that some churches in the Gulf are doing this vigorously. Even if the parents give a little training at home, children will definitely follow Manglish prayers. In December 2016, I attended a holy qurbana in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia and preached the sermon. There, I was particularly impressed by a young boy’s reading of the Fifth Diptych. (Thubden 5). After the Holy Qurbana, I called the boy and enquired whether he could read and write Malayalam. He said he couldn’t. But the parents and his parish priest (Fr. Pradeep Ponnachen) had taught him so well that even deacons well versed in Malayalam could not have read the Thubden so beautifully !

Whenever I get an invitation to visit the churches in the Gulf, I make it a point to address Sunday School children and youngsters. Before interacting with them, I often ask them what language I should address them in. In most cases, they say they prefer Malayalam. Their parents know that the Gulf countries are only places of sojourn for them and eventually they will have to come back to God’s Own Country. So they train their children in our faith, language and ethos.

Regrettably, our own brethren in the Western Countries have no plans to return home. (Even if the seniors wish to, the children will not let them

). The youngsters have identified themselves so much with their present comfortable situations. But the parents can at least teach them a little Malayalam and the basic tenets of our faith. Otherwise the juniors will grow up as “Pharaohs who do not know Joseph.”


Prof. Jacob Kurian Onattu,

(Former Principal, Baselius College, Kottayam)

Member, Working Committee, Malankara Orthodox Church.