Because the issue of language was a prominent topic of discussion in every focus group, this subject deserves to stand on its own. As you will note, the use of significant amounts of Greek in our services - and outside of our services - creates some unique challenges for intermarried couples who attend a Greek Orthodox Church. This section will attempt to describe many of the primary challenges.
English in and out of the services makes intermarried couples feel more accepted. This is not to suggest that intermarried couples want church business and worship to be conducted entirely in English, since most agreed that there is still a need for both languages. Participants repeatedly observed that older generations and recent immigrants prefer and need to hear Greek.
Despite the different language needs that exist within most Greek Orthodox Churches, participants' remarks clearly indicated that the use of English facilitates their efforts to worship, and the use of inordinate amounts of Liturgical Greek creates a barrier for them in their efforts to worship God. Couples reported that the use of "too much Greek" created a wall between them and God. This observation was especially apparent among non-Orthodox spouses' remarks. Respondents also observed that following a liturgy book is not an adequate solution or substitute, since language was perceived by these participants as an important vehicle that facilitated their knowledge of Orthodoxy and their intimacy with God.
Because respondents repeatedly used the phrase “too much Greek,” they were asked to elaborate upon this phrase in an effort to construct a clearer and broader definition. Here are a few examples of what they said. One respondent stated, "A 70/30 ratio seems comfortable to me, where 70% of the service is conducted in English, and 30% in Greek." Another respondent observed, "it’s like trying to hold a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak much English…. If a certain amount of the conversation isn't discernible to both people, then not much communication will occur. That's how it is when I hear too much Greek in the services. It just shuts me down and I just end up standing there." In general, respondents’ observations suggested that when more than 50% of the liturgy is celebrated in Greek, their participation suffers.
In other instances, couples reported that the use of "too much Greek" in our services, not only inhibited their personal efforts to worship God, but also negatively impacted their efforts to worship as couples and families. This was the case because too much liturgical Greek appeared to impede non-Orthodox spouses' efforts to find parallel reference points between Orthodoxy and their faith tradition. This in turn negatively affected the non-Orthodox partner’s desire to attend the Greek Orthodox Church regularly with their spouse and family.
Because Greek Orthodox participants had grown up hearing Greek in the services many tended to be more accepting of its use. Nonetheless, Greek Orthodox spouses almost uniformly desired more English so that their non-Orthodox spouses would feel more comfortable, and because they believed that more English would be beneficial to their children's religious and spiritual development. Additionally, some Greek Orthodox expressed a personal need to hear more English, and reported they felt like “outsiders” when "too much Greek" was utilized. These respondents observed that they come to church because they are interested in worshipping God, and are not as connected to the ethnic side of the church.
Some respondents observed that when "Greeks chose to communicate with each other in Greek," this made them feel "excluded." Non-Greek speaking participants stated that when conversational Greek was used in their presence, they felt as if "they were being talked about." At other times, they simply felt "bored and dismissed,” or “out of the conversational loop." And at other times they felt as if they “did not belong,” because they could not contribute to the conversation. These participants respected people’s ability to speak two languages, and understood their need to "speak Greek in the presence of other Greeks." And while many half-jokingly offered these observations, there were instances when they clearly felt uncomfortable when a language they could not understand was being spoken in excessive amounts in their presence.