Sunday, April 5, 2009

A. I. Sidorov on Theology and Patristics, II

Here follows my translation of another excerpt from an interview with the renowned Russian patrologist, A. I. Sidorov. It picks up immediately where the first part left off.
Hieromonk Adrian: Such an approach became prevalent in the west even earlier in regard to Biblical studies.

A. I. Sidorov: That’s absolutely correct, although I’m not a specialist in Biblical studies. But I have simply come to observe that we sometimes have a certain spirit of provincialism: everything that goes on there is good. But that is far from the case. Yes, I’ve read and read western scholars, and I try in part to learn professional skills from them. I do not feel, however, that it’s necessary to imitate them. We have our own marvelous tradition, and it’s necessary to cultivate that in the first place. In particular, we had a good school of Russian Orthodox Biblical studies and, glory to God, the department of Biblical studies at the Moscow Theological Academy understands this and is renewing the previous tradition.

In the west an enormous number of books and articles is written about every ancient Christian author. One can dedicate one’s entire life to reading these works and never get around to the works of the Holy Fathers themselves. Here an enlightened minimum needs to be observed. There are fundamental works – these are desirable to know, but to have as one’s goal to “attain the unattainable” is silly. The young Orthodox scholar should not forget what seems like an elementary truth: life is short. From this perspective of the shortness of life one mustn’t lose sight of the main goal. For the Orthodox scholar, as for every Orthodox person, this goal is the salvation of the soul, and everyone strives towards this goal by his own path. But the Orthodox patrologist has one serious advantage: by the nature of his activity he is simply obligated to commune with the Holy Fathers. Here this fact has great significance: the patrologist’s goal should go beyond simply researching and studying patristic works and, ideally, to translating them. I can honestly admit that my greatest happiness in life is to work on translating the Holy Fathers. True, I have astonishingly little time for this: my teaching load is so heavy that not every young man would be able to endure it. If I’m sometimes able to find an hour or so for translation – these are the best hours of my life.

Here I’d like to call attention to the fact that translation is a work of extraordinary responsibility and, unfortunately, no single translator can avoid mistakes. Sometimes it happens that one understands the meaning not quite accurately, sometimes mistakes result from simple inattention, and sometimes there are purely accidental occurrences (for instance, there is a telephone call – and the “dialog” with the text is interrupted, and therefore its true vision slips away). It is essential to remember an elementary truth: only those who do nothing never make any mistakes. Recently a review appeared of a translation done by a young colleague of mine. I admit that it upset me very much. Any review presents a vision of both the positive and the negative points of a work. Here were found two serious and a few small mistakes, and put them into the focus – and there was not a word about the great work that had been accomplished and about the work’s virtues. Unfortunately this is very reminiscent of the genre of the yellow press. We often talk about love for one’s neighbor, but it often seems that these are just words. For such love is displayed not simply in helping an old lady to cross the street, but also in supporting one’s colleague. If one has to criticize, one needs to show patience and love, displaying a “spirit of meekness.” After all, we are Orthodox people, and one needs to pay attention to this fact (I say this to myself in the first place).
As an example of the pre-Revolutionary "good school of Russian Orthodox Biblical studies," see here.

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