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Translations of the Bible into Ukrainian
There are several translations of the Holy Bible into Ukrainian. In the nineteenth century, when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire, and when the czarist government took active measures to suppress the Ukrainian language, or even put it out of use altogether, translation of the Holy Bible into Ukrainian was an act of defiance and courage. One of such courageous translators was Pylyp Morachevsky.
Pylyp Morachevsky, a teacher and translator, was born in the village of Shestovytsi in the Land of Chernihivshchyna on November 14 (26) 1806. In 1929, he graduated from the History and Philology Department of the University of Kharkiv. In the years from 1832 to 1949 he taught mathematics, Russian language and literature in schools of Sumy, Lutsk and Kamyanets-Podilsky. From 1849 to 1859 he worked as a school inspector. It was then that he began translating the four Gospels of the New Testament into Ukrainian. He finished this translation in 1861, and began translating The Acts of the Apostles, The Revelation of Saint John (Apocalypse), and The Psalter. But none of these translations was published in Morachevsky’s life time.
The permission to publish these translations was given by the czarist government only in February of 1905. They were edited by Parteny, Bishop of Podillya, and published in the spring of the next year (they were reprinted in 1914 and in 1917). But it was only in the years of the short lived Ukrainian independence, from 1917 to 1920, that Morachevsky’s translations were authorized to be read in churches by the All-Ukraine Orthodox Church Council.
In 1936, Morachevsky’s translations of the Gospels were published in Poland, following the decision of the Holy Synod of the Polish Orthodox Church.
In 1948, Morachevsky’s translations were published in Canada and later, in 1966, in the United States; the Ukrainian communities there still use them during the church services and at home.
In spite of the fact that Christianity came to Ukraine at the end of the tenth century (at that time Ukraine was called Kyivan Rus), the history of translations of the Holy Scripture into Ukrainian was full of dramatic and even tragic events.
The first Bible translation into a Slavic language was done by two Greek brothers, Cyril (whose original name was Constantine, born c. 827 in Thessalonici, Macedonia and died in 869 in Rome) and Methodius (born c. 825 in Thessalonica and died in 884 in Moravia). Both brothers were later canonized; for Christianizing the Slavs and for influencing the religious and cultural development of all Slavic peoples they received the title of “the apostles of the Slavs.” Both were outstanding scholars, theologians, and linguists. In 863, Cyril and Methodius started their work among the Slavs, using Slavonic in the liturgy. They translated the Holy Scriptures into the language later known as Old Church Slavonic, and invented a Slavic alphabet based on Greek characters that in its final Cyrillic form is still in use as the alphabet for modern Ukrainian, Russian and a number of other Slavic languages.
This Old Slavonic translation was — and still is — used in Orthodox churches during the services for several centuries, but with the passage of time and with changing circumstances, the necessity of new translations arose.
Several such translations have been done. One of them, done in the middle of the twelfth century, is known as the Halytska Yevanheliya (Galician Gospel), in which some words from the spoken language were used instead of the Old Slavonic ones.
In 1556–1561, a new translation called Peresopnytska Yevanheliya was done into Old Ukrainian, and it was a considerable step in the development of the Ukrainian language. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the so-called Uchytelni Yevanheliyi (Teaching Gospels) were widely used but they were renderings rather than translations proper.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the secret Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius of which Morachevsky was a member (the Brotherhood promoted the Ukrainian language and culture; one of its foremost members was the great poet Taras Shevchenko who was exiled for ten years for being a member of this Brotherhood) encouraged a new translation of the Holy Scripture into Ukrainian.
Morachevsky sent his translations to the Holy Synod of the Russian Church and to the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Academy said that Morachevsky’s translations met all the requirements and could be published but the Holy Synod, the then governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church, banned the publication of Morachevsky’s translations. The anti-Ukrainian feeling was very strong at that time in Russia; highly instrumental in the banning of Morachevsky’s translations were Prince Dolgorukov from the Imperial Chancellery and the Governor of Kyiv Annenkov.
In more recent years, several new translations of the Holy Bible were done into Ukrainian, and translations of Ivan Ohiyenko and Ivan Khomenko were published in a considerable number of copies, but these publications have not made the Holy Bible available to every Ukrainian who would want to read the Scripture in his or her own language.
Unfortunately, there have also appeared unauthorized renderings which distort the original text; many newly formed sects also publish Bibles but they do it mostly in Russian.
Accessibility of Ukrainians to the good translations of the Bible into Ukrainian remains limited and this problem still needs to be dealt with, the sooner the better. The spiritual need should be responded to in an adequate manner and in full measure.
Based on the essay written
by Volodymyr KOZYRSKY
and Vasyl SHENDEROVSKY