The Church Slavonic E-Tutor

I’ve discovered over the years that life goes better if I keep myself engaged in creative projects.  I just do better mentally when I’m working on something interesting.  Don’t ask me to measure or cut anything, I’ll fail miserably, ask me to come up with a few ideas for something I find interesting I am all over it.  The Church Slavonic E-Tutor was one of those “all in” projects, one that’s part a larger story.

I’m not sure how I came up with that name, or why I thought the dash between the E and T was better than not.  My little program has the distinction of being the only one of its kind anywhere, a simple multi-media tutorial to teach someone a tiny bit of the archaic Church Slavonic language. 

Church Slavonic

Church Slavonic is the traditional liturgical language of all Slavic Orthodox churches, the Russian Orthodox Church being largest. But, there are others: Serbian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, to name a few. Only used within the context of church services, Slavonic is not a spoken language. In many places throughout the diaspora Slavonic is still used, including here in America.  

Growing up Orthodox I experienced the services in Slavonic every Sunday.  Unfortunately, I missed the meaning of almost all of it because I had no idea what was being said.  Yet, there was something magical in the sound of Slavonic when put to music.  Orthodox services are non-stop singing and chanting, with little talking.  The breathe of Orthodox liturgical music is vast, from the simplicity of Znamenny chant to grand choral works of Russian composers like (listen) Ledkovsky, Rimsky-KorsakovArkhangel’sky, and Tchaikovsky among others. 

The parish I grew up in, St Mary’s, was established by immigrants for the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe, they were known as Carpatho-Rusyns.  The music of our church drew on the folk melodies of the region.  It is simple music, with a nasally timbre, easily sung by non-singers.  Listen to a plain chant hymn in the Carpatho-Rusyn style. 

St Mary’s and our church community were big parts of my early life.  I was an altar boy, worked around the church with my grandfather, participated in social groups and sang in the church choir.  I also had a crush on our priest’s daughter.  Fortunately for me Orthodox priests can marry!  

the Return

Like many in my generation I left the church post-high school gravitating to Eastern philosophies and practices.  My interest and beliefs still gravitate in that direction. Yet, in the mid-1990s I returned to the Church for about ten years.  My route back began when I befriended two Orthodox monks who moved to the island where I live. Occasionally I attended services held in the tiny chapel in their rented farmhouse.  My family eventually joined a Russian parish in Seattle and later I helped found a new parish. During that time I was all in. I sang in the choir in both a large Slavonic only choir, sang in a tiny choir at the monastery, and even served in the altar (adult alter boy).  At the height of my involvement I hoped to be ordained a “reader”, the first level of clergy in the Orthodox Church.  I left the Church before that came to pass.  

 E-Tutor

For English speakers Slavonic, much like Russian, can be difficult to learn particularly if using Slavonic/Cyrillic orthography (see above, The Lord’s Prayer ).  I wanted to find a way to help other English speakers interested in learning a few basic prayers in Slavonic. Surprisingly few resources existed outside academia.  I ran across a couple of out-of-print grammar and pronunciation booklets but nothing with audio.  In my mind audio was essential to learning, you had to hear the proper pronunciations, particularly with Slavonic’s many tongue twisting words.  Listen to The Lord’s Prayer in Slavonic. 

In 1998 drawing on my own limited knowledge of Church Slavonic I set out to buiId a multi-media program that relied heavily on audio tracks.  I enlisted the help of my friend Dimitri a Russian speaker who grew-up hearing and reading Church Slavonic.  Dimitri is now Father Dimitri an ordained Orthodox priest. We recorded him slowly reading various Orthodox prayers.  I scanned prayers from liturgical books and then broke the audio recordings into short snippets that could easily be repeated while following along in the scanned text.  Click on a phrase and the phrase could be heard in Slavonic, repeating as many times as necessary. 

The E-tutor program was built using Macromedia (the creators of Flash) Authorware.  Authorware was an easy to use “courseware” builder that was the perfect tool for packaging multi-media into a standalone program.  I sold the program on CD and in downloadable versions.  The program was also streamable online.  Authorware is no longer under development since Adobe bought Macromedia. The E-tutor website is still fully functional including streamable audio files and other materials to help with basic Church Slavonic grammar and pronunciation.

The Church Slavonic E-tutor standalone program is no longer supported.  The website is fully functional but is no longer maintained..check it out