I am not a big fan of using Elizabethan English to translate liturgical texts; however, whether I like it or not there is one prayer we use all the time that I don’t think will be said in anything but Elizabethan English for quite some time, if not for the rest of my life:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
The issue I have with this translation (and all translations using Elizabethan English) is the use of “Thy.” If properly understood, its use is quite poetic and, to my ear at least, quite beautiful; however, it also sounds very formal and distant — which runs counter to its proper usage and understanding. “Thy” comes from the now defunct second person familiar of the English language. Strange as it might seem to the modern ear, “you” is the second person formal. Thus, when properly understood, the Lord’s Prayer assumes an intimate relationship with the Father. This can be seen in St. Leo’s Sermon XXII on the Nativity:
Recognize thy parentage… acknowledge thyself the son of God by the spirit of adoption, dare to call God Father.
Indeed, we ask of God at every liturgy prior to saying the Lord’s Prayer:
Make us worthy, Master, with confidence and without fear of condemnation, to dare call You, the heavenly God, FATHER
The significance of the Lord’s Prayer is the shift from the formal use of Father to the intimate use of Abba — the name a child uses with their father. Our relationship is no longer one of formal acknowledgment. We are no longer separated by our radically different natures. Christ is born. God, in the person of Jesus Christ has become incarnate.
St. Leo rightly calls us to dare to call God Father in context of the Nativity, because our relationship with Him has fundamentally changed because of the Incarnation. Christ is enthroned at the right hand of the Father with our humanity. The gulf between us created by sin and death has been abolished. We are the children of God. We may dare to call the Most High God, Creator of all, the Almighty God Our Father — Abba.
Thus, when we use the word “Thy” we need to understand the significance of its original meaning — the familiarity and informality. We must realize how close God really is — Emmanuel, God is with us. Amen.