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The Ludwell Blog

News and research on the life, community, and worldview of Colonel Philip Ludwell III.
Philip Ludwell translation of St Basil the Great

Philip Ludwell III’s Translation of A Hymn to the Virgin

Around a quarter of a century before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in America a special prayer of the Eastern Orthodox Church was translated by a friend and relative of some of the founding fathers of the United States. This prayer will be sung across the North American continent tomorrow.

For Eastern Orthodox Christians tomorrow will be the fourth and penultimate Sunday of Great Lent 2019. On the five Sundays of the great fast it is customary to serve the liturgy attributed to St Basil the Great, the eminent fourth-century bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. (Modern day Turkey.) Philip Ludwell III made an English-language translation of this liturgy in around 1760. He explains in the preface to the translation that this liturgy is for the greater part the same in content as that of St John Chrysostom served on most other Sundays of the year, explaining

This Liturgy differing not from that of St Chrysostom accept only in some of the Prayers & a very few other perticulars,

One of the prayers that differs between the liturgies of Chrysostom and Basil is the hymn to the Theotokos that is sung following the eucharistic anaphora. Regrettably it is not possible to read the opening word/s in the original handwritten text but this in no way obscures the overall character of the translation. As with many of the other texts that Ludwell translated it is vivid, elevated and unconstrained.

He renders the hymn as follows:

?. Thou, O thou full of Grace art the Joy of the whole Creation, of all the Hosts of Angels & the race of Man.

A Temple of Holyness, a spiritual Paradise, & the Glory of Virginity,

of whom the Deity was incarnate & our God whose Being is from Eternity was made a child.

For thy Womb was his throne, the Seat of him whom the Heavens cannot contain.

Thou O full of Grace art the Joy of the Universe. Glory be to thee.

It is remarkable to think that Philip Ludwell III, a friend, senior relative, and mentor to many of the future founding fathers, was deeply involved in the translation of these ancient texts of Eastern Orthodoxy. In effect, Ludwell was a founding forefather of the United States, and a precursor to the practice of a faith that now stretches across the continent.

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