Making a Connection Through Biblical Languages

Yesterday I was able, for the first time in my life, to have a conversation with a native Greek speaker.

While I was in Jerusalem, I went by myself to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a building in the center of the Old City which commemorates the locations of both the death and burial (and therefore Resurrection) of Jesus Christ. Today it is shrouded in tradition and mysticism; one-third of the building is Roman Catholic, another one-third Armenian, and one-third Greek Orthodox. Almost the entire building smells like incense, which the priests offer during their multiple services every day; the only light in the building comes from candles and torches; and the walls are covered with either artwork or iconography which makes it feel like stepping into a medieval church.

I happened to be upstairs, viewing the site of Golgotha, when a Greek Orthodox priest began a liturgical reading. Since I’ve been studying Modern Greek for a few months, I captured a few moments of his eloquent speech on video. Then I surveyed the remainder of the building and went back to our group’s hotel for the night.

The following day, my friend and I were returning from a visit to Christ Church when I recognized the same Greek Orthodox priest on a street corner. In broken Greek, I thanked him for reading yesterday’s lection (“ευχαριστω για διαβασατε στην εκκλησια χθες”). When he heard this obviously American tourist speaking his native tongue, his eyes lit up and said “let’s go” (“παμε‘‘). He walked my friend and me back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and gave us a first-hand tour of the entire building, noting in Greek the most significant areas and events the building contains. Before we left he also gave me and my friend small vials of oil used for rubbing ointment or burning candles/torches.

My conversation in another language with a follower of another religion made me starkly aware of two realities. First, learning other languages can open doors and opportunities that would otherwise be nearly impossible. Second, and more importantly, it allows relationships to be forged. I walked away from the experience glad that I knew enough Greek to start a conversation, but wishing that I was fluent enough to share the gospel articulately. It certainly motivated me to continue in my language studies, so that I might be able to preach the gospel to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.