When in the 19th century Archbishop Innokenty served the Divine Liturgy for the Yakut people in the Yakut language for the first time in their history, those who were present were so profoundly touched by the opportunity of addressing God without a translator that they fell on their knees in deep veneration and decided to set that day as a Yakut national holiday. Now after the long Soviet period of forgetting any national tradition connected to Christianity, prayer in Yakut is resumed for the second time in history. This has come about thanks to the new translation of the liturgy into contemporary Yakut made with major input from the IBT translator Sargylana Leontyeva and paid for by the Orthodox diocese. IBT translation work into Yakut started in 1992. In 2004 the Yakut Christians received the New Testament in their mother tongue and since 2009 they have had the opportunity to address the Lord with the words of Psalms. Now the immediate translation goal of Sargylana is the Book of Proverbs. She shares a story from the life of her family. When one of her male relatives was a student she translated some aphorisms from the book of Proverbs (Prov 23:31-35) in a personal letter to him. Soon after that he got drunk at a students’ party and was beaten by unknown abusers. His first idea after he recovered was that the Bible itself had warned him about the treacherous properties of wine. “Everything happened as in the Bible”, he exclaimed. “The beginning seemed glorious, but the ending was most deplorable”. Nowadays when he is going into the taiga for a long hunting period he is regularly taking biblical texts with him. He says, “The taiga is just the place to read the Bible. It is a place of complete silence. When a leaf is falling, you hear the sound of its fall”. Last time he went hunting he took with him the Book of Psalms.
“I was really surprised when even people who had no idea about my further translation plans started to ask me when the Book of Proverbs was going to appear in Yakut. Our people really like proverbs, because our language is so musical, with such fine rhythm. We like epigrammatic phrases. And we want to have all the vital advice of the Bible in the pithy sayings of the biblical Proverbs”, Sargylana concludes.
Sargylana loves her mother tongue to such an extent that for one period of her life she stopped speaking Russian entirely in order to enrich her perception of the poetic beauty of the Yakut. “The Yakut is sometimes called a language with manes and tails”, she shared. “It is wild and unrestrained like the primary elements of nature. Sometimes when I worked on the Bible translation, I felt that the whole language weight fell on me and I was buried under it. I heard the roar as if I were under water. When I could not find a proper Yakut word for this or that Biblical term I never doubted that I should dig and dig and the time would come when the Lord would give the word. It never seemed a real problem, but just a matter of time, and it was even exciting. It was actually something different that did seem a problem. When you are reading the Word of God you start feeling that in order to translate it adequately you should be completely in one spirit with the one who speaks, be it the apostle Paul or the Lord Himself. That is such a challenge and the greatest responsibility! How can I render this love if I feel incapable of such love myself? I would start working and then I would read my own translation only to realize that all that was alive had been killed. Everything was correct, yet insipid, dull and tasteless. The words may seem correct, but I felt inside my heart that the Lord would never have spoken those particular words. This is where the real work began. My task as the translator is to become at least by a little finger, no, at least by a tip of the fingernail closer to the Lord in order to catch His meaning. This is really hard, but there is no other way round.”