Back to Greek


It’s been fifteen years since I did formal study of Ancient Greek. I’ve been wanting to get back to it for a long time now.

So on the recommendation of learned friends, I got myself a copy of Greek: An Intensive Course by Hansen and Quinn. I also pulled out my two volumes of Athenaze by Balme and Lawall.  (Old notes from 1999 fell out!)

I decided to keep a notebook (pictured above) to keep track of my progress, and while I’ve long had the alphabet memorized, it just seemed like the right thing to put on the first page.

I’m working on Classical Greek, since my purpose is to read Patristic Greek, which uses a literary form closer to Classical. I’ve had a “working knowledge” for a number of years, but I want to be able to read fluently.

I would like to say that it’s all coming back to me, but, even though I minored in Ancient Greek in college, I never really mastered the “all” at the time, either.

That’s okay, though, because the context is entirely different this time. I’m doing this just because I want to. And it also won’t be in the midst of the weirdness that was my undergraduate years (which were somewhat extended, since I took a minimally full-time schedule while working nearly full-time). I do rather wish that it had been emphasized in my seminary years.

Then again, my time in seminary was just on the heels of the school attaining accreditation,  which meant that lots of courses were added to meet the accreditation standards without simultaneously paring down the previous curriculum. And that meant,  between required classes, required church services, required extra-curricular activities, required non-credit classes and practicums, and required special events, we were expected to be somewhere for about 60-70 hours a week. Oh, and homework. And maybe seeing our wives and kids. And some of my classmates even had jobs.

So now I remember why, even though I thought about it at the time, I wasn’t interested in adding more to the workload, even something so laudable as Greek.

But now I’m feeling inspired.


  1. That is a great Greek text book. It’s the book we used when I was an undergrad and still sits on my shelf next to an Oxford guide to Greek grammar and a copy of an abridged Liddell and Scott (I have the middle Liddell and have often thought about buying the Great Scott).

    What an incredible language Greek is, especially in its Attic form. We learned to read Homer, Euripides, Thucydides, Herodotus, and many other classics in the original Greek. That forever changed my view of scripture too. Many of my Latinized assumptions that translated to English did not hold in the Greek.

  2. Given the “Place” occupied by Holy Tradition and the (greek) Fathers by the Church (and rightly so)… would not being able to read them in their original language be a priority of Orthodox seminary training…especially the content of the Church’s (greek) Liturgies. Just saying.

  3. What people get with an M.Div is a professional degree, not an academic degree. A professional degree qualified you for the ministry, but not to teach at an academic institution. Most seminaries offer an academic degree on top of the professional degree, adding an additional year of schooling. This degree goes by different names; at SVS it is called the Master of Theology, or Th.M.

    1. Right, although Greek (and Hebrew!) is a normal part of M.Div. study for most (non-Orthodox) seminaries in the US, so it wouldn’t be too unusual for the Orthodox to add it. (I believe Holy Cross teaches it, along with Modern Greek. They have a greater immediate need for it, though.)

      St. Tikhon’s does not have a Th.M. and didn’t when I attended there. Alas.

      1. The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville that I attended included a class in Greek in its required curriculum. It seemed very abbreviated (what you learned compared to what you need to learn to be fluent) but was instructive. I would love to go back and learn it again, if I found time. I wish you well in your studies, Father!

      2. Did St Tikhon’s not teach Greek when you were there? Or do you mean they only taught Koine Greek? I believe that Hieromonk Gabriel taught Koine Greek to the first or second year students, but because I had taken a year and a half’s worth in one intensive at Fuller (from Fr Sam Gantt), I did not have to take it.

  4. Awesome that you are getting back into Koine, Fr. Damick! I took several years in seminary and it really helped my transition into Orthodoxy when I participated in the Greek Liturgy. While not mainstream, I believe Stanley Porter’s greek grammar book is the best. 🙂

  5. Hello from a librarian in Salt Lake City:–FYI this won’t be necessary for you perhaps [because you are much further along] but I just wanted to mention that many libraries have an online language-learning feature called “mango.” Mango has an ancient Greek and a Koine course–very basic but perhaps something to point out to any beginners interested in the topic who may be audio-visual learners. Users should also be able to download an app if so desired. The Koine uses Bible verses. Lastly i just wanted an excuse to thank you for your book “An Introduction to God”–i am an Orthodox enquirer just now and your book along with Ware’s will have a large role in my possibly becoming Orthodox.

  6. After seven or eight years of polishing up college Greek, as well as teaching Latin, my number one piece of advice to others trying to learn classical languages is to ditch the notebooks. Okay, maybe keep one for writing down really important stuff (like accentuation rules!) so you don’t have to flip through all 800 pages of H&Q. But for practicing paradigms, just get a white board. I wasted hours of my life and lots of trees trying to make a nice notebook that I could use as a reference guide, but in the end the information was written in the book, not in my heart. Writing things on a white board, erasing them and writing them again is a much better way to satisfy that urge to write things out. Even better (but probably very difficult) would be to simply recite it, because in the end, all writing is mediation technology…

  7. Years ago I learned that someone read Greek fluently and I asked him how. He said he spent a summer reading 300-400 lines of Homer a day in a special program. Most students did not write stuff down–the professor just kept prompting them at rough points. So one summer I decided to read just one line of Homer a day. At first it took me 15 minutes, then I found I was reading two lines, then ten, twenty, even forty lines in 20 minutes. Of course, it is essential to have a firm grasp of the conjugation of luw or the like, as well as the main declensions. But it seems to me that I learned a lot more by just tearing through it. One spring break I decided to read Matthew, to which I devoted 2-3 hours/day. By the end of the week, I could read twice as fast. Now I am reading Old English, so I read Psalm 1 in OE daily in order to fully absorb it. It seems to me that reading widely but reviewing intensely a few choice texts may offer us working stiffs the best hope. As for the Fathers, at one can find them online. If it were me, I would begin with reading a text for which an English or Latin translation is available before heading into uncharted territories. Speaking as a translator of liturgical canons (who by the way is desperately seeking an editor to monitor my work, since my last editor fled to Albania), the number of bizarre or unusual words and constructions is discouraging. Lampe’s and Sophocles’ (online!) are very helpful. But Greek did not stand still, and no amount of re-Atticization can disguise that fact. Perhaps the easiest church father (or at least church uncle) I ever read is Hermas. I am told that St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Greek is the purest of the fathers.

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