Volunteers are Captioning Orthodox Videos from Russia - Let's Help Them

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Fr. Joseph Gleason

Putting in long hours as editor of Russian Faith, while living here in Russia for the last six years, I have had to plunge into the amazing world of Russian language, Orthodox Christian media - websites, videos, and mainstream TV channels. What I encountered was extraordinary - very high quality content of every kind. I can’t count the number of times I thought to myself, how great would it be if all Christians in the West could have access to even a small part of this! My family and I would sometimes caption a video here and there as time allowed, as part of our effort to master the Russian language, which I would often publish on Russian Faith.

So when I heard about this new initiative to create a volunteer collective from around the world to caption Orthodox video content from Russia, I didn’t hesitate for a second: Praise Be to God!, yes, it’s a great idea!

It is no exaggeration to say that the Orthodox content on tap here in Russia is fantastic. I wrote an article last week explaining something I don’t think many folks in the West realize: the vast majority of Orthodox people in the world are Russian, about 75%. Combine that with the Russian people’s renowned ability for intellectual, literary, musical, and film achievement, the striking growth of Orthodox Christian ideas and faith in Russia, the fascinating history of Christianity in Russia, much of it untold in the West, and the striking beauty of the churches, pageantry, monasteries, and everything else that goes along with Christianity here, and you get a potent mix that churns out a flood of great content.

Documentary films, TV Q+A’s with clerics, sermons, news stories, cartoons for kids, music videos of all kinds - singing in churches, concerts, drone footage of holy places, performers, interviews with public Orthodox personalities and government officials, spiritual advice from monks and nuns, prayers, big studio blockbusters, TV mini-series, ceremonies, master classes with choir conductors or church bell ringing, Orthodox talk shows, deep discussions with theologians and academics, and the list goes on.

This excellence and variety in video is mirrored in the print world. Every Russian church has a little (and sometimes big) book store, and the quality and variety is staggering. Often, when visiting churches, I gaze at this cornucopia and think to myself, how in the world do they find enough people to buy and read all of this? In Moscow there are several very large bookstores entirely dedicated to Orthodox books in which one could spend days. Orthodox books for children of great variety are also excellent in Russia.

One thing you realize after spending some time here is that this is a country of vast intellectual achievement and super-smart people. This is notable in the hard sciences, but also in liberal arts, in culture, in film-making, in theater, and on and on. There is a whole class of people in Russia called the ‘Intelligentsia’, referring to this hyper-educated, book-loving demographic. Russia was the same way in Imperial times, stunning the world with her literary, artistic, and theological brilliance in the 2nd half of the 19th century. One of the fun things about living in this country is the stimulating contact with very smart, very well educated people.

This intellectual excellence marks the Orthodox space too. Christian TV channels regularly invite world class academics, historians, and theologians, many of them from Russia’s impressive constellation of seminaries. The discussion is very high-level, and while one often finds great Christian programming in the US, taken together, the programming in Russia is head and shoulders above what is available in the US. One reason is the indirect financial support from government-funded operations: the mainstream TV channels, the universities, the film studios, etc. Another is that while in the US resources are more dispersed over hundreds of small, independent operations, in Russia, they are focused on a handful of centralized channels and platforms, allowing them to have the financial heft to attract top-notch people, and create impressive programming.

One thing folks in the West often don’t realize is that Russia has a very advanced film-making culture. Sometimes when poring over Orthodox videos, or watching Russian TV in general, I notice that it is often technically very well done - professional camera work, interesting angles, dramatically read voice-overs, and good editing.

This abundance and wealth of Orthodox content is reflected all through Russian Orthodoxy. When it comes to academic and popular publishing, there are thousands of translations, commentaries, articles, and books on all aspects of Orthodoxy, going back for centuries, most of which have not been translated into English, many of them priceless treasures, greatly enriching Russia’s understanding of the faith. This Russian output outstrips anything done in the West, including by the Greeks.

So after that lengthy background, let me tell you about this new volunteer initiative. Their idea is simple: bring together people who can help identify, translate, and caption videos, and are willing to volunteer in their spare time for a great cause. Both Russians and folks from around the world are already signing up, so it really is an international effort, with Russians themselves being a big part of it. The videos then go on Telegram and YouTube (links to channels below) and are available for free, and are free to download and republish by anyone, anywhere. A few minutes per week or a few hours, whatever a person is willing to commit to.

For folks learning Russian, this is a great way to combine language learning, good deeds, and learning about Christianity. My family’s Russian language learning has benefited greatly from working on videos like this. We actually very much enjoy it, and wish we had more time for it. It is really rather fun once you dig into it.

A big benefit my family has received from working on videos like this is how much we learn about Christianity and Orthodoxy. The Russian perspective on Christianity is so valuable to the world right now, and we have benefited so much from insights from the Russian Orthodox world. One thing we noticed is that when we would work on a translation, the meaning of the words — be it a song, a prayer, or a sermon — sink in very deeply, because you have to think about the meaning very precisely. It is truly a treasury of Christian experience and wisdom which I can’t recommend enough. It has been a blessing for my family.

Another thing I like about their approach is that they have social media groups in Telegram, Facebook, and VK (a Russian Facebook equivalent), which allows volunteers to meet and interact with each other, a nice plus, especially if it facilitates friendships between Christians, including Russian Christians.

People have started volunteering, and they have translated and posted a few videos (links to their channels below). The quality is really very good, both what they are selecting, and the translations.

The main skill they are looking for are folks who can translate text transcripts of videos, but identifying good videos is just as important, and to my mind, even more so, because the ability to recognize great content is not that common, in my experience. So people can play a very helpful role just by sending them a suggestion every now and then if they see something interesting, and would like to see it available in English. And of course people good at the tech side are also appreciated.

Here are the skills they need at this time:

People who can identify and recommend good videos

Translators (any level)

Editors with a high level of fluency in both languages who can proofread the work of less skilled translators

Coordinators — people good at interfacing with and organizing volunteers

Tech people who can help burn captions onto videos, do minor editing, upload videos, etc.

YouTube channel management — someone with experience doing this would be helpful

Here is how to reach them and where to find their videos and more info:

Telegram contact for direct messages: @holyrussia

Telegram channel where they post videos: https://t.me/ovcc_telegram

Telegram group for volunteers: https://t.me/volunteers_in_OVCC

YouTube channel where they post videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjJtP6LLM2jCC2vi2_LreCA

Facebook group for volunteers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/448283337077388

VK group for volunteers: https://vk.com/club215780697

I encourage anyone who is a little bit Russian/English bilingual, or able to help in other ways, to help out if they can. The Gleason family is certainly going to volunteer, and many friends and acquaintances, Russian and non-Russian, have said they will help out too.

I think it’s a great idea, and from what I know about the quality of the content out there, I’m sure it will result in some great material that will be a great gift to the world.

God bless you all.

Source: Fr. Joe’s Newsletter - Moving to Russia

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We are also on Facebook and Instagram which have been designated terrorist organizations by the Russian government.