At the end of last year, 500 years were celebrated since the birth of the printing pioneer John Fedorov. Shortly before this memorable date, the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church canonised righteous John for his equiapostolic, spiritually enlightening efforts in the publication of Divine service books in Rus’, such as the Apostol (Book of the Epistles), the Chasovnik (Horologion), the Psaltyr (Book of Psalms) and the first printed Orthodox Bible in Rus’, which was later called Ostrog. The books that were printed by righteous John are canonical and liturgical in our Church and guide to salvation all those who faithfully keep the light of the Christian faith.
With the adoption of Christianity, book arts flourished in Rus’ – writers, translators, copyists, designers, bookbinders, etc. appeared. The book is perceived as a spiritual guide to salvation, as a keeper of eternal, divine truths, and reading is seen as an edifying deed, pleasing to God. In the foreword of the ‘Psaltyr’ published by John Fedorov are cited the words of hierarch John Chrysostom about the benefits of books: “All books are beneficial to us, and inflict sorrow upon evil spirits…”. And further, answering the question: “Is it good for us to give up reading?”, the hierarch writes: “Better for the sun to cease its course than to give up reading”.
An Orthodox person in holy Rus’ had a love of reading and a “heightened sense of the word,” as academic D. S. Likhachov explains. Everything in the Church Slavonic language is saturated with Divine reason and meaning, laid out by the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles enlighteners of the Slavic people – Cyril and Methodius. The graphics of written letters, the philosophy of each word and the turns of phrase – all this in the Church Slavonic language gave rise to the ability to perceive the Divine truths brought into the world by the embodied Word. The Word leads the path to Christ, feds reason and nourishes the soul.
The Church Slavonic language, which opened to the Russian people the meaning of Christian doctrine and also nourished their creative strengths, was the basis of the Old-believers’ booklore. The works of the Old-believers’ orators and dogmatists, starting from the outstanding works of the Denisov brothers, amaze with their mastery of the word, their deep canonical and church-historical knowledge, and their understanding of the human soul. A special merit in the deed of spiritual enlightenment was made by the work of hieromartyr Avvakum. Owing to the power and elegance of the words, the simplicity and spirituality, his works truly belong to the treasures of powerful Russian literature.
After the Raskol, the Old Belief, preserving and defending the salvific truth and church tradition, directed its forces to the preservation of the persecuted and condemned “old” books. The persecution of all the “old” led to the pre-Raskol books being removed from the Nikonian churches and “migrated” to Old-believers’ oratories and private houses. Old books spread among the Old-believers, bringing with them almost universal literacy, Divine wisdom and holiness. A book in an Old-believer’s house became an honourable treasure that was carefully kept, studied and passed down.
The old books also contributed to the creation of church-community schools among the Old-believers, protected adherents of antiquity from superstitions and pagan customs and helped to maintain a healthy domestic and social way of life. Solid faith and the spiritual structure of life did not prevent literate Old-believers from receiving a secular education as lawyers, scholars, teachers, etc.
The love of books made the Old-believers not just literate, but also able to investigate very deep theological questions. Old-believers spent their leisure time reading. Not a single meeting, not a single conversation on religious topics, not a single debate about faith could take place without a multitude of liturgical, religious, historical and even philosophical books. From the settlement centres of the Old-believers, books were transported by carts throughout Russia and abroad, although this occupation was very risky due to persecution and possible punishment. Education among the Old-believers was carried out without any coercion and made it possible to navigate complex social and economic issues, which contributed to the emergence of successful entrepreneurs and generous benefactors among the adherents to the old faith.
Today, the Holy Church, keeping the ancestral covenants of love for the Divine book as a source of soul-saving knowledge, does everything possible to convey to everyone who wishes the treasures of literary wisdom that our pious ancestors left us. Thousands of tomes of liturgical, canonical, polemical and historical literature are catalogued within the unique library of Moscow Metropolitanate. We have created a special archival library service with the aim of compiling a complete inventory of the literary treasures and to organise the future potential of everyone so willing to have access to it.
Employees of the archival and library department, under the leadership of father Alexander Pankratov together with the Information and Publishing Department of the Metropolitanate, are doing everything possible to fulfill the spiritual needs of readers. Thus, the works of hierarch Arsenius of the Urals, hierarch Meletius (Kartushin) and F. E. Melnikov are in publication and preparations are being made to publish the enlightening works of bishop Michael (Semenov). Also, all copies of the recently published magazine, “The Church”, were quickly bought out; thus, showing that there is a need for good, truthful and interesting content about the life of our Church. I would like to make a special mention of the works of Mikhail Tiunov, who, for his long and fruitful labour of publishing liturgical, historical and journalistic and other literature, can be called the successor of the works of the “Apostle of Enlightenment”, St. John Fedorov.
The work started about 500 years ago by the servant of the Word, St. John Fedorov, even now lives on and bears good fruits in the field of spiritual enlightenment. In the Book of Revelation, Saint John the Theologian, receiving a prophetic gift, eats a book given to him by an Angel, which “was sweet in his mouth like honey” (Rev. 10:9). May God grant that as many of these books appear as possible, which are nourishing to our minds and souls and guide us to salvation – carrying the Divine light of goodness, truth and hope on the path to the blessed Kingdom of eternal love and truth, where blessed printing pioneer St. John dwells now and prays for us.