Liturgical Books:

From Manuscript to Print.

(A page from the History of Liturgical Texts)


Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

If at any time one had had occasion to visit an Old Believer church or chapel in old, pre-Revolutionary Russia, and then afterwards chanced to visit a Little Russian church in some remote corner of the Carpathian Mountains, would one not have heard something familiar in the Carpathian church chants? Would they not bring to mind certain peculiar expressions in chants heard some time before in the Old Believers' reading and singing? “Virgin Theotokos, rejoice! Highly favored Mary, the Lord is with thee...” Whence comes this similarity? Whence the similarity between the Great Russian Old Believers and the West Russian Uniates? Can one not hear in this Uniate voice the voice of venerable antiquity?

            Yes, this is in fact the voice of antiquity, but it does not speak of the Unia, or in favor of the Unia. This preservation of antiquity takes us back to the period before the Unia (the Union of Brest was concluded at the end of the 16th century). This unexpected similarity between the Russian North and South-West, which though far removed from one another are yet one nationally, says only that in the western hinterlands there were reasons for holding firmly to their order of church services, rites and customs. To preserve unharmed their faith which was conveyed in the divine services through the long period of the forcibly imposed Unia, however long it lasted - such was the instinctive aspiration of the oppressed people; it inspired the people to hold fast to the “old rite,” come what may. The people, if one may speak of the majority, preserved themselves in the course of the 300-year period of the Unia.

            The agreement between the old liturgical forms of South-West Russia and the Russian North take us back to that era long ago, when Rus' presented itself as a single unit in the spiritual sense, although in political relations it was divided by the border which separated the Lithuanian-Polish realm from Muscovite Rus'. A single Russian people lived in different domains. The ancient Kievan metropolitan province was soon divided in two; each of the two parts laid claim to the title “Kievan”; they were not only estranged, but rivaled each other. Nevertheless, the spiritual, ecclesiastical life was held in common, similar, one in essence.

            However, the divine services within each of the metropolitan provinces were not entirely uniform. From the beginnings of its Christianity, the Russian Church was under the influence of several neighboring Orthodox Church centers: Constantinople, Palestine, Athos and the Slavic West (Serbia). This disparity of influence was also reflected in the divine services. Pilgrims to Mount Athos and Palestine brought back Greek liturgical books of the Palestinian and Athonite types and their impressions of the services in those places. The hierarchs that arrived from Constantinople and persons sent there for ordination introduced Constantinopolitan usages. From the Slavic West came the already existing service books of the Serbo-Bulgarian edition. One should add that the churches of the Russian North and South-West were entirely similar to one another, not only in terms of a “standard,” but also in their internal lack of coordination, i.e., in simultaneous implementation of various liturgical texts. The peculiarities of one part of Russia were characteristic of her other part.

            The church books, as is well known, were in manuscript. The copying of books was considered a holy obedience and a labor of prime importance. From the life of St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves it is known that he spun threads from “wool” to bind books, at the same time and in the same place where Hilarion copied the books and the elder Nikon bound them. The writing of books was conducted with special care and attention. In unrestricted sale, often for one book - a liturgicon, a euchologion - a sum was paid equal in value to an entire estate. One ought not to think that the copying of books led to a larger number of scribal errors and mistakes in the texts. There was always the possibility of checking one manuscript against another. The variant texts were due to the fact that the originals in circulation among the transcribers came from different sources. Variant readings did not give occasion to any sort of confusion. Thus was the case as long as the production of books was carried out manually. But an abrupt turn of events occurred when the goose quill gave way at last to the printing press. This transition, apparently so beneficial, gave rise to a series of questions and created serious complications in ecclesiastical affairs. The result of such complications for the Russian Church was, as is well known, the grievous affliction of the Old Believer Schism.

            In the mid - 15th century, printing was invented in the West. And in the West we see that the first steps at printing Orthodox ecclesiastical books, one must say, were quite successful. Already by the end of that century, in 1491, the first Orthodox liturgical book in Slavonic - the Osmoglasnik or Octoechos - appeared, which was very skillfully produced. It was printed in two colors in Cracow at the printing shop of Shvaipolt (Svyatopolk) Feol' (Fiyalka); in its wake followed other liturgical books (the Horologion, Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion). It is important to note that in the edition of Feol' the peculiarities of the Russian edition of the liturgical books are encountered; in the menologion one finds the names of Russian saints. (Two fragmentary copies of this first Slavonic printing were located in the public libraries of St. Petersburg and Moscow, and a complete copy in a library in Silesia, Germany.) Two years passed, and the church books were produced at two other centers - at a little town in Montenegro and in Venice (the Horologion printed by Andreas Toresani).

            The printing business did not reach Russian lands for yet some time. For a long time Venice remained the center where the printing of Orthodox liturgical books was concentrated, principally in Greek, and to a lesser degree, in Slavonic. Why did this honor belong to Venice? Venice was the mistress of the Adriatic Sea after its return to the Byzantine Empire following the Peace of 812. In the course of the entire second millennium of our era, before the French Revolution and Napoleon I, she constituted an independent realm linked only nominally, for the sake of mercantile interests, with Constantinople. She was always successful in warding off the attempts of the popes of Rome to annex her to the papal states; and of course, she became one of the main centers of refuge for the Greek emigration after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. Venice was also a powerful center of university education in the Middle Ages, both Latin and Greek. In the 15th century, the century of the beginning of book printing, there were already two hundred and fifty printing presses in Venice. Greek ecclesiastical editions served the Greek East, and there were also Greek monasteries and communities in Italy; the Slavonic editions served the Slavic West. In 1619 and the years following it, the Serbian Voevode Bozhidar Bukovic had his own printing press there.

            The work of Slavonic printing shifted nearer to us - to Prague and Vilno (the presses of Skorina). Finally, in the second half of the 16th century, it reached Moscow. In 1553, Tsar Ivan the Terrible issued a decree concerning the construction of a printing house in Moscow. The “first printer” there was the famous Ivan Fedorov. In 1564, the first printed book - the Apostol (Book of Epistles)- appeared, with Moscow designated as the place of its publication. In itself, the decade of delay in the appearance of this book gives us occasion to presuppose the arising of misunderstandings during the printing; indeed, for an unexplained reason, Fedorov was forced to flee Moscow for the border. He hid in Lithuania, in Zabludovo near Byelostok, at the home of the “most exalted Hetman” Khodkevich.

            The personality of the printer Ivan Fedorov attracts attention because of the significance this fervent and, in all likelihood, self-sacrificing idealist was to have in the history of the Russian book. At that time there already existed in Poland several small Russo-Slavonic printing presses. Fedorov organized his great printing enterprise in Lvov. But he had no means of his own and, the printing press being mortgaged, he found himself at Prince Ostrozhsky's in the city of Ostrog. There, under his supervision, the famous Ostrog Bible saw the light of day in 1530, with a second printing in 1531. Fedorov continued to dream about his own business and returned to Lvov; but he was in no position to deal with promissory notes. He died a pauper, and after his death the community of Lvov tried to save his business and bought his press from his creditors. Thus, the founding of two presses came about, both of which were destined to carry on the work of ecclesiastical enlightenment in the Western borderlands until well into the twentieth century. The offspring of Fedorov's press were: a) the famous press of the Lvov Stavropegia, which was the center of Russian consciousness in Galicia until the late 19th century, and b) the press of the Kiev Caves Lavra, which also served the needs of the Church until the last days of the Russian Empire. Such a distribution of the inheritance of Fedorov occurred because the Lvov Stavropegia constituted only one part of the press; the other had been transferred to Striatin (a locality of Galicia, the estate of the Bishop of Lvov). There it was outfitted anew, and thence, in 1615, was handed over to Elisei Pletenetsky, the archimandrite of the Kiev Caves Lavra, and transferred by him to Kiev.

            Another Muscovite printer, a colleague of Ivan Fedorov, Peter Mstislavets, who fled with him to Lithuania, established himself in Vilno and organized the afterwards well known Vilnian press of Mamonich.

            The sojourn of the press in Striatin was remarkable, besides other publications, because of the issue of a new type of church book: this was the great Complete Liturgicon of 1604, which had been corrected in accordance with the Venetian Greek edition. Hence, with the production of this Liturgicon begins the history of the “correction” of the Russian liturgical books; here action was first taken to correct the books. The publishers explained what difficulty they had in choosing the original for the printed edition. The manuscript books did not agree with one another, and it was difficult to choose from among them that which, by rights, might be called the best. They had to turn to the Greek edition and make a new translation. The correction was done according to the Venetian edition. It is possible that the Venetian text of the Liturgicon preserved that form of the order of the liturgy which the famous liturgist and churchman Philotheos, Patriarch of Constantinople, gave it in the 14th century. The Striatin edition was in fact on the highest level. The explanatory directions first given in it for the actions of the celebrants have remained almost without alteration until the present day.

            Thus, a principle was established: instead of local manuscripts that did not agree with one another, the text of the Venetian Greek edition was to be given in the publication of liturgical books.

            When the work of publishing liturgical books developed in Kiev under metropolitans Job Boretsky and Peter Moghila in the first half of the 16th century, there were no variations in the choice of text: translating committees were organized, and books - horologia, the Octoechos, the sequential Psalter, the Lenten Triodion and the Pentecostarion, etc. - were reproduced according to the Greek printed edition. In this work much initiative and genius was shown, much labor invested. And one must say that the editions of Kiev, and later of Lvov, were models of scholarship and of external appearance. The ecclesio-historical and political circumstances of Western Russia were such that it was essential for churchmen to show the maximum concentration of effort for the defense of the Church. Only ten years before the Striatin edition was complete, the Union of Brest was concluded. The Orthodox Church in Poland was then nearly deprived of bishops. The leadership of church life and the defense of Orthodoxy devolved upon the monasteries, who bore this task with honor, and also upon the brotherhoods which were the mainstay of the Church among the laity. In 1620, Patriarch Theophanes of Jerusalem, who was then passing through Kiev, performed a great secret consecration of bishops for the Western Russian Church, at the risk of his own life. The Orthodox hierarchy of that area dates from this journey. After the rights of the Church were restored to a considerable degree through great effort and struggle, a tremendous rise in spirit was experienced. Orthodox Kiev viewed itself as the outstanding center of all the Slavic peoples that shared the same faith. In the introduction to one of the books can be found the statement that it was intended not only for all of Russia, Little and Great, but also for the southern Slavs - the Serbs, Bulgarians, the Adriatic Slavs and, finally, for Moldavia, Wallachia and Semigradia.

            However, in this work there appeared also several departures from the norm which were not entirely propitious: the books were supplied with amplified directions, and new synaxaria were composed for the Triodia. All this was good and proper; but in the rubrics, directions for the celebrants were given which already reflected the character of local peculiarities; a new Euchologion was compiled, the so-called Great Euchologion of Peter Moghila, very complete in its content, but departing far from the Orthodox tradition. In it many prayers for various occasions were introduced, composed deliberately for that edition, of which several are very close in content to prayers of the Roman Catholic rituale, and, furthermore, explanatory articles were inserted before the texts of the rites, which were entirely in the style of Western scholastic science of that time, in particular, with an indication of “intention, form and matter” of each of the Mysteries. All of this was not essentially an expression of latinization, but might only indicate an attempt to eliminate defects for which their opponents reproached them, and in certain cases to emphasize the difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, these devices set a distinctive seal upon the character of the Kievan editions, which subsequently proved to be a stumbling-block in the matter of the correction of the books in Moscow.

            In those years at the outset of the 17th century, when Orthodox western Russia was experiencing a bitter, tumultuous era of suffering and conflict with the ecclesiastical union that had been promulgated, Muscovite Russia was groaning under the blows of the Time of Troubles. No sooner had Moscow recovered from the turmoil, than the question of the correction of the ecclesiastical books was placed before its hierarchy, and with it another question analogous to that experienced by western Russia: according to which books should this “correction” be made? The problem of correcting the books proceeded in a particularly acute and painful manner. Under Patriarchs Philaret, Joasaph and Joseph no solution was reached: corrections were carried out in an unorganized manner, according to the old manuscripts, in the course of half a century; the inadequacy of such an arrangement was clear to many. In Moscow the Kievan books were regarded with suspicion. At one point, books printed in Kiev were solemnly committed to the flames in one of Moscow's squares. The hope of receiving corrected books thus devolved upon the Greek East. For this particular purpose an embassy headed by Arsenius Sukhanov was twice equipped and sent to the Near East. On this second journey, Sukhanov purchased about five hundred manuscript books which are the adornment of the Moscow Synodal (now Patriarchal) Library. However, Sukhanov brought back a negative impression of the East under the Turkish Yoke - the impression that pure Orthodoxy had already been violated there. In particular, Arsenius Sukhanov conveyed the news that, not long before Nikon had ascended the patriarchal throne, the monks of all the Greek monasteries of Mount Athos had assembled in synod and condemned the making of the sign of the Cross with two fingers as heresy; furthermore, they had burned the old style Muscovite liturgical books then located in the Athonite monasteries. Thus, no irreproachable texts for the correction of the liturgical books were found, until Patriarch Nikon made his definitive statement. Under the influence of trustworthy hierarchs of the East, Patriarch Nikon ordered the correction to be made according to the Greek books. These books were all of the Venetian edition. Thus, for example, the Euchologion of Moscow was corrected in accordance with the Venetian Euchologion of 1602. It was found necessary to select Kievans as correctors, for only they had the necessary preparation for the task at hand and, of primary importance, knew Greek well enough. As it turns out, they merely, so to speak, duplicated the work that had already been done in Kiev. Naturally, the work was reduced to repetition, or even to simple transcription of the Kievan translations. Patriarch Nikon's abrogation of the old hand-written books and old “unwritten” rites, such as the two-fingered sign of the Cross and clockwise procession around the church, provoked a tempest. Its result was a schism within the Russian Church - the schism of the Old Believers (or Old Ritualists). Despite this storm, all the changes and corrections did enter into the life of the Russian Church. We now use books of the edition made by Patriarch Nikon's correctors. The Old Ritualists remain with the old books and the old rites. The schism haunts us even to this very day.

            How can one explain why one and the same reform elicited such diverse consequences? It proceeded peacefully in western Russia yet painfully in the North-East. Of course, here one must take into consideration historical circumstances and the psychology of both West and North, both being shaped by history. Western Russia was too absorbed with the fundamental battle for the preservation of the faith, so much so that questions of internal and particular character, in particular the selection of liturgical texts, were relegated to a secondary status. Muscovite Russia looked upon itself as the sole and unshaken depository of ancient piety, bound to remain faithful not only in great, but in little things, not only in primary, but also in secondary matters. But aside from this, can one say with certainty that the reform in the western borderlands proceeded without any opposition? The church books printed in the provinces of Lithuania-Poland provide us with a basis for thinking otherwise. There no such protest, revolt and schism took place, but there was, without doubt, a silent rebuff. These are its symptoms. On the western borderlands, besides the great printshops of Kiev, Lvov and Vilno, there was, in the 17th century, a great network of small printshops belonging to the monasteries and brotherhoods, which served local needs. In the 17th century, there were such printing presses in Ostrog, Derman, Ugortsy, Minsk, Chetverten, Striatin, Pochaev, Zabludov, Uniev, Yeviu, Kliros, and Suprasl; some of these became Uniate even in that century.(7) The expense entailed in obtaining type and a press for a book with octavo-sized pages, printed in one color was probably not considerable. On inspecting such a book, the eye is struck by the lack of technical means or skill evinced in the production of the individual pages, e.g., the last words of the lower lines of pages are often deformed, and letters are pushed out of alignment. But the content of such editions shows that the printers strove to hold fast to the old forms. Texts of church books had come apart, Kiev and Lvov were distributing their new editions, but the lesser printshops all throughout that century continued to print the old texts, based on the manuscript books. In the euchologia, liturgicans, horologia and triodia of the local editions of the western borderlands, we find all or almost all of the characteristic peculiarities of the Old Believer books. This betokens the fact that the tradition was preserved, that it was cherished, that the new peculiarities in the liturgical books were not so readily accepted. Tradition was the mainstay of Orthodoxy. Later, when, under pressure from the governmental apparatus the Unia began to rule, it officially copied the books of the Moghilian model, only with corresponding alterations and additions peculiarly Uniate. But the parish clergy and the people, having nominally accepted the Union, were all the more strongly drawn to the old forms, and have partially carried these old forms up to our times. This is why not so long ago one could hear, and perhaps still can hear, in Carpathian churches such characteristic expressions as “by death He tread upon death” instead of “trampled down” in the paschal troparion, and “highly favored” instead of “full of Grace” in the troparion “Virgin Theotokos, rejoice” - chants which hearken back to the old hook-notation chants, unison recitative, et al. This is why, even on returning to Orthodoxy, these people often express the desire to preserve their local ritual and textual peculiarities.

            Which side was right in this conflict of two currents within the Orthodox Church - the old or the new? Who is to blame? No one is to blame. The normal process of history is guilty - the process which inexorably accumulated for several centuries a certain sum of differences in comparison to the original form of the divine services. Geographical distance and political borders were guilty, as, of course, was the difference of language, thanks to which the liturgical services in various countries received their own nuances and distinctions. The tempo of alteration was quicker in the Greek East than in the Russo-Slavic North. The study of Greek liturgical manuscripts initiated by Professor A. A. Dimitrievsky has shown that one can find all the peculiarities of the pre-reform Russian services, beginning with the double Alleluia, in Greek manuscript books. But the Greek East managed to take new steps, while Muscovite and Western Russia remained with their own heritage. How should Orthodox Russia have reacted to the fact of the disparity between national antiquity and the Greek norm? To spare antiquity meant to discard the idea of the liturgical uniformity of the whole Church. On the other hand, to sacrifice its customs, its antiquity, for the sake of unity with other Churches at that time - did this not seem to be a break in its unity with its own past, a contempt for the holy Church of its homeland, a belittling of the dignity of the saints who had saved themselves within this heritage? But to remain only with its own, however, led to retreating within oneself, alienating oneself from the other Orthodox Churches, eliciting reproach for one's conceit. Which was preferable, what should have been sacrificed? There might be two replies to this dilemma, even in our own times. But there had to be an answer, the printing press urgently had to decide this question in the end. The choice was made in favor of unity with the whole Church in the liturgical system and rites. Thus the question stood in Muscovite Russia. Thus also in Western Europe - the same problem, and the same solution (only several decades earlier); and the same reaction (which one may observe even in our times) in the preservation of the ritual vestiges of a venerable antiquity, side by side with the basic, general liturgical-ritual system. The creation in Russia of churches of the “edinovyertsi” (Old Believers who had rejoined the Russian Orthodox Church), where the divine services were celebrated in accordance with the old ritual, witnessed that the Orthodox Church made a distinction between the “Old Belief and the schism; it did not condemn the old rituals, but condemned arbitrariness.

            There was one accomplice, albeit unwilling, in the Muscovite schism, and that was Venice. Thus, in conclusion, there remains but to ask: where did Venice find its new edition of the Greek liturgical texts? From the point of view of loyalty to Orthodoxy, these texts were entirely without reproach, pure. But this is the source of the perplexity: insofar as one is able to rely on descriptions of Greek ecclesiastical manuscripts given in Russian liturgical science, there comes to light, even among the Greeks, a similar rift between the manuscript and printed books, such as we observe in Russia. The peculiarities of the Venetian printed text do not find precedent in the manuscripts. What is the reason for this? That there were not enough learned manuscripts? That by chance there appeared in the hands of the researchers books of very ancient origin and old type, and that they did not set their eyes on newer manuscripts? Or, finally, could Venice perhaps have had its own personal source from which it took its texts, apart from the Greek East? The latter is entirely plausible if we take into account that in southern Italy and in Venice itself there were Greek monasteries and an Orthodox population. Be that as it may, this question was not elucidated in Russian historico-liturgical science until the First World War. Another question arises, in and of itself: Was it so completely easy to attain uniformity among the Greeks themselves with the introduction of the printed editions? Were there not open and secret divisions between adherents of the old, manuscript type of church books and proponents of the new, printed books, or perhaps conflicts? Why, for example, do the Jerusalem Liturgicon of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgicon of the Venetian printing differ from each other so markedly that in liturgical science it is accepted practice to speak of the “Jerusalem edition” of the Liturgicon and the “Venetian”? These questions remain unanswered. It is possible that liturgists of the next generation shall find an answer.



Missionary Leaflet # E077l

466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011

Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)



(liturgical_books_pomazansky.doc, 07-19-2005)