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Religious education: Orthodox libraries
Orthodox libraries: the present state and prospects
Parish libraries
The library of St. Alexander Nevsky's Brotherhood
The library of the Tsaritsyn Orthodox University

Orthodox libraries: the present state and prospects

During the long seventy years of Soviet regime church libraries were banned. Exception was made for some libraries of theological academies and seminaries, which could be used only by their students and faculty. Religious books in the reserves of public libraries were placed in the so-called "Special Deposit" and were inaccessible for the general reader. After the political situation in the USSR changed in the late 80s and the open persecution of the Church was ended, many parishes, brotherhoods and theological schools of the Russian Orthodox Church began to open libraries of religious literature. This process was especially intensive in the early 90s. At present the number of Orthodox libraries in Russia has reached to several hundreds. We asked Archpriest Boris Danilenko, director of the Synodal Library of the Moscow Patriarchate to tell us about the present state of churches libraries, their place in the religious education system and prospects for their further development.

- Father Boris, what, in your opinion, is the role of the Russian Orthodox library in religious education and spiritual enlightenment?

- Libraries are probably the only institutions these days where one can obtain comprehensive information on contemporary Russian theology and on the heritage of the Russian theological thought and church history. Systematic education in theology and church history has long been unavailable in this country. The post-war efforts to revive our theological schools, academies and seminaries were essentially an attempt to give at least some training to our priests, rather than to return to the pre-revolution level of religious education. To these days, there are no educational institutions that can fully integrate Russian theological tradition into their curricula. Our theological academies are moving in this direction, one way or another, and it is the goal yet to be achieved. Meanwhile, the moment one comes to a library and looks through the proceedings of theological academies, one gets exhaustive information on the developments in the Russian theology of the 19th and early 20th centuries and on the challenges that theological schools faced.

Theological collections, which are available today in the libraries of the higher theological schools refer us to an altogether different stratum of our book and manuscript heritage. The point is that the reader of academy proceedings will eventually develop an urge to become familiar with the writings of professors and teachers of these academies. Although one may find excerpts of these writings in the proceedings, one will have to turn to the manuscript collections to familiarize oneself with the writings in their entirety. Book and manuscript collections can help if not to restore the situation as it was in the old theological schools, but to improve it by passing on the legacy of the Russian theological science to our generation.

As for small libraries, those in parishes and monasteries, they are instrumental in strengthening the faith of those who have not received systematic training in theology and who came to Orthodoxy with secular education and would like to harmonize their knowledge and training, whether technical or humanitarian, with their religious thoughts. Most people who turn to faith these days feel elated and euphoric in the first years or months of their church life. However, the period of euphoria would pass, and we would enter a crucial period when we face questions for which we do not have answers and for which our friends and loved ones are not likely to have answers either. This is the point where church authors, primarily Church Fathers, and all those who belong to the Russian school of theology can give guidance to the contemporary Christians in his or her search.

- What is your assessment of the current situation in Russian church libraries?

- Like any libraries, they are best described by their own collections. Our church libraries would definitely win by having more publications from the Synodal Period, when spiritual books were published in great numbers. There are no libraries these days with truly representative collections of church literature. At the same time, even the biggest Russian libraries with their variety of church literature do not have catalogues where one can find publications, say, of the Synodal Period listed under one category. It is in fact a very specific job, which needs to be done by library professionals, church scholars and church librarians. Therefore, putting together a complete collection of Russian church literature is one of our priorities. Of course, it will be difficult to accumulate such collection in a diocesan library, but diocesan centers will undoubtedly be able to collect local publications.

Here is what a typical church library looks like these days. Most of its collection consists of contemporary editions. Meanwhile, old books, the gems of our theological tradition, such as those used for defending Master's theses comprise the smallest part of the present-day church libraries.

Interestingly, the libraries of the Russian Orthodox Church, along with efforts to equip their collections with contemporary editions, seek to purchase particular antique rarities stored on non-conventional media. Of particular interest is the CD ROM edition of Put' magazine, which was edited in Paris by N. A. Berdyayev and which carried articles by the best 20th century Russian émigré theologians. Computers are now of great help in the difficult work of restoring the libraries' collections. They give us a chance to extract electronically stored material, to put together effective search systems and to create bibliographic databases. All this is of particular interest to theologians, church historians and those working on church library collections.

- What do you think is the significance of electronic media, such as the Internet, for modern libraries?

- The Internet opens an altogether new range of opportunities to access information, including printed information, the one preserved in books. The trend is that via the Internet we will eventually be able to access data arrays containing the texts of our church publications. There is a growing awareness that the Internet will facilitate our work in religious education and church bibliography.

- What is your concept of the modern Russian Orthodox library?

- I think there is a need for some kind of outposts of church scholarship. The libraries of theological academies should undoubtedly play the role of such outposts. As has always been in Russia, such libraries will be very few, regardless of the way in which our spiritual education will develop. The libraries of theological academies, unlike those in seminaries, should essentially be academic. These libraries already now need to have Christian theological publications from all over the world, belonging to both Orthodox and Western tradition. For example, there is a huge interest in Greek theology in the Moscow Theological Academy now. Many students are studying the Modern Greek language to be able to study publications by our Orthodox brothers in Greek universities. Some other Orthodox publications should also be mentioned here, such as Forum magazine published by the Orthodox department of Munich University.

Besides, there is a rich theological tradition developed by the Western Catholic Church and Protestant churches. Modern Russian Orthodox libraries should have Catholic and Protestant theological magazines. Unless we are aware of the developments in European theology, we are not prepared to have a dialogue with other confessions or to speak a common language with them, the language of modern theology. The Orthodox preaching and witness among Christian scholars are out of question, unless we bring ourselves to date with the achievements made by the modern Western Christian science and compare them with those of the Russian theological tradition.

Generally, libraries of church institutions have a similar structure. The first and most important department in any library, whether in a seminary or a parish, is Holy Scriptures. Any library should have scriptural texts, recognized by the Russian Orthodox tradition. These should be not only the Synodal versions, but also Church Slavonic texts, the Septuagint and the Vulgate, as well as translations into ethnic languages spoken in the areas where libraries are located. The Holy Scripture collection should definitely be supplemented by textbook and reference literature on the Old and New Testaments.

Another important part is the works of Church Fathers. They should be represented in different editions, beginning from popular adaptations by Theophanes the Recluse to scholarly translations, which offer alternative readings.

And, of course, the Russian Orthodox library should have its own body of liturgical books in Church Slavonic, such as Mineion, Octoich, Triodion, and service books.

Finally, there are books on Church history as well as research and theological literature. It is desirable that every church library should have, as far as possible, books representing the Russian theological tradition.

- Please tell us about the Synodal Library.

- In its current form, the Synodal Library of the Moscow Patriarchate was revived in the late 1980s. Its foundation was laid by the collection of Archbishop Mikhail Chub. After his death in 1985 his personal library moved from the city of Tambov to St. Daniel's monastery in Moscow. Later the library was enriched by books from the collection of Metropolitan Antony Melnikov, who bequeathed them to the Synodal Library, and by small collections of various churchmen. The library kept growing, its collection enhanced with the help of the distribution departments of academic libraries. At some point, the collection became too big to be stored in St. Daniel's monastery and it became clear that it needed more space, which would allow it to grow and to fulfil fundamental tasks in compiling church bibliography. Academician N. I. Tolstoy was the first to suggest that the Synodal Library should move to the premises of the former St. Andrew monastery, which in the 17th century housed Rtischev's Teaching Brotherhood, founded by boyar F. M. Rtischev, a zealous supporter of spiritual enlightenment who planted the seeds of academic tradition in Moscow. His Holiness Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia showed great interest in the idea when it was reported to him. By the decree of His Holiness I was appointed rector of the Patriarchal Church Representation in the former St. Andrew's monastery, and the Synodal Library moved to the monastery in 1991.

To our great regret, we are extremely short of funds and the little money we somehow manage to raise has to go in the first place to the equipment for the book storage rooms. The acquisition of new books is now even slower than it was in the first years of the library's existence.

- What are the biggest problems that Russian Orthodox libraries are facing?

- One of the main problems is the acquisition of current theological literature published in the world. I mean not only Western publications, but also editions published by Local Orthodox Churches. Of course, the acquisition of such literature requires considerable resources, but the problem just has to be solved.

The equipment is no less important, starting with book storage shelves, which are not manufactured in this country with a satisfactory quality. Library equipment has to be purchased abroad because otherwise the books will be damaged and safety in the workplace will not be ensured. The equipment imported, for instance, from Germany or Finland is beyond criticism from the user point of view, but it is expensive.

Then comes qualified library personnel. There is an Institute of Culture in Moscow with a library department, but to have trained librarians is not enough. Church libraries should employ people with theological background. I am pleased to say that the newly established church educational institutions training for priesthood have started training young women, too, to work in libraries after graduation.

- What do you think are the prospects for the development of church libraries in Russia?

- There is a need for a distribution center for the libraries of theological academies, seminaries and, generally, for all church libraries. I think we will have it after all, though it is difficult to reach an agreement on arrangements because people have different ideas on how a church library should be compiled.

We need some sort of a coordinating body to facilitate the collection of books, because one of the most important issues directly involved in collecting church libraries, the church bibliography, has not been settled yet. We are still fighting to make church publishers present a mandatory copy. But I think we will get over this, so to say, off-season in publishing, and the publishing of religious literature in the ROC will become possible from a bibliographer's point of view.

Certainly, sooner or later we will come to think about a combined catalogue of libraries belonging to various church institutions, so that search for literature embracing all that has been achieved by the Russian Orthodox publishing may become possible.

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Parish libraries

The revival of libraries at church parishes began in the late 80s, during the so-called "perestroika". In the Soviet time, some parishes had "underground" libraries made up of "samizdat" (self-published) books and miraculously surviving pre-Revolutionary editions. Those books could be lent to very close and reliable people alone.

With a thaw in the political climate in the country came the rapid republication of pre-Revolutionary books and publication of new literature. Church books, brochures and newspapers began to fill the shelves of church shops. Parishioners, who had no books at home except for perhaps an old grandmother's copy of the Bible, began to buy up Orthodox books greedily. The clergy could now use some of the books they bought for collecting parish libraries.

The recent years have seen an intense growth in the number of parish libraries and in their funds. Several factors determine the importance of parish libraries in the religious education system.

  1. The book as such can be considered one of the best agents for conveying the experience of the Church, which is extremely important to do after the Soviet period of militant atheism.
  2. The recent years have seen a sharp increase in the number of parishioners, actually Soviet people who need to be catechized. A priest overloaded with responsibilities as he is today cannot catechize every new parishioner personally. Therefore, books recommended for reading by a priest are a good support for him in this endeavour.
  3. Young people who come to the Church today have inquiring minds. They wish to know Orthodoxy in detail and to study the lives of saints.
  4. It is only natural that parishes have begun to open parish schools for both children and adults. The need has arisen to supply their pupils with books for both reading in classes and at home.
The basic funds of parish libraries are made up of Holy Scriptures, Catechism, prayer books, Books of Hours and commentaries on the liturgy. Their patristic, hagiographic and historic sections are growing rapidly. Parishes with children's groups in their schools see to it that their libraries should contain various biblical interpretations and stories for children and color-in books. Parishes with many intellectuals among their parishioners seek to increase their libraries' sections on dogmatics, patrology, homiletics, apologetics and philosophy. They also collect secular literature including the 19th and 20th century Russian classics.

A special place in parish libraries has been given to albums on church art and photo albums. As a rule, these are expensive editions hardly affordable for parishioners. Periodicals also form an important section in these libraries. They inform readers about church life in Russia and in Orthodox churches in other countries.

Almost every library has liturgical books, such as The Book of Hours, the service books, Oktoich, Triodion and Mineion. The Handbook for the Clergy is a necessary reading for acolytes and precentors, while church choirs and Sunday schools need music collections.

Each parish library also has a section for catechumens. Along with the Gospel, they need books explaining popularly the basics of Orthodox faith and church rites.

An audio- and videoteque has become a modern extension of any library. They give the teachers of catechism new opportunities for work with students.

The example of the Moscow diocese can illustrate the present state of parish libraries and the dynamic of their growth resulting from the development of the parish religious education system. Among the most active users of libraries are adults and children attending parish schools and catechism courses as major forms of parish education today. Most of the parishes in the Moscow diocese run parish schools. Let us have a look at the disciplines studied in them.

Along with the traditional study of Holy Scriptures and Catechism, featuring strongly in the structure of religious education are studies on the History of the Church, Church Slavonic, liturgics and church music. There is a growing number of parish schools teaching moral and dogmatic theology, apologetics, patristics, Christian ethics, church art, iconography, drawing and icon painting.

The number of religious education institutions teaching church singing, Church Slavonic, Holy Scriptures and the study of sects doubled in 1998 in the Moscow diocese since 1997, while the number of those teaching liturgics has increased five times. As parishes extend their educational work, their libraries enlarge their sections of spiritual and educational literature.

The number of study groups at parish schools grew from 62 in 1997 to 106 in 1998, that is a 70% growth. They are engaged mainly in drawing, embroidery, icon painting and modelling. This entails the creation of respective sections in parish libraries. The number of children's choirs grew from 56 in 1997 to 91 in 1998, that is 1, 4 times. Today almost every parish school has a children's choir, and almost every parish library has music collections.

On the whole, the number of libraries at parish schools has grown from 8 in 1997 to 166 in 1998. At present 75% of the parish schools have libraries of their own.

I would like to make some general recommendations on how to organize the work of parish libraries.

  1. It is important that books for a library should be chosen by a priest (usually a rector) or an experienced lay person who has the blessing to do so from the rector. The general trend and spirit of the books comprising a library should correspond to the trend in the spiritual life of a given parish.
  2. It is helpful to arrange displays of new books and books on a certain theme.
  3. The best library days are Saturdays and Sundays, the time between divine services.
  4. Efforts should be made to arrange Orthodox books corners at public libraries, in hospitals, boarding schools and prisons. In every case, the needs and interests of readers as well as the level of their spiritual and cultural development should be taken in account.
In speaking about prospect for the development of church libraries, it should be noted that such subjects as the History of Christianity, Basics of Orthodox Culture and Theology have now been included in the curricula of many secular colleges and universities. For these academic courses a great deal of religious literature is required, which school and district libraries can hardly afford today. This poses the question of the need to open large parish libraries in major cities, so that they could meet the needs of not only parishioners, but also various students and teachers. Such libraries can facilitate in a considerable degree the training of teachers of catechism and popular education.

Archpriest Boris Balashov
Religious Education Director
Moscow Diocese
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The library of St. Alexander Nevsky's Brotherhood

According to its statute, the Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Prince Alexander Nevsky is an organization for religious education and enlightenment. What can be more important in the educational effort than a good book? From its outset, therefore, the Brotherhood decided to collect a good library for general use.

The first books were donated to the library in August 1991 by members of the Brotherhood themselves. Later books were brought by their acquaintances and donated by some organizations in Nizhni Novgorod and Moscow. Several packages of books came from the Russian Christian Students Movement in Paris. Thus the initial small fund was formed. Since September of the same year, enthusiasts of the Brotherhood's library have began bringing books in rucksacks from Moscow, bought with the Brotherhood's money. As premises for the library itself, the Brotherhood separated out a corner in the lodge at the entrance to the territory of St. Alexander Nevsky's Cathedral.

In March 1992, the library moved to the parish house, which was transferred to it, and two years later special facilities were fit out for it. The library began to function in full measure. Its reserve was considerably enlarged; its catalogue compiled; a small reading-hall was arranged.

Now anyone can become a subscriber to the Brotherhood's library. At present, it is the largest Orthodox public library in the Nizhni Novgorod region. It has nearly 22000 titles and over 3500 subscribers.

At its working hours the library becomes a veritable interest club. People come here with questions and wishes. The library gives to students from secular institutions of higher education, as well as seminarians and teachers themselves, a unique opportunity to choose necessary books and enjoy assistance in their studies. It has helped many students to write their term and graduation papers on subjects connected with Orthodoxy.

The library can also lend specially collected articles on audio- and video-cassettes.

The reserve of the library has been replenished at the expense of the Brotherhood. It is important to mention that almost every Orthodox book goes to the reading hall or the subscription fund of the library as soon as it comes out of print. The funds have been divided into such major sections as Holy Scriptures, commentaries, lives of saints and biographies of zealots of devotion, spirituality, church history, reference and text books, children's books. Incidentally, the Brotherhood can help any organization in Russia to form the initial funds for Orthodox libraries and send books through the Books by Mail, cash on delivery.

In the greatest demand are Lives of saints and zealots of devotion, works by Sts. Theophanes the Recluse and Bishop Ignatius Bryanchaninov, as well as sermons by Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh, Archpriest Valentine Amfiteatrov and others. Young people are concerned with the questions of ethics and ways in which the worldviews of prominent authors developed. Recently, people have displayed a fresh interest in books on icon painting.

In 1996, the Brotherhood opened a branch of its library in the Sormovo disctrict, a major industrial area in Nizhni Novgorod. There are 800 subscribers and a reading hall. In the nearest future the Brotherhood plans to open another branch of its library in St. Barbara's chapel in the center of the city it patronizes.

In order to involve more young people in Orthodox education, the Brotherhood has developed a project for an electronic reading hall to be based on a local network switched to the Internet. It is to serve six readers at the same time. The implementation of this project, however, will require considerable donations from benefactors.

Archbishop John (Shakhovskoy) of San Francisco once wrote: "The concern for spiritual literature is an almost endless effort in pastoral work... What is needed is the living word of the mouth, but personal communication with people is always limited. Spiritual books, however, overcome time and space. A religious book is an extension of pastoral love and care for the human soul and of pastoral presence in it. Through the written word the pastor enters thousands of times into the house and heart of a person".

Considering the library of Orthodox literature to be one of the most important links in the religious education system, the Brotherhood of St. Alexander Nevsky has continually increased opportunities for work with readers of all ages. It is hoped that as a result of this activity people in such a major Russian city as Nizhni Novgorod will ultimately satisfy their thirst for spiritual food.

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The library of the Tsaritsyn Orthodox University

The library of the Tsaritsyn Orthodox University (TsOU) of St. Sergius of Radonezh was founded when the university itself was first opened in 1993. At that time the library had only 500 copies of religious books. Its fund was continuously replenished with educational religious literature, service books, works and Lives of Orthodox saints, scriptural texts, books on the history of the Church and church music, spiritual works by Russian and foreign authors and Orthodox fiction.

The lecture-halls of the university are located in three different places in the city, distanced from one another. Therefore, the need arose in 1995 to set up three branches of the students' library attached directly to its departments:

  • the Department of Theology - at present it has some 1,5 thousand copies of educational, methodological and liturgical books;
  • the Precentors' Department - it has over 500 copies; the formation of the fund has been focused on literature on the theory and history of church music;
  • the Department of Ecology - has gathered some 1000 copies of educational and methodological books on all the natural sciences taught in the university.
In 1996, the library gave a considerable part of its fund (2,3 thousand copies) to the diocesan pre-seminary for catechism and Orthodox pedagogy.

For the recent years, the funds of both the main and departmental libraries have grown thanks to donators and have reached in total nearly 10 thousand copies, with 5,6 copies in the main library. It should be noted that the library collection consists of not only books, but also audio and video records of sermons, services, hymns, the number of which has reached some 300 pieces. The university library also arranges the showing of Orthodox video-films for all those who wish to see them.

The library collection is unique in both the city and the region in that it is used by not only the TsOU professors and students, but also high school and gymansia pupils, as well as all who are interested in Orthodox literature.

At present, the library is engaged in reaching out for industrial enterprises in Volgograd. The university professors who are members of the Community of the Holy Transfiguration have held talks with various executives in the city, seeking to open Orthodox libraries at enterprises themselves. At the present stage, such libraries have started functioning at the Volgogradsky dairy factory and the local distillery.

Yelena Peredunova
Chief Librarian
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