Vilnius [Vilna]: the typography of Vilna Orthodox Holy Spirit Brotherhood, 1620. 131 leaves. 20x15 cm. Original full leather with elaborate blind gilt on the front and back covers. Later end-papers. Owner’s inscriptions on the half-titles from the 18th century onwards. One later clasp preserved. Ink stamps of the previous owner Ivan Ivanovich Pelnikov (19th cent., in old orthography) on the title page and l.1. Calligraphic variations of the word leta [i.e. years] on the verso of the last page. Missing 11 leaves, of which 3 are supplied in later manuscript (likely 19th century). The margins of the title page have been restored in the 19th century, not affecting the text.
A great rarity, the first edition of this important collection of prayers translated into Ruthenian.
The title page is present, with an elegant full-page woodcut of Basil The Great on the verso.
129-132 l. are missing from all the copies known, including this one.
The 140 of 152 book initials are woodcuts made from the original forms of Francysk Skaryna (1470-1552), the first printer of the Eastern Slavic tradition, the first translator of the Bible to any Slavic language, a humanitarian, and educator. He originally opened his typography in Prague, but in 1520, Skaryna moved to Vilnius, where he became actively involved in printing activities. After his death, forms for the initials were preserved, first appearing in the typography of Vilna Orthodox Holy Spirit Brotherhood in the late 1590s. The forms were used for another couple of decades in Vilnius and Evie, where the typography was moved after its activity got restricted in the capital.
After Skaryna’s activities in Vilnius, the next book printed in Cyrillic in the Great Duchy of Lithuania was The Gospels, produced by Ivan Fedorov and Pyotr Mstislavets in 1575 in Zabludov.
Vilna Orthodox Holy Spirit Brotherhood was founded in 1586, and according to its charter, was aimed at uniting all Orthodox Christians of the Duchy, which at that time covered most of the lands of modern Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and some parts of nowadays Russia and Poland. The charter was confirmed by the patriarch of Constantinople Jeremiah II, who also allowed the Brotherhood to open a typography and produce editions in Greek and Old Slavonic. However, it was not until 1595 that the typography published its first prayer book. Interestingly, the second book, a polemic anti-Catholic work in Polish by Stefan Zizaniy, was printed but hasn’t survived to our day - there are no copies in any collections worldwide; however, we know for certain that it was produced as it is mentioned in other polemic texts of the time. Because of its active anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant position, a decree of Zygmunt III Waza disallowed the Brotherhood to print anything for 12 years (1598 to 1610).
The next book produced by the Brotherhood led to the real trouble: Frinos by Meletiy Smotritskiy was printed in Polish in 1610 and described the tough life of Orthodox Christians in the Grand Duchy, whilst proclaiming that the Orthodox variant of the Christianity is the only one worth following: Our hands are tied, our neck already feels the rope, our legs are in chains, and a two-edged sword is already lifted over our heads. You can only see fear, repression, and cries for help. It became one of the most widely read books by Ukrainians and Belorussians in the 18th century with many manuscript copies distributed.
The edition had a deadly effect on the Brotherhood: the typography staff was arrested, the book was burnt together with the remains of the previous editions, and a fine in the amount of 5,000 zloty was imposed upon anyone who attempted to help the Brotherhood. One of the people imprisoned at the time was the scribe of the typography Leontiy Karpovich. However, the typography managed to move to Evie where the printing continued. Smotritskiy produced his classical grammar of the Slavonic language in Evie in 1618, but already by 1615, the Brotherhood managed to restore the old typography in Vilna and the printing resumed (two typographies existed at the same time). After the Polish-Russian war of the early 1610s and the gradual stabilization of the political situation, the Brotherhood typography experienced its Renaissance in the years 1615-1632. Shortly, the author of the preface to this edition, Leontiy Karpovich emerged as one of the most influential figures in the Brotherhood and its typography.
Leontiy Karpovich (1580-1620) was born in Pinsk (now Belarus) and studied at the first Eastern Slavic Academy in Ostrog, where he met Meletiy Smotritsky (1577-1633). Leontiy became a monk at Kyiv Pechersk Lavra and later moved to Vilna, where he was a scribe of the Brotherhood. After his release from prison, Karpovich became the head of a local school. Writing in several languages, he emerged as one of the most educated theologists of the time. In 1620, Leontiy was appointed a bishop of Vladimir-Volynskiy in Ukraine. Karpovich’s sudden death interrupted what could have become a remarkable career.
This particular book, the first edition of what later became known as Brashno dukhovnoye, was reprinted twice during the 17th century and circulated in manuscript forms. All the editions, including the last one printed by Patriarch Nikon in his home typography in 1661, are extremely rare.
The translation to the Ruthenian language for this edition was likely done by Karpovich as well.
The Ruthenian language is a term that is used to describe similar languages spoken from the 15th to the 18th centuries in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and in East Slavic regions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Regional distribution of those varieties, both in their literary and vernacular forms, corresponded approximately to the territories of the modern states of Belarus and Ukraine. By the end of the 18th century, they gradually diverged into regional variants, subsequently developing into the modern Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Rusyn languages.
It should be mentioned that in spite of all the oppression of the Orthodox Christians in the Duchy of Lithuania at the time, there was no censorship on the editions of the prayers and sermons from the church itself (the censorship was introduced by Pyotr Mohila only in 1640), making it possible to produce a book essentially in the spoken variant of the language, not the canonic Church Slavonic. For example, the first editions that record the Russian variant of the spoken language didn’t appear until the 1680s.
The Ruthenian language (the other name Prosta nova [i.e. A simple speech]) is an important source of knowledge on the origins of the modern Belarussian, Ukrainian, and Rusyn languages.
Golenchenko. Kingi Belarusi. 1517-1917. 93.
17 copies and fragments are known worldwide, according to the Golenchenko catalogue. None of them are recorded in the US, according to the Worldcat.