On Monday, September 22, 2008, three especially noteworthy books were unveiled at the International Foundation for Slavic Letters and Culture, published by the Press of the Sretensky Monastery: Vladyka John—Holy Hierarch of the Russian Diaspora, the encyclopedic chronicle The Russian Orthodox Church: The 20th Century, and the two-volume presentation set, Lives of the Saints for Children.
The meeting was attended by a small group of publishers, literary figures and journalists. The session was opened by Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), Prior of Sretensky Monastery.
First to present his book was Protopriest Peter Perekrestov, a clergyman of the Cathedral of Our Lady, the "Joy of All Who Sorrow" in San Francisco, where the relics of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco are enshrined. He spoke about the work done on the book. As Fr Peter explained, it is not his own composition. It is an anthology of very interesting materials collected over a period of years, consisting of a biography of the holy hierarch written by an Orthodox Frenchman, Bernard le Careau, homilies of Vladyka John, reminiscences about him, and a great many testimonials concerning aid received through his supplications. Fr Peter noted especially that Metropolitan Laurus of Eastern America and New York blessed him to compile this book on St John. In 2008, the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia reposed in God, and this is, as it were, the last book for which Vladyka Laurus gave his blessing.
It is also noteworthy that the book about St John is the first joint project of the now reunited Russian Orthodox Church, Archimandrite Tikhon added. And at this point a most important question was raised: How and with what will it be possible to arouse the interest of the modern reader, especially one who is not churchly? How can one relate Orthodoxy to contemporary man?
The participants in the meeting agreed that it is best to learn about Christianity by seeing the faith, love and ascetic life of a holy man. This means the lives of the saints are now called for all the more in literature's work of enlightenment. And books written for children are often read with interest by adults as well.
Lives of the Saints for Children was presented by the Vologdan author Robert Balakshin. Robert Alexandrovich related how he began to write on spiritual themes, how he worked on the lives of the saints, recasting them for the contemporary young reader. An amazing thing happened to the author while he was working on the book. This is what he related:
One winter, having lit the stove, he went outdoors. He had to cross over a frozen river at a certain point; but the ice broke under his feet, and Robert Alexandrovich found himself plunged into freezing-cold water. He cried out, trying to summon help; but the village was sparsely populated, especially in wintertime, and the only neighbor who heard his cries assumed that someone was fooling around, or a drunkard was yammering. Then the author remembered his work, Lives of the Saints for Children. "How can I drown without finishing the book?" he asked himself. And immediately Robert Alexandrovich felt some sort of support under his feet (even now he does not understand what it could have been), managed to prop his arms up on the ice, and pushed himself up and out Everything worked out for the best; he didn't even catch a cold.
Protopriest Artemy Vladimirov, sharing his own impressions of the book which was being unveiled, responded very warmly to the Lives, remarking on the high quality of the publication. He also noted the talent of the writer. He likewise made the "commercial proposal" to reissue the Lives in the near future, not in two volumes, but in twelve, to correspond top the number of months, a format that will be more convenient.
Igor Vladimirovich Shlak, director of the publishing house "ALEF-Ukraina," brought a copy of the Lives of the Saints for Children issued in Kiev. This was the first project of joint book publication between the two Orthodox capital centers. In the Kievan version of the Lives there appear blessings from His Holiness, Patriarch Alexis and Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All Ukraine. Igor Vladimirovich thanked the author, Robert Valakshin, for his work and noted that the book, the first in a series, is essential for family reading.
The encyclopedia The Russian Orthodox Church: The 20th Century (which, noted Fr Tikhon, is being issued in stages) has already won a number of prestigious prizes, the highest of which is the Grand Prix awarded by the Association of Russia's Book Publishers.
This book contains chronological materials, arranged sometimes day by day, on the history of the Russian Orthodox Church during the most difficult period of its existence, the 20th century (from January 1st, 1901, through December 31st 2000). The encyclopedia contains a multitude of documents and photographs, among them many never previously published. A significant portion of the historical account consists of biographies of the new martyrs. Despite sympathy and antipathy toward one or another historical event and those who took part in them, the compilers have striven to set them forth in an objective manner.
Olga Yurievna Vasilievna, who holds a doctorate in historical sciences, the leader of the group of scholars who worked on this project and one of its authors/compilers, thanked Archimandrite Tikhon, Sretensky Monastery and the publications house for their collaborative work and remarked on the uniqueness of the book. The recent history of the Church of Russia has never before been published in such a volume, in such a format. And it is particularly valuable that the history of the Church has been collated with that of Russia.
Returning to the question of how to relate the lives of the saints to young, non-churchly people, Professor Olga Yurievna Vasilieva shared her extensive pedagogical experience, inasmuch as she teaches history not only to students of the Moscow State University, but also at a number of other educational institutions, including the Sretensky Theological Seminary. The book she introduced recounts in vivid language events and people, the new martyrs of Russia; and this, she notes, arouses interest among the young, who are studying history.
"The Lives of the Saints are becoming all the more necessary for us," concluded Archimandrite Tikhon. "The Gospel is also a biography, an account of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the biography of a holy man we see the kingdom of God. Reading the life of St John, or the Lives of the Saints for Children, one is able to perceive the loftiness of the struggle of a saint, to that people may be imbued by his spriit."
Mention was also made of new projects to be undertaken by the publishing house of Sretensky Monastery.
At the end of the meeting, a film by Archimandrite Tikhon, Tales of Matushka Frosi,was shown. Matushka was one of the last inhabitants of the Diveevo Convent, which was destroyed by the Bolsheviks after the Revolution. The film was shot in 1988. In it the viewer sees with his own eyes the division of the Russian people into blasphemers and preservers of the Orthodox Faith. He sees the face of a simple Russian nun—in essence, a holy person. He senses an unapproachable spiritual eminence, hard to attain. And anyone's heart is bound to respond to such testimony about faith. Television is also one of the means of showing the life of ascetics to a large number of people.
Discussion of the film and the publication plans continued after supper among the close circle of bookmen and literary figures.