The Russian news agency Novosti published lately a news, reading “One of the earliest books to have been printed in Russia will be auctioned.” It seemed to be just a run-of-the mill news, for antique books are sold everywhere and by diverse sellers. Trade in antiques is a serious business. However, this case is special, as “one of the earliest books to have been printed in Russia” has turned out to be a copy of... the Ostroh Bible. To convince the reader that it is so, the Novosti reminded that the said book had been printed by Ivan Fedorov, who the Russians consider to be the first Russian printer. The short report also reminded the reader that the Ostroh Bible was reprinted in Moscow in 1663. By the way, it was considered the first printed Bible by the Russians of the time. However, the Novosti’s reporters did not mention this, but mentioned that the Ostroh Bible had been used as the authorized biblical text till 1740, that is until the publication of the Elizabethan Bible. In short, the Ostroh Bible is a Russian book according to this report.
Nonetheless, every sentence of it is false. Falsifications of this kind are, however, nothing unusual for the Russians, as they have misappropriated a lot of Ukrainian (and not only Ukrainian) history, claiming Kyivan Rus’ as their state, Kyiv as the “mother of Russian cities,” and The Tale of Bygone Years as part of their literature. After all, they have stolen even the name of Rus’/Russia from us. Well, why would not they steal the Ostroh Bible? This is, by and large, small change, after all.
In fact, there is no reason whatsoever to call the Ostroh Bible “one of the earliest books to have been printed in Russia”. It was published in 1580-81 in the Ukrainian town of Ostroh, which was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth then, as well as for more than 200 years after the event. Therefore, to claim that this book was published in Russia is either a manifestation of fantastic ignorance or a deliberate falsification.
However, it can be argued that the book was printed by Russian Ivan Fedorov, which the Novosti reporters duly did. We will not refer to the debate concerning the printer’s origin, places he was trained in, etc., but will only remark that he worked at behest of Prince Vasyl-Kostiantyn Ostrozky, who funded the publication. If not for the princely money, the book would not be published at all. It cost a lot of money, but more than just funding, it needed a printing-ready text, and getting it was an extremely difficult work. After all, there was no complete text of the Bible in Church Slavonic in existence then. Editors of the Ostroh Bible, led by Herasym Smotrytsky, used Greek, Latin, and Old Slavonic biblical texts, as well as translations into newer Slavic languages, such as Polish and Czech. By the way, it was Smotrytsky and Prince Ostrozky who authored the prefaces to the Bible, while Fedorov wrote only its afterword. Therefore, there are no grounds at all to consider this book to be Russian (in the modern sense of the word).
The Russians, or, to be more precise, Muscovites, were unable to propose a better edition of the Church Slavonic Bible than that offered by the Ostroh Bible for a long time. The Moscow Bible of 1663, cited by the Novosti, was virtually the same with the Ostroh Bible. Moreover, even the Elizabethan Bible of 1740 was based on the Ostroh Bible. There is nothing surprising to it, actually. Ukrainian scholars brought knowledge to the uneducated Muscovy throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. These facts are well-known, but Russian authors try to avoid mentioning them. Why would they? They see no reason to show how a “younger brother” taught his older sibling, and confirm that Russia would have never become an empire without that “younger brother,” both culturally and politically.
The Moscow auction, where a copy of the Ostroh Bible will go on sale, will be held on September 25. Of course, the seller, fearing a price fall, will try to conceal that this book is not Russian, but Ukrainian.
P.S. The Day called the Diletant magazine, asking for their comment on the publication of this news. However, we were asked to send our comments and questions in writing. Please, consider this article by our contributor Professor Kraliuk to be our written request.