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Prominent Russians: Ivan Fyodorov

Circa 1510-1520 – December 5, 1583
Image from day.kiev.ua Image from day.kiev.ua

Ivan Fyodorov is considered one of the founding fathers of book printing in Russia and Ukraine. He was a fervent and, in all likelihood, self-sacrificing idealist with a vested interest in the history of the Russian book craft. Owing to his high intellect and diplomatic and literary talents, this outstanding enlightener was an accomplished expert in numerous trades, as well as a man of broad vision and great persistence. Fyodorov played an important role in the promotion of literacy and Eastern Orthodox confessional unity, and introduced a high level of content, design, and craftsmanship into his profession.

Historians still find it difficult to depict Ivan Fyodorov’s complete life story. Judging by the printer’s own statements in his publications and by his patronymic, he came from Moscow and was the son of a certain Fyodor. It is generally assumed that he was born around 1510, or later, with no exact data on his date and place of birth. Some historians believe that he was born in Russia, in Moscow or in Novgorod, around 1520. However, the genealogical interpretation of his typographic mark, which was similar to the coat of arms of the Byelorussian kin of Ragoza, may suggest relation to this clan (several dozens of Byelorussian, Ukrainian and Polish families belonged to it). According to some sources, he came from the little town of Petckovichi at the border of the modern Minsk and Brest regions in Byelorussia.

In 1529 Ivan Fyodorov moved from Petckovichi to Kraków, where he entered Jagiellonian University. Documents prove that a student named ‘Johannes Theodori Moscus’ stayed at the university’s Jerusalem fraternity for the next two years. Its promotion diary bears a note that in 1532 he received a bachelor’s degree. At the time, this well-known educational institution was at its prime, offering extensive courses in ancient Greek and Roman literature and Greek and Hebrew languages. So the young Fyodorov had the opportunity to get a sound philological education here, which came in handy later in his publishing activities.

The university was famous for hosting not only ethnic Poles but a variety of other nationals as well. Some researchers suggest that Fyodorov may have worked at Kraków’s Latin and Polish print shops. He may have also acquainted himself with the creations of printer Schweipolt Fiol, an ethnic German who had published a series of Cyrillic liturgical books in Kraków in 1491- 1493 for the population of Galicia.

It is not known when Ivan Fyodorov left Kraków, or where he spent the next twenty years — whether he was improving his mastery in a Polish print shop or taught somewhere in Belarus or Ukraine. Some historians believe that until 1550 he lived in Ukraine, where he became known as a cannon maker and he is said to be the inventor of a multi-barreled mortar. From the early 1550s Fyodorov evidently belonged to the retinue of Macarius the Metropolitan of Moscow. He was ordained to the office of a deacon in the St. Nicholas Gostunsky church in the Moscow Kremlin where he participated in harmonizing variants of canonical texts.

The first Russian print shop was founded in about 1553 in Moscow, apparently on the initiative of Sylvester, a priest at Moscow’s Annunciation Cathedral and, possibly, Ivan IV the Terrible’s confessor. In 1553, Ivan the Terrible issued a decree concerning the construction of a printing house in Moscow. Later it was called the “anonymous” typography, as it never produced any complete books, only several sample pages. Some 1556 documents cite the name of Marusha Nefediev, a ‘book printing master.’ Fyodorov may have worked with him at first and adopted certain printing methods. However, it is known for sure that he later organized a similar enterprise upon the initiative of Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible himself, but what in fact prompted the establishment of both print shops was the seizure of the Kazan and Astrakhan khanates by Russia in 1552 and 1556, respectively, and, hence, an urgent need for a large number of liturgical books to be used in newly-built churches in order to Christianize the conquered peoples. At the request of the tsar, the king of Denmark sent a specialist to assist, but when the typography finally started working in 1563, it was fully managed by Ivan Fyodorov.

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On 19 April 1563, Ivan Fyodorov and his assistant Peter Timofeevich Mstislavets (from Byelorussia) began working on a book called “Acts and Epistles of the Saint Apostles” (or simply “Apostle”). It is believed to be the first exactly dated Russian printed book. According to the afterword, they had worked on it from 19 April 1563 to 1 March 1564. This edition considerably surpassed the ‘anonymous’ publications, both in terms of text and print thanks to Ivan Fyodorov, historians believe. Through their work on “Apostle,” Fyodorov and Mstislavets developed the basic rules for Russian book printing - new Cyrillic fonts and other standards which defined the appearance of Slavonic books for centuries to come.

The success of the innovative technology brought about competition and scribes began to suppress and persecute printers; besides, the clergymen were wary of the printing press (as Fyodorov later recalled in the afterword to the Lvov-published “Apostle,” he had been accused of heresy). In 1563, Makarius died and Fyodorov and Mstislavets lost their patron. They printed other books, including two editions of “Horologion” (1565), which was in great demand among the newly-converted Orthodox people for learning basic prayers and psalms, but in 1566 a fire destroyed the typography. Due to the intrigues in terms of Oprichnina (a policy of mass repressions and public executions introduced in 1565 by Ivan the Terrible), Fyodorov and his son (also named Ivan) and Mstislavets left Moscow for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The printers apparently chose a roundabout but safe way across Swedish-occupied Estonia and Latvia. They were received by Polish King Sigismund Augustus. Obviously, the king was more preoccupied with the political situation in the neighboring Muscovite state rather than with the problems of Cyrillic book publishing. Approximately at the same time, there had a meeting with Symon Budny, a prominent Byelorussian book printer and enlightener, which whom they discussed publication of canonical Christian texts.

The Lithuanian Hetman Grzegorz Chodkiewicz (Hryhoriy Khodkevych in Russian transcription), a well-known Orthodox political figure of the time, invited the printers to his estate at Zabłudów. The Chodkiewicz family was of Kyiv boyar descent and had cultural ties with Kiev and, in particular, the Kievan Cave Monastery.

In Zabłudów they published “Didactic Gospel” (1569; collected speeches and teachings interpreting gospel texts) and “Psalter” (1570). “Psalter” (a collection of sermons for Sundays and the most important feasts), was a widespread sacred book for use in worship, study in schools, and reading at home. The edition is a masterpiece of printing art, richly decorated with a large number of illuminated initial letters, ornamental page titles, top ornaments and tailpieces, and more. The book is illustrated by two engravings that feature a figure of King David and the coat of arms of Khodkevych. Only four copies of the Zabłudów edition have survived to present days.

In 1569 Mstislavets decided to launch a business of his own in Vilno. Aided by the Belarusian merchants Kuzma and Luka Mamonych, he set up a print shop in the city. Meanwhile, Ivan Fyodorov kept working in Zabłudów and turned out another “Psalter” and “Horologion” in 1570. Under the linguistic tradition that prevailed in Byelorussian and Ukrainian lands, he named himself Ivan Fyodorovych the Muscovite in both publications.

In 1570, when Chodkiewicz fell seriously ill and lost interest in book publishing the print shop ceased to exist. Fyodorov’s aging sponsor advised him to retire on farming land he would be provided, but he declined, saying he was suited to sowing not seeds but the printed word.

Painting by Moravov (image from gnpbu.ru) Painting by Moravov (image from gnpbu.ru)

Instead, in the fall of 1572, after closing the typography at Zabłudów, he set out for Lvov, Ukraine’s largest economic and cultural center at the time, hoping to find support for his educational efforts among the religiously discriminated Orthodox Ukrainians. He resumed his work as a printer with his son at the St. Onuphrius Monastery the following year. He received great help from Senko Kalenykovych, a saddle-maker by trade and an intellectual by spirit who gave Ivan Fyodorov 700 zlotys, a huge amount of money at the time, without demanding a refund. In 1574 Fyodorov, with the help of his son and a certain Hryn Ivanovych of Zabłudów (who worked as an engraver) published the second edition of the “Apostle.” Short on time and funds, Fyodorov repeated the Moscow-published “Apostle” with some additions, including Fyodorov’s ex libris (for the first time) and an autobiographical epilogue providing information about the commencement of book printing in Russia and Ukraine. The Lvov-printed “Apostle” saw the light of day in Ukraine on February 15, 1574. The next publication, smaller in size but no less important in content, was a unique one as was the “Primer” (1574), the first printed Cyrillic ABC textbook for Orthodox Slavs.

Soon the ‘Muscovite printer’ (as he was known in Lvov) or Ivan Moschus (Ivan the Muscovite), another name he used there, found himself with no means of his own and the printing press mortgaged. However, in 1575, he met Konstantin Ostrozhsky, the owner of the large Ostrog (or Ostrih) Estate and the foremost magnate of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Ostrozhsky supported the Ukrainian national movement and tried to unite the intellectuals participating in the defense of Eastern Orthodoxy against increasing pressure from Catholicism. He founded the famous Ostrih Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy, the Eastern Slavs’ first higher school, and planned to publish the word’s first unabridged Bible in Old Church Slavonic. Later that year Fyodorov, with the support of Prince Ostrozhsky, was placed in charge of the Derman Monastery. While living in Ostrog, Fyodorov produced the famous “Ostrih Bible,” the first complete printed Slavonic Bible, which remains of prime historical, textual, and confessional importance. It was issued in a large run and widely distributed in East Slavic lands and abroad, surviving to the 21st century with some 300 copies. Not only did Fyodorov print this book using the most advanced technology of the time, but undoubtedly took part in selecting and editing texts.

Ivan Fyodorov is also associated with the first Eastern Slavic printed poetic work — a calendar by the Belarusian reformer Andrei Rymsha. This one-sheet piece with a list of months in Old Church Slavonic, Hebrew, and Ukrainian was intended for the academy’s primary grades. Each month was accompanied by a short poem on an Old Testament topic.

In 1578 a new “Primer” was published for the Ostrih Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy. To meet the requirements of the educational institution, the text of the Lvov-printed “Primer” was supplemented with the Greek alphabet and parallel prayers in Greek and Church Slavonic. To instill patriotic and Orthodox views in students, this book included the treatise “On Writings” by the monk, Khrabr (10th century), a well-known piece of Old Bulgarian literature. The latter was extremely important in the period of religious and cultural discrimination of the Orthodox, for it proved that Old Church Slavonic was equal to the ‘biblical’ languages — Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Fyodorov’s next Ostrih publication — “Psalter with Horologion” (1580) — was also intended for non-liturgical purposes. He also issued an alphabetical subject index to the New Testament (1580), compiled by Timofey Annich, called “The Book.” It is considered to be the first referenced publication in Eastern Slav history.

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In 1581 Ivan Fyodorov came back to Lvov after a quarrel with Prince Ostrozhsky, and tried to become an independent publisher again, but his attempt to reopen his print shop failed. As he had amassed no wealth in Ostrih, he became an unofficial representative of the well-known Lvov iron founder Daniel Koenig. Using his influential connections, Fyodorov secured some orders for him. In Kraków, for example, Polish King Stefan Batory allotted him funds for cannon making. In a short while Fyodorov traveled to Vienna where he offered his invention, a multi-barreled collapsible cannon, to Emperor Rudolf II. The emperor granted him an audience, above all, for political considerations. Being the initiator of forming an anti-Turkish coalition with Russia, this politician obviously thought it important to meet a person who personally knew Tsar Ivan the Terrible and his inner circle. Ivan Fyodorov also probably had some other professional interests in Vienna: for example, he may have met with some executives of Scharfenberg, a well-known European printing firm.

On return to Lvov from the long travel Ivan Fyodorov fell ill and passed away on 5 December 1583. He died a pauper, in no position to deal with promissory notes. After his death, his shop went to the Lvov Dormition Brotherhood (later the Stauropegion Institute) which used Fyodorov's original book designs until the early 19th century.

The chronicles state that Ivan Fyodorov was buried in the St. Onuphrius Monastery in Lvov. His friends put up a tombstone with an inscription that reflects profound respect of his contemporaries for his personality and his creative legacy: “Ioann Fyodorovych the Muscovite, a book printer, who renewed the neglected printing with his efforts. Wish he would rise from the dead, a printer of hitherto unknown books.”

The first and most famous monument to Fyodorov was erected in Moscow in 1909.

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