Books as a Continuation of Liturgy

There are many publications available on the book market nowadays. Each book lover can find what she is looking for on the shelves of a bookshop. Some people swallow pulp novels and light fiction like doughnuts, while others enjoy works by Umberto Eco or Carlos Castaneda like Château Lafite. However, there are some people who are eager to prove that books are an anachronism, that people forget the skill of reading and their interest in books is bound to go extinct. You know, it is unsurprising to hear this opinion in our digital age, and you might be tempted to agree with it to some extent when you observe young people who wear earplugs and fix their looks on tablets and iPhones for entertainment. Nevertheless, sometimes you might see them reading some texts from the glowing screens of their mobile devices. But at that very moment you are likely to think, “He’s a student reading an ebook not for fun but because he needs it for an exam…”

On Form and Content

Printed books are still alive, and they are still being read. They are read to a lesser extent than they would be ideally but they are read! Long established and new publishers compete for the readers, for the chance to share their opinions and texts with them. Anyway, it is not about how the text is presented but what is in it that I would like to talk now. What message does a modern book convey? What does it teach? What does it inspire for? Are there publishers who speak out loud about Christian and humanistic values, about the meaning of life, love, and eternity?

It seems to me that there are not too many publishers and printers who consider their books as a continuation of the liturgy. The majority in the publishing business are more preoccupied with satisfying emotional requirements of their readers, with the propaganda of natural, rather than spiritual, values. Giving people food for the soul and helping them to get closer to God is a difficult task.

What can we do? Can we change anything? What should we read about: the earthly or the heavenly things, the temporary or the eternal? Should we strive for virtue or remain in the emptiness?

Giving people a chance to choose, showing them an alternative, helping them to distinguish between the natural and the spiritual. This has been the purpose of the Publishing House of St Elisabeth Convent, established in 2001. With prayer and the blessing of Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok, the spiritual father of the Convent, books filled with the light of God’s love and books where one can find answers to any questions have been published here for over a decade.

Made with the Blessing

The first book published in the Convent tells about the elders and the meaning of their guidance, about the necessity to submit one’s will to an experienced teacher whose advice is indispensable for those willing to go on a spiritual journey. This 100-page book was paperback and had the press run of 2,000 copies. It was printed on a risograph – a hybrid of a photocopy machine and an offset printing press. The book was compiled in 2002 by Nun Eupraxia (Shilenkova).

— It wasn’t my own idea, — Nun Eupraxia recalls. — Everything in the Convent is made with a blessing and, hopefully, in accordance with God’s will. Nun Martha (Guskova) who was in charge of the Publishing House at that time, was planning a series of similar publications.

The second book published in the Convent hit the presses in 2002. It was prepared in collaboration with the Publishing House of the Orthodox Fraternity in honor of St Michael the Archangel and printed on newsprint paper in the Belorussian Printing House. This book had 600 pages, a hard cover and a press run of 10,100 copies.

This book was followed by the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. Brochures. Booklets. Calendars. Posters… The scope of our publishing activities widened. The books were decorated with photos and pictures. At the same time, the Publishing House of St Elisabeth Convent explored its audience, developed topics and directions of its activity, established a closely connected team, and become more experienced. Today one can easily say that the Publishing House of St Elisabeth Convent has found its niche, has developed its unique style, by which one can unmistakably distinguish its publications.

“I have been working in the Publishing House since the very beginning,” Maria Mosilevich, the technical editor, recalls. “There are plenty of great releases, I don’t even know which one to highlight… I would suggest reading the Word of the Spiritual Father series. This is a book of sermons by Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok and his answers to the questions of parishioners and visitors of our website. The Happy Ones is another interesting book, which contains life stories of people who learned to love and whom God took to the heaven to dwell with Him.

Last year (2013) the Publishing House of St Elisabeth Convent prepared and published 79 titles, with press runs varying from 1,000 to 30,000 copies. We published not only books for worship (the Holy Gospel, the Book of Hours, prayer books, canons and akathists) but also spiritual and fiction books, Orthodox calendars and books for children. Among the authors of these books were Helena Mikhalenko, Tatiana Dashkevich, Andrei Smetanin, Dmitry Shevarov, et al.

A famous name does not matter

Today the Publishing House has ten members of staff: editors, proofreaders, typesetters, artists, designers. We have permanent full-time authors and part-time or freelance workers. It is not an easy task even for a well-known author to be approved for publication in the Publishing House of St Elisabeth Convent. Dozens of essays or books printed by secular publishers are not enough.

“A ‘trendy’ name does not matter when we choose which authors to publish,” Nun Antonina (Semenova), the head of the Publishing House, believes. “Apart from good writing skills, the author must have a heart that yearns for God because it is He who endows us with this or that talent. We must bear that in mind and bring the fruit of our labor back to its Rightful Owner.”

Alexander Beganski, the chief editor of the Publishing House, agrees with that opinion. He has been in this position since 2010. For him, like for all other employees of the Publishing House, work in the Convent is more than just a job. It is first of all the common prayer that starts every work day and gives birth to mutual understanding, the feeling of unity, and the books.

“I like the book by Metropolitan Philaret (Vakhromeyev) Learning Love more than everything else we’ve published,”‌ Alexander says. “This book contains selected sermons of the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus from 2009—2013. Love as the primary commandment and God as Love are the main topics of this book.”

This book, incidentally, was awarded a diploma of the 2014 National Book Art Contest in the nomination Spirituality.

For the Sake of the Future

Much attention these days is paid to making children books. This is unsurprising. Our children are our future and tomorrow depends on the books they learn from. Several books from the Loved Kids series were awarded diplomas at the 2014 National Book Art Contest. This year, a Christmas selection of short stories for children entitled The Golden Night received a diploma in the nomination Growing With Books.

Today the Publishing House is busy undertaking several projects for children at the same time. Editor Angelina Mendeleva has been preparing an Easter selection of short stories for children Christ is Risen, My Joy!; a children’s book about the life of the Most Holy Mother of God The Heavenly Flower; Lullaby ABC; and a book with 3D illustrations Jonah and the Whale.

“Our project A Gift for the Little Christian deserves special attention,” Angelina told us. “It is a secret box containing a prayer book for kids and a cardboard figurine of an Angel. I think it will make a perfect gift for a newborn. We wanted to accomplish such a project for a long time and, praise the Lord, we did it.”

Editor Helena Kebets is in charge of games for kids’ development. Wooden puzzle boxes, coloring books, flashcards, and jigsaw puzzles that teach letters and numbers are already available. These are books, too, even though they do not contain any text. Children read with the help of images.

“The Learning To Count jigsaw puzzle will help children to learn numbers while playing,” Helena believes. “The box with coloring cards contains not only the characters of well-known fairy tales but also many fascinating assignments that will enhance the development of creative abilities of your kid. The cards are very convenient. One can draw on them, then wipe it out, and draw again.

It seems to me that anyone who has ever held a book prepared and published by the Publishing House of St Elisabeth Convent in her hands must have felt the warmth it radiates. If you haven’t yet, why not try it now?

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