Special Theme Edition on the Current Ukrainian Crisis:   Volume 22, No. 3  (Summer 2014)

The East West Church &  Ministry Report has issued a special theme edition examining the impact of the current Ukrainian crisis on the church and ministries in Ukraine and Russia.

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The Russian YMCA Press: Preserver and Patron of Russian Orthodox Culture

Matt Miller

Editor’s Note: In the 20th century the American Protestant YMCA made an exceptional contribution to the survival and perpetuation of Russian Orthodox thought and culture in exile. Through its Russian-language press and many other ventures, the YMCA helped to counter the effects of many dark decades of Soviet repression of religion. Its selfless and generous contributions to Russian Orthodox life abroad, personified in the imaginative and resourceful agency of “Y-man” Paul B. Anderson, amply justifies the comprehensive analysis provided in Matt Miller’s  2006 dissertation, “American Philanthropy among Russians: The Work of the YMCA, 1900- 1940.”

In the early 1920s the YMCA made its share of mistakes, including Julius Hecker’s ill-advised Soviet  apologetics. But the Y more than compensated through a remarkable array of projects to assist Russians in the defense and further development of their spiritual heritage. Much can be learned both from YMCA miscues and its more typically strategic and beneficial aid to a people and culture at risk. The excerpts from Matt Miller’s dissertation published in this article come from Chapter Nine,” ‘The Hunger for Books’: Serving a Starving Readership.”

Accolades

Natalia Solzhenitsyn praised the work of the Russian YMCA Press during a 1982 New York City press conference: “This publishing house for all these years has been giving to Russians living in Russia the real bread of life. I have to testify that the hunger for books is really a much greater hunger than the hunger for food. The greatest help that we can receive is precisely the kind of help that was given to us by [YMCA worker] Paul Anderson.”1

Historian Robert H. Johnston also noted the unique role of the YMCA Press on behalf of Russian émigrés, hailing it as “the oldest, most important publisher of Russian books outside Russia,” with benefits to Russians abroad that are “incalculable.”2 However, such evaluations usually do not credit the original Protestant leadership that launched this remarkable Orthodox publishing house, the political impact of its avowedly non-political efforts, nor the recent activities of the YMCA Press in post- Soviet Russia and Ukraine.

Early Efforts

During World War I, the American YMCA produced practical textbooks and Protestant writings for Russian citizens. Initially, Russian YMCA Press imprints included writings by such mainline Protestants as Harry Emerson Fosdick. However, within a few years its theological titles primarily featured works by Russian Orthodox authors such as Sergei Bulgakov for the benefit of Russian émigrés living in Western and Central Europe.

Paul B. Anderson

The Press made its greatest contribution to the Russian Orthodox émigré community after the organization moved from Berlin to Paris in 1924. By actively investigating the needs and desires of the Russian diaspora, YMCA staffer Paul B. Anderson and his co-workers were able to assist in one of the areas of greatest need. Throughout his years in Paris, Anderson attempted to purchase every work on religious topics produced in the Soviet Union.3 This study augmented his ability to cooperate intelligently and appropriately With Russian émigrés as they worked to preserve Orthodox culture.

 Beginning in 1924 the Association’s publishing focused primarily on the religious needs of the Russian émigré population in Europe. Several secretaries working among the émigrés noted a growing interest of the “homesick million” in literature that would satisfy their longing to read on traditional Orthodox themes.4 However, few publishing houses in Europe were willing to print Russian religious literature, for the effort promised meager profit.5

 By producing this type of literature, YMCA directors aimed to build character among youth, to study contemporary social challenges, and to preserve and develop Russian Christian culture.6 With YMCA encouragement, émigré authors increasingly addressed social and moral problems, such as atheistic materialism and labor issues, from a distinctively Orthodox Christian perspective. To this end, early on, Anderson, working together with Russian advisors, decided to publish an historical biography of Saint Sergei of Radonezh. Boris Zaitsev, an accomplished novelist, was chosen to write the book, published in 1924. Émigrés eagerly purchased this work, which prompted the Press to continue publishing new lives of saints.7

 Nikolai Berdyaev

Also in 1924, the YMCA Press cooperated with renowned émigré intellectual, Nikolai Berdyaev, to publish Problems of the Russian Religious Mind, a collection of articles on contemporary issues in Russian religious philosophy. Anderson explained the significance of this publication: “This volume . . . made an impression on the Russian reading public showing that the YMCA was not a Protestant proselytizing organization, but one which held to the idea that its work must represent the indigenous thought and aspirations of the Russian people. It set the tone for our program. . . . The YMCA had thus identified itself with creative Orthodox doctrine.”8  

Berdyaev emerged as the leading Russian participant in the YMCA Press. As Press editor, he worked carefully and thoroughly, personally evaluating every proposed manuscript.9 He also participated widely in the religious life of Paris and developed a network of friendships with Orthodox, Catholics, and Anglicans.10 Anderson established the organizational  foundation for the YMCA Press, while Berdyaev provided its intellectual direction. Berdyaev’s literary productivity continued alongside his editorial and social activities: “Nine books in 15 years, besides scores of articles and countless lectures.”11 The Press published virtually all of the Russian editions of Berdyaev’s books.

 YMCA Sponsorship of Russian Orthodox Journals

In 1925 Berdyaev discussed with Anderson the possibility of publishing a journal which could serve as a forum for the exchange of religious, philosophical, and literary ideas. With special funding from American YMCA leader John R. Mott, the journal Put’ [The Way] became an integral element of the YMCA Press program. Berdyaev served as sole editor for each of the journal’s 61 issues from 1925 until 1940, when the German invasion of France halted publication.12 He allowed a variety of opinions to be published, refusing only “clearly obscurantist or malicious reactionary” authors.13 The Press published three journals: Put’ [The Way] (1925-1940), Novyi grad [The New City] (1934-1939), and Pravoslavnaia mysl’ [Orthodox Thought] (1928-1954). Novyi grad, edited by G. P. Fedotov, had more social-political content than Put’, while Pravoslavnaia mysl’ included articles written by professors from St. SergiusTheological Institute in Paris, another project supported by the American YMCA.14 A recent study by L. D. Ezova describes thebreadth of Put’:

 

The variety of themes of the journal turned every issue into a true encyclopedia of Russian spiritual culture, and the quantity of themes and authors was so great that an analysis of all this intellectual richness would require research in more than one specialty. Here are the issues of church rapprochement, the ecumenical movement, the church life of other confessions, literature, art, ancient history, general church history, philosophy, psychology, the student youth movement, the spiritual formation of émigré youth, an evaluation of the condition of the Orthodox Church in Soviet Russia, the world crisis of culture, the councils of the early church, theological education,  pilgrimages to the Holy Land, etc.15 Of course, not all welcomed Put’ with open arms: It “was received with acclamation by some and sharp criticism by other reviewers.” Some claimed it was “too liberal” while others charged it was “too Orthodox.”16

Orthodox Reservations Overcome

Despite the accomplishments of the American YMCA, conservative émigré Russian Orthodox leaders continued to distrust the Association, even after the YMCA Russian Press began to Publish traditional Orthodox literature. In 1926,a group of influential émigré bishops declared that the YMCA was “anti-Christian” and forbade members of the Orthodox Church from organizing under the auspices of the Association. However, by 1939 most leaders of the émigré Russian Orthodox Church in Europe had granted their blessing to the YMCA’s work.17

The Record of Achievements to 1939

Prior to World War II the American YMCA managed major accomplishments through its Russian YMCA Press. This unique publishing venture produced a collection of significant. Theological and philosophical literature which was widely used among émigré Russian Orthodox clergy and laity. The faculty of the St. Sergius Theological Institute was able to distribute its writings through the YMCA Press.18 The Press also contributed to literary works of high quality for the entire Russian émigré community. And the Press assisted Berdyaev in publishing Put’, the world’s only intellectual journal grounded in Russian Orthodoxy.19 As Anderson’s successor, D. A. Lowrie, explained, “The worth of such literature . . . can be calculated only against the dark background of the state presses of Communist Russia that pour out deluges of materialistic atheism.”

 Remarkably, despite the Great Depression, Anderson managed to convince his superiors to actively support a publishing house producing religious-philosophical works that were very different from the practical Christian books preferred by American Protestants. In the inter war years the centerpiece of the Press was the journal Put’, which historian Marc Raeff judged as the “most significant religious journal of Russia Abroad.” For the Y office in New York another sponsors, Anderson promoted its “potential significance for a philosophical-religious revival in Soviet Russia in the future. It would seem, on the evidence of the illegal Berdiaevite grouping Leningrad in the 1960s and the keen interest shown by some circles of the dissident Soviet intelligentsia, that this hope was not quite in vain.” Put’ clearly was not a tool of its capitalist benefactors, for it continued the pre-revolutionary tradition which criticized both revolutionary materialism and bourgeois capitalism: “They carried on and broadened the critique by former Marxists such as Struve [and] Bulgakov.”21 ♦

Editor’s Note: The second half of this article will be published in the next issue of the East-WestChurch & Ministry Report 15 (Fall 2007).

Edited excerpts published with permission from Matthew Lee Miller, “American Philanthropy among Russians: The Work of the YMCA, 1900-1940,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2006

 Matt Miller works in Moscow with the Evangelical Free Church and teaches at the Russian-American Christian University, Moscow.

Notes:

1 Paul B. Anderson, “No East or West: The Memoirs of Paul B. Anderson,” ed. Donald E. Davis, unpublished draft, preface.

2 Robert H. Johnston, “New Mecca, New Babylon”: Paris and the Russian Exiles, 1920-1945 (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 54.

3 Paul B. Anderson, “Notes,” 17-18; Paul B. Anderson Papers, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Archives (hereafter, PBAP).

4 Anderson, “No East or West,” 106.

5 Anderson, “Russian Literature Service,” 2, PBAP.

6 [Paul B. Anderson,] “Fundamentals of the Young Men’s Christian Association,” unpublished draft, 1929, 44, PBAP; Anderson, “Russian Literature Service,” 5-6,PBAP.

7  Anderson, “Russian Literature Service,” 118, PBAP.

8 Ibid., 118-19.

9 Donald A. Lowrie, Rebellious Prophet: A Life of Nicolai Berdyaev (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), 201.

10 Paul B. Anderson, “Administrative Report of Paul B.Anderson for 1939, Paris, France,” 25 January 1940, 5. Annual Reports 1933-49. Russian Work – Europe, Restricted, Budgets and Appropriations, Correspondence and Reports, 1950-, Financial Transactions. Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis (hereafter, KFYA).

11 Lowrie, Rebellious Prophet, 192.

12 Anderson, “No East or West,” 141-42. AntuanArzhakovskii, Zhurnal Put’ (1925-1940): Pokolenie russkikh religioznykh myslitelei v emigratsii (Kiev: Feniks, 2000) is an in-depth (656 pp.) evaluation of the philosophical trends represented by the journal’s authors and the ideological evolution of the publication.

13 Lowrie, Rebellious Prophet, 199.

14 Paul B. Anderson, “A Brief History of YMCA Press,” February 1972, 10. Corr. and Reports 1950-. Russian Work, Restricted, Publications, YMCA Press in Paris.KFYA.

15 L. D. Ezova, “Pereosmyslenie opyta russkoi dukhovnoi kul’tury parizhskim zhurnalom ‘Put,’” inRossiiskai  intelligentsiia na rodine i v zarubezh’e: Novye dokumenty i materialy. Ed. Karen Zavenovich Akopian (Moscow: Ministerstvo Kul’tury Rossiiskoi Federatsii i Rossiiskii Institut Kul’turologii, 2001), 49-50, 63.

16 Paul B. Anderson, “Russian Service in Europe, Annual Report for the Year 1925,” 8. Annual Reports, 1925-29. Russian Work – Europe, Restricted, Correspondence and Reports, 1920-29, Annual Reports, 1920-29. KFYA.

17 Ethan T. Colton, Forty Years with Russians (New York: Association Press, 1940), 183-84, 134.

18 Edward Kasinec, “Bibliographical Census: Russian Émigré Theologians and Philosophers in the Seminary Library Collection,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 16 (1972), 41.

19 Lowrie, Rebellious Prophet, 199.

20 Colton, Forty Years, 134.

21 Marc Raeff, Russia Abroad: A Cultural History of the Russian Emigration, 1919-1939 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 144, 146.