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

Matt Miller

Editor’s note: The first half of this article was published in the previous issue of the East-West Church & Ministry Report 15 (Summer 2007): 2-4.

By 1939, the Russian YMCA Press in Paris served as the principle publisher of philosophical and religious books in the Russian language, with274 titles to its credit. Unfortunately, World War Interrupted publication and European distribution. The 1940s brought additional trials to the Press with the deaths of its two chief authors: Sergei Bulgakov in 1944 and Nikolai Berdyaev in 1948.With Paul Anderson supervising all American YMCA work in Europe, D. A. Lowrie served as director of the Press from 1947 to 1955.

 In 1946, the Press began sending copies of all its published works to the Russian Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union. A small number of copies were sent to the Patriarchate or one of the leading bishops for use in theologicalschools.1 After the war, the Press also published the complete works of Dostoevsky – at a time when they were not available in the USSR. In addition, the Press expanded its publication of contemporary fiction, including the works of A.Akhmatova, M. Tsvetaeva, A. Platonov, and V.Voinovich.2

New Leadership; New Facilities

By 1955 the YMCA Press had published126,342 copies of 400 titles.3 Nevertheless, the current editor, Nikita Struve, appointed in 1955,had to weather a difficult time of transition. By1955, Americans responsible for the Russian work did not share an appreciation for the religious-philosophical approach of the Press; for them, this emphasis seemed alien and irrelevant. With Lowry’s retirement, and recognizing the changed circumstances, Anderson oversaw the disengagement process of the Y’s International Committee from its Russian work in Paris. In1955, he arranged the transfer of ownership of the YMCA Press to the Russian Student Christian Movement (RSCM), at which point the Association’s Paris office closed. Anderson apparently worked very carefully to cover every detail of the transition, especially issues concerning finances and support personnel.4 For decades Anderson was the strongest connection between the American YMCA and the publishing house.

 According to Struve, Anderson’s death in1985 severed the strongest personal link that had existed between the two organizations.5When in 1961 the YMCA Press acquired a new facility, including a bookshop, on rue-deal-Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve in Paris, a newer for the Press began.6 A variety of readers frequented the Paris bookshop, including students of a Catholic college in Rome where priests were trained for undercover religious work in theUSSR.7 Metropolitan Nikolai, Exarch for Western Europe for the Moscow Patriarch, and Bishop Nikodim, head of the Foreign Office of the Moscow Patriarchate, visited the bookstore and purchased many books. Anderson commented, “This is evidence of the interest of the Moscow Patriarchate in our publications. They do not get [to] publish theological or other religious works in [the] U.S.S.R., except for the monthly Journal and the [Almanac].”8Interest in YMCA Press publications grew inside the USSR during the 1960s. Sources inside the country reported that 500 copies of Vasily Zenkovsky’s History of Russian Philosophy, published by the Press, were mimeographed and distributed to the intellectual leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and some members of the Academy of Sciences. Joel Nystrom of the YMCA interpreted this event as “part and parcel of the struggle within the Soviet Union to turn Russian culture into creative Christian channels.”9

 Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Press received a great deal of publicity in the late 1960s and 1970s because of the publication of several works by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In 1968 it published the first full-length Russian edition of his novel CancerWard.10 Then in 1973 it published Solzhenitsyn’s Arkhipelag Gulag, which for the first time brought the publishing house worldwide attention. In a few weeks the Press sold 50,000 copies of Gulag – a record for Russian émigré publishing.

 The release of Gulag generated controversy around the globe. Journalist David Renwick has noted, “In Europe, and especially in France, the publication of ‘Gulag’ and [Solzhenitsyn’s] exile in 1974 immediately changed the intellectual landscape. Suddenly, a generation who had grownup under the spell of Jean-Paul Sartre’s brand of leftism and a powerful Stalinist Communist Party now turned to the avatar of anti-Communism.”11

Although the YMCA Press published Solzhenitsyn’s bitter attacks on the Soviet Union, Anderson consistently downplayed the Y’s political goals: As regards political stance, from the beginning we have taken the line that is expressed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which even the Soviet government has accepted. Consequently, where we do have quarrel is that the Soviet Government in practice denies the exercise of many of these rights, and the Communist Party, especially in the provinces, blatantly says that it rejects them and persecutes those who claim them. We only up to its constitution and law on matters of religion and free expression of ideas.12

 In his autobiography, Solzhenitsyn referred this YMCA publishers as “selfless.”13 When he first met Paul Anderson, he exclaimed, “Otets IMKI![Father of the YMCA Press!].”14 On 9 April 1975,the Nobel laureate, on a visit to the YMCA Press office in Paris, gave Anderson a book with the inscription, “To Paul Anderson with thanks and respect, remembering how much he has done for Russian culture.” Anderson commented, “Thistles in with the whole and express purpose of the world-wide YMCA movement – Christianculture.”15

 The Press also supported Solzhenitsyn in a less obvious manner. By publishing the writingsof Berdyaev and Bulgakov, the Press indirectlyinspired Solzhenitsyn to continue their critiqueof materialism and atheism. In 1974, the Presspublished Iz pod glyb [From Under the Rubble],a collection of essays by Solzhenitsyn and others,which stressed the need for a moral and ethicalrevolution in Soviet Russia. From Under the Rubble followed the path of Landmarks and Out of the Depths, for the philosophical positions and literary forms of the 1974 publication followed the models of the earlier collections.16 These essays called for a return to the ideas held by Berdyaev and Bulgakov.In 1980, Press director Nikita Struve commented on the developments of the 1960s and1970s: “For all the previous years of emigration, the activity of the publishing house was forced tibia monologue. Now it is becoming a dialogue, a cooperation in the moral recovery of thecountry.”17 And in 1990 Struve observed: For almost 70 years the YMCA Press stood almost alone in guarding Russian culture.

 Today, when the emancipation of Russia is beginning, it will become one of its centers, equally with domestic publishing houses. Ina common work of grandfathers, fathers, and grandsons, here, abroad, and there, in Russia, the YMCA Press, looking back, not without justifiable pride in the long path it has traveled, is ready to continue its service to the Russian word and to Russian Orthodox theological and church culture.18

 The Press Returns to Russia

The Press was able to openly return to Russiain 1990. On 17 September, an exhibition opened at the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow: “70 Years of the Publishing House YMCA Press:1920-1990.” This event allowed Struve to enter the USSR for the first time. The following spring, in March 1991, a Leningrad exhibition featured the Press. At this event, Dmitri Sergeevich Likhachev (1906-1999), the literary scholar who was considered by many to be the guardian of Russian culture, reflected positively on the significance of the authors whose books were published by the YMCA. Struve also shared with those attending about the men who founded the publishing house but had not lived to see it return to Russia. Struve noted in particular the contribution of YMCA leader John R. Mott to theproject.19

 From 1990 to 1992, with the support of Patriarch Aleksy II, the YMCA Press opened libraries in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Kyiv, Tver, Orel, Voronezh, and Stavropol; these libraries opened within large existing libraries and were open to the public. From 1990 to1992, the Press also developed a relationship with a Russian publisher, Russkii Put’, to reprint YMCA Press titles. In these first two years, the Press sold more than 150,000 books.20 The grand opening of the “Library-Foundation of Russian Abroad” took place in Moscow on 9 December1995. The founders of this new institution were the YMCA Press, the social foundation of Aleksandra Solzhenitsyn, and the city of Moscow.Solzhenitsyn, Struve, and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk all spoke at the event. In the first ten years of its work in Russia (1990-2000), the Press presented exhibitions of its books in 50 Russiancities.21

 A Summary of Accomplishments

American and Russian participants have emphasized the uniqueness and timeliness of their publishing venture. In 1955, Donald Lowrie concluded: Had not the YMCA Press existed, it is probable that many of these books would never even have been written. The knowledge that they could hope to have philosophical and theological works published provided a great incentive to thinkers in the Russian emigration, and hence important works were produced which otherwise might never have seen the light.22

 In addition, Anton Kartashev states: The creators of the YMCA Press, possessing the gift of freedom, did not stress one preconceived doctrine. They encountered the fact of the spiritual needs of the emigration, interpreting it with trust and good will. These were [YMCA] people of pre-revolutionary Russia, who were fluent in the Russian language, were interested in Russian culture, and shared the optimistic premonition of their leader, J. Mott, about the great Christian future of the Russian people. Here we name the Americans P. F. Anderson, E. I. MacNaughten,and L. I. Lowrie.

 The publication in 35 years of more than 250titles (approximately 600,000 volumes) of books, brochures, and periodical editions, serving the requirements of the two million (including America) in the Russian dispersion– this is at the very least a humanitarian and cultural virtue, which is worthy of a high moral prize. And the humble workers of the American YMCA subjectively, perhaps, do not seek more. But our Russian debt is to give them just recognition for their activity, which surpasses both their and our expectations.23

 The influence of the YMCA Press and its authors continues in Russia today. The return of the émigrés took longer than expected, but the hopes of the first generation were realized, at least in part, at the end of the 20th century. F

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


1 Letter from Paul B. Anderson to John R. Mott, 19April 1951, 2. Corr. and Reports 1950-. Russian Work, Restricted, Publications, YMCA Press in Paris; letter from Paul B. Anderson to Harry Brunger, 1 September 1975, 2. Solzhenitsyn. YMCA of the USA, Anderson, Paul B., 3. KFYA.

2“YMCA-Press,” promotional sheet, [1975], 1-2.YMCA Press. YMCA of the USA, Anderson, Paul B., 1. KFYA.

3 Donald A. Lowrie, “Study of Russian Publishing Program,” 5 January 1955, 1. 1/55. France, Russian Work, 1954-1955, N. Goncharoff Research Project,1954-1955. KFYA.

4 A. V. Kartashev and N. A. Struve, 70 letizdatel’stva “YMCA-Press”: 1920-1990 (Paris:

YMCA Press, 1990), 25-27; Anderson, “A Brief History of the YMCA Press, 10-11; Paul B.Anderson, “Progress Report on Russian Work,”

19 October 1959, 1-3. Chekhov, 10-12/59. France, RSCM-YMCA Press 1957-1960, Chekhov Press1950s. KFYA.

5 Kartashev and Struve, 70 let, 33.

6 Ibid., 28-29.

7 “So Faith Endured . . .,” Newsweek, 24 October1960, Reprint, no page number given, M General1943-6. YMCA of the USA, Anderson, Paul B., 2.KFYA.

8 Memorandum from Paul B. Anderson to Millard F.Collins, Robert Frers, and others, 21 April1961. 1960-61. France, Russian Work, 1956-1968.KFYA.

9 Memorandum from Joel E. Nystrom to the members of the Executive Committee of the International Committee, YMCA’s, 4 February1965, 1-2. Correspondence (C-D). Paul B. Anderson, Correspondence 1964-65. KFYA.

10 Henry Raymont, “Russian Emigres Gain in Publishing,” The New York Times, 30 October 1968.Articles. Russian Work, Restricted, Publications,YMCA Press in Paris. KFYA.

11 David Remnick, “The Exile Returns,” The NewYorker, 14 February 1994, 73.

12 Letter from Anderson to Brunger, 1 September1975, 2.

13 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Oak and the Calf:Sketches of Literary Life in the Soviet Union(New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1979),383. Solzhenitsyn describes the development of  his relationship with the YMCA Press in more detail in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Invisible Allies(Washington: Counterpoint, 1995), 216, 218, 222-23, 229-30, 235, 245, 247-48.

14 Donald E. [Davis], “Paul B. Anderson (1894-1985),” Sobornost 8 (No. 1, 1986), 57.

15 Nicolas Zernov, “The Significance of the Russian Orthodox Diaspora and its Effect on the Christian West,” in The Orthodox Churches and the West, ed.Derek Baker (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976), 326.

16 Max Hayward, introduction to From Under the Rubble by Alexander Solzhenitsyn et al. (Boston:Little, Brown, and Company, 1975), v-vii. For commentary on Iz pod glyb, see Marc Raeff, “Iz podglyb and the History of Russian Social Thought, “Russian Review 34 (1975): 476-88.

17 “IMKA-Press, 80-e gody (an interview with the director of the publishing house [Nikita Struve]by Vladimir Allo),”Russkaia mysl’, 11 September1980, No. 3325 (11 September 1980), 12.

18 Alexander Solzhenitsyn et al., From Under the Rubble, trans. Michael Scammel (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1975), 40. For additional perspective on the role of the YMCA Press incatalyzing the preservation of Russian religious culture and promoting Orthodoxy in the West, sew. We idle, “The YMCA-Press in Paris ConnectsPast and Future,” The Orthodox Church, May 1976,4, 6.

19 Arkhimandrit Avgustin (Nikitin), Metodizm ipravoslavie (Saint Petersburg: Svetoch, 2001),163-64. See also Nikita Struve, “Retrieving the Lost(Interview with Nikita Struve),” interview by V.Semenko, Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate No.1 (1991), 34-45.

20 Viktor Moskvin, “YMCA-Press v gorodakh Rossii i Ukrainy,” Vestnik russkogo khristians kogodvizheniia 166:III (1992): 280-81. On the 1990Moscow exhibition see also: “Vystavka izdatel’stvaYMCA-Press v Moskve,” Vestnik russkogokhristianskogo dvizheniia 159:II (1990): 307-10.A later trip to Russia’s north is presented in Ioann Privalov, ed., “YMCA-Press” v Arkhangel’ske: Vstrechis N.A. Struve: lektsii, interv’iu, besedy (Archangelsk: Obshchina Khrama Sreteniia Gospodnia, 2002).

21 T. Emel’ianova, “10-letie ‘IMKA-Press’ v Rossii,”Vestnik russkogo khristianskogo dvizheniia 181:III

(2000): 266.

22 Lowrie, “Study of Russian Publishing Program,”1.

23 Kartashev and Struve, 70 let, 1, 6, 12-14.