Revealing Secret Lives of Saints in Russia’s Orthodox Literature

One of the most popular books among Russian readers right now could be considered a modern version of «The Lives of the Saints.» «Unholy Holies,» a book about the lives of monks and priests written by a monk is sitting on the Russian bestseller lists and selling out its print runs.
Alisa Orlova | 09 July 2012

One of the most popular books among Russian readers right now could be considered a modern version of «The Lives of the Saints.» «Unholy Holies,» a book about the lives of monks and priests written by a monk is sitting on the Russian bestseller lists and selling out its print runs.

Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov. Photo: ITAR-TASS

In September 2011, the Olma Media Group debuted a new book at the Moscow Book Fair. The book was “Unholy Holies” by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, abbot of the small, yet very active Sretensky Monastery, and it tells miraculous – albeit true – stories from the lives of contemporary Orthodox monks and priests. Olma already bet big on the book, giving it a 60,000 copy first print run – five to ten times higher than a standard first printing. Nevertheless, few saw the real miracle coming – the book has made it on to the list of bestsellers in Moscow bookstores and has remained there for many months; there have already been four editions and the total number of copies exceeds 800,000. Online bookseller Ozon.ru has nominated «Unholy Holies»for the Runet award and it is leading the popular vote for the prestigious«Bolshaya Kniga» (Big Book) Prize. Archimandrite Tikhon’s book has been translated into Serbian, Greek and French, it is being translated into English and talks are underway to have the book translated into German, Italian and French.

The book has become a way for ordinary Russians to learn about religious life. The stories do not seem like the typical relgious literature written for neophytes, which combine a Soviet-style didactic tone with tried-and-true parables from the Bible; these are abundant in any Russian church shop. The stories are also unlike the other kind of religious literature common in Russia – more philisophical texts that require some preparation and knowledge of the faith to appreciate. “Unholy Holies” is a book accessible to all readers. 

Secular writer and playwright Pavel Sanaev says that modern Russian literature was missing such a book. “You can find out from this book what faith is all about. The book clarifies many doubts that someone might have. We have been missing a book with contemporary life stories,” Sanaev said. 

Archpriest Maksim Kozlov, a philologist and rector of the Church of Holy Martyr Tatiana at Moscow State University, said: “Father Tikhon’s book has filled a gap that we all sensed; we have all been looking forward to having a book like this. The book tells about the life of the Russian Church, about a whole continent that remains undiscovered by most of our fellow countrymen, but it uses a language and raises the issues in a context that is interesting not only to the narrow circle of churchgoers, but also to a broader audience. This book is a unique success; the author managed to get through to all audiences, and everyone sees something special, both“extrinsic” people and those close to the Church. It is a comfort to all of us, already aware of these stories to a certain extent, to reread them. It is clear now that ‘Unholy Holies’ is not a book for a day or even a year.”

Source: Russia Beyond The Headlines

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