Didactic gospels

Image - Nykodym Zubrytsky: Title page from Kyrylo Stavrovetsky-Tranquillon: Didactic Gospel (1696). Image - A page from Didactic Gospel (1606).

Didactic gospels (uchytelni yevanheliia). Collections of sermons for the whole year (usually beginning with the Sunday of the Pharisee Publican), based on the parables of the Gospels. The collections were usually handwritten. Their prototype was the Church Slavonic didactic gospel of Bishop Constantine of Preslav (894), based in turn on Greek excerpts from the Fathers of the Church. In Old Ukraine didactic gospels were less popular than anthologies, prologues (see Prolog), the lives of saints, and other religious literature. Only the Church Slavonic translations (by 1407) of the didactic gospels of two Constantinople patriarchs—Callistus (1350–3, 1354–63) and Philotheus (1353–4, 1364–79)—gained some popularity and went through two printings (in Zabłudów, northern Podlachia, 1568–9, and in Krylos, near Halych, 1606). The patron of the Zabłudów Gospel, Hetman H. Khodkevych, wanted it ‘translated into the common language to make it comprehensible to the common people,’ but he was dissuaded from this by ‘wise men,’ for ‘to translate old sayings into new language is not an insignificant mistake’ (from the preface to the Zabłudów edition). This didactic gospel was soon translated into vernacular Ukrainian, however, and was published in Vevis (Yevie), near Vilnius, in 1616 (2nd edn, Kyiv 1637), because its Church Slavonic text ‘was useful only to the few who knew the Slavonic tongue,’ and for this reason the readers often turned ‘to the infectious learning published in heretical words and characters for the flocks’ (from the preface).

The development of the didactic gospels in the 16th–18th century was marked by the strong influence of these ‘heretical’ sources, particularly by the postil of the Polish Calvinist Mikołaj Rej (1557) and then by his opponent, the Polish Catholic Jakub Wujek (1573). The ban on Rej’s work in Poland (1604) did not put an end to its success among Ukrainian readers, who were attracted by his simple, lively style and concern for the common folk. Of over 100 surviving didactic gospels from the 16th–18th century, more than 30 show signs of Rej’s influence. The rest of the material was derived from Church Slavonic sources, including local ones such as Cyril of Turiv, and was sometimes left untranslated. The Polish postils were modeled on the Sermones (1537) and Homiliarum Centuria Prima (1541) of Johann Faber, the bishop of Vienna, who introduced a simple Latin style and practical examples into his sermons, and on the Postillae (1555) of the Dutch Dominican J. Ferus. The Ukrainian didactic gospels made use of the apocrypha (as did Wujek, but not Rej).

The translations of chapters from the Gospels into the ordinary language of the 16th–18th century are particularly important for the history of the Ukrainian language. (At that time neither the Orthodox nor the Uniate church allowed the use of a complete translation of the four Gospels.) Besides the didactic gospels already mentioned, the better-known didactic gospels were those from Trostianets (ca 1560) of Rev Andrii of Yaroslav (Lviv, 1585); from Skotarske–Svaliava (Transcarpathia, 1588, against Evangelicals); of Pochaiv Monastery (16th century); from Bereznyi (Transcarpathia, 16th century); from Katerynoslav (1592); from Yazlovets (end of the 16th century); from Tryhiria (beginning of the 17th century); from Oravchyk, near Skole (beginning of the 17th century); the so-called Ievanheliie vykladnoie (Chovhany, near Zhydachiv, 1603); of I. Biloborodsky (Piatyhory, 1603); of Kyrylo Stavrovetsky-Tranquillon (printed in Rakhmaniv in Volhynia, 1619 and in Univ in the Peremyshliany region, 1696, 1697); of Rev Lavrentii of Pisochna (1634); of Tymofii of Vysochany (Sianik region, 1635); of Rev I. Kapyshovsky (Ortutova, 1640) and from Ladomyrovo (Ladomyrova Gospel, 17th century) (the last two came from the Prešov region and were copied from a common original); from Yasynykiv (Transcarpathia, of Galician origin, 1640); from Naditychi (1645); of Ya. Fliuka (mid-17th century); from Danylove (not later than 1646, anti-Protestant and anti-Catholic); of Rev Yavorsky and S. Rykhvalsky (Rykhvalt, 1666); of S. Plaviansky (1668); of Rev S. Tymofiievych (Reshetylivka, 1670); of F. Dulyshkovych (1673); from Niahiv (17th century, with Protestant influences); from Uhlia (‘Kliuch,’ end of the 17th century); from Kaniv (late 17th century); of P. Kolochavsky (1737); of I. Pryslopsky (Kaminna, near Grybów, 18th century). The Krekhiv Apostolos (late 16th century) is close to the didactic gospels. In the 18th century the didactic gospels were suppressed in Russian-ruled Ukraine because of the Russification policy. They were supplanted in Polish-ruled Ukraine shortly after because of Polonization and the decline of the Orthodox church. In 1789 the Uniate Basilian monastic order began to publish in the Pochaiv Monastery collections of sermons for the whole year (on new Polish models), which in their ‘vernacular language’ were reminiscent of the old didactic gospels. Many didactic gospels were preserved in Lviv at the libraries of the Shevchenko Scientific Society, the National Museum, and the People's Home in Lviv (collection of Antin Petrushevych), and in Peremyshl at the library of the Greek Catholic Peremyshl eparchy.

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Bohdan Struminsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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