1547 1997



A Speech Given at the Opera and Ballet Theatre

During the  Commemoration of the  450th Anniversary of  the First Lithuanian Book

Vilnius, January 8, 1997

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Blessed is the hand stroking a child's head, holding a book or extending it - like bread - to another.

Three times blessed is the hand which for 450 years has extended to us, to Lithuanians and Samogitians, our written language. All Lithuania has today assembled before that hand, has gathered around her book. Although only a few have seen it, everyone believes that it exists. It  must exist, for without it Lithuania would not exist either. Therefore, we can say that we have two kings: Mindaugas, who created the Lithuanian state, and Mažvydas, who created the Lithuanian book. (end of the recording).

However complicated the relationships between states and books may be, books are always closer to people than states. For this reason, the kingdom of Mažvydas is more deeply rooted than that of Mindaugas. He comes from the Lithuania of the Lithuanian language, and he appeals to her like an  apostle - sensitively, intimately: brothers, sisters.... As if he were sitting with them in their huts, sharing their hardship and their   language, like a simple broth from a single clay or wooden bowl. Here,  at these tables, proclaiming spiritual fellowship and community, like a blessing on the name of his book and its essence, came those "prasty zadei," i.e., simple words. Mažvydas, it may be said, set the tone for  all our literature; he mapped the democratic direction of our intellectual growth. Since then, since January 8, 1547, the Lithuanian  written language has committed itself to those brothers and sisters to whom it appealed when it was born, has committed itself to people and their language. Precisely this goal, this democratic spirit, saved our written language and our people during the dark centuries of history. Indeed, were not Donelaitis, Strazdas, Daukantas, Vienažindys, and Maironis men of simple words? No one since has so precisely, so meaningfully, formulated the mission and duty of written language as Mažvydas did in the Latin preface of Part I of his "Christian Hymns." I quote: "...so that the service of the word might survive in our language and be passed on to future generations." The service of the word! That was said for the ages. I would like to emphasize that Mažvydas has not released any of us from this service. Unless perhaps on account of our own flight, withdrawal, desertion, or betrayal. The service of the word is the service of the spirit. Mažvydas' book is a book that creates; it exhibits and opens up a living spirit  that seeks salvation, rises and falls under the burden of earthly misery  and sin, humbly whispers prayers, repeats with hope the truths of faith, and sings with a shivering heart:

Cleanse us of evil
And of all that is hateful.

These are the efforts of the spirit: to understand, to be enlightened and to enlighten, to rise and to raise. Indeed, did man not become greater when he read in the section of the first book on "Stewardship," i.e., on duties and obligations: "Love thy neighbor as thyself"? Or: "Do what is good, and you will have honor"? Naturally, that is an ideal man; his contours are in Mažvydas' consciousness; the longing and the plan for him are in our first book. In reality, that man was somewhat more contradictory, surrounded by all sorts of demons and goddesses, spirits of the earth and fields. Mažvydas depicts such a man in his poetic preface. Thus, our first book, as is fitting, attests to the contradictions of reality and to the confusion, disappointment, and suffering of man. At a time of religious and ideological struggle, when different groups claim to speak for the true God, man no longer knows what to believe; he bows to the earth and returns to his old gods; bread becomes his foremost concern; it even begins to seem to him that the greatest god is bread and that a bigger bite of it is greater happiness and greater truth. It is no longer important in what manner that bread is acquired. Are we not living in a similar period now? Is it not for this reason that the intellectual pastor of Ragainė, Mažvydas, is completely unable to call his parishioners to Sunday services, to the rites of baptism and matrimony? Most assuredly, they did not understand Mažvydas' idealism, his proselytizing zeal, but at the same time they were able, together with their pastor, to raise their eyes to heaven and sing with all their hearts:

Command our lords to rule justly,
To judge us with justice.

Those are perhaps the most important lines today in our first book. We open our first book with the understanding that it is the first home of the Lithuanian language... <...>.

Translated by Jonas Steponaitis

  Recording of the speech by Just. Marcinkevičius, a fragment of 1 min. 09 seconds

The Program of the 450th Anniversary Commemoration at the Opera House, Vilnius, January 8, 1997

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