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Theophan Prokopovich

Feofan/Theophan Prokopovich (June 18, 1681, Kiev–September 19, 1736, St. Petersburg) was an archbishop and statesman in the Russian Empire, of Ukrainian descent. He elaborated and implemented Peter the Great's reform of the Russian Orthodox Church. One of the founding fathers of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Prokopovich wrote much religious verse and some of the most enduring sermons in the Russian language.

From a merchant family, he brilliantly distinguished himself at the Kiev-Mohyla Academy of Kiev, subsequently completing his education in Poland (for which purpose he turned Uniate), and at Rome in the College of the Propaganda. Primed with all the knowledge of the West, he returned home to seek his fortune, and, as the Orthodox monk, became one of the professors at, and subsequently rector of, the academy of Kiev. He entirely reformed the teaching of theology there, substituting the historical method of the German theologians for the former Orthodox scholastic system.

In 1709 Peter the Great, while passing through Kiev, was struck by the eloquence of Prokopovich in a sermon on the most glorious victory, i.e. Poltava, and in 1716 summoned him to St Petersburg. From henceforth it was Feofan's duty and pleasure to explain the new ideas and justify the most alarming innovations from the pulpit. So invaluable, indeed, did he become to the civil power, that, despite the determined opposition of the Russian clergy, who regarded the "Light of Kiev" as an interloper and semi-heretic, he was rapidly promoted, becoming, in 1718, bishop of Pskov, and finally, in 1724, archbishop of Novgorod.1

As the author of the spiritual regulation for the reform of the Russian Orthodox Church, Feofan must, indeed, be regarded as the creator of the spiritual department superseding the patriarchate, and better known by its later name of the Holy Governing Synod, of which he was made the vice-president. Penetrated by the conviction that ignorance was the worst of the inveterate evils of old Russia, a pitiless enemy of superstition of every sort; a reformer by nature, overflowing with energy and resource, and with a singularly lucid mind armed at all points by a far-reaching erudition, Prokopovich was the soul of the reforming party after the death of Peter the Great. To him also belongs the great merit of liberating Russian preaching from the fetters of Polish turgidity and affectation by introducing popular themes and a simple style into Orthodox pulpit eloquence.

Footnotes

1 He had served as vicar to the previous Archbishop of Novgorod since the early 1700s. See Pavel Tikhomirov, Kafedra Novgorodskikh Sviatitelei (Novgorod, 1895-1899).

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