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Nikephoros Theotokis or Nikiforos Theotokis (Greek: Νικηφόρος Θεοτόκης; Russian: Никифор Феотоки or Никифор Феотокис; 1731-1800) was a Greek scholar and theologian, who became an archbishop in the southern provinces of the Russian Empire. A polymath, he has been respected in Greece as one of the "Teachers of the Nation".[1]


Nikephoros' life and work in Greece and Western Europe

Born in the Greek Island of Corfu (then a possession of Republic of Venice), Nikephoros studied in Italian universities of Bologna and Padua.[2]. In 1748, he returned to Corfu to join the Church as a monk, reaching the rank of Hieromonk in 1754. However, he was more interested in educating the youth of his country than in church services, and by 1758 he was able to set up his own school in Corfu, the first ever school in the island where a range of subjects were taught: Greek and Italian literature, grammar, geography, rhetorics, physics and mathematics, philosophy. He acquired some renown as a preacher at the local church of John the Baptist and an author of textbooks on physics and mathematics.

Nikephoros' achievements were noticed by Ecumenical Patriarch Samuel I Chatzeres (Σαμουήλ Χαντζερής), who appointed him as the preacher at Constantinople's main church (1765). However, Nikephoros did not stay that long in Constantinople; he divided much of his time over the next decade between Leipzig, where he published his Physics, and Jassy.[3]

Career in Russian Empire

During the reign of the Russian Empress Catherine II, a significant number of Greek professionals were invited to come to her empire to help in the administration of the recently conquered lands of Novorossiya ('New Russia') on the north shore of the Black Sea (today's southern Ukraine). In 1776, Nikephoros came to Russian Empire as well, invited by a fellow Corfiot, Eugenios Voulgaris, who had recently been appointed the Archbishop of Sloviansk and Kherson. [4]

Nikephoros joined Eugenios at the diocese, which covered much of the south-central Ukraine; its seat was actually located in Poltava, and remained there even after the diocese was later renamed to that of Yekaterinoslav. Eugenios groomed the younger theologian as his successor, and Nikephoros indeed replaced Eugenios as the latter retired in 1779. Later on, in 1786, Nikephoros was transferred to Astrakhan, where he served as the Archbishop of Astrakhan and Stavropol.

Besides his scholarly and theological work, Nikephoros is known for his polemics against dissenter religious groups, such as the Old Believers and the Spiritual Christians. Disappointed with the low success of the propaganda and enforcement approaches intended to make the Old Believers abandon their rites and join the established church, Nikephoros, since the summer of 1780, started to reach out to the Old Believer communities, offering to legalize their churches and their form of worship, as long as they accepted the authority of the official church. After a number of Old Believer communities in the Ukraine and southern Russia accepted such arrangements over the next two decades, such arrangements were adopted nationwide, under the name of Edinoverie ('Unity in Faith').[5][6]

Nikephoros is credited by some scholars[7] with coining the term Doukhobor around 1786, although others ascribe it to his successor at the Poltava chair, Archbishop Ambrosius.

Retirement and death

Nikephoros retired from his archbishop position on June 15, 1792 due to ill health. The Holy Synod appointed him the abbot (управляющий) of a small Danilov Monastery of Holy Trinity (Свято-Троицкий Данилов монастырь) in Pereslavl-Zalessky. Instead of going there, he requested to be left in Moscow instead, and on September 29, 1792, he was appointed the abbot of Moscow's Danilov Monastery. Nikephoros and spent the rest of his days there, presiding over the monastery's small staff (12 monks and 8 employees, according to the official budget), and continuing his literary work.[8]

The retired archbishop died in 1800 and was buried in the monastery's cemetery. His gravestone was destroyed in the 1930s, along with the rest of the cemetery; as of 2006, the monastery reported having approximately determined the location of the grave (based on old records), and planning archaeological excavations in the area.[8]


The main shopping street in the City of Corfu, Nikiforou Theotoki, is named after him.


  1. ^ Corfu Greece - Literature
  2. ^ Literaries - Philosophers - Scholars
  3. ^ Dēmaras, Kōnstantinos (1972). A history of modern Greek literature. SUNY Press. p. 137-138. ISBN 0873950712.  
  4. ^ Biography of Nikephoros Theotokis (Russian)
  5. ^ Yu.A. Katunin (Катунин Ю. А.), A.V. Belsky (Бельский А. В.) ЭТАПЫ БОРЬБЫ ЗА СОЗДАНИЕ ЦЕРКВИ У СТАРООБРЯДЦЕВ (Stages of the struggle for creating a church among the Old Believers) (Russian)
  6. ^ Irina Paert. "Old Believers, Religious Dissent and Gender in Russia, 1760-1850". Manchester University Press, 2003. ISBN 0719063221 On Google Books
  7. ^ Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History. A keynote address given by Russian ethnographer and archivist Svetlana A. Inikova at the Doukhobor Centenary Conference, held at the University of Ottawa on October 22-24, 1999.
  8. ^ a b Последние годы жизни архиепископа Никифора в должности управляющего Московским Даниловым монастырем (Archbishop Nikephoros' last years of life and his service as the abbot of Moscow's Danilov Monastery). A conference paper by the Abbot (наместник) of Moscow's Danilov Monastery Archimandrit Alexy at the Conference on the life and work of Eugenios Voulgaris and Nikephoros Theotokis. (Corfu, 2006-06-27). (Russian) The last years of life of Archbishop Nikephoros


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