Archimandrite Photius

Archimandrite Photius (Russian: Архимандрит Фотий, romanizedArkhimandrit Fotii, secular name Pyotr Nikitich Spassky, Russian: Пётр Никитич Спасский; Julian calendar: 4 June 1792, Novgorodsky Uyezd – 26 February 1838, Novgorod) was an influential and reactionary Russian Orthodox priest and mystic, appointed in 1822 the Archimandrite of Yuriev Monastery in Novgorod.[1] From 1823 to 1825, he and Alexey Arakcheyev plotted the downfall of Arakcheyev's political rival, Alexander Nikolaevich Golitsyn, Minister of Education and Spiritual Affairs. As in the later reign of Tsar Nicholas II, this was an age of rebellion, dissent and disputed succession, and Photius, a "theatrical and hypnotic character", has been compared to Rasputin.[2]: 226 


Photius arrived in Saint Petersburg in 1817 as a theology teacher to the Cadet Corps. In 1820 he began to preach in the Kazan Cathedral against the Evangelical Russian Bible Society, which he alleged was responsible for all the unrest among young Russians.[3] He and others feared that there might be a Reformation in Russia.[4]: 94–95  This impressed powerful sponsors, such as the immensely wealthy Countess Anna Orlova-Chesmenskaya, Arakcheyev, and Speransky's assistant, Magnitsky. In 1822 and 1824 Photius met Tsar Alexander I who regarded Photius as 'divinely inspired' and agreed to abolish the Masonic Lodges.[5] Photius also pleaded for Golitsyn's dismissal.[2]: 228–230  The Tsar hesitated, and Photius then confronted Golitsyn with a curse, later confirmed by Metropolitan Seraphim; 'Anathema! You will be damned!'. Golitsyn was thus forced to resign, his ministry was abolished, and control of the Bible Societies passed to the Orthodox Church; in 1826 Photius and Seraphim persuaded Nicolas I to abolish it altogether. It was a 'surreal episode of fanaticism' by a 'psychologically unstable' priest.[4]: 92–93  Arakcheyev was the mastermind behind the plot[2]: 230  and Photius continued to support him in later years, for example insisting that Arakcheyev's murdered mistress should be 'buried in holy ground'.[2]: 248–250 

Countess Orlova is buried alongside Photius near the Church of the Annunciation in Novgorod.[citation needed]

In popular cultureEdit

Pushkin capitalised on the rumours of an affair with Orlova by writing three short satirical poems: Photius was a 'half saintly fool who means no good'; the countess 'pious on the whole/ To God devoted full her soul/ And gave her flesh without a fight/ To Photius, Archimandrite'.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Charles Ruud, Fighting Words, 2nd ed. University of Toronto 2009, pp. 43–51. ISBN 978-1-4426-1024-8.
  2. ^ a b c d Michael Jenkins, Arakcheev, Grand Vizier of the Russian Empire, Faber, 1969. ISBN 1299462499.
  3. ^ Alan Palmer, Alexander I: Tsar of War and Peace, Faber and Faber, 1984
  4. ^ a b Skinner, Barbara (2017). "Russia's Scriptural 'Reformation' in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries". ВИВЛIОѲИКА: E-Journal of Eighteenth-Century Russian Studies. 5: 73–102. doi:10.21900/j.vivliofika.v5.550.
  5. ^ Walter G Moss, A History of Russia Volume 1: To 1917, 2nd ed. Anthem, 2005, p. 349. ISBN 9781843310235.
  6. ^ Max Fram, The Motherland of Elephants, print ed., Max Fram, 2016, p. 173. ISBN 978-1-326-55408-8.