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Theophan Prokopovich

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Feofan/Theophan Prokopovich (18 June 1681, in Kiev, Cossack Hetmanate, Tsardom of Russia — 19 September 1736, in St. Petersburg, Russian Empire) was a Russian[1] Orthodox theologian, writer, poet, mathematician, philosopher, rector of the Kiev-Mogila Academy, and Archbishop of Novgorod. He elaborated upon and implemented Peter the Great's reform of the Russian Orthodox Church. Prokopovich wrote many religious verses and some of the most enduring sermons in the Russian language.

Feofan Prokopovich
Theophan Prokopovich
A posthumous portrait from the mid-18th century
Born18 June 1681 (1681-06-18)
Died19 September 1736 (1736-09-20) (aged 55)
St. Petersburg


Childhood and EducationEdit

Feofan (born Eleazar) Prokopovich was born in Kiev, Cossack Hetmanate. His father, Tsereysky, was a shopkeeper from Smolensk.[2] After the death of his parents, Eleazar was adopted by his maternal uncle, Feofan Prokopovich. Feofan Prokopovich was the governor of the Kiev Brotherhood Epiphany Monastery, professor, and rector of the Kiev-Mogila Academy.

Prokopovich's uncle sent him to the monastery for primary school. After graduation, he became a student of the Kiev-Mogila Academy.

In 1698, after graduating from the Kiev-Mogila Academy, Eleazar continued his education at the Volodymyr-Volynskyi Uniate Collegium. He lived in the Basilian monastery and was tonsured as a Uniate monk under the name of Elisha. The Uniate Bishop of Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Zalensky, noticed the extraordinary abilities of the young monk and contributed to his transfer to the Catholic Academy of St. Athanasius in Rome, which was created by theologians to spread Catholicism among Eastern Orthodox adherents.

In Rome, he enjoyed access to the Vatican Library. In addition to theology, Prokopovich also studied the works of ancient Latin and Greek philosophers, historians, attractions of old and new Rome, and the principles of the Catholic faith and of the Pope. Throughout his studies, he became acquainted with the works of Tommaso Campanella, Galileo Galilei, Giordano Bruno, and Nicolaus Copernicus.

In October 28, 1701, Prokopovich left Rome without completing his full course at the academy. He passed through France, Switzerland, and Germany, before studying in Halle. There he became acquainted with the ideas of the Protestant Reformation.

Return to RussiaEdit

He returned to Ukraine (then part of the Tsardom of Russia) in 1704, first to Pochayiv Lavra, then to Kiev, where he renounced the Catholic faith as well as his penance and tonsure with the Orthodox monks, taking the name Feofan in memory of his uncle.

Beginning in 1705, Prokopovich taught rhetoric, poetics, and philosophy at the Kiev-Mogila Collegium. He also wrote the tragicomedy "Vladimir," dedicating it to Hetman Ivan Mazepa. At the same time, he wrote the theological and philosophical sermons which were seen by the Kiev governor-generals Dmitry Golitsyn and Alexander Menshikov.

In 1707, he became Prefect of the Kiev-Mogila Academy.

In 1711, Prokopovich gave a sermon on the occasion of the anniversary of the Battle of Poltava. The Tsar of Russia, Peter I, was struck by the eloquence of this sermon, and upon his return to Kiev, Feofan Prokopovich was appointed rector of the Kiev-Mogila Academy and a professor of theology. At the same time, he also became abbot of the Kiev Brotherhood Epiphany Monastery. He entirely reformed the teaching of theology there, substituting the historical method of the German theologians for the Orthodox scholastic system.

In 1716, he went to St Petersburg. From that point, Prokopovich spent his time explaining the new scholastic system and justifying its most controversial innovations from the pulpit. Despite the opposition of the Russian clergy, who regarded the "Light of Kiev" as an interloper and semi-heretic, he became invaluable to the civil power. He was promoted to bishop of Pskov in 1718, and archbishop of Novgorod in 1725. 1

As the author of the spiritual regulation for the reform of the Russian Orthodox Church, Feofan is regarded as the creator of the spiritual department superseding the patriarchate, better known by its later name of the Holy Governing Synod, of which he was made vice-president. A pitiless enemy of superstitions of any kind, Prokopovich continued to be a reformer even after the death of Peter the Great.


1 He had served as vicar to the previous Archbishop of Novgorod since the early 18th century. See Pavel Tikhomirov, Kafedra Novgorodskikh Sviatitelei (Novgorod, 1895–1899).


  1. ^ Feofan Prokopovich. Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ S., John. "Theophan Prokopovich was born in the family of a shopkeeper Tsereysky in Kiev". John Learn. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  • I. Chistovitch, Theofan Prokopovich and his Times (Rus.; Petersburg, 1868)
  • P. Morozov, Theophan Prokopovich as a Writer (Rus.; Petersburg, 1880).
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Prokopovich, Theofan". Encyclopædia Britannica. 22 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 434.

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