Theophan Prokopovich

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Feofan Prokopovich
Theophan Prokopovich
A posthumous portrait from the mid-18th century
Born 18 June 1681 (1681-06-18)
Died 19 September 1736 (1736-09-20) (aged 55)
St. Petersburg
Occupation Russian archbishop

Feofan/Theophan Prokopovich (18 June 1681, Kiev – 19 September 1736, St. Petersburg) was an archbishop and statesman in the Russian Empire. The origin of Prokopovich is unclear: although he was born in Kiev, his parents were from Smolensk. 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 Smolensk merchant family, he distinguished himself at the Kyiv-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 an 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 Russian Emperor Peter I, while passing through Kiev, was struck by the eloquence of Prokopovich in a sermon on the Battle of Poltava, and in 1716 summoned him to St Petersburg. From henceforth it was Prokopovich's duty and pleasure to explain the new ideas and justify the most alarming innovations from the pulpit. He became so invaluable 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 1725, archbishop of Novgorod.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, and better known by its later name of the Holy Governing Synod, of which he was made 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, resourceful, Prokopovich continued to be a reformer 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).


  • I. Chistovitch, Theofan Prokopovich and his Times (Rus.; Petersburg, 1868)
  • P. Morozov, Theophan Prokopovich as a Writer (Rus.; Petersburg, 1880).
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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