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 Archbishop

Feofan/Theophan Prokopovich (18 June 1681, Kiev, Cossack Hetmanate, protectorate of Tsardom of Russia — 19 September 1736, St. Petersburg, Russian Empire) was a Ukrainian-born Russian[1] theologian, writer, poet, mathematician, philosopher, rector of the Kiev-Mogila Academy, and Archbishop of Novgorod. 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 many religious verses and some of the most enduring sermons in the Russian language.


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

Eleazar's uncle sent him to the monastery for primary school. After graduation, Eleazar became a student of the Kiev-Mogila Academy. Following his uncle's death, Prokopovich supported the Kiev Metropolitan, rector of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Barlaam Jasinski.

In 1698, after graduating from the Kiev-Mogila Academy, Eleazar decided to continue his education, so he entered the Volodymyr-Volynskyi Uniate Collegium. He lived in the Basilian monastery, where the union takes and tonsured as a 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 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

On 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, where he became acquainted with the ideas of the Protestant Reformation.

He returned to Ukraine in 1704, first to Pochayiv Lavra, then to Kiev, where he renounced the Catholic faith, and 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 Muscovy, Peter I, was struck by the eloquence of this sermon, so upon returning 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 onwards, Prokopovich spent his time explaining the new ideas and justifying 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, better known by its later name of the Holy Governing Synod, of which he was made vice-president. Motivated by the conviction that ignorance was the worst of the inveterate evils of old Russia, and a pitiless enemy of superstition of every sort, 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).


  • 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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