Stefan Yavorsky, Metropolitan

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(16581722), metropolitan of Ryazan and first head of the Holy Synod.

Born to a poor noble family in Poland, Yavorsky and his family moved to Left-Bank Ukraine to live in a territory controlled by Orthodox Russia. After studying in the Petr Mohyla Academy in Kiev, Yavorsky temporarily converted to Byzantine-Rite Catholicism so he could continue his education in Catholic Poland. In 1687, he returned to Kiev and the Orthodox Church and became a monk. As a teacher in the Kiev Academy, Stefan's eloquence attracted the favorable attention of Peter I, who made him metropolitan of Ryazan in 1700. After the death of Patriarch Adrian I in 1700, Peter made Stefan the locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne.

Initially Stefan supported Peter's reform program. But over time, Peter's treatment of the Orthodox Church elicited Stefan's criticism and brought a corresponding decline in his influence. Stefan quietly objected to the secularization of church property and new restrictions on monasticism. Tensions between Peter and Stefan were only exacerbated by Stefan's zealous prosecution of the Moscow apothecary Dmitry Tveritinov, whose heresy trial lasted from 1713 to 1718. Influenced by Lutheran ideas, Tveritinov rejected icons and sacraments and claimed that the Bible alone provided sufficient guidance for salvation. The heresy trial naturally brought up unpleasant questions about Western Protestant influence in Peter's reforms. Indeed, Stefan's attack on Lutheranism, The Rock of Faith, completed in 1718, could not be published until 1728, after Peter's death. To make matters worse, Stefan's political reliability came in to question after Alexei, Peter's son, fled abroad; in one of his sermons shortly before Alexei's flight, Stefan called him "Russia's only hope."

In the meantime, Peter's new favorite, Feofan Prokopovich, authored the Spiritual Regulation, a radical church reform that replaced the office of Patriarch at the head of the Orthodox Church with a Holy Synoda council of bishops and priests. In a vain attempt to halt the rise of his rival, Stefan accused Feofan of heresy, but was forced to withdraw the charge and apologize. In 1721 Peter nevertheless appointed Stefan to become the first presiding member of the new Holy Synod. He died a year later.

A transitional figure between the patriarchal and the synodal periods of the Orthodox Church, Stefan embodied the contradictions of early eighteenth-century Russia. One of several learned Ukrainian prelates who became prominent under Peter, Stefan both promoted Westernization and sought to limit it. He was deeply influenced by the thought of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and helped to introduce this theology into Russian Orthodoxy through his writings.

See also: holy synod; peter i; prokopovich, feofan; russian orthodox church


Cracraft, James. (1971). The Church Reform of Peter the Great. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

J. Eugene Clay