Prokopovich, Feofan

views updated May 21 2018


(16811736), prelate, philosopher, writer, and liaison between the Russian Orthodox Church and Protestantism.

Born to a merchant family in Kiev but orphaned early, Feofan received an education at the Kiev Academy, one of the few institutions for ecclesiastical education at the time. Like other gifted students of the time, he nominally converted to the Uniate (Eastern Catholic) faith in order to qualify for studies in Romein his case, at a Jesuit institution, the College of St. Athanasius. In 1701 he left Rome, imbued with a profound animosity toward Catholicism and, his critics would later charge, uncritical fondness for Protestantism. In any case, in 1702 he returned to Kiev with an exceptionally strong training in philosophy and theology. After repudiating his Catholic faith of convenience, he embarked on a brilliant career in the Russian Orthodox Church. He first made his mark at the Kiev Academy, where he became not only its rector but also a prolific writer, his works including a five-act "tragicomedy" Vladimir that ridiculed paganism and superstition. In 1709, in the presence of Peter, he delivered a sermon celebrating the Russian victory at Poltava; such perorations caught the emperor's eye, earned him a summons to St. Petersburg, and led to his elevation to the episcopate (first in 1718 as the bishop of Pskov, and then in 1720 as archbishop of Novgorod).

During these years Feofan became one of Peter's more erudite ideologists and propagandists. Drawing upon European political theory and exalting the just and creative power of the ruler, Feofan was a principal architect of Peter's new conception of dynamic autocracy. Feofan played a key role in composing a number of state documents, from the "Preface" to the Naval Charter (1719) to the famous Truth about the Monarch's Will (1722), defending Peter's rightand dutyto override custom and designate the most qualified person as his successor. Feofan also served as a key liaison with the Protestant world, reinforcing the suspicions of contemporaries and impelling Orthodox historians to dismiss him as a mere "Protestant." By far his most important work was the Ecclesiastical Regulation (1721), drafted at Peter's behest. Significantly, this critical documentwhich served as the institutional charter of the Russian Church until 1917contained much more than a mere justification of Peter's decision to replace the patriarchate with a collegial board (first called the Spiritual College but renamed the Holy Synod). Namely, the Ecclesiastical Regulation adumbrated an ambitious program to bring enlightenment and extinguish superstition in the Church, chiefly by improving ecclesiastical administration, establishing seminaries to educate parish clergy, and extirpating superstition among the laity. Feofan played a key role in the new Synodal administration and, simultaneously, authored several important works, including a treatise on the patriarchate, a catechism, and a tract critical of monasticism.

Peter's death in 1725 initially left Feofan vulnerable to a concerted attack by conservatives, but in 1730 the astute prelate once again gained favor by siding with the new monarch, Anna, against a coterie of magnates seeking to limit her authority. He thus enjoyed considerable influence in church affairs until his death on September 8, 1736.

See also: holy synod; peter i; protestantism


Cracraft, James. (1973). "Feofan Prokopovichy." In The Eighteenth Century in Russia, ed. J. G. Garrard. Oxford: Clarendon.

Cracraft, James. (1975). "Feofan Prokopovich: A Bibliography of His Works." Oxford Slavonic Papers 8:136.

Della Cava, Olha. (1971). "Feofan Prokopovich: His Life and His Sermons, 16811736." Ph.D. diss. Columbia University, New York.

Gregory L. Freeze

Prokopovich, Feofan (1681–1736)

views updated May 11 2018


PROKOPOVICH, FEOFAN (16811736), was the most influential ecclesiastical official of Russia's Petrine era, who rose to the position of archbishop of Novgorod and vice president of the new Holy Synod, from which he exercised immense authority on behalf of Peter the Great's reforms. One of several prominent Ukrainian clerics (he was born in Kiev) in Peter's service, he first came to Peter's attention as an engaging sermonizer in 1708, and he orated a dramatic panegyric to Peter after the victory at Poltava in 1709.

Feofan is best known for his panegyric sermons and his definitive tracts in defense of Petrine reforms, most famously his justification for Peter's new law on succession of 1722, The Right of the Monarch's Will, and the statute setting up the Synodal church, the Spiritual Regulation. Although doubts have been raised about Feofan's authorship of these and several other works, most historians attribute them to him. After the incarceration of Peter's son Alexis for treason and his subsequent death in 1718, the tsar was left with no adult male heirs. In response he modified the law to permit the sitting monarch to name a successor. Feofan defended this decision as being consistent with Orthodox principles, the will of God, and common sense.

The Spiritual Regulation codified the new administrative structure for the church, the elimination of the patriarchate (which had been vacant since the death of Patriarch Adrian in 1700) and its replacement by a collegial body, the Holy Synod, composed of a mix of clergy and laymen appointed by the tsar. The Spiritual Regulation explained what this change meant to the body of the church and to the clergy, especially parish priests, who now became de facto functionaries of the state, and monastic clergy, who saw their numbers and resources dramatically curtailed.

Feofan is also associated with catechization of the parish and parish clergy through the circulation of his booklet, A Child's First Lesson. Intended as a literacy primer and a catechism on the Ten Commandments, A Child's First Lesson was prescribed for use in the church service, replacing other non-obligatory texts such as those of Efraim the Syrian. This text bore the hallmarks of Feofan's approach to language. Here, and to a lesser extent in his sermons, he consciously adopted a simple and straightforward tone in place of the decorative baroque of high Church Slavonic prose. Writing in the vernacular, he endeavored to employ the language of everyday speech, so that whether spoken aloud or read, the meaning of the text would be accessible directly to the laity. Although it remains unclear whether A Child's First Lesson was widely used for literacy instruction, it did circulate very widely in the eighteenth century, running through over a dozen printings and tens of thousands of copies.

During Peter's last years and after his death Feofan played an instrumental role in court politics and may have been crucial in facilitating the elevation of Peter's wife, Catherine, to the throne, thus inaugurating a long period (until 1796) in which female rule was the norm rather than the exception in Russia. Feofan composed the official account of Peter's death and succession, elegies, and the primary panegyrics extolling the post-Petrine political arrangement. He also worked behind the scenes among Russia's fractious court parties and guards' regiments, on behalf of political stability.

See also Autocracy ; Orthodoxy, Russian ; Peter I (Russia) ; Russian Literature and Language .


Cracraft, James. The Church Reform of Peter the Great. Stanford, 1971.

Lentin, A., trans. and ed. Peter the Great: His Law on Imperial Succession: The Official Commentary. Oxford, 1996.

Muller, Alexander V., trans. and ed. The Spiritual Regulation of Peter the Great. Seattle, 1972.

Gary Marker

Prokopovich, Feofan

views updated Jun 27 2018


PROKOPOVICH, FEOFAN (16811736) was a Russian Orthodox archbishop who collaborated with Peter the Great to subordinate the administration of the Russian Orthodox church to the imperial government. The instrument of subordination was the Dukhovnyi Reglament (Ecclesiastical Regulation), Prokopovich's most famous writing, which Peter had proclaimed on January 25, 1721.

The Ecclesiastical Regulation achieved the subordination of the church's administration to the tsarist state until the tsardom collapsed in 1917. It abolished the patriarchate of Moscow, replacing it with an Ecclesiastical College modeled on the collegial system that had just been introduced into the civilian administration of the Russian empire. The Ecclesiastical College immediately and successfully sought to rename itself the Most Holy Governing Synod. The change in name symbolized the beginning of a nearly two-hundred-year struggle by churchmen and supporters of the church to regain administrative autonomy for the church.

One of the more burdensome features of the Ecclesiastical Regulation was the subjugation of the clergy to police supervision. Priests were obliged to witness against their penitents or face severe legal sanctions. The regulation had the immediate effect of strengthening the Old Believer schism and the long-term effect of alienating the clergy from their flocks.

Prokopovich's career signified a secularizing and protestantizing development within the Russian church. Like Peter, Prokopovich believed that the concept of symphonia, which defined church and state as two autonomous but interrelated phenomena, served to weaken political authority, to encourage Old Believer intransigence, and to foster political disloyalty.

Raised by his uncle, Prokopovich studied in Jesuit colleges in the Polish Ukraine and in Rome, where, of necessity, he converted to (Uniate) Catholicism. In Kiev, he reconverted to Orthodoxy; he was appointed rector of the Kiev Theological Academy (1711), bishop of Pskov (1718), and archbishop of Novgorod (1720).

When the tsar died in 1725, Prokopovich came under attack from traditionalist churchmen determined to restore canonical equilibrium between church and state. Prokopovich counterattacked. He was a key supporter of the candidacy to the Russian throne of Anna Ivanovna of Kurland (r. 17301740), thereby becoming instrumental in bringing upon the Russian church the so-called German yoke.

Prokopovich's final years found him in the anomalous situation of defending the traditional hierarchical organization and the apostolic succession of the Orthodox church against further reforms of the Kurlander administration. A collection of Prokopovich's religious and political works titled Words and Speeches (Saint Petersburg, 1765) appeared posthumously.


Cracraft, James. The Church Reform of Peter the Great. Stanford, Calif., 1971.

Curtiss, John S., ed. Essays in Russian and Soviet History in Honor of Geroid Tanquary Robinson. New York, 1963.

Muller, Alexander V., ed. The Spiritual Regulation of Peter the Great. Seattle, 1972.

Smolitsch, Igor. Geschichte der russischen Kirche, 17001917. Leiden, 1964.

Wittram, Reinhard. Peter I, Czar und Kaiser: Zur Geschichte Peters des Grossen in seiner Zeit. 2 vols. Göttingen, 1964.

James W. Cunningham (1987)

Prokopovich, Feofan

views updated May 23 2018


Russian Orthodox archbishop, theologian; b. Kiev, June 8, 1681; d. St. Petersburg, Sept. 9,1736. After studying theology in the Academy of Kiev he became a Catholic (1698) and joined the Basilian monks. During his graduate studies in Rome he was accepted as a member of the Society of Jesus. Instead of entering the order, however, he returned to Kiev and reverted to Orthodoxy. In 1704 he became a professor at the Kiev Academy and served as its rector (171116). Although Stefan accused him of Calvinism, he became bishop of Pskov (1720) and archbishop of Novgorod (1725). He was a close adviser of Emperor Peter I (the Great), who used him as his principal theorist on ecclesiastical policies. Prokopovich supported Peter's creation of the holy synod (1721) and became its first vice president. The Holy Synod replaced the patriarchate as the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church, which it subjected almost completely to state control. For his role in this change Prokopovich has been called the father of Russian caesaro-papism. He published numerous literary, philosophical, and theological works, mostly in Latin. Their influence lasted until 1836, when the reaction in favor of traditional Orthodox beliefs began. His work on ecclesiastical regulation, published in conjunction with the Czar in 1720, urged the Church's subjection to the State. In a treatise on the justice of the emperor's decision (1721), Prokopovich combined Western ideas on absolute power with Byzantine theocratic concepts. His views on the procession of the Holy Spirit, the cult of images, and the Blessed Virgin conformed to those of Orthodoxy, but his teachings on grace, free, will, justification, and ecclesiology showed strong Lutheran influences. The seminary that Prokopovich started in St. Petersburg, patterned on the Protestant one in Halle, became a center for spreading his ideas.

[j. papin]