Theophan (Prokopovich) of Novgorod

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Theophan (Prokopovich) of Novgorod, also Feofan (Prokopovich), was a hierarch of the Church of Russia and Archbishop of Novgorod from 1725 to 1736. He reformed the teaching of theology at the Kiev Theological Academy and wrote the spiritual regulation for the Apostolic Governing Synod instituted by Tsar Peter I in his reform of the government of the Church of Russia in the early eighteenth century.


Eleazar Prokopovich was born on June 18, 1681 in Kiev, the son of a merchant family. He was orphaned at a early age. He studied at the Kiev-Mohyla Academy followed by colleges at Vladimir-Volynsky, Lvov, and Krakow. In Poland, he converted to the Uniate faith and took monastic vows under the name of Elisey. In 1698, he continued his education at the College of St. Athanasius, a Jesuit institution, in Rome. He left Rome in 1701 with a strong animosity toward Catholicism, but with a strong education in philosophy and theology. Upon his return to Kiev he renewed his faith in Orthodoxy, took monastic vows with the name Samuel and entered a monastery in Kiev.

In 1705, Fr. Theophan began teaching theology, literature, and rhetoric at the Kiev Theological Academy. In 1706 he took the monastic name Theophan. In 1707, he was named the prefect of the academy and, from 1711, he was named rector. As rector, he entirely reformed the teaching of theology at the academy, substituting the historical method of the German theologians for the former Orthodox scholastic system. Fr. Theophan was also a prolific writer, his works including a five-act tragicomedy Vladimir that ridiculed paganism and superstition.

In 1709, Tsar Peter I, while in Kiev, was struck by the eloquence of expression by Fr. Theophan during a sermon on Peter's glorious victory at Poltava and later heard about his laudatory statements on the cultural-political reforms by Peter. Fr. Theophan, thus, was called to the court at St. Petersburg in 1716 and was made a counselor to the tsar on church and educational affairs.

Fr. Theophan's duty thenceforth was to explain the new ideas put forward by Peter and justify these innovations from the pulpit. Fr. Theophan became invaluable to Peter, despite the determined opposition of the Russian clergy, who regarded the "Light of Kiev" as an interloper and semi-heretic. As principal theorist in the restructuring of the Russian church as a political arm of the state, Theophan cooperated in replacing the patriarchate with a Holy Synod, or supreme ecclesiastical council, by drawing up in 1720 the Spiritual Regulations, the new constitution for the Russian Church. In 1721 he was appointed first vice president of the Apostolic Governing Synod, as it became known. In 1726 as its head, Theophan was responsible for the legislative reform of the entire Russian church, subordinating it to the secular and spiritual authority of Tsar Peter, and for effecting a church-state relationship, sometimes termed a caesaropapism, that was to continue until the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

After his arrival in St. Petersburg, Theophan was consecrated, in 1718, as bishop of Pskov, vicar bishop to the Archbishop of Novgorod. In 1725, he was appointed Archbishop of Novgorod.[1]

After Tsar Peter's death in 1725, Abp. Theophan became vulnerable to attacks by conservatives, but he gained favor with Tsarina Anna Ivanovna upon her succession to the Russian throne and enjoyed considerable influence in church affairs until his death on September 8, 1736 in St. Petersburg.


Among the works of Abp. Theophan are a number of state documents as well as religious works and his sermons:

"Preface" to the Naval Charter (1719)
Truth about the Monarch's Will (1722)
Spiritual Regulation/Ecclesiastical Regulation (1721)
A Child's First Lesson - a literacy primer and a catechism on the Ten Commandments
Essays on marriages of Orthodox people to the faithful of other confessions
Treatise on the patriarchate
A Criticism of monasticism.

He also participated in the establishment of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


  • I. Chistovitch, Theofan Prokopovich and his Times (Rus.; Petersburg, 1868)
  • P. Morozov, Theophan Prokopovich as a Writer (Rus.; Petersburg, 1880
  1. Theophan served as vicar to the prior Archbishop of Novgorod, Theodosius III (Yanovsky). See Pavel Tikhomirov, Kafedra Novgorodskikh Sviatitelei (Novgorod, 1895-1899).
Succession box:
Theophan (Prokopovich) of Novgorod
Preceded by:
Bishop of Pskov

Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Theodosius III (Yanovsky)
Archbishop of Novgorod
Succeeded by:
Ambrose (Yushkevich)
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