Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we remember a most significant Russian church leader (you may have never heard of).

It is the the 19th of September 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Hey, I’m back from Europe- at the palatial CHA studios in God’s Country: Southern California. And I’m welcomed with the story of a fascinating Ukranian theologian- and perhaps the most important church leader in the history of the Russian church you have probably never heard of. Let’s do a little brush-up on the Russian Orthodox Church.

With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the marriage of Ivan III to the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, Russia took the mantle as the “3rd Rome” (Constantinople called itself the 2nd Rome after the real Rome fell in the 5th century).

Ivan IV, aka the Terrible, leads the Russians into ruin, the “Time of Troubles” from 1598 and the ascension of the Romanovs- that Russian noble family that loved Western traditions (like asparagus and Ballet). They tried to bring the Russian church out of the backwaters and in line with the Greek Orthodox. This leads to Schism, the Old Believers, etc…

And everything changed for good with the church and state under the very tall Peter Romanov, aka the Great. But it was the man behind Peter- his chosen Archbishop who forever changed the trajectory of the church. He was Theophan Prokopovich, born in 1681 in the recently conquered Ukraine. He was orphaned at a young age, but his uncle secured a theological education for him.  He graduated from the Kievan academy in 1698 and, in order to continue his education, moved to Poland, where he converted to the Uniate Catholic tradition- that is, the Catholics who used Eastern rites and liturgies. He may have done so because it enabled him to travel to the College of St. Athanasius in Rome and through Europe. And it was in Europe- and the German Saxon state that he would spend time at the newly formed University of Halle. This would be a center of Lutheran pietism, church/state-run charity, and would influence Theophan in a Protestant direction. He would make his way back to Kyiv, renounce the Uniate tradition, and once again join the Russian Orthodox. IN 1707, he became the prefect of Kievan Academy, and two years later, his life would change. He delivered a sermon on the topic of Peter the Great’s recent victory over the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava.

Peter got wind of the panegyric (that’s a flattering talk) and called Theophan to be a chaplain to his troops fighting the Turks. In 1716, he was called to be the Tsar’s personal counselor on Church and Educational Affairs.

The Orthodox were upset because Theophan was known to favor Protestant doctrines of grace and Justification, as well as his understanding of the secular authority’s supremacy over the church.

It was in 1721 that Peter the Great promulgated his “Spiritual Regulations,” a blow to ecclesiastical power in Russia. And it was Theophan who wrote it. This Ordinance eliminated the role of the Patriarch- it instead created a multi-headed (or multicephalous) organization made up of metropolitans (or lesser leaders) who were subjugated to the Tsar himself. This would be the model of the Russian Orthodox Church until the revolution of 1917 when the Bolsheviks decided a single Patriarch was easier to manipulate.

This was essentially the model of post-Reformation Protestantism and a kind of separation of authorities or kingdoms. Theophan’s other Protestant leanings, such as a propensity to argue from Scripture alone, would last in the church after his death until officially denounced in 1838.

Theophan would also create a school in the new capital of St. Petersburg for poor children and orphans in the model of Halle and bring German instructors to teach. He helped organize the Russian Academy of Sciences- a step hailed as bringing Russia into the modern age. Much of the story of the modernization of Russia is hailed as the work of Peter the Great. It was Voltaire who said, “At last Peter was born, and Russia was created,” but the man behind the reforms was a Russian Ukrainian orphan, turned international student, and Protestant sympathizer- Theophan Prokopovich- born in 1681. He died on the 19th of September in 1736. Prokopovich was 55 years old.


The last word for today comes from a Swedish hymn by Carl Rosenius, someone I read on while recently in Sweden- this is his “Now, anxious heart, awake from your sadness.”

Now, anxious heart, awake from your sadness,

have you forgotten the things that remain:

grace and communion, unbroken union

with Christ arisen and ever the same?


Is God not still your heavenly Father,

has Jesus changed since he suffered and died?

Is not the Spirit, pleading and leading,

ever the counselor, helper, and guide?


Are not the saints a trifle confusing,

they speak of joy but great trials endure,

kingdoms possessing, pleading a blessing,

safe in God's keeping but never secure?


So, anxious heart, awake from your sadness,

rise to remember your blessings to claim.

Though skies be clouded and the sun shrouded,

never forget it is there just the same.



This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of August 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man deserving of his own panegyric- He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who is going to enjoy ice in his beverages once again- and refills- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.

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