Peter the Great, Reformer or Revolutionary?

By Marc Raeff | Go to book overview

Oration at the Funeral of Peter the Great

FEOFAN PROKOPOVICH

Feofan Prokopovich ( 1681-1736), a clergyman from the Ukraine, edu-
cated at the Theological Academy of Kiev and in Rome, became Peter's most
loyal and trusted advisor on matters concerning Church affairs and the theo-
retical aspects of statecraft. Dedicated to Russia's cultural westernization, a
firm believer in the primacy of the State over the Church (on the model of the
Lutheran states in Germany), Feofan Prokopovich helped to draft the Spiritual
Regulation and vigorously defended Peter's policies on all occasions. In defense
of Peter's disinheriting his son Alexis and changing the traditional order of
succession, Prokopovich wrote his most famous work, the tract "Justice is the
Monarch's Will," which was to serve as a justification of the autocratic power
of Russian rulers throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In his quality of
Archbishop of Novgorod and senior member of the Holy Synod, Feofan Proko-
povich delivered the oration at Peter's funeral. It is a good illustration of the
uncritical admiration and sense of awe which the collaborators and disciples
of Peter displayed towards their great and beloved "Tsar Reformer."

A FUNERAL ORATION FOR THE MOST IL- LUSTRIOUS AND MOST SOVEREIGN EMPEROR AND AUTOCRAT OF ALL RUSSIA, PETER THE GREAT, FATHER OF THE FATHERLAND, DE- LIVERED IN THE CAPITAL CITY OF SAINT PETERSBURG, AT THE CHURCH OF THE FIRST APOSTLES, SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, BY THE RIGHT REVEREND THEOPHANOS, VICE-PRESI- DENT OF THE MOST HOLY GOVERNING SYNOD, ARCHBISHOP OF PSKOV AND NARVA, ON THE 8TH DAY OF MARCH 1725.

What is this? O Russians, what have we lived to witness? What do we see? What are we doing? We are burying Peter the Great! Is it not a dream, an apparition? Alas, our sorrow is real, our misfortune certain! Contrary to everybody's wishes and hopes he has come to his life's end, he who has been the cause of our innumerable good fortunes and joys; who has raised Russia as if from among the dead and elevated her to such heights of power and glory; or better still, he who -- like a true father of the fatherland -- has given birth to Russia and nursed her. Such were his merits that all true sons of Russia wished him to be immortal; while his age and solid constitution gave everyone the expectation of seeing him alive for many more years; he has ended his life -- o, horrible wound! -- at a time when he was just beginning to live after many labors, troubles, sorrows, calamities, and perils of death. Do not we see well enough how much we have angered Thee, O Lord, and abused Thine patience! O, we are wretched and unworthy, our sins are immeasurable! He who does not see it is blind; he who sees it and does not confess his cruelty is obdurate. But why intensify our complaints and pity which we ought to assuage. How can we do it? For if we recall his great talents, deeds, and actions we shall feel the wound from the loss of such a great good, and we shall burst into tears. Alone a kind of

From Feofan Prokopovich, "Slovo na pogrebenie vsepresvetleishago Petra Velikogo, imperatora i samoderzhtsa Vserossiiskogo, otsa otechestva" . . . [ "Oration at the funeral of the Most Illustrious Peter the Great, Emperor of All Russia, Father of the Fatherland". . . ."] in Sochineniia [ Works], edited by I. P. Eremin, Moscow-Leningrad, 1961 (Izd. Akadaemii Nauk SSSR), pp. 126-129. [Editor's Translation]

-76-

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