Church People Deacon Andrei Psarev Lives of Bishops

Archbishop Theophan of Poltava

Elder Makarii, Bishop Theophan, Grigorii E. Rasputin. Verkhne-Turskii Monastery in Siberia. 1909

An Ascetic Hierarch with a Difficult Personality

Archbishop Theophan of Poltava passed away on this day in 1940.

If we want to understand Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary in Jordanville better, we may want to look at the life and legacy of Archbishop Theophan (Bystrov).

Vasilli Bystrov, the future archbishop Theophan, was born in 1873 into a poor priest family in Novgorod region. Although he had amazing abilities, he never showed special interest in scholarship. In 1896, Vasilii graduated from Saint Petersburg Academy, and stayed on there in a teaching position. In 1898, he received the monastic tonsure with the name of the heavenly patron St. Theophan the Recluse (d.1894). Beginning in 1905, Archimandrite Theophan was father confessor to the last Royal Family for a number of years. In 1909, he became the rector of Saint Petersburg Academy and Bishop of Yamburg, a vicar of Saint Petersburg diocese.

It was Bishop Theophan who fatefully introduced Grigorii E. Rasputin to the Royal family. Unintentionally, this led to a cooling off in Vladyka Theophan’s relations with the Royal family. Bishop Theophan comprehended the danger that Rasputin represented to the Romanovs and the country, whereas for the Emperor, Rasputin came to be a collective image of his subjects, embodying the vox populi. For the Empress, Rasputin was a man able to comfort the young Crown Prince suffering from hemophilia. This breaking off of relations resulted in Theophan being relocated from the capital to Crimea and then to Astrakan.

There, Bishop Theophan struck up a conflict with a Persian consul, demanding that he remove his head covering during a moleben in church for the health of the Emperor. This reluctance to compromise came to the fore in the emigration, where Archbishop Theophan became a constant opponent of the outstanding Russian theologian Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitskii). The following December 11, 1926, letter of Metropolitan Anthony to Paul B. Anderson (an executive of the Russian branch of the YMCA) reflects upon Archbishop Theophan’s isolationism:

“Alas, my participation in your editions is forbidden by resolution of the Synod, and I must submit myself, although I prepared for printing a large article ‘Peculiarities of the Biblical works of John the Evangelist (the Fourth Gospel, the three Epistles and Revelation).’ However, I have forwarded your kind letter to Archbishop Feofan, though I cannot hope for a rectification of the affair.” (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Paul B. Anderson Papers. Box 4: Russian Work Headquarters Program Progress. Folder: Metropolitan Anthony)

While in Bulgaria, Archbishop Theopan exerted an influence on Aleksandr P. Tausheff, the future Archbishop Averkii. The latter published a life of Archbishop Theophan and a collection of his letters later, in Jordanville. Archbishop Averkii inherited Archbishop Theophan’s love for the works of St. Theophan the Recluse and his understanding of reality through the prism of conspiracy theories, which on a practical level translated into isolationism. Vladyka Averky similarly to Archbishop Theophan was often critical to the decisions of the ROCOR’s authorities.

Archbishop Theophan’s theological opposition to Metropolitan Anthony in the matter of the so-called “Dogma of Redemption” became an important cornerstone in the formation of the views of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood in Platina, CA (Frs. Seraphim Rose and Herman Podmoshensky).

At the end of his life, Archbishop Theophan lived as a recluse in a cave on the property of the former Poltava landowner Maria Fedchenko. He died there in 1940 outside of communion with the ROCOR. In 2016, his earthly remains were reinterred in Saint Petersburg with permission from the ROCOR Synod.



Archbishop Theophan, Nezakonomernye deistviia mitr. Antoniia Khrapovitskogo [Dislawful Acts of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitskii]

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