Metropolitan Philotheos of Tobolsk, Enlightener of Siberia

The Most Reverend hierarch, the renowned Metropolitan of Siberia and Tobolsk, was from a noble, but poor family and received a theological degree at the then famous Kiev Theological Academy.

At the end of the course, he was ordained as a priest for one of the rural churches, but he was soon widowed. He was tonsured as a monk with the name Philotheos, and joined the brotherhood of the Kiev Caves Lavra.

In Siberia Christianity began to spread among the native pagans and Mohammedans from the very conquest of this country by the Russian state (in 1581), but conversions of the Siberian non-Russians to faith in Christ were generally insignificant and mostly individual.

The newly-baptized aliens left their former places of residence and their compatriots and, settling in Russian cities and villages, they entered into the Russian population, so their conversion did not influence the masses, who still remained solid pagans or Mohammedans. All this was known to the great converter of Russia, Tsar Peter I, who decided to take measures to enlighten the Siberian aliens with the light of Christianity and with them their neighbors, the Mongols and Chinese. To implement this wise plan, by a decree of June 18, 1700, the Sovereign commanded Metropolitan Barlaam Yasinsky of Kiev to “find” in the Russian cities and monasteries Archimandrites, Igumens, and other monks to occupy the cathedra of Tobolsk, which had remained vacant after Metropolitan Ignatius. He wanted “Pastors who are not only good and adorned with a blameless life, but also scholars who would take with them to Siberia any educated monks who were capable of learning the local languages. With God’s help, and with their help, the Metropolitan of Tobolsk could gradually lead the blind inhabitants of Siberia, Mongolia and China, who were stagnating in idolatry, to the knowledge of the true God. ”

Metropolitan Barlaam’s choice fell on the Novgorod-Seversk Archimandrite Demetrios Tuptalo, later Saint Demetrios, the wonderworker of Rostov, who was summoned to Moscow in early 1700. On March 23, at the age of 50, he was consecrated as the Metropolitan of Siberia and Tobolsk. Saint Demetrios ruled his Siberian flock for only nine months, but he did not live in Siberia.

When Saint Demetrios of Rostov was appointed to the Siberian Diocese, primarily for missionary purposes, he refused to go to Siberia for good and was transferred to the cathedra of Rostov. Then Archimandrite Philotheos Leschinsky was appointed as someone who was well-known for his pious life, high education and energy. He was consecrated as Metropolitan of Siberia and Tobolsk on January 4, 1702.

The Diocese of Tobolsk and Siberia is extensive today; but in the 17th and early 18th centuries it was incomparably more extensive; its borders were then in the north - the Arctic Sea, in the east - the Pacific Ocean, in the south - lands under the Chinese emperor, i.e. Dauria and so on, and the Kirghiz-kaysati steppe, in the west - the Urals and even part of European Russia, to the fortress of Beerskaya and Achitskaya. In general, the diocese occupied more than 300,000 square miles, a space in which there are currently more than nine independent dioceses with several vicariates.

The difficulty of administering such a huge diocese was increased by its complete lack of organization. But the new bishop of Siberia, Metropolitan Philotheos, energetically set to work. In the very first year of his stay in Siberia he followed the example of the pastors of the first centuries of Christianity, and decided to assemble a spiritual council from representatives of the Siberian clergy for the improvement of the Siberian Church.

Such a council took place in Tobolsk in December 1702. It developed a number of rules and instructions to the clergy regarding the streamlining of their pastoral work.

Then, the new Metropolitan of Siberia occupied himself with the Tobolsk episcopal residence, multiplying churches in Siberia, increasing the number of clergy, improving their condition, etc. They paid great attention to widespread education, and he first set an example by teaching foreign children in the religious schools he established.

In order to provide the diocese with good pastors, Metropolitan Philotheos started a “Slavic-Russian” school in the episcopal residence, and paid for it with his own money. This became the progenitor of all educational institutions in the city of Tobolsk. He also got several learned monks from Kiev as teachers for the school. When Metropolitan Philotheos took over the administration of the Tobolsk diocese, there were only 160 churches throughout its vast area. The saint made tremendous efforts to multiply of the churches of God in Siberia, and the Lord blessed these works with success. By the time he left the diocese there were already up to 448 churches and 37 monasteries.

Building new churches, he also took care of maintaining their well-being and beauty: he asked the government for permission to renovate some of the monasteries; he stopped issuing “wax, incense, and red wine” to the congregational and unpaid churches. At the cathedral, permission was given to form a choir of singers from the exiled Little Russians.

The missionary activity of Metropolitan Philotheos among the Siberian pagans was the main subject of his cares and labors and was crowned with good success, which the archpastor achieved, however, not during his administration of the diocese, but after his release from it, when he devoted himself entirely to the apostolic ministry. The hierarch began his educational activity from Kamchatka, where in 1705 he sent a missionary, Archimandrite Martinian, and after him the missionary monk Ignatius Kozyrevsky, but the preaching of these missionaries was not particularly successful, since the missionaries had to experience many obstacles. The hierarch’s second mission was sent in 1707 to the Ostyaks of the Berezovsky Territory, and the third to Mongolia, to the Kutuhta (high priest) of the Buddhists, to the town of Khalkhas.

The preaching of the Tobolsk Metropolitan among the Ostyaks, Voguls and other Siberian aliens was particularly successful. Accompanied by an insignificant retinue, with the then impossible ways of communication, the ever-memorable missionary spent most of his archpastoral ministry in Siberia in constant journeys among savages, teaching the Samoyeds, Voguls, Ostyaks, building churches in the far north, in the Kyrgyz territory in the Altai, then enlightening the distant sons of the outskirts of Siberia, Laplanders and Chukchi, helping them spiritually and materially. During all the time of his archpastoral ministry, he enlightened and baptized up to 400,000 foreigners, not to mention how many churches this great architect built across Siberia, how many parishes he founded, how many cornerstones he laid, so to speak, for the spread of Christianity among the pagans. It was not easy for Metropolitan Philotheos. Not to mention the incredible difficulties traveling along the wild outskirts, across steppes and marshes, taiga and northern tundra; not to mention all sorts of hardships associated with traveling under such conditions; the very life of the Metropolitan was repeatedly endangered.

Once he came to the Ostyaks of Burinsky. Those who were invited to be baptized replied that they were Muslims and no one had the right to baptize them. They left him and locked themselves in one large yurt.1 His Eminence nevertheless remained in their territory and from time to time he sent them missionaries who were with him to summon the Ostyaks. These same savages, in order to put an end to the matter all at once, according to the suggestion of the Tatar preacher hiding from them, seized their weapons, and fiercely rushed at the Orthodox missionaries. One of them was wounded in the head with an arrow, the other in the shoulder, and the third was punctured through and through by their hands. In fright, the unarmed Russians all fled from the shore onto the ships. The Metropolitan, who was then praying for the restraint of his enemies, was left alone on the shore. Then the Ostyak foreman Uman fired a rifle at the Metropolitan, but God preserved His Apostle-Preacher. The bullet passed through his clothing without touching his body.

On another occasion, the Metropolitan was threatened with danger in Konda. When he stayed in the Katyshev yurts to rest, a messenger came to him from Vogulsky Prince Satyga inviting him to hasten to the nomad camp because a lot of people had gathered there, desiring to be baptized. In fact, as it turned out, Satyga was deceived by a Tatar from Tobolsk, as though the Tsar himself wanted the Metropolitan’s death, and that there would be no punishment for the murderers. He intended to kill Philotheos and all those with him. But for now, the Metropolitan avoided danger. Sataga’s envoys were received kindly by the Metropolitan, and after receiving generous gifts, they informed Philotheos of the danger that threatened him. Horror overtook the missionaries, and many advised him to flee to Tobolsk. Some, however, argued that such cowardice would impair the future work of preaching the Word of God. The Metropolitan agreed with those who wished to stay, and it was decided to sail down to the nomad camp. Satyga was frightened when he learned that his plans were known to the Metropolitan. The intruders fled into the forest, and the remaining Voguls were willingly baptized.

Metropolitan Philotheos not only cared about the spiritual enlightenment of the pagans who converted, but he also tried to deliver those or other benefits to the converts in civil matters. At his request, those who were persecuted by the unbaptized were protected from being chased by guards; newly-baptized slaves were given their freedom, and those who were included in the head tax were exempted from it. Everyone was relieved of the obligation to supply carts, and received benefits in the payment of the yasak, and they were protected from insults and harassment by the Cossacks and minor officials. The Metropolitan distributed a significant amount of bread and money to the newly-baptized poor, and, in general, he helped as much as he could, anyway. The newly-baptized loved the Metropolitan as a father. When he visited them, they immediately went out to meet him and greeted him with cordiality and pleasure clearly written on their faces; willingly they heeded his instructions, and gave a firm promise to put his advice into practice. In general, they accepted the Metropolitan as their benefactor and their protector, as a man sent from God. The memory of Metropolitan Philotheos still lives among the aliens who were enlightened by him. For example, the Ostyaks, when they were asked about him, usually said: “He was a kindly old man; the people did not give offense; he loved the Ostyaks very, very much.... ”

In 1711, Metropolitan Philotheos was relieved of the administration of the diocese “due to illness,” and retired to the Tyumen Holy Trinity Monastery, where he received the schema and the name Theodore. The Metropolitan did not give up his archiepiscopal cathedra for rest and peace, now that he was burdened with age and illnesses, but for even more difficult feats of missionary work in the harsh north of Siberia. In June 1712, Metropolitan Schema-monk Theodore, with the blessing of the then Siberian archpastor, Metropolitan John Maximovitch (June 10), by his own desire and inclination, and at the suggestion of Prince M. Gagarin, who was then the governor of Siberia, who fulfilled the command of Peter I to begin preaching the Gospel among Siberians, and personally entered into this apostolic spiritual exploit(подвиг). In that year, the hierarch made his first missionary journey to Berezovsky territory along the rivers Irtysh, Ob and Sosve. Metropolitan John, who ruled the diocese, gave him capable employees, and Prince Gagarin supplied him from the treasury with a vessel for sailing, rowers, interpreters of the native languages, a guard for preserving the mission, the sum of 2000 rubles, and various gifts for newly-baptized.

According to the ukaz of Peter the Great, the evangelizer of Siberia wished to prepare the ground of this field on his previous journey; that is, to destroy the pagan places of worship with their idols, and to show the pagans how powerless their imaginary gods are to protect even themselves. With the help of God, Metropolitan Schema-monk Theodore managed to convince the Ostyaks, who lived near Samarov and in the yurts of Sherkal, to destroy the idols which were especially honored in those districts.

On June 10, 1715, Metropolitan John Maximovich of Tobolsk reposed, and the aged Metropolitan Schema-monk Theodore was again entrusted with the administration of the Siberian Diocese, but he did not stop his favorite missionary activity. Metropolitan Schema-monk Theodore was so fond of the enlightened Ostyaks that, a year before his death, being retired and ill for the second time, the patient visited Nizovsky territory again in 1726 and even reached far off Obdorsk. But this was to be the last journey of the ever-memorable hierarch.

During his second administration of the diocese, Metropolitan Theodore paid attention to the overseas Beijing mission, which from 1714 was headed by Archimandrite Hilarion of Lezhaysk, who was sent to the capital of China by imperial command, under Metropolitan John Maximovich. Upon the death of this Archimandrite, his successor Anthony Platkovsky was appointed head of the mission, and returned to Russia in 1721, because according to the suggestion of the Most Reverend Theodore and the Siberian governor, as well as the highest levels of government, it was decided to send a bishop to Beijing.

Even during his first administration of the Tobolsk diocese, he had a vicar bishop, Barlaam Kossovsky, the Bishop of Irkutsk from 1706. He lived in Irkutsk until 1714, when he returned to Moscow, and he was soon appointed to the archiepiscopal cathedra of Tver. Metropolitan Theodore’s second tenure in the Siberian Diocese lasted for five years. In 1720, at his own request, Tsar Peter I sent him a letter granting him retirement, in which he gave thanks to the holy hierarch of God for his zealous pastoral service, especially for his tireless and successful work in the missionary field. In addition, the archpastor received a retirement pension: 200 rubles in cash, 50 quarters of bread (3000 bushels of grain) per year. The exhausted hierarch settled in the Tyumen monastery which he himself had built. In 1727, On May 31, 1727, he reposed at the age of 76, among the brethren and children of the newly-baptized.

Judging by his portraits, Metropolitan Philotheos was tall, lean, with a long nose, and gray hair. As to his character, in the words of the Siberian Chronicle of Cherepanov, “he was quiet, very indulgent to all, and had very little vanity.” His life was most active and simple; in the summertime, he often used to go on foot to Tobolsk to the Ivanov monastery and fished there in the Shantalyne River.

Living alone, he taught the children of the newly-baptized to read, write, and sing in his leisure hours. Many of them lived in his cell. Sometimes he composed Church hymns; for example - the Troparion and Kontakion of the wonderworker Saint Simeon of Verkhoturye (December 18), a Canon to the martyr Basil of Mangazea (March 23),2 and others, as well as poems of religious content. With his own hand, he wrote many of the documents which he issued, especially those concerning the newly-baptized, or pertaining to the episcopal estates.

Not only the residents of Tyumen, but also those from other places in Siberia, visit the grave of the pious archpastor with reverence and offer memorial services for him.3 After the Russian Revolution, his relics were secretly reburied. On October 21, 2006, the incorrupt relics of Saint Philotheos were found in Tyumen in the Ascension-Saint George Church.

Saint Philotheos is commemorated on May 31, and also on June 10, the Synaxis of Siberian saints.


1 A yurt was a sort of tepee made from animal skins.
2 See Orthodox Life # 2, 1972.
3 Source: The Russian Pilgrim, 1900 (Русский Паломник, 1900 г.)