Feofan Prokopovich's Funeral Sermon on Peter I

[excerpted from Anthology of Russian Literature From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Leo Wiener, ed. and Tr. Pt. 1 (New York, 1902), pp. 214-218]

What is this, and what have we lived to see, 0 Russians? What are we doing now? We are burying Peter the Great! Is it not a dream? Not a vision of the night? Oh,what a real sorrow! Oh, what certain bitter reality! Contrary to all expectations and hopes he has ended his life who has been the cause of our innumerable benefactions and joys, who has resuscitated Russia as if from the dead, and has raised it to great power and glory, nay, has begot it and brought it up, he the true father of his country, whom for his deserts all the good sons of Russia wished to be immortal, and whom, on account of his youth and bodily strength, they had hoped to see many years alive. 0 dire calamity! He has ended his life just as he was beginning to live after his labours, unrest, sorrows, calamities, after so many and varied deaths.

We see well how we have angered Thee, 0 Lord, and how long we have tempted Thy long-suffering,! 0 we unfortunate and unworthy people! 0 the infinitude of our sins! He who does not see that is blind. He who sees it and does not confess is turned to stone in his heartlessness. But why should we increase our woes and heart-pain, which we ought rather attempt to allay ? But if we are to mention his great talents, acts and works we shall only be stung more severely by the loss of our good man, and we shall sob aloud. Only in a lethargy, or some deathlike sleep, could we at all forget our so sad loss. What a great and what a good man we have lost!

O Russia, this Samson of yours came to you when no one in the world had expected him, and when he appeared the whole world marvelled. He found you weak in power, and to conform with his name he made you of stone and adamant. He found an army dangerous at home, weak in the field and scorned by the foe, and he gave his country a useful army that is terrible to the enemy, and everywhere renowned and glorious. He defended his country, and at the same time returned to it the lands that had been taken away from it, and increased it by the acquisition of new provinces. When he crushed those who rose against us, he at the same time broke the strength of our ill-wishers and subdued their spirits, and, closing up the lips of envy, compelled the whole world to proclaim glorious things of himself.

O Russia, he was your first Japheth, who had accomplished a deed unheard of in your annals, having introduced the building and sailing of ships. He gave you a new fleet that, to the wonderment of the world and surpassing all expectation, was in no way inferior to much older fleets, and he opened for you a path to all the ends of the earth, and spread your power and glory to the extreme corners of the ocean, to the limits of your usefulness, to the limits which justice had placed; and the might of your dominion, which heretofore was firm on land, he has now made strong and permanent upon the sea.

O Russia, he is your Moses! Are not his laws like a firm protection of truth, and like unbreakable fetters of wrongdoing? And are not his statutes clear, a light upon your path? And are not the high ruling Senate and the many special institutions of his so many lights in the search of advantage, the warding off of harm, the safety of the peaceful, and the unmasking of the wrongdoers? He has verily left us in doubt whether he is more to be praised for being loved and cherished by the good and simple-hearted, or for being hated by unrepenting flatterers and rascals.

O Russia, be is your Solomon, who has received from the Lord his very great reason and wisdom. Have we not sufficient testimony thereof in the many philosophic arts, which he himself practised and many subjects introduced under his supervision, and in the many cunning industrial arts which have never before been heard of among us? And he also introduced the chins[1] and degrees, and civil order, and decent manners in daily intercourse, and the rules of acceptable habits and customs, and now we see and admire the external appearance and internal worth of our country, which from within and without is far superior to what it was in former years.

He is also, 0 Russian Church, your David and Constantine. The synodal government is his creation, and its written and oral instructions were his care. Oh, how often his heart was heavy when he saw the ignorance in the path of salvation! How great his zeal was against superstition and deceptive simulations, and the senseless, hostile and destructive heresy amongst us! How great was his desire and endeavour to see more learning among the clergy, and a greater godliness and more decent worship in the people!

But, 0 renowned man! Can we in a short sermon mention all his glory ? The present sorrow and grief which compels us to shed tears and sigh does not allow of an extended speech. Perhaps in time this thorn that stings our hearts will be dulled, and then we will speak at greater length of his deeds and virtues, though we shall never be able sufficiently to praise him according to his worth. To-day, though we are only making a short mention of him and, as it were, are only touching the hems of his garments, we, poor unfortunate people, see, 0 hearers, who has left us and whom we have lost.

Let us not, 0 Russians, faint with sorrow and grief, for the great monarch and our father has not left us in a bad plight. He has left us, but not poor and necessitous: the immeasurable wealth of his power and glory, which has been realised by his above-mentioned deeds, is with us. Russia will be such as he has made it; he has made it an object of love to the good, and it will be loved; he has made it terrible to the enemy, and terrible it will remain; he has made it glorious throughout the whole world, and it will not cease to be glorious. He has left us religious, civil and military institutions. He has left us, and his body will decay, but his spirit will stay.

Above all, in leaving this temporal world, he has not left us orphaned. How could we, indeed, call ourselves orphaned when we see his legacy to the throne, his real helpmate in life, a ruler like him after his demise, you, most gracious and autocrat Empress, great heroine and monarch, and mother of all the Russias? The whole world is a witness that your sex does not prevent your being like Peter the Great. Who does not know your wisdom as a ruler, and your motherly womanliness, and your natural God- given talents? And all this took place and was confirmed in you not merely through your association with so great a monarch, but also in your communion with his wisdom, labours and various calamities. He, having tried you during a series of years, like gold in the crucible, deemed it insufficient to have you as a cohabiter of his bed, but made you also the heir to his crown, and power, and throne. How can we help hoping that you will confirm what he has done, will create anew what he has left undone and will keep all in good condition ? Only, 0 valiant soul, try to overcome this unendurable calamity which has been intensified by the loss of your most beloved daughter, and which, like a severe wound, has been torn beyond measure by this new sting. And as you have been seen by all ever present with Peter of glorious deeds, an incessant companion in all his labours and troubles, so try even now to be such in this your very bitter loss.

And you, noble assembly, of all ranks and degrees, sons of Russia, with your faithfulness and obedience console your Empress and mother. Console yourselves also, seeing the undoubted signs of Peter's spirit in your Empress, and that not all of Peter has passed away. Then let us bow before our Lord who has thus visited us, praying Him, the God of mercy and father of all consolation, to wipe the unrestrained tears of her Highness, our most autocratic Empress, and her precious blood, her daughters, grandchildren, nieces and all the high family, and to soothe the grief of their hearts with His gracious care, and to console us all in His mercy.

0 Russia, seeing what a great man has left you, see also how great he has left you. Amen!


[1] There are fourteen rank distinctions, called "chins," in Russia they are acquired through service only, independently of birth.