Porphyrius (Uspensky) of Chigirin

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His Grace, Porphyrius or Porfiry (Uspensky) of Chigirin was the Bishop of Chigirin, Vicar of the Eparchy of Kiev of the Church of Russia during the nineteenth century. His greatest fame was as a scholar, archaeologist, orientalist, and cataloguer of the ancient manuscripts of the Eastern Church. He was also the founder of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem.


Constantine Alexandrovich Uspensky in a small town in Kostroma on September 8, 1804, the son of Alexander Matveevich, a sexton, and Darya Stepanovna. After completing his basic education at the local religious school in 1818, he entered the theological seminary in Kostroma, graduating in 1824.

In 1825, he was admitted to the St. Petersburg Theological Academy from which he graduated in 1829 with a degree of Candidate of Theology. On September 15, 1829 he was tonsured a monk with the name of Porfiry. Then, on September 20, Mnk. Porfiry was ordained a hierodeacon followed by his ordination as a priest on September 25. On July 1, 1831, Fr. Porfiry received his Master's degree.

On July 2, 1831, he was appointed a teacher of religion at the Richelieu Lyceum in Odessa, now the I. I. Mechnikov Odessa National University. On May 1, 1834, Fr. Porfiry was appointed the abbot of the Monastery of the Dormition in Odessa followed by his becoming an archimandrite on May 20. It was during his service in Odessa that Archim. Porphyrius became interested Oriental Christianity and during which he learned modern Greek and Italian. On July 18, 1838, Fr. Porphyrius was appointed head of the Kherson Theological Seminary in what is now southern Ukraine.

On November 15, 1838, Fr. Porphyrius was appointed the priest of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Vienna, Austria. This position gave him the opportunity to learn German and as well as to participate in a scientific investigation in Dalmatia of the life style and written heritage of southwestern Slavs.

Thus, based upon Fr. Porphyrius' language abilities and experience working with Christians aboard, Fr. Porphyrius was subsequently sent to Jerusalem by the Holy Synod to become acquainted with the Orthodox Christians in Palestine and Syria.

In this new assignment, Fr. Porphyrius had opportunities to visit the monasteries of the Middle East and explore the ancient Christian holy sites. In the first half of 1845, he explored Egypt, Mount Sinai, and the monasteries of the Nitrian desert. In the year from mid 1845 to mid year 1846, Fr. Porfiry examined the rich Christian treasures of antiquity at Mount Athos. It was St. Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai that most interested Fr. Porfiry which, unlike the other old monasteries, had never been plundered.

While at St. Catherine Monastery Fr. Porphyrius, in 1845, identified and described from among its library of documents a major portion of an ancient Bible manuscript in Greek. This manuscript later would be identified as the Codex Sinaiticus.

Also while he was in Palestine the idea came to Fr. Porphyrius of establishing a mission in Jerusalem as a representation of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1847 after several years lobbying, he was finally able to get the support of the Russian government to establish the mission when, on February 23, Emperor Nicholas I signed a resolution establishing the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission which Fr. Porfiry then headed until 1854.

Through the years Fr. Porphyrius and his team of collaborators visited the old monasteries of Egypt. At St. Catherine's Monastery, he complied for the monastery a catalogue of the Greek language manuscripts held there, forming the first scientifically-based catalogue of oldest library collections of the Orthodox East.

On May 8, 1854, Fr. Porphyrius left Jerusalem at the opening of the Russo-Turkish War, leaving his research library at St. Archangels Monastery. He returned again in 1858 with an expedition but with the specific duty of returning to Russia his property and library collections from Jerusalem. Having accomplished this, in 1961, Fr. Porfiry returned to Russia, not to leave again.

Acclaimed as a scholar of world renown in St. Petersburg, Fr. Porphyrius became the advisor to both the government and the Holy Synod as an expert on Christians antiquities. He was also elected honorary or full member of various scientific and charitable societies. It was eleven years, however, before the Holy Synod assigned him to a new ecclesiastical position.

On February 14, 1865, Archim. Porphyrius was consecrated Bishop of Chigirin and appointed the first vicar of the Eparchy of Kiev, a position under his former tutor from the seminary in Kostroma, Metropolitan Arseny (Moskvin).

The period in Kiev was a fruitful time for Bp. Porphyrius as he was able to spend time sorting and studying the many items from his collections. It was also during this time that he published most of his writings. In 1878, he was appointed to the Synodal office and abbot of the New Monastery of Our Savior (Novospassky Monastery) in Moscow. Leaving Kiev reluctantly, Bp. Porphyrius found working with his "Oriental studies" made him forget his sorrow as he sought repositories for his manuscripts and printed books.

Bp. Porfiry's manuscript collection was sold to the Imperial Public Library in 1883. His research library was given to the library of the Holy Synod.The collection was stored in the basement of the New Monastery of Our Savior where it may have perished following the Bolshevik revolution.

Bp. Porphyrius reposed quietly on April 19, 1885 and was buried at Novospassky Monastery.