Theologist, Priest, Physicist, Teacher of the Greek Nation (1731 – 1800)
One of the most important Teachers of the Greek Nation during Greece’s subjugation to the Ottoman Empire was Nicephorus Theotokis, a theologist and priest with rich academic background, who struggled to enlighten the enslaved Greeks. His work was mainly educational and aimed at a spiritual awakening of the Greek Nation.
He descended from Corfu, which at the time was ruled by Venice. From 1749 to 1752 he studied mathematics, physics, astronomy and philosophy in the Universities of Padua and Bologna. Returning to Greece in 1752, Theotokis sought to depart the scientific knowledge he had acquired from the West in order to combat illiteracy, which was a widespread issue, and follow the progress of the rest of Europe. He founded the Common Phrontisterion, a school where he taught the people of his hometown without payment. Lessons included algebra, geometry, physics, philosophy and Greek language. One of his most notable students was Anthony Maria Kapodistrias, father of John Kapodistrias.
He served shortly as headmaster of the Academy of Iasi before heading to Vienna and then Leipzig, where he published his works on physics, theology and philosophy. These he used to create the curriculum of his school. He returned to Iasi only to serve as headmaster of the Academy again, laying down the foundations of the educational renaissance of all the Balkan areas. Moreover, he was forced to decline an offer of becoming Archbishop of Philadelphia by the Greek community of Venice.
Theotokis was a close friend of Evgenios Voulgaris, another eminent Teacher of the Greek Nation. Voulgaris invited him to Russia in 1776, where he became the Archbishop’s advisor in Poltava. He later succeeded Evgenios Voulgaris as Archbishop of Kherson and Slavonia. His actions were responsible for bringing many Raskols back to the Orthodox Church, as well as converting many Muslims and Tsars to Christianity. He retired from his obligations in 1792 to live as a monk in Moscow, writing perhaps his most important work Kyriakodromion of the Apostolic and Evangelical Readings, a book on the writings of the Apostoles and the Evangelion, targeted at illiterate people.
His work in education included the following: He funded the foundations of schools, wrote numerous textbooks on mathematics, physics and theology, approved the publication of books, funded them with his own money and delivered them to schools and libraries.
Theotokis gained significant recognition and followers as a preacher in favour of education, Christianity and the liberation of the Greek Nation. He believed very strongly in the “Greek plan”, according to which Russia would help fend off the Ottoman oppressor from all Christian Orthodox states. He stood out as one of the most prominent intellectuals, ideologists and patriots in the whole Balkans and Russia, who believed above all in the spiritual awakening of the Greeks, without of which there could not be liberation. His work paved the way for the Greek Enlightenment.
- Χριστοδούλου, Αλέξανδρος. Νικηφόρος Θεοτόκης (1731 -1800). Πεμπτουσία. Pemptousia.gr. Web. December 13, 2016.
- Μουρούτη – Γκενάκου, Ζωή. Ο Νικηφόρος Θεοτόκης (1731 -1800) και η Συμβολή Αυτού εις την Παιδείαν του Γένους. Βιβλιοθήκη Σοφίας Ν. Σαριπόλου. Αθήναι, 1979. Thesis.ekt.gr. Web.