St. Peter Movilă was the Metropolitan of Kiev (Ukraine) from 1632 until his death in 1646. He is known as a leading Orthodox theologian of the e18th century and as a reformer of the orthodox theological education. His feast day is the Romanian Orthodox Church on December 22.
The first years
Peter Movilă was born on December 21, 1596 (1574 according to some other sources) in the noble Moldavian family, very important for the history of Romania in the 16th-18th centuries. From the Family Movilă became more princes of Wallachia and Moldova, and between those was also Peter’s father, Simion (Prince of Wallachia, in 1601 and of Moldova in 1606-1607) and his brother, Ieremia (Jeremy) Movilă (in Moldova, 1595-1606, with a brief interruption in 1600). His mother, Marghita, was a Polish princess.
In 1599-1600, the Wallachian prince Mihai the Brave tried a short unification of the coutries lived by Romanians (Wallachia, Moldova and Transylvania), and because of the turbulent political situation in Moldova, the family had to flee to Poland when Peter was still very young. In 1607 his father was killed by the tatar khan Kantemir Murza, and he moved together with his mother definitively in Poland, where they had important relatives, as the family of Polotski, Korezski and Wysnowiecki. Peter received the early education here, in the Lvov Orthodox school, and then continued his studies in Western Europe, including Paris and Amsterdam, so that he was the first known Romanian to attend western studies, being in contact with the study and the methods used here. Back in Poland, he became shortly officer, fighting in two battles, both in Moldova, at Zezor (1620) and Hotin (1621), but he was attracted more to the monastic life. Even living a noble’s life in Poland, he retained the Orthodox faith.
Metropolitan of Kiev
In 1625 he entered the monastery Lavra Pecerska in Kiev, being tonsured as monk in 1627. Later he was ordained priest and then received the rank of Archimandrite. Shortly he was ordained as bishop and enthroned as Metropolitan of Kiev in 1632, the highest orthodox rank in the Kingdom of Poland at that time.
As Metropolitan he was the founder of the Kievean Spiritual Academy, the first orthodox institution of theological education, organized on the principles of the theological seminaries and universities from the West. Even if until then Latin was quite unknown to the Orthodox believers, the teaching here was mainly in Latin (also an official language in Poland) and secondly in Greek and Russian, which was more spoken in the Ukrainian part of Poland. Newly for the eastern Orthodox, the students here received a double theological and scientific training, so that the only learning of the liturgical rites was doubled by a scientific knowledge of the theology. Beyond theology were studied he school offered a variety of disciplines: Ukrainian, Latin, Greek, and Polish languages; philosophy; mathematics, including geometry; astronomy; music; and history. Because of the high profile of the faculty, the collegium received the status of a higher educational establishment.
Peter governed the Church in Ukraine in a very difficult period in Poland, after the Union of Brest-Litovsk (1596), when much of the Orthodox here accepted the supremacy of the Pope of Rome and union with the Catholic Church. Very concerned about the fate of the Orthodox Church, Peter was dedicated to strengthening the Orthodox position, that had remained independent from Rome. Despite the strong political and social pressure, sometimes violent, he was able to recover for his Church a large number of temples, including the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. As the representative of the Orthodox Clergy in the Sejm (Parliament), negotiated here, and with the king, the abolition of the repressive laws against the Orthodox Church and against the use of the Ukrainian language. Finally, the new protestant King Władysław IV Vasa (1632-1646) reinstated the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
After becoming metropolitan, started to print different books, about 15 titles in 5 years. Peter Movilă published in 1637 an annotated edition of the four Gospels, after the western model, and in 1646, also a revised edition of the Euhologhion or Trebnik, the book of the main special services in the Orthodox Church. Also he is the author of some commentaries about the articles from the Symbol of Faitn (Niceo-constantinopolitane), and a small Russian Catechism for the use of the Russian-speaking Church.
His most famous work is the Orthodox Confession of Faith of the Apostolic and Catholic Orthodox Church of the East, which was a response to the Jesuits and Western reformers, very active in that time, in order to attract the Eastern Orthodox on their side. Also it was a reaction to the semi-calvinistic Confession of Faith published in 1629 by the Patriarch Cyril Lucaris of Constantinople, in Geneva.
The Confession of Metropolitan Peter was written after the scholastical catholic method, quite strange for the eastern mentalities. It was the first Eastern Confession of Faith after the one written by John from Damascus in the 9th century, with a whole different language and methodology. Because of these new vision, the work was discussed in the first inter/orthodox Council after the fall of the Constantinople, in Iasi, the capital of Moldova, in 1642 and recognized as valid, after the Synod corrected two points: the position about the purgatory, which is not accepted in the Eastern Church, and the problem of when it happens the transfiguration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Accordinf to Peter’s meaning, it happens at the moment of anamnesis, that is, when the priest is reciting the biblical text: “Take and eat…” and “Drink from this all…”. The synodals, keeping the position formulated by Nicholas Cabasilas in the 12th century, argued that this is happening at the moment of reciting the epiklesis, a formula immediately after.
The Orthodox Confession of Faith was published in 1645 in latin and shortly after it was then spread throughout Europe in Greek, Latin, German and Russian. With the changes made by the Synod, the Confession was recognized by the patriarchs of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch in 1643, and in 1672, the Holy Synod of Jerusalem adopted the Confession of Faith of Peter Movilă as its official catechism. The first edition in Romanian language appeared in 1699.
Some contemporary Orthodox theologians such as George Florovski or Christos Yannaras accused Peter Movilă of being strongly influenced by the Western influence, which is perfectly true, but not at all wrong for his time. The scholastic style of exposing the faith, though foreign for the orthodox experience, was very good for the students and future priests, who had their first “manual” of theology, punctually structured. Also this style was asked in order to be an answer to the Catholic and Protestant positions.
He passed away on December 22, 1646, in Kiev, being buried at the Pecherska Lavra, the biggest Ukrainian monastery, where he rests until today.
He is venerated as a saint by the Churches of Ukraine, Romania and Poland. His feast day is December 22 Romanian Orthodox Church (since 1997) and Ukraine on 1 January independently, and on October 6, together with the other holy Metropolitans of Kiev. In 1996 it was opened a new theological Academy in Kiev, named “Mohyla-Academy”.
Troparion |(Hymn of the Saint):
“Defender and confessor of the Orthodoxy, enlightener of Gentiles, son of Moldova’s son and Ukraine’s father, Holy Hierarch Peter, virtuous man, pray to Christ the God to defend our faith and to save our souls”.