Saint Photius, Metropolitan Archbishop of Kyiv and of Rus’, was by birth a Greek from the Peloponnesian city of Monembasia (Malbasia). While still in his adolescence he entered a monastery and was tonsured under the Elder Acacius, a great ascetic (afterwards the Metropolitan of Monembasia). In 1408, when Photius was in Constantinople with the Patriarch on church matters, the question arose about a replacement for the Kyivan See after the death of Saint Cyprian (September 16). The choice of Patriarch Matthew (1397-1410) fell upon Photius, known for his learning and holiness of life. On September 1, 1408 Saint Photius was made Metropolitan and in the next year arrived in Rus’ (modern-day Ukraine).
He spent half a year at Kyiv (September 1409-February 1410), concerning himself with settling affairs in the southern dioceses of the Kyivan Church, then included within the principality of Lithuania, or more precisely, of Lithuania and Russia. The saint perceived that the throne of the Metropolitan, the spiritual center of churchly life in Rus’, could not remain in the western Rus’ lands, where everything increasingly fell under the dependence of Catholic Poland. As a result, the Orthodox Church of Kyiv and All Rus’ continued to move eastward, away from Polish control. On the day of Holy Pascha in 1410, Metropolitan Photius arrived in Moscow following the example of other previous Metropolitans, who transferred their residence first to the city of Vladimir, then to Moscow.
For 22 years the saint labored in the difficult service of archpastor of the Church in Rus’. In grievous conditions of war, fratricidal strife, and pillaging incursions of Islamic Tatars he knew how to highly advance the spiritual significance, the material prosperity and well-being of the churches under the See of Moscow.
Favorable conditions in the Church allowed Saint Photius to render great assistance to the increasingly impoverished Patriarch of Constantinople, and to strengthen the international position of the Orthodox Church of Rus’ and the entire Rus’ realm.
The enemies of Orthodoxy tried to subvert the churchly-patriotic service of Saint Photius more than once. In the spring of 1410, when Saint Photius arrived in Vladimir from Moscow, Khan Edigei, having laid waste this portion of the Rusyn Land for two years, undertook a new campaign with the intent of capturing the Metropolitan himself. A Tatar detachment, headed by Prince Talychoi “the Exile,” suddenly attacked and quickly took Vladimir, but God preserved His righteous saint.
The evening before, not suspecting danger, the saint had gone off to the Svyatoozersk (Holy Lake) monastery beyond the city. When the Tatars attempted pursuit, he concealed himself in a small settlement, surrounded by impassable swamps, at the River Senega. Unable to capture the Metropolitan, the rapacious Tatars plundered Vladimir, especially the Dormition cathedral church. The doorkeeper of the cathedral, Patrikii, endured terrible torments and accepted a martyr’s death from the plundering Islamic Tatars, but he did not reveal where the church sacred items and treasury were hidden.
Through the efforts of Metropolitan Photius the canonical unity of the Orthodox Church of Rus’ was restored. The separate Lithuanian metropolitanate, established by Prince Vitovt for the southern and western eparchies [dioceses], was abolished in 1420. In that same year the saint visited the returned eparchies and greeted the flock with an instructive encyclical. The wise and erudite pastor left behind many instructions and letters. Of great theological significance was his denunciation of the heresy of the Strigolniki, which had arisen at Pskov prior to his time. By his wise efforts the heresy was put to an end in 1427.
Important Church historical sources compiled by Saint Photius are his “Order of Selection and Installation of Bishops” (1423), “ Discourse on the Seriousness of the Priestly Office and the Obligations of Church Servers,” and also the “Spiritual Testament”, in which he tells of his life. Another great work of the saint was the compilation, under his guidance, of the Obscherus’k (All-Rus’) Chronicle (about 1423).
On April 20, 1430 the holy archpastor was informed by an angel of his approaching end, and he reposed peacefully on the Feast of the Placing of the Robe of the Most Holy Theotokos at Blachernae, on July 2, 1431. His relics were uncovered in the year 1471. Two sakkoi (robes) of Saint Photius are preserved in the Armory Palace of the Moscow Kremlin.