Appendix I Archbishop John of Latvia

Russia's Catacomb Saints

Appendix I
Archbishop John of Latvia
Commemorated October 12 (†1934)
AMONG THE GLORIOUS NEW-MARTYRS of our own century some stand out from the others by the absolute clarity of their stand for Christ and His Church. They are not martyrs “incidentally,” as merely a part of the universal campaign of the pseudo-religious phenomenon of Communism against the Church of Christ; rather, they are open and fearless confessors of Christ, whose very life is a bold challenge to the modern persecu tors, even as was St. Anthony’s life to the demons of the Egyptian desert. Such, within Russia, were Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd and other founders of the Catacomb Church; and such, outside of Russia, was Archbishop John, the chief confessor and martyr of the much-suffering Latvian Orthodox Church.
Archbishop John was born Janis Pommer in 1876 in a peasant family in the district of Vendzen, Latvia. There was no Russian blood in his ancestry, even though later he revealed such a great love for Russia. His great-grand father was one of the first to accept the Orthodox Faith in this region, for which he was subjected to a severe persecution. At that time there was a great interest in Orthodoxy among the peasants of Lithlandia, thanks to the preaching which had been begun in the Latvian language. The Lutheran pastors, for the most part, looked upon the local inhabitants and their language with disdain, and the Latvians, who at one time had been forcibly baptized as Catholics by the German invaders, after the Reformation had just as automatically been made Lutherans, following their lords. Those who had gone over to Orthodoxy in the middle of the last century were regarded by the local authorities (the German Barons) as rebels. The local inhabitants showed their attitude toward the “rebel” by making a mound over the place of his burial and erecting the Orthodox eight-pointed Cross on it. Both the mound and the Cross were later removed by the local authorities.
In his childhood, the future Archbishop helped his parents on the farm and was a shepherd. He was a serious boy, avoiding the noisy games of other children, and as a teenager he loved to go into the forest and stay there for a long time. His father taught him reading and writing so well that, skipping primary school, he entered directly into the state upper school. From his very first year in school he was so outstanding in his studies that his teachers fer vently recommended to his parents that he be sent either to the Gymnasium or to the seminary preparatory school. At the advice of the local priest the boy was sent to the latter. After passing the examination, he entered the seminary preparatory school in 1887; in 1891 he transferred to the Riga seminary. Owing to his success in his studies and his good behavior, he received a scholarship during the whole time of his study. He always spent his summer vacations at home helping his parents in the farm labors.
He finished the seminary course in 1897, and finished it brilliantly. The disorders which came upon the Russian educational institutions at that time hindered him from continuing his education immediately. For three years he worked as an instructor among the Latvian people, showing here great talent as a teacher. In 1900, having passed the entrance examinations brilliantly, he was accepted as a student in the Kiev Theological Academy, again on a scholar ship. He was popular among the students, both for his outstanding success in his studies and as a hero in the realm of sports. For those who knew him welt, however, the monastic tonsure of the youz student in 1901 in the Archangel Michael Monastery of Kiev, was not unexpected. His companions, even before he was tonsured, called him “monk” for his devotion to the idea of absolute sobriety and, in general, for his strict continence in everything.
He finished the course of the Academy in 1904 so brilliantly that he was given a choice between a scholarly career and practical work as a teacher. He chose the latter. As an instructor of Holy Scripture in the Chernigov Seminary, he was able to inspire his students to such an extent that several of them devoted their lives to the study of the Sacred Scripture and later became pro fessors of this subject. The seminary authorities also valued the labors of the young instructor, and in 1906 they promoted him to the post of Inspector of the Vologda Seminary. In the Vologda Seminary the future Archbishop also showed his ability as an administrator. The good order which he was able to bring in a very short time to the populous and disordered Vologda Seminary was so exceptional that, despite his young age, he was entrusted in the next academic year with the responsible position of Rector of the Orthodox Seminary of Lithuania and Superior of the Holy Trinity Monastery of Vilna. He was also given responsible assignments in the diocesan government. Therefore, his transfer in 1911 to Minsk, where the ailing Archbishop Michael of Minsk called him to the post of vicar bishop, was met in Vilna with regret by every one. On his way to Minsk he participated in the canonization of St. loasaph of Belgorod.
In 1912 Bishop John was transferred to Odessa as a vicar of the Arch bihop of Chersones, Demetrius, who was then very old. With the new year of 1913 he was given the responsible assignment of establishing in good order the newly-opened diocese of Priyazovsk. His relationship with the local inhabitants here was so good that this diocese became the only one in Russia in which his salary and that of his clergy was taken by the local people upon themselves,. During his four years (until 1917) as head of this diocese, which embraced a so-called mining district, the energetic pastor visited all its corners. There were occasions when the Bishop was chosen as arbitrator when there were conflicts between the workers and the employers. The workers considered him the de fender of their interests, and the employers submitted to his decisions without discussion. When, in connection with the War, waves of refugees from Gali• cia and Czechoslovakia reached the “Quiet Don;” they found in Bishop John one who took great care for their needs. Many refugee schools and orphanages were organized with his participation. Hundreds of grateful Galicians and Czechs became Orthodox, including the intelligentsia.
The Revolution found Bishop John in this post. He was dangerous to the revolutionary leaders, and the campaign against him began immediately. Both open and secret revolutionary agents followed him everywhere. Mean while, among the masses of people who were entirely devoted to their bishop, there was formed an attitude that was not acceptable to the local revolutionary authorities. Volunteers from among the workers and the soldiers organized a guard which watched over the bishop day and night. On his way to and from Divine services he was accompanied by great masses of people who were pre pared to defend their bishop by force against enemies. The local revolutionary authority thought that it had found a way out by arranging the transfer of the beloved archpastor to the diocese of Tver. But after the final service in the cathedral church, the people returned their bishop by force to the episcopal residence and surrounded him with guards who were to prevent the departure or taking away of the bishop. Under such conditions the authorities in hu miliation asked the bishop to leave the city for a time and go to Moscow. How ever, together with Bishop John a delegation from the people went to Mos cow, representing the clergy, laymen, soldiers, and Cossacks, with the intention of protesting there against the actions of the local authority. In Moscow the delegation obtained its end with a favorable decision from both the secular and the spiritual authority. But the Bolshevik coup and the beginning of the civiL war made the return of Bishop John to Priyazov impossible. Accordingly, he was assigned to the responsible position of Archbishop of Penza.
In Penza, where Archbishop John arrived at the beginning of 1918, the believers immediately undertook the organization of the defense of their archpastor from both the secular authorities and the church modernists. Again a volunteer guard was formed. The local Cheka immediately subjected the Arch bishop to search and interrogation; but neither the one nor the other gave any reason for arrest. Then the Cheka agents decided to mark the celebration of Pascha in 1918 with the murder of Archbishop John.
In the evening of Pascha there appeared at the Archbishop’s residence in the Transfiguration Monastery two Cheka agents armed to the teeth, the former officer Rudakov and the worker Dubovkin, and they began to demand access to him. The guard sounded the alarm to warn the people, and Dubovkin fled, but Rudakov broke down the door of the cell and fired several shots which were, fortunately, wide of the mark. The Archbishop succeeded in disarming him,. The people who had gathered by this time intended to take care of the criminal by lynch law, and only the energetic intercession of the Archbishop saved Rudakov from certain death. And here a mirade occurred: Rudakov, who had just made an attempt against the life of the Archbishop, threw himself on his neck with the Paschal greeting, “Christ is risen!” Naturally the author ities were swift to deny any participation in this matter, despite the fact that Rudakov had a written order on his person. The unfortunate man was arrested and soon died in prison. Pascha week in Penza and in all this vast diocese was turned into an unheard-of demonstration of the love and devotion of the faithful for their shepherd. The authorities, calculating the situation, concealed themselves for a while and refrained from any obvious steps. The faithful, including even the liberal cirdes of the local intelligentsia, formed themselves even more tightly around their archpastor. The important local lawyer, V.A. Bezsonov, the Archbishop’s legal advisor, became the head of these zealots and was his Subdeacon. Church life in the whole diocese was brought to life and strengthened.
When in May, 1918, a regiment of Czechoslovakians was going from the Don to Siberia through Penza, the Bolsheviks suddenly, for no reason, opened artillery fire against the Transfiguration Monastery. The place where the Archbishop was living became the center of fire. Later the authorities ex plained this incident as a misunderstanding, but the local people accepted this as an attempt against the life of their archpastor, and they protested. On Sep. tember 7, 1918, the local Cheka again made a long search of the Archbishop’s cell and office. Even though nothing incriminating was found, the Cheka agents took the Archbishop to prison for a confrontation with one of the pris oners. This caused the Archbishop to be late for the All-night Vigil of the Nativity of the Mother of God. When the believers found out that the Arch bishop had been taken to the “house of no return,” and on the day when exe cutions were performed, those who had come to the service decided that the Archbishop had been shot together with the other condemned ones. When Viadika returned very late to the Cathedral, instead of the All-night Vigil he found in progress a requiem service for himself.
For its next provocation the authorities made use of the local representative of the “New Church,” V. Putyatu.Gruenstein, who, on September 14, appeared at the Sts. Peter and Paul Church with his followers when Archbishop John was performing the Divine service. They made an attempt to enter the church, but the people prevented this. Because of the disorders around the church the Archbishop also was imprisoned by the local Cheka as one under suspicion. He was kept in prison for a whole month despite his obvious in nocence. From one day to the next the local Cheka was besieged by delega tions of the faithful demanding the liberation of the Archbishop. Prayers were offered in the whole diocese for this. All of this caused the Cheka to stop their case against the Archbishop. On October 14 at midnight the Cheka a gents began to call the prisoners, one by one, to the hall of the tribune to hear and sign the sentences. It was a Saturday, the day on which executions were usually performed. Those who were called went out and did not return. They were given immediately to the executioners. On the long list of the doomed, Archbishop John was the very last. This was a subtle torture: he had tb suf. fer everything that is suffered by those who are condemned to death. About one o’clock in the morning he was finally informed that he was freed.
On July 18, 1919, the authorities called the Archbishop to the military headquarters, where he was examined and pronounced fit for military service, being assigned to a regiment itt the rear. A postponement of this was won, thanks only to the intercession of the faithful. When, at the end of 1919, the White troops began to draw near to Penza from the south, the authorities hastily arrested the most visible Church people. On November lithe Clieka agents conducted a new search in the Archbishop’s cell, this time an especially careful one. Although nothing was found, the Archbishop wds again arrested. The Cheka declared that a mythical counter-revolutionary organization had been discovered, the “members” of which were immediately executed. Bezsonov, Viadika's subdeacon, was among their number In reply to the categorical protest of the Archbishop, he was sent to Moscow where his case Was to be examined. His case was taken by the president himself of the Secret Op.. erations Division of the Cheka, the famous Latsis (a fellow-countryman of the Archbishop, who eventually perished himself in the underground rooms which he knew so well). This time the Archbishop was imprisoned for three months. The agents did not manage to collect or fabricate any incriminating material at all, and on March 11, 1920, he was freed.
IN FEBRUARY 3, 1920, Archbishop John was elected by a council of the Latvian Orthodox Church as Archbishop of Riga and All Latvia. Latvia, which until the Revolution was a part of the Russian Empire, suffered greatly the effects of the First World War and the disorders in Russia. Already in 1919 (January 14), Archbishop Platon of Revel had died a martyr’s death in neighboring Estonia at the hands of Bolsheviks. Although the Communist threat receded for some two decades from the Baltic countries, still the Ortho dox Faith in newly-independent Latvia was looked at by the government as something which had lived out its time and was now superfluous. The Cathe dral Church of Riga, which under the German occupation had been turned into a Lutheran church, and had then twice been damaged in military action, was returned to the Orthodox, but since it was a reminder of Russian rule it now stood sealed. The bishop’s residence and the St. Alexis Monastery were given to the Catholics, and other church properties were confiscated by the government and turned to secular uses The Orthodox Christians not only in Riga., but also in all the cities and towns of Latvia, found themselves in terrible conditions, without a shepherd, persecuted, totally without rights. A systematic attempt was made to uproot the Orthodox Faith. Under these painful conditions, the Or thodox Latvians could have done no better than to choose as their arthpastor Archbishop John, who was not only the most eminent Orthodox Church figure of Latvian blood at that time, but was also a man of great courage and decisive action.
At the repeated request of the Latvian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Tikhon on April 14, 1921, blessed Archbishop John to go to Latvia, but on May 23 he changed his decision at the request of the clergy and faithful of Penza. Only on July 19, 1921, “in view of the importunate request of the Latvian Church,” did the Patriarch give his final agreement for Archbishop John to leave, giving him a document of gratitiade for his self-denying and fruitful labors for the good of the Church. Before Archbishop John’s depar ture, Patriarch Ttkhon, in agreement with the decree of the Holy Synod and the Higher Church Council, granted Archbishop John the widest canonical au tonomy in the governance of the Latvian Orthodox Church. This act of con fidence was completely justified by the further activity of Archbishop John, who in his martyr’s death followed in the steps of the Patriarch.
On July 24, 1921, the Orthodox clergy and people, with crosses and sacred objects from all the Orthodox churches, triumphantly met Archbishop John at the train depot and conducted him to the Cathedral Church. Ecen ‘while the Archbishop was celebrating his first service here (where an Orthodox hierarch had not celebrated since 1917), the local Orthodox leaders had no idea where he was going to live, since the bishop’s residence had just been seized by the government. But at the conclusion of the service, after giving his blessing to the people, Archbishop John, to the astonishment of everyone present, went to the basement of the Cathedral and said: “I will live here.” Thus he testified to the persecution of the Latvian Church and made the Cathe dral the center of his unrelenting battle to restore the rights of the Orthodox Church in Latvia. In the campaign that followed in the Latvian government and press to demolish the Cathedral, the fact that Archbishop John himself lived there was a decisive factor that prevented the realization of this project.
The arrival of Archbishop John was the beginning of a new era in the l of the Latvian Orthodox Church. His first appeal to the Latvian govern ment was met with the cold reply: “The laws of Latvia know neither the Ortho dox Church nor its organs and organizations and do not oblige the Latvian government to defend the Orthodox Church.” Soon, however, Archbishop John succeeded in obtaining the promulgation of a law concerning the Ortho dox Church in Latvia which regulated the relation between the Church and the State and secured for the Church a number of rights, in particular obtaining from the government considerable sums of money. A stop was put to the sense. less destruction of Orthodox holy objects, such as the removal of the chapel from the main train depot in Riga. The Orthodox parishes began to be strengthened and built, and the churches which had been destroyed in the War were restored. From the very beginning Archbishop John was the head of all the Orthodox Christians in Latvia, both Russians and Latvians, and it was thanks only to his unquestioned authority, mind, experience, and subtle tact that there was avoided the terrible division which prevailed in all the other States of the Baltic coast between the Russians and the local in.habitants. This Latvian by birth with a Russian soul was, as it were, a bridge between the two peoples and both the one and the other considered him its own.
Beginning in 1925 Archbishop John became the representative of the Russians of Latvia in Parliament. From this moment his activity took on enormous dimensions: he opened an Orthodox seminary, property was restored to churches, and finally, he managed to obtain the return from the Soviet Union of Church holy objects and property for great sums of money. Orthodox Lat vians, who before Archbishop John’s coming had largely concealed themselves “for fear of the Jews,” now stepped out boldly behind their fearless leader, and the Latvian Church experienced the best years of its brief existence. In a few years, according to official statistics, the Orthodox population increased by twenty per cent; thirteen new churches were built and consecrated, and four others were under construction, with still others being planned, when Arch bishop John was martyred.
The situation of the Latvian Orthodox Church in the first years after the First World War and the Russian Civil War was, of course, difficult; but incomparably more difficult was the situation of Orthodox believers in Russia. Archbishop John successfully fought against his local enemies, the Latvian Communists, but he also did not forget his chief enemies, the enemies of the whole Russian people, the Bolsheviks.
And so it was that a regular campaign of lies and slanders was started against Archbishop John. The campaign was systematic and well-planned; when one lie was exposed, a new slander would immediately be invented. Hysterical women were even found who testified in court of their clandestine “meetings” with the Archbishop; but all their lies were exposed. Alas! We Orthodox Christians in Latvja must take the blame for not sufficiently protec ting our Viadika. Few were those who fought against the campaign of lies and slander. And yet, few were those families among the Russians in Latvia whom Viadika was not ready to help in one way or another. He was the benefactor also of many non-Orthodox people. He was truly the father of his flock.
In the last years Archbishop John suffered much from the so-caiie “Russian Christian” Movement. Archbishop John himself loved children and young people very much and was glad to see representatives of the youth, and it was not rare that groups of the youth, and even whole classes of students, would visit him (for in Riga at that time there were more than a dozen Russian Primary Schools and several Gymnasia). At first Archbishop John was very sympathetic to the newly-formed Movement; but with time, when the nature of this organization became clear, he had nothing more to do with it. His reputation among “liberal” religious groups was likewise not helped by his friendly relations with the Synod of Russian Bishops Abroad, even though for political reasons he could not be a part of them. In 1931, on the tenth anni versary of Archbishop John’s episcopate in Riga, Metropolitan Anthony, Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, was to call him “a courageous defender of Orthodoxy.”
Archbishop John’s political enemies did not hesitate even to send hooligans to attack him once when he was returning in the evening to his summer residence outside of town. As usual, he was walking home the several miles from the end of the streetcar line. The hirelings were supposed to beat him mercilessly, but instead, miscalculating the physical strength of their victim, they were mastered by him. •To begin with, the Archbishop knocked their heads together until stars appeared before their eyes. But then he took them home, spoke to them from the heart, and had sw h au effe t on them that they repented of everything before him and became his friends.
In the life of Archbishop John there were some circumstances which for a while were enigmatic. His slanderers for a long time reproached him for the fact that he lived alone, without a cell-attendant. “He is afraid of witnesses,” they said, repeating the slanders which were spread about him. But when his well-wishers asked him about this, he replied that it was better for him to live alone. Various people came to him and, besides this, he did not want to subject anyone to danger. The meaning of these words became clear only after his martyr’s death.
And indeed, people of the most various sorts would come to see the Archbishop. Famous foreign prelates would come, and also poor people and some kind of suspicious-looking ragged creatures. To the end he had some sort of underground ties with Russia, and he received information from there by ways of his own. No matter how hard the Communist regime strove to seal Russia hermetically, still people would evidently be going there and back, and Archbishop John was some kind of a transfer point. But he knew how to keep quiet, and hardly anyone knew the details of this side of his activity.
Another side of Archbishop John’s activity was his inspired, ceaseless and completely open battle against the atheist regime in Russia. No matter where he might speak (as a member of Parliament, before Russian organiza tions, and most of all from the Church ambo), everywhere his powerful and bold voice sounded forth fearlessly, imploringly and loudly, like an alarm bell. He was an inspired preacher; he spoke simply and briefly and did not spare his language when he talked about the Bolsheviks. Many reproached him for this also, as in general for his political activity. Indeed, it is the standard Sov iet accusation against the New Martyrs that their confession of truth is an act of “politics.” I think that he would have preferred a solitary life in some quiet monastery cell, giving himself over to spiritual labors; but the times would not allow this. Anyone who ever saw the Archbishop in the garden of his summer residence, near the beehives, or working at his carpenter’s bench, knew that ruch occupations were not foreign to him.
A good example of Archbishop John’s fearless expression of the truth is to be seen in his sermon in the Riga Cathedral on Great Friday, April 10, 1931. For him it is not possible to separate the Golgotha of Christ our Saviour and the Golgotha of the contemporary Orthodox Church. Standing before the Holy Shroud of Christ, the hierarch’s flock does not “escape reality,” but is told how to understand the terrible reality of these days, and how to be victorious in its midst. (Excerpts; full Russian text in Orthodox Russia, 1953, no. 5)
“Of Joseph of Arimathea it is said that he was a disciple of Christ, but secretly, “for fear of the Jews.” In this respect he is not an example for us. To hide one’s faith out of fear is not a work worthy of respect. If you really fear God, you will no longer fear anyone else at all. Stand for Christ and He will stand for you. Lukewarmness must be cast out of oneself and out of others. The fear of men is the weeds on the spiritual field which are to be uprooted.
“Joseph of Arimathea followed Christ from afar, secretly. Oh, if only this would serve as a warning for all those who in our time also hesitate to con fess Christ openly. Renounce the evil counsels of the world and the flesh! Forward for truth, righteousness, and the Lord!
“But perhaps someone will say: the time when Joseph lived and acted was different from our time. 0 my contemporary friends, either you actually do not see, or else in a cowardly manner you pretend not to see that our present reality, both in word and in deed, has far surpassed all that measure of evil deeds which forced Joseph to cease his concealment and come out into the arena of open confession of Christ.
“Anyone who follows the contemporary press and the contemporary oratorical platform knows that the contemporary mockery of Christ has incomparably surpassed both in its malice and in its crudeness all the mockeries which the contemporaries of Christ cast upon Him up to Golgotha and on Golgotha. The person of Christ, and the teaching of Christ, and all the works of Christ, and His whole work in general have been subjected to the crudest and most shameful mockery. If the present-day enemies of Christ could obtain the Body of Christ which was crucified on Golgotha, it would again be subjected to the most refined torments, the most subtle means of torture to death. But the Body is not available to them, and so the enemies of Christ exhaust themselves in tortures and crucifixion of the Body of Christ which is on the earth, and is called the Church of Christ. Recall what you have seen, heard, and read about the torture of the Body of Christ, the Church, within the boundaries of Bolshevism, and even in the incompleteness of our information you will understand that the demon of Golgotha is a child by comparison with the Soviet demon.
“Yes, our time is not like the time of Joseph of Arimathea. It is incomparably more evil and cruder than that time. If Joseph found in the evil deed of Golgotha sufficient inspiration to be converted from secret confession to open confession, then our time should be considered as one that calls us to a loud confession joined to a clearly expressed protest against the raising upon Golgotha not only of God, but also of man. At the mouth of the river Thames, at one of the points which juts out and marks a dangerous shallow, there has been placed a bell which by its ringing during storms warns sailors against the mortal danger. The fiercer the storm, the sharper and more powerful its ring. At the present time of storm and darkness, when the shallow of Bolshevism has spread across the whole face of the earth as a deliberate trap, every soul must take upon itself the role of this bell which warns and saves. They are deeply mistaken who consider this danger to be local. And even a danger of a purely local character cannot be a matter of indifference for a Christian; but the present Bolshevik danger of which we are speaking has the intensified aim of becoming universal. Therefore the bell of alarm at the present time should be sounded across the whole face of the earth, to warn everyone everywhere.
‘No concessions to the enemy! Give him an inch and he will take a mile; give him a finger and he will take the whole arm.
‘When we entered the Church of Christ by the gates of Holy Baptism, of us was demanded the confession of faith in God in accordance with the teaching of the Holy Church. But also, three times we were asked: ‘Do you renounce satan and all his works and all his angels and all his service and all his pride?’ And three times we replied: ‘I renounce them.’ Again three times we were asked: ‘Have you renounced satan?’ And we replied three times: ‘I have renounced him.’ When in later life it comes to confessing the faith, usually this part of the confession is forgotten. At all times this is bad, but at a time of intense battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of satan, such a forgetfulness is intolerable.
“For the infirm human consciousness there is born the temptatj that supposedly one may confess God and at the same time keep a neutral position, a kind of loyalty with regard also to the kingdom of satan. There is crested thus a kind of double citizenship. But upon all of us there lies a double res. ponsibility: on the one hand, to kindle in oneself and in others an active love for the Kingdom of God, and on the other hand to kindle a no less active hatred for the kingdom of the devil.
“The Lord is the same yesterday and today and forever. ‘When the shame of godlessness and impiety now presses upon the children of the flew Israel, Holy Russia, somewhere in the plains of Russia, or in the Siberian for ests, or in some one of the countries of exile and diaspora of the great God. bearing people, there is already being prepared a grace-given field which will cause to sprout up a chosen one of God for the deliverance and rebirth of the God-bearing people. There are no more leaders, and pastors are in straitened conditions. The human eye does not see from where deliverance might come; but the All-knowing Lord knows this. The Lord, by ways known to Him alone, will raise up suitable men at a suitable time. Of this we can and must be convinced.”
As perhaps few other non-Russians, Archbishop John felt deeply Russia’s tragedy and saw the significance of Orthodox Russia for the wh world.
The Bolsheviks do not kill people abroad for nothing; this, after all, is a somewhat risky thing to do. Rather, they destroy only those people who are dangerous to them. The murder of Archbishop John was the best evalua tion of his activity “on the other side” of the iron curtain. Historical events that followed his murder: the war, the occupation of Latvia, and its forcible annexation to the Soviet Union after a fraudulent election, showed clearly for whom it was necessary and why it was necessary to remove Vladjka.
The generally accepted version of the Archbishop’s death, which Was confirmed for me personally by the brother of the reposed, Anton Pommer, is as follows: The Archbishop had been called in the evening by Sobinoy, the famous singer from Russia, who was passing through Riga; he was an old friend of the Archbishop’s, such a one as the Bolsheviks once in a while allowed to go abroad. It was agreed that he would come to the Archbishop in the evening. Vladika opened the door to him and let in his murderers. So binov himself died under mysterious circumstances at this very same time.
The story went that firemen, who had been called by neighbors about two o’clock in the morning, found a frightful disorder in the Archbishop’s residence: cupboards and drawers had been thrown out, the desk had been rummaged, furniture had been overturned. The Archbishop had evidently been wounded in the hall, on the lower floor, and on the leaf of the door had been carried to the attic, where in the workshop he had been tied to the carpenter’s bench and, having been doused with kerosene, had been set afire. An examina tion of the lungs revealed that he had still been alive at this time, for there was smoke in the lungs. There was evidence that he had been tortured. Both stoves in the hail were burning, and in them some kind of papers had been burned. It is known that he had papers proving the treasonable activity of the Latvian Communists.
This crime was never explained, at least officially. It was probably tha only unsolved crime of this sort for the whole period of the existence of inde pendent Latvia. Every child in Latvia knew who were the true inspirers of this crime, but there were no official accusations: the trail led to the Soviet Em bassy. The press did not write about this; the shadow which the mighty and cunning neighbor threw upon the small land of two million people was too ominous. But the whole country knew the truth. The crime occurred in the night between Thursday and Friday, October 12, 1934. The Archbishop was in the full flower of his life and activity and was not yet sixty years old, and he was the most outstanding figure in the Church life of the Baltic countries.
I remember that sorrowful day when the news spread in school that the Archbishop was no more. We walked from the streetcar, going those same few miles which the reposed himself had often walked. We stood for the requiem service in the modest wooden church next to the charred house, and looked at the small linen roll which contained all that remained of the mighty Archbishop.
I remember the funeral and burial with some confusion. The whole city was in mourning; more than 100,000 people were in the streets — about one-fourth of the whole population of the city— accompanying the coffin. In the Cathedral, from the bishop’s place to the Altar, there were rows of priests, fifty on each side. Everyone followed the coffin.
From the Cathedral to the Holy Protection Cemetery, a distance of several miles, a dense crowd lined the way. In this there was a kind of demonstration, a challenge to the unpunished mur derers. Soon a small chapel was raised over the grave, a miniature replica of the bell-tower of the Cathedral. In the former residence of the Archbishop in the basement of the Cathedral, a corner was devoted to his memory, with the bench on which he had been burned. A vessel containing a few drops of his blood was walled up in the wall of the Cathedral and an inscription made on a marble plaque. Here every Thursday (the day of the murder) a requiem service was celebrated.
The Cathedral Church of Riga has now been converted into a ‘ tarium,” but the chapel in the cemetery is intact, and requiem services are still sung there by the faithful on the day of the Archbishop’s martyrdom, October 12, and on his namesday, June 24.
As long as these holy places are in captivity to the haters of God, it re mains for us only to pray that the time of our trials may be cut short, and that the Church, cleansed by the blood of Her martyrs, may again be renewed and may fittingly glorify them.
LIUDMILLA KOEHLER
The author is the sister of the Archbishop’s last Subdeacon.