January 14, 2017

Life and Martyrdom of Hieromartyr Platon, Bishop of Tallinn (+ 1919)

St. Platon of Estonia (Feast Day - January 1)

By Jüri Poska


The fall of the autocratic Government in Russia encouraged the Estonian leaders to present to the Russian government a proposal for granting autonomy to Estonia.

In order to accentuate this claim for autonomy, the Estonian colony in Saint Petersburg organized a powerful demonstration before the Tauride Palace on April 8, 1917. In this demonstration more than 40,000 Estonians participated, among them 15,000 soldiers of the army, enthusiastically accompanied and supported by 30 orchestras. The demonstration, carried out in perfect order, made a decisive impression in the Russian capital.

The Government on April 12, 1917 promulgated the law granting autonomy to Estonia. It was laid down in this law that Estonia should be governed by a Maapäev (Diet), in which one delegate should represent every 20,000 inhabitants, and that the executive power should be placed in the hands of a High Commissioner. As High Commissioner was appointed the Lord Mayor of the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn, Jaan Poska.

The priest of Estonian Orthodox parish in the city of Saint Petersburg was Archpriest Paul Kulbusch, a friend of Jaan Poska, since both had been pupils at the Theological Seminary in Riga. They often met subsequently in Estonia in order to discuss the ecclesiastical and political matters of the country. Archpriest Paul Kulbusch worked in Saint Petersburg for 23 years (1894-1917), and he founded there the Brotherhood of the Martyr Isidore. During the 16th century Isidore was the priest of the Orthodox parish of Tartu (Dorpat), where the enemies of Christ murdered him. The Martyr Isidore is mentioned and remembered in the Estonian version of the Divine Liturgy together with other Martyrs of Orthodoxy.

Providence guided Bishop Platon to be the founder of the Brotherhood of the Martyr Isidore, and about 400 years later he met the same fate as Isidore, and in the same place, the city of Tartu (Dorpat), the center of Estonian culture, where the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus had founded a university in 1632.

With help granted by the Brotherhood of the Martyr Isidore, Bishop Platon, then Archpriest Paul Kulbusch, built a splendid church for his parish in Saint Petersburg, a house with two halls for divine services, a hall for meetings, classrooms for the parish school, living rooms (dormitory, etc.) for the pupils, apartments for the clergy and teachers, and in addition rooms for Estonian travelers.

Not only at Saint Petersburg but elsewhere, Bishop Platon acted as the leader of Estonian Orthodox people: he gathered them into parishes and was their Dean for 18 years.

In Saint Petersburg Bishop Platon was an outstanding member of the Society for rapprochement between the Orthodox and Anglican Churches, and as the representative of the Metropolis of Saint Petersburg he even visited England.

Archpriest Paul in the center.


The future Bishop of Estonia, Paul Kulbusch, was born on July 13, 1869 in Pootsi, Pärnu County, Estonia, where his father was the cantor of the local Orthodox parish. He studied at the Arusaare Orthodox parish school, and then at the Theological School and Seminary at Riga. Every year the two best graduates were granted places to study, free of charge, at the Theological Academy in Saint Petersburg, and one of those chosen to receive such a scholarship was Bishop Platon. He graduated from the Academy in 1894.

In July 1917 the delegates of the Orthodox parishes in Estonia traveled to Saint Petersburg in order to approach Archpriest Paul Kulbusch and to ask for his consent to be consecrated as Bishop of Estonia. He had in fact already been offered an Episcopal see in Russia but had refused, because he felt that his vocation was, first of all, to serve his own people - the Estonian Orthodox.

The First World War had at that point lasted for over three years, and it was even uncertain how the Bishop was to be housed in Tallinn. However, Archpriest Paul Kulbusch consented and the ceremony of his nomination as Bishop was performed in the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Christ in Tallinn. Benjamin, Metropolitan of Saint Petersburg, and Artemi, Bishop of Luuga, performed his consecration as Bishop in the Alexander Cathedral in Tallinn on December 31, 1917.

Bishop Platon celebrated his first Pontifical Liturgy on the night of the New Year, January 1, 1918, at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. The ladies of Tallinn had presented to the Bishop a vestment in the Estonian national colors: the vestment itself was white, and it was decorated with blue and black crosses.

It should be remembered that less than two months after the consecration the German troops occupied Estonia. Traveling was not a simple enterprise at that time, but it did not prevent the Bishop from visiting, during a single summer, almost all the Orthodox parishes in Estonia. (The photo of Bishop Platon at the front of this study is an enlargement from a group photo taken during one of the Bishop's visitations. For this photo we are indebted to the subdeacon of Bishop Platon, the monk Johannes Jürgenson, who accompanied the Bishop on all his travels and who held Bishop Platon's pastoral staff at the consecration.) During the imprisonment of Bishop Platon the monk Johannes brought him food, which he passed through the window of the prison. He was later the first to identify the Bishop's body.

The Germans did not grant travel permits freely, yet in the autumn of 1918 Bishop Platon succeeded in visiting 35 parishes by horse. His companions have related how interesting it was to travel with the Bishop during the night by the light of stars. Bishop Platon was an excellent astronomer and often described in detail the different stars which where shining in the sky.

In every place the Bishop's visit started with a divine service, and after the service prayers for the dead were held in the cemetery. Then followed discussions with the members of the parish councils, in which the Bishop was informed about the problems of the parishes. He gave advice and encouraged his people, and everywhere Bishop Platon's visits were remembered as events of vital importance in the local life.

In the spring of 1918 the Bishop arrived in Tartu (Dorpat) where he consecrated the high altar in the church of the Alexander parish, an occasion which brought great encouragement and comfort to the people. On the same day, April 21, a major meeting was summoned at Tartu, in which 40 delegates from various parishes participated under the presidency of Bishop Platon. The burden of the German occupation was especially heavy for the Orthodox, and through the intermediary of Professor Antonius Piip, Bishop Platon sent a memorandum to the Archbishop of Canterbury in London, complaining about the German oppression in Estonia.

The Russians, especially in Riga, were strongly opposed to the creation of a special Episcopal jurisdiction for Estonia, since Estonia had belonged hitherto to the archbishopric of Riga. The matter was even discussed at the All-Russian Church Council in Moscow. The Estonians obtained a decision in their favor, mainly because Patriarch Tikhon supported their view. But the activities of the Russians in Estonia did not cease. They sent a delegate to Moscow to present complaints against Bishop Platon, because of his use of the Estonian national colors, blue, black and white, and because of his Appeal to the Estonian people to obey the orders and instructions of the Estonian Provisional Government, then acting underground.

The Bishop was worried and said: "They will not leave me in peace, until I have been transferred to Irkutsk. But I shall not go, I shall stay in Estonia."

It should be kept in mind that both Russia and Germany claimed the territory of Estonia as their own. It was for this reason that the proclamation of the independence of Estonia, the formation of the Provisional Government, and the promulgation of a special Estonian flag, were achievements with which the Germans and the Russian Communists not only disagreed, but which they tried to destroy by war.

To the struggle for the independence of Estonia Bishop Platon contributed the full weight of his authority and patriotism. The Bishop traveled from Tartu to Tallinn where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of the Transfiguration on November 17 and 24, services that were attended by huge crowds. He participated in the session of the Estonian Maapäev (Diet) and extended to the assembled delegates the greetings of the Bishopric of Estonia.

Before Christmas the Bishop intended to visit Riga in order to try to contribute to the settlement of certain ecclesiastical matters there. On his way the Bishop fell ill and he stayed in Tartu. The doctors diagnosed pneumonia. After receiving Holy Communion, however, the Bishop recovered and, summoning the members of the Episcopal Council to his bedside, he listened to his collaborators and gave them advice.


Before the establishment of the existing tyranny, Tartu had been in the power of Communists on two occasions, from the October Revolution until February 24, 1918 and from December 21, 1918 until the following January 14.

On Sunday December 21, 1918 a red flag was hoisted above the Town Hall. Estonia was engulfed by the masses of the Red Army, which advanced over Narva to Tartu. The Estonian troops under the command of General Sir Johan Laidoner were drawn up round Tallinn in order to protect the capital city.

The people in Tartu intended, however, to celebrate the feast of Christmas, the Birth of Christ, as usual. They were not frightened by rumors that the Bolsheviks intended to throw hand grenades among the people in the churches.

On December 29 all divine services and any performance of ritual acts were prohibited under threat of the death penalty. On New Year's Eve the first communist service was celebrated in St. Peter's Church. On the organ the Marseillaise was played, the pulpit was covered by red flags, and from it a speech was delivered by the Communist Minister of Education, A. Wallner, who declared: "Everything that has been said from this pulpit before, was a lie."

The body of Bishop Platon in the center.


Under these circumstances the Orthodox, Protestant, Roman and Jewish clergy decided to proceed united. This initiative was taken by Pastor D. Traugott Hahn, Professor of Theology at the University of Tartu (Dorpat).

Bishop Platon received the delegation with deep satisfaction, even though he was still lying sick in bed. The Bishop agreed: "We can be brought into submission only by pure force. We shall serve the Church and our parishes, and should it happen that we, together with our brothers of the priesthood, must face exile or death, that makes no difference."

With the kiss of peace and blessings the clerics parted, and the Bishop concluded: "However severe the times may be that God has sent us, yet they are still full of blessings, because now we understand better than before, what we ought have understood long ago, that differences between the various denominations are nothing else than walls built by men, while high above these walls God sits enthroned, the heavenly Father of us all."

On the evening of January 2 Bishop Platon was arrested in a street in Tartu (Dorpat) together with his protodeacon Dorin, a few yards from his home. A guard of 30-armed men took them to the headquarters of the militia. Here the Communists shouted with joy when they heard that one of those whom they had arrested was the Orthodox Bishop of Estonia, Platon. "This is the devil we wanted", the Red Guards shouted. The commissar even commanded the Bishop to take off his shoes, in order to find "gold".

So began the imprisonment of Bishop Platon, which lasted 12 days. Since the Bishop denied to all accusations and even refused to sign the protocol about his examination, he was taken to the cellar of the Bank of the Nobility, 5 Kompani Street, which the Communist authorities used as a prison. During his imprisonment Bishop Platon comforted and encouraged all the other prisoners. The Bishop placed his panagia under his shirt so that he might be recognized, should he be shot.

In the prison Bishop Platon was forced to clean the toilet of the prisoners with his bare hands. This was on Sunday January 12. On the same evening the Bishop felt sure that he would be put to death. He told his fellow prisoners that, if this happened, they should transmit his last blessing to all his Orthodox flock and parishes: he urged them to flee if possible from the Communist terror, but at the first opportunity to return. During his imprisonment Bishop Platon often read from the Greek Gospel, especially from chapter 24 of St. Matthew. Half an hour before his death the Bishop, together with pastor Hahn, read the passion of Christ in St. Mark, chapter 15.

On January 14, 1919, at about 10 o'clock in the morning a commissar with two Red Guards summoned Bishop Platon to come out. During a previous examination at night the commissar had insisted that the Bishop should cease to preach the Gospel. To this Bishop Platon answered, "As soon I am set free, I shall praise God."

After some time the prisoners heard gunshots from the cellar. Then Archpriest Nikolai Beschanitzki, Archpriest Michael Bleive and Professor Hahn were ordered to come out. A witness, who was working at the time in the prisoners' clothing store, has testified that he saw from the window how the prisoners were taken to the cellar where they were murdered. He heard how Bishop Platon was beaten, but not a single cry came from his lips. About a quarter of an hour later he heard shots from the cellar, into which the prisoners had been conducted in their underwear.

After Bishop Platon had been killed, Archpriest Nikolai Beschanitzki, Archpriest Michael Bleive, Pastor TrauJott Hahn, Pastor Wilhelm Schwartz and 14 more respected citizens of Tartu (Dorpat) were also murdered.

At that very time, after hard fighting, the Estonian troops reached the center of Tartu. The doors in the prison were smashed in pieces with an axe, and the soldiers shouted, "You are free."

The joy of liberation was changed to horror when they discovered in the cellar the bodies of those who had fallen victim to the commissars and the Red Guards.

In the statement of Dr. Wolfgang Reyher, who was the first to enter the cellar, it is stated that the whole floor was covered with dead bodies in the most unnatural positions, caused by sudden and violent death. In the center of the cellar the bodies were laying three deep. The shots had been fired into the skulls at point-blank range. The corpses were transported to the Anatomical Department of the University, where the relatives of the victims could identify them.

On Bishop Platon's chest, under his shirt, was found his panagia, the emblem of his Episcopal office. It was later worn by his successors, Metropolitan Alexander and Bishop Jüri of Ravenna, and the Estonian Orthodox people venerate it as the relic of a saint.

The medical and forensic examination established that Bishop Platon had been stabbed with a bayonet: seven wounds inflicted from this weapon were found in his chest. Bullets had been shot into his chest, also one through the left shoulder and one through the right eye. The back part of his skull had been beaten in. It was evident that the Bishop had been tortured before he was put to death.

The troops who liberated Tartu were under the command of the hero of the Estonian War of Liberation, Lieutenant Julius Kuperjanov. From Tartu he marched to liberate the town Walk, where he received a fatal wound during the fighting, and he passed away in Tartu on February 2.

The murder of Bishop Platon and other victims had been ordered and executed by the commissars Kull, Rätsep and Otter, who had fled in panic on the arrival of Kuperjanov.

As soon news of the bloodshed in Tartu reached Paris, the press attaché of the Estonian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, Ed. Laaman, sent details to representatives of all chief newspapers: but the New York Herald was the only paper to publish this information.

The head of the Estonian delegation, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaan Poska, made arrangements for a panikhida to be celebrated at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Paris in memory of Bishop Platon and the other victims. All the members of the Estonian delegation, led by Jaan Poska, attended the service.

Funeral of Bishop Platon


From the Department of Anatomy Bishop Platon was brought to his home in Tartu, No 1 Magasin Street, where he was dressed in his Episcopal vestments.

Orthodox priests formed a guard of honor round the body until the funeral. The funeral of Bishop Platon and his fellow victims, Archpriest Nikolai Beschanitzki and Archpriest Michael Bleive, was held at Tartu (Dorpat) on January 18 in the Church of Falling Asleep of the Mother of God.

In the funeral service the following priests participated: A. Beschanitzki, J. Paavel, A. Brjantsev, K. Savi, K. Kokla and G. Kiiman. On January 21, the memorial day of the Priest-Martyr Isidore of Tartu, Bishop Platon was moved to the mortuary chapel of the Orthodox cemetery, followed by huge crowds and a military orchestra.

The Estonian Government ordered that the body of Bishop Platon should be transported to the capital city of Tallinn where a state funeral took place.

On the way from the railway station to the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, where the Bishop had celebrated his first and his last Pontifical Liturgy, soldiers stood as a guard of honor on both sides of the streets. Three orchestras followed the funeral procession. In the printed leaflet in memory of the Bishop, St. Paul's Epistle to Timothy was quoted: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4: 7-8).

The liturgy and funeral service were conducted by Archpriest K. Tiisik, priests A. Laar, H. Viik, J. Paavel, N. Päts (a brother of the President of the Republic Konstantin Päts), Deacon J. Ümarik and others. The Reverend Kentmann and the Reverend Mohrfeldt represented the Protestant Church.

At the request of the people the coffin was not buried until next Sunday. Every day throughout the week the Divine Liturgy and panikhidas were celebrated in the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. Without ceasing people passed by the coffin of Bishop Platon, praying before it and bearing witness to their reverence.

The tomb of Bishop Platon still remains in the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. For all Orthodox Estonians it is a holy place.

Tomb of Bishop Platon


The Council of the Estonian Orthodox Church subsequently elected Archpriest Alexander Paulus as the head of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. He was later awarded the title of Metropolitan of Tallinn and all Estonia. During the highly beneficial rule of Metropolitan Alexander of blessed memory (he died in Stockholm in 1953), neither he, nor his clergy and flock, forgot that the blood of their first Bishop had sanctified the Estonian Orthodox Church.

An Order was created, called The Order of Bishop Platon, which was awarded to clergy and laymen for outstanding services to Orthodoxy. The main element in the emblem of the Order is the Cross of Saint Andrew, and the Synod, now resident in Sweden, continues to award the Order on special occasions.

To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the bloodshed in Tartu (Dorpat), a memorial tablet was placed in the cellar where the murder had been committed. The inscription reads:


"We count them blessed which endure" (James 5: 11)

In the courtyard of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Tallinn there was set up a statue of Bishop Platon in bronze placed on a base of Finnish granite. On January 18, 1931 a sarcophagus was unveiled over the tomb of Bishop Platon in the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. It is in the baroque style of the seventeenth century, and is made of Estonian marble. On the sarcophagus the Bishop's vestment is molded in cast bronze, together with his pastoral staff, his miter, and a crown of seven thorns, symbolizing the seven wounds that he received from the bayonet.

In his address at the vesper service on Saturday evening Archpriest Nigul Hindo, now living in London, maintained that Bishop Platon must be considered a martyr, because before his execution he was asked to renounce Christ; and to this he had replied: "As soon I am set free, I shall praise God."

The Divine Liturgy on Sunday, January 18, was celebrated by Metropolitan Alexander, assisted by Archpriest Professor Martinson (died recently in the USA), Archpriest K. Kokla, J. Paavel, J. Podekrat, N. Päts, D. Samon, J. Ümarik, K. Gustavson and others. The choir of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration and of the former alumni of the Theological Seminary of Riga sang under the direction of D. Orgusaar. The opera singers Professor Alexander Arder and Nikolai Pölluaas sang the solo parts.

Metropolitan Alexander who in his address stated that Bishop Platon had been a double martyr, a martyr for Orthodoxy and for his country, consecrated the sarcophagus.

The veneration of Bishop Platon's memory continues in the Diaspora. Every year memorial services are held on January 14, the date of Bishop Platon's heavenly birthday, or on the Sunday nearest to this date. On January 16, 1966 the Culture Fund presented an icon of Bishop Platon to the Church of Saint Nicholas in Stockholm, which in all its prayers remembers the martyrdom of Estonia's first Orthodox Bishop.

Those happy days of religious and political liberty lasted some twenty years. It is not the purpose of this study to describe the persecution of Christians of all denominations that followed the return of the colleagues of the commissars Kull, Rätsep and Otter who were responsible for the murder of Bishop Platon. It is sufficient to state that the aim of the enemies of Christ in Estonia, as elsewhere, is the total annihilation of Christ's Church.

In the Ecumenical Press Service published by the Swedish Ecumenical Board, no 51, January 1968, page 8, it is stated that when the Russian Church applied for membership in the World Council of Churches seven years ago, it was described as having 22,000 parishes and 8 seminaries. Now in 1968 the number of parishes has sunk to 10,000 and the number of seminaries to 3: in Moscow, Leningrad, and Odessa. The same trend is characteristic also of Soviet Estonia.

The principal peril in this development is that the Secret Police, known under the names GPU, Tcheka, NKVD and now KGB, controls the nomination of priests and bishops, and it is estimated that about 50 To of the clergy are in reality appointed by the KGB.

Under these circumstances more and more of the true servants of Christ are gathering and celebrating the divine services underground, in the woods, in some cabin, far away from the arms and fingers of the KGB. They follow the example of Patriarch Tikhon, of Bishop Platon and of thousands of others whom "the godless rulers of the darkness of our time" could not bring into submission.

Here we also have the answer to the basic question put forward by Archimandrite Kallistos Timothy Ware in his book The Orthodox Church (p. 185), how should the Church and the Christian bear witness when confronted by a militant and atheist government.

The axe has been put to the root of Orthodoxy in Estonia; what has been left for them there or for us in Diaspora to hope for or expect from the future? An Orthodox priest in the Soviet Union has given the answer: The Parousia?the Second Coming of Christ.

For the Estonian Orthodox people the martyrdom of Bishop Platon is a confirmation that Christ's Second Coming is always imminent, even though we do not know if Christ comes early or late and though it is not for us to know the exact times and seasons. Indeed, it may be that the present order will last for a very long time. But the Day of the Lord will come as thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5: 2).

Moreover, the sanctity, the courage, the life and death of Bishop Platon the first Orthodox Bishop of Estonia strengthen us in our belief that somewhere, how far or near we do not know, beyond this despairing scene of what has happened and is happening now in Estonia, in the whole Baltic area and in the entire Soviet Union, there lies the vision of future changes.

"Surely I am coming quickly. Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22: 20).


-Eesti Biograafiline Leksikon (Estonian Biographical Lexicon) Toimetus : Prof. A. R. Cederberg, Prof. H. Koppel, Prof. J. Köpp, dots. P. Treiberg, F. Tuglas, R. Kleis ? sekretär, K/U Loodus, Tartus 1926?1929.

-Archpriest Nigul Hindo, article in the Orthodox magazine JUMALA ABIGA (With God's Help) March 3, 1959, published in Los Angeles under the direction of Archpriest Sergius Samon.

This article is based on following main sources:

-The address of the Estonian Orthodox Church to the Anglican Church of England, giving the news of Bishop Platon's death. Several articles by Archpriest A. Laar and Archpriest J. Prooses in the Estonian Orthodox magazine UUS ELU (New Life) published in independent Estonia.

-Zum 10. Jahrestag des 14. Januar 1919 dem Tage der Einweihung der Geddchiniskapelle im Mordkeller zu Dorpat, Dorpat 1929.

This book is based on following main sources:

-Documents in the Library of EESTI MUUSEUM (Estonian Museum) The journals Postimees and Dorpater Zeitung.

-A. Hasselblatt, 24 Tage Bolschewiken-Herrschaft in Dorpat, C. Mattiesen, Dorpat 1919.

-A. von Vegesack, Dorpat Compagnie Strasse 5, vom 3. bis 14. Januar 1919, J. G. Krüger, Dorpat 1919.

-D. Oskar Schabert, Pastor zu St. Gertrud, Riga, Baltisches Märtyrerbuch, Furche Verlag, Berlin 1926.

-J. Sedlatschek, Oberpastor zu St. Johannis, Dorpat, Walte, walte, Wort des Herrn, Zehn Predigten und zehn Ansprachen, Dorpat 1928.

-Anny Hahn, D. Traugott Hahn + Professor an der Universität Dorpat. Ein Lebensbild aus der Leidenzeit der baltischen Kirche, Eugen Salzer, Heilbronn 1928.

-Jaan Poska, Päevaraamat Pariisi rahukonverentsilt (Diary from the Paris Peace Conference), Waba Maa, Tallinn 1921.

-Bishop Jüri of Ravenna, article in the collective study Apostlik õigeusk 100 aastat Eestis, Vetlanda 1951.

NOTE: Platon and the two murdered priests, Michael Bleive and Nikolai Bezhanitsky, were canonized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church in exile in 1982 and by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2000.