October 10, 2018

Holy New Hieromartyr Peter Polyansky, Metropolitan of Moscow and Krutitsy (+ 1937)

St. Peter Polyansky of Krutitsy (Feast Day - October 10)

Saint Peter was born in the Voronezh region, and studied at the Moscow Theological Academy, graduating in 1892, where he then continued as inspector. After a short stay at the seminary of Zhirovits in Belarus as inspector, he was appointed secretary of the Synodal Education Committee becoming de facto inspector of all the theological schools of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Unlike many of his contemporaries who had graduated from a theological academy, Peter Polyansky did not seek ordination, and for a long time remained a layman. As secretary of the Synodal Education Committee he traveled widely, visiting innumerable theological establishments, meeting and knowing many people. Gifted with an outstanding intellect, a firm character and a sociable nature, he was widely known and made many friends. He exercised a beneficial influence on the religious education of future priests.

In 1917-18, Peter Polyansky took part in the work of the local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, when Saint Tikhon (April 7) was elected Patriarch. The latter made Peter Polyansky one of his closest aides, and persuaded him to become bishop; the Patriarch wished to consolidate the leadership of the Church in what was fast becoming the darkest time for the Church in many centuries. In 1920 Peter Polyansky was made a monk and auxiliary bishop for the diocese of Moscow; in a matter of months he was appointed Metropolitan of Krutitsy, one of the highest ranking bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch Tikhon died on April 7, 1925, the day of the Annunciation (March 25). Foreseeing increasing troubles and uncertainty for the Church, thinking that the government would not allow a Church council to assemble and elect the next patriarch, Saint Tikhon took an administrative decision aimed at securing a smooth succession when he died. He nominated three bishops in order of priority, as locum tenens; the third was Metropolitan Peter Polyansky. When the first two choices were found to be in prison and thus unable to assume the leadership of the Church, this heavy task befell Metropolitan Peter.

Persecution against the Church was raging, the government gave its support to the splinter group “The Living Church” in an attempt to discredit and destroy the official Orthodox Church. A great number of bishops had been imprisoned or exiled to remote parts of the country, and were unable to have a clear understanding of the prevailing situation. The whole country was in turmoil; the so-called Living Church energetically tried to replace the true Church.

In the absence of a patriarch, people did not know whom to believe and to whom to give their allegiance. Metropolitan Peter then issued an uncompromisingly firm “Letter to the Russian Church” where he described the position of the Church vis a vis the authorities and vis a vis the “Living Church.” He made no compromises with anybody, and stood firm in the truth of Christ. This letter helped the Church to strengthen itself but caused the Metropolitan to be arrested.

The history of the few months in which a campaign was master-minded by the Commissar for religious affairs, Tuchkov, to compromise and weaken Saint Peter, shows how determined the government was to defeat the head of the Church, but this did not break him. On December 10, 1925, Saint Peter was put under house arrest, and two days later sent to the Lubianka prison; in May 1926 he was transferred to the Suzdal fortress, then back to the Lubianka, and finally, in December, he was sent to Siberia, first to Tobolsk, then to the village of Abalak on the banks of the river Irtysh which he reached in 1927. Many of the other bishops had experienced a similar fate, the dioceses remaining without their shepherds.

In August 1927, Metropolitan Peter was taken to another destination beyond the Arctic Circle, a place called Khe on the mouth of the Ob, in the frozen tundra. For a little while he lived there peacefully, recovering from the arduous journey. However, on August 29, the day of the Beheading of the Saint John the Baptist, he suffered his first attack of angina and had to stay in bed. Two paramedics who came from a far distance by river in a boat manned by a native, advised him to be seen by a doctor and be transferred to a hospital. The Metropolitan wrote to the authorities at the GPU, but never got a reply, or money, or provisions, although he knew that several parcels had arrived in Tobolsk addressed to him.

A plaque at the entrance to the pre-trial detention center of Yekaterinburg, where Peter (Polyansky) was kept.

The damp, cold climate of this northern region was extremely harmful to him in his condition. Eventually, towards the end of September, he was taken back to Tobolsk. Unexpectedly, he had an interview with Tuchkov who offered him freedom if he surrendered his title of locum tenens, but he remained firm and refused to compromise. He was then sent back to Khe for another three years of exile, but he was never granted his freedom. In Moscow in 1936, ten years after his first imprisonment, believers were waiting for his return, counting on the end of his ten-year term of exile. They never saw him again. He may have been moved for the last time to a monastery nearer central Russia where he was a little less constrained, but with no freedom to write or communicate with the world. He was shot by decision of the Soviet authorities after years of prison and exile.

New Hieromartyr Peter, Metropolitan of Krutitsy was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church at the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church on February 23, 1997.