HIS LIFE AND MARTYRDOM
By Jüri POSKA
PAUL KULBUSCH, LATER BISHOP PLATON, IN SAINT PETERSBURG
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
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
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
LIFE AND CONSECRATION OF BISHOP PLATON
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 sub deacon 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
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
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.
COMMUNIST TROOPS INVADE TARTU (DORPAT)
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
On December 29 all divine services and any performance
of ritual acts were prohibited under threat of the death
penalty. On the 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".
MARTYRDOM OF BISHOP PLATON
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 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
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.
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
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.
VENERATION OF BISHOP PLATON'S MEMORY
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
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
"ANNO MDCCCCXIX BEATOS PRAEDICAMUS EOS QUI TOLERANTES
We count them happy 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
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
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
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
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).
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
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,
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
-Bishop Jüri of Ravenna, article in the collective
study Apostlik õigeusk 100 aastat Eestis, Vetlanda