Metropolitan Peter, in the world Peter Fyodorovich Polyansky, was born on June 28, 1862 (according to another source, 1863) in the village of Storozhevoy, Korotyansky uyezd, Voronezh province. Like the holy Patriarch Tikhon, he grew up in the family of a village priest. He studied in Voronezh theological seminary, graduating in 1885, and then in the Moscow Theological Academy. On graduating in 1892 as a candidate of theology, Peter Polyansky remained in the Academy as the second assistant of the inspector. Meanwhile he worked on a dissertation devoted to the first epistle of the holy Apostle Paul to Timothy. This major work, for which the author was awarded the degree of master of theology on March 4, 1897, is still considered one of the best works on the hermeneutics of the New Testament.
After leaving the Academy, Peter Fyodorovich spent several years teaching in theological schools. From 1892 he was teacher in the Zvenigorod theological school, and from 1896 - a supervisor of the Zhirovitsky theological school. Then, in 1906 (according to another source, 1916), he was invited to work on the Educational Committee of the Holy Synod, where he served until the revolution. As inspector of the theological schools, Peter Fyodorovich was in many dioceses and became well-known among the professors and senior clergy. Intelligent and sociable, tactful but firm, he greatly influenced the development of theological education in Russia.
In 1917-18, Peter Fyodorovich was a delegate to the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, where Patriarch Tikhon made him one of his closest co-workers. In 1920 he was tonsured into monasticism by Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), and on September 25 (April 25, according to another source) he was consecrated Bishop of Podolsk, a vicariate of the Moscow diocese, by Patriarch Tikhon. When Patriarch Tikhon asked him to accept monasticism, the priesthood and the episcopacy, and become his assistant in administering the Russian Church, Peter came home and said:
"I cannot refuse. If I refuse, then I will be a traitor of the Church. But when I agree, I know that I will thereby be signing my death warrant."
In 1923 the foreign journal Tserkovnye Vedomosti wrote: "Bishop Peter of Podolsk has been arrested several times, the last time on August 21, 1921."
In the second half of 1923 he was released, whereupon Patriarch Tikhon raised him to the rank of archbishop. And after the arrest of Bishop Hilarion (Troitsky) the Patriarch made him his closest assistant, raising him to the rank of metropolitan of Krutitsa in the spring of 1924. Many years later Protopriest Basil Vinogradov recalled of that time: "No member of the Patriarch's administration, on going to work in the morning, could be sure that he would not be arrested for participating in an illegal organization, or that he would not find the Patriarch's residence sealed."
On March 25 / April 7, 1925, his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon reposed in the Lord. On March 30 / April 12, the deceased Patriarch's will of December 25 / January 7, 1924/25 was discovered and read out. It said that in the event of the Patriarch's death and the absence of the first two candidates for the post of patriarchal locum tenens, "our patriarchal rights and duties, until the lawful election of a new patriarch,... pass to his Eminence Peter, metropolitan of Krutitsa." At the moment of the Patriarch's death (as the rumour went, by poisoning), the first two hierarchs indicated by him as candidates of the post of locum tenens, Metropolitans Cyril of Kazan and Agathangel of Yaroslavl, were in exile. Therefore the 59 assembled hierarchs decided that "Metropolitan Peter cannot decline from the obedience given him and.. must enter upon the duties of the patriarchal locum tenens."
Almost immediately the renovationist schismatics, encouraged by the Patriarch's death, energetically tried to obtain union with the Orthodox Church in time for their second Council, which was due to take place in the autumn of 1925. Their attempts were aided by the Soviet authorities, who put all kinds of pressures on the hierarchs to enter into union with the renovationists. A firm lead was required from the head of the Church, and in his proclamation dated July 28, 1925 this is exactly what Metropolitan Peter provided.
After protesting against the propaganda of the uniates and sectarians, which was diverting attention away from the main battle against atheism, he turned his attention to the renovationists: "At the present time the so-called new-churchmen more and more discuss the matter of reunion with us. They call meetings in cities and villages, and invite Orthodox clerics and laymen to a common adjudication of the question of reunion with us, and to prepare for their pseudo-council which they are calling for the autumn of this year. But it must be clearly recalled that according to the canonical rules of the Ecumenical Church such arbitrarily convened councils, as were the meetings of the 'Living Church' in 1923, are illegal. Hence the canonical rules forbid Orthodox Christians to take part in them and much more to elect representatives for such gatherings. In accordance with the 20th rule of the Council of Antioch, 'no-one is permitted to call a Council alone, without those bishops who are in charge of the metropolitan sees.' In the holy Church of God only that is lawful which is approved by the God-ordained ecclesiastical government, preserved by succession since the time of the Apostles. All arbitrary acts, everything that was done by the new-church party without the approval of the most holy Patriarch now at rest with God, everything that is now done without our approval - the approval of the guardian of the Patriarchal Throne, acting in conjunction with all lawful Orthodox hierarchy - all this has no validity in accordance with the canons of the holy Church (Apostolic canon 34; Council of Antioch, canon 9), for the true Church is one, and the Grace of the Most Holy Spirit residing in her is one, for there cannot be two Churches or two Graces. 'There is one Body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one Faith, one God and Father of all' (Eph. 4.4-6).
"The so-called new-churchmen should talk of no reunion with the Orthodox Church until they show a sincere repentance for their errors. The chief of these is that they arbitrarily renounced the lawful hierarchy and its head, the most holy Patriarch, and attempted to reform the Church of Christ by self-invented teaching (The Living Church, nos. 1-11); they transgressed the ecclesiastical rules which were established by the Ecumenical Councils (the pronouncements of the pseudo-Council of May 4, 1923); they rejected the government of the Patriarch, which was established by the Council and acknowledged by all the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs, i.e., they rejected what all Orthodoxy accepted, and besides, they even condemned him at their pseudo-Council. Contrary to the rules of the holy Apostles, the Ecumenical Councils and the holy Fathers (Apostolic canons 17,18; Sixth Ecumenical Council, canons 3, 13, 48; St. Basil the Great, canon 12), they permit bishops to marry and clerics to contract a second marriage, i.e., they transgress what the entire Ecumenical Church acknowledges to be a law, which can be changed only by an Ecumenical Council.
"The reunion of the so-called new-churchmen with the holy Orthodox Church is possible only on the condition that each of them recants his errors and submits to a public repentance for his apostasy from the Church. We pray the Lord God without ceasing that He may restore the erring into the bosom of the holy Orthodox Church."
This epistle had a sobering and strengthening effect on many wavering clerics. As the renovationist Vestnik Svyashchennago Synoda was forced to admit: "Immediately after Peter's appeal came out, the courage of the 'leftist' Tikhonites disappeared." So at their Council in the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow the schismatics planned their revenge. "Metropolitan-Evangelist" Vvedensky publicly accused Metropolitan Peter of involvement with an emigre monarchist plot. In support of this claim he produced a patently forged denunciation by the renovationist bishop of Latin America Nicholas, a very dubious person who had several times crossed into schism and back into the Church.
The Bolsheviks gave ready support to the renovationists in their battle against Peter. Thus Savelyev writes: "On November 11, 1925, Yaroslavsky, Skvortsov-Stepanov and Menzhinsky were discussing Tuchkov's report 'On the future policy in connection with the death of Tikhon'. A general order was given to the OGPU to accelerate the implementation of the schism that had been planned amidst the supporters of Tikhon. Concrete measures were indicated with great frankness: 'In order to support the group in opposition to Peter (the patriarchal locum tenens...) it is resolved to publish in Izvestia a series of articles compromising Peter, and to use towards this end materials from the recently ended renovationist council.'.. The censorship and editing of the articles was entrusted to the party philosopher Skvortsov-Stepanov. He was helped by Krasikov (Narkomyust) and Tuchkov (OGPU). This trio was given the task of censuring the declaration against Peter which was being prepared by the anti-Tikhonite group. Simultaneously with the publication in Izvestia of provocative articles against the patriarchal locum tenens, the Anti-Religious commission ordered the OGPU 'to initiate an investigation against Peter'."
Meanwhile, Tuchkov initiated discussions with Peter with regard to "legalizing" the Church.
This "legalization" promised to relieve the Church's rightless position, but on the following conditions: 1) the issuing of a declaration of a pre-determined content; 2) the exclusion from the ranks of the bishops of those who were displeasing to the authorities; 3) the condemnation of the emigre bishops; and 4) the participation of the government, in the person of Tuchkov, in the future activities of the Church. However, Metropolitan Peter refused to accept these conditions and also refused to sign the text of the declaration Tuchkov offered him. And he continued to be a rock in the path of the atheists' plans to seize control of the Church. For, as he once said to Tuchkov:
"You're all liars. You give nothing, except promises. And now please leave the room, we are about to have a meeting."
Metropolitan Peter must have foreseen his fate. For on November 22 / December 5, 1925 he composed a will in the event of his death. And on the next day he wrote another in the event of his arrest. On December 9 (new style), the Anti-Religious Commission (more precisely: "the Central Committee Commission for carrying out the decree on the separation of Church and State") met and approved of the activities of the OGPU in inciting the Church groupings against each other. They also determined the timing of Metropolitan Peter's arrest. And the next day, December 10, Metropolitan Peter was placed under house-arrest...
On December 12, Metropolitan Peter was taken to the inner prison at the Lubyanka. At the same time a group of bishops living in Moscow whom the GPU considered to be of like mind with him were also arrested: Archbishops Nicholas of Vladimir, Pachomius of Chernigov, Procopius of the Chersonese and Gurias of Irkutsk, and Bishops Parthenius of Ananievsk, Damascene of Glukhov, Tikhon of Gomel, Barsonuphius of Kargopol and others.
The events that followed Peter's arrest and imprisonment are not at all clear. We know that a struggle for power took place between Archbishop Gregory (Yatskovsky) of Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk) and a group of bishops, on the one hand, and Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni-Novgorod (Gorky), on the other, which Sergius eventually won. The most widely accepted version of events goes something like this.
On December 1/14, although unable to leave Nizhni-Novgorod at the time, Metropolitan Sergius announced that he was taking over the Church's administration in accordance with Metropolitan Peter's instruction. However, Metropolitan Sergius was prevented by the OGPU from coming to Moscow, and on December 9/22, 1925, a group of nine bishops led by Archbishop Gregory of Ekaterinburg gathered at the Donskoy monastery. The Gregorians, as they came to be called, then declared that since Metropolitan Peter's activity was counter-revolutionary, and since with his arrest the Church was deprived of direction, they were organizing a Higher Temporary Church Council. This organization was legalized by the authorities on December 20 / January 2.
On January 1/14, Metropolitan Sergius wrote to Archbishop Gregory demanding an explanation for his usurpation of power. Gregory replied on January 9/22, saying that while they recognized the rights of the three locum tenentes, "we know no conciliar decision concerning you, and we do not consider the transfer of administration and power by personal letter to correspond to the spirit and letter of the holy canons."
Sergius wrote again on January 16/29, impeaching Gregory and his fellow bishops, banning them from serving and declaring all their ordinations, appointments, awards, etc., since December 9/22 to be invalid. On the same day, three Gregorian bishops wrote to Metropolitan Peter claiming that they had not known, in their December meeting, that he had transferred his rights to Sergius, and asking him to bless their administration. The free access the Gregorians had to Peter during this period, and the fact that Sergius was at first prevented from coming to Moscow, suggests that the OGPU, while not opposing Sergius, at first favoured the Gregorians as their best hope for dividing the Church.
Fearing anarchy in the Church, Metropolitan Peter went part of the way to blessing the Gregorians' undertaking. However, instead of the Gregorian Synod, he created a temporary "college" to administer the Church consisting of Archbishop Gregory, Archbishop Nicholas (Dobronravov) of Vladimir and Archbishop Demetrius (Belikov) of Tomsk, who were well-known for their firmness. This resolution was made during a meeting with the Gregorians in the GPU offices on January 19 / February 1. Tuchkov, who was present at the meeting, was silent about the fact that Nicholas was in prison. He agreed to summon Demetrius from Tomsk, and even showed Peter the telegram. But he never sent it. When Peter, feeling something was wrong, asked for the inclusion of Metropolitan Arsenius (Stadnitsky) in the college of bishops, Tuchkov again agreed and promised to sign Peter's telegram to him. Again, the telegram was not sent.
Now it has been argued by Regelson that Metropolitan Peter's action in appointing deputies was not canonical (as the Gregorians also implied), and created misunderstandings that were to be ruthlessly exploited later by Metropolitan Sergius. A chief hierarch does not have the right to transfer the fullness of his power to another hierarch as if it were a personal inheritance: only a Council representing the whole Local Church can elect a leader to replace him. Patriarch Tikhon's appointment of three locum tenentes was an exceptional measure, but one which was nevertheless entrusted to him by - and therefore could claim the authority of - the Council of 1917-18. However, the Council made no provision for what might happen in the event of the death or removal of these three. In such an event, therefore, patriarchal authority ceased, temporarily, in the Church; and there was no canonical alternative, until the convocation of another Council, but for each bishop to govern his diocese independently while maintaining links with neighbouring dioceses, in accordance with the Patriarch's ukaz no. 362 of November 7/20, 1920.
In defence of Metropolitan Peter it may be said that it is unlikely that he intended to transfer the fullness of his power to Metropolitan Sergius, but only the day-to-day running of the administrative machine. Thus in his declaration of December 6, 1925, he gave instructions on what should be done in the event of his arrest, saying that even a hierarchical "college" expressing his authority as patriarchal locum tenens would not be able to decide "the principal questions affecting the whole Church, whose realization in life could be permitted only with our blessing". He must have been thinking of Patriarch Tikhon's similar restrictions on the renovationists who tried to take over the administration in May, 1922.
Moreover, he continued to insist on the commemoration of his name as patriarchal locum tenens in the Divine services. This was something that Patriarch Tikhon had not insisted upon when he transferred the fullness of his power to Metropolitan Agathangelus. The critical distinction here is that whereas the patriarchal locum tenens has, de jure, all the power of a canonically elected Patriarch and need relinquish his power only to a canonically convoked Council of the whole local Church, the deputy of the locum tenens has no such fullness of power and must relinquish such rights as he has at any time that the Council or the locum tenens requires it.
Why, then, did Metropolitan Peter not invoke ukaz no. 362 and bless the decentralization of the Church's administration at the time of his arrest? Probably for two important reasons. (1) The restoration of the patriarchate was one of the main achievements of the Moscow Council of 1917-18, and had proved enormously popular. Its dissolution might well have dealt a major psychological blow to the masses, who were not always educated enough to understand that the Church could continue to exist either in a centralized (though not papist) form, as it had in the East from 312 to 1917, or in a decentralized form, as in the catacombal period before Constantine the Great and during the iconoclast persecution of the eighth and ninth centuries. (2) The renovationists - who still constituted the major threat to the Church in Metropolitan Peter's eyes - did not have a patriarch, and their organization was, as we have seen, closer to the synodical, state-dependent structure of the pre-revolutionary Church. The presence or absence of a patriarch or his substitute was therefore a major sign of the difference between the true Church and the false for the uneducated believer.
Let us now return to the sequence of events. On January 22 / February 4, 1926, Metropolitan Peter, fell ill and was admitted to the prison hospital. A war for control of the Church now developed between the Gregorians and Sergius. The Gregorians pointed to Sergius' links with Rasputin and the "Living Church": "On recognizing the Living Church, Metropolitan Sergius took part in the sessions of the HCA, recognized the lawfulness of married bishops and twice-married priests, and blessed this lawlessness. Besides, Metropolitan Sergius sympathized with the living church council of 1923, did not object to its decisions, and therefore confessed our All-Russian Archpastor and father, his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, to be 'an apostate from the true ordinances of Christ and a betrayer of the Church', depriving him of his patriarchal rank and monastic calling. True, Metropolitan Sergius later repented of these terrible crimes and was forgiven by the Church, but that does not mean that he should stand at the head of the Church's administration."
However, these arguments, well-based though they were, were not strong enough to maintain the Gregorians' position, which deteriorated as several bishops declared their support for Sergius.
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