John (Pommers) of Riga

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Our father among the saints, the holy martyr John of Riga (Latvian: Svētais svētmoceklis Rīgas Jānis; Russian: Святой Священномученик Иоанн Рижский) was Archbishop of Riga and Latvia (1921-1934).


He was born Jānis Pommers in 1876 to a Latvian peasant family in the area of Lazdona, a village in the Vidzeme region of Latvia, near the town of Madona. St. John was a highly energetic pastor whose service as Archbishop of Riga and Latvia often bridged Latvia's ethnic divisions, particularly those between Russians and Latvians, and included political engagement even to the extent that he became a Member of Parliament in Latvia's national assembly, the Saeima.

St. John was martyred brutally in the night of October 12, 1934, at the archbishop's residence at Kish Lake (Latvian: Ķīšezers) outside Riga's city center. Although his assassins were never apprehended, they have widely been assumed to be agents of the Bolshevik regime in neighboring Soviet Russia, whose persecutions of the Orthodox Church the saint had already suffered earlier during a turbulent period of service as Archbishop of Penza and Saransk (1918-1921). Earlier still, he served as auxiliary Bishop of Minsk (1911-1912) and Bishop of Priazovye (1913-1917).

In 1921, the year St. John returned to Latvia, St. Tikhon of Moscow, then Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, granted independence to the Latvian Orthodox Church. Therefore he became the first Latvian archbishop. Jurisdictional difficulties followed St. John's martyrdom, lasting from 1936 to 1940, and the suffering of the Latvian Orthodox Church increased again during Latvia's Soviet occupation, which lasted from the Second World War until 1991. In 1992, the Latvian Orthodox Church became semi-autonomous, with a high degree of independence but lacking autocephaly. Thus, the contemporary pastoral successor to St. John of Riga bears the title Metropolitan.

The day of the saint's martyrdom is hisfeast day, October 12. St. John's canonization occurred locally in 2001, having been recognized already many years before by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

Despite the terrible nature of the saint's martyrdom, during which he suffered both bullet wounds and burning, St. John's body was found intact in 2003.