John (Pommers) of Riga

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Icon of St. John of Riga

Our father among the saints, the holy martyr John (Pommers) of Riga, also Jānis (Pommers) 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.

October 13, 1934 front page of Latvian newspaper "Rīts" (English: "Morning"), reporting the martyrdom of St. John of Riga

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 personally suffered earlier during a turbulent period of service as Archbishop of Penza and Saransk (1918-1921). Earlier still, he served as Bishop of Slutsk (1911-1912) in the Diocese of Minsk, Bishop of Priazovye and Taganrog (1913-1917) in the Diocese of Ekaterinoslavl (later renamed Dnipropetrovsk), and Bishop of Staritsa (1917-1918) in the Diocese of Tver.

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 St. John became the first Latvian archbishop. Jurisdictional difficulties followed his 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 St. John's martyrdom is hisfeast day, October 12. His 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.

Links to Orthodoxy in America and China

St. Tikhon of Moscow, who as Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church blessed and strengthened St. John's service in Riga and Latvia, was one of the first Orthodox bishops to do major work in North America.

One of St. John's early successors in Riga was John Garklavs (Latvian: Jānis Garklavs), who became Bishop of Riga and All Latvia in 1943 before fleeing the violence of war with his family one year later. He later served as Bishop of Detroit and Cleveland (1949-1955) and Archbishop of Chicago (1957-1978) in the American Metropolia (now the Orthodox Church in America).

In addition to those relics of St. John which remain in the keeping of the Latvian Orthodox Church, relics of the saint were also laid in the altar of the Dormition church in Beijing, China, which was consecrated on October 13, 2009 and is located on the grounds of the old Russian Orthodox Mission in China.

Homilies and Writings of St. John

Predecessors and Successors in the Episcopate

St. John as a young bishop
Succession box:
John (Pommers) of Riga
Preceded by:
Mikhail (Temnorusov)
Bishop of Slutsk
(vicar of the Diocese of Minsk)

Succeeded by:
Mitrofan (Krasnopolsky)
Preceded by:
Fiofilakt (Klementev)
Bishop of Priazovye and Taganrog
(vicar of the Diocese of Ekaterinoslavl)

Succeeded by:
Arseny (Smolenets)
Preceded by:
Arseny (Smolenets)
Bishop of Staritsa
(vicar of the Diocese of Tver)

Succeeded by:
Serafim (Aleksandrov)
Preceded by:
Vladimir (Putyata)
Archbishop of Penza and Saransk
Succeeded by:
Boris (Lentovsky)
Preceded by:
John (Smirnovs)
Archbishop of Riga and All Latvia
Succeeded by:
Augustine (Petersons)
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Keller, Ludmilla (translated by Fr. German Ciuba), "The Life and Passion of Saint John (Pommer) Archbishop of Riga and Latvia," The St. John of Kronstadt Press, 1997; ISBN 0-912927-81-X

External links

E-archived newspaper reports on St. John of Riga