Church People Lives of Bishops Woerl, Michael

Metropolitan Panteleimon (Rozhnovskii, d. December 1950) of Minsk and Byelorussia

During World War I, Bishop Panteleimon travelled to Dvinsk several times to conduct services with the military chaplains for the Russian troops stationed there. He took all opportunities to speak with the soldiers personally. Also during the war, in 1915, Bishop Kirion (Sadzaglishvili, 1855-1918) was appointed as Bishop of Polotsk & Vitebsk, which made him Bishop Panteleimon’s ruling bishop. Bishop Kirion had been consecrated to the Episcopate in 1908 as Bishop of Alaverdi, Vicar of a Diocese in his native Georgia. In the early 1900s, there was an intense debate in Georgia concerning the Church of Georgia regaining its Autocephaly, dating from the 4th century. Bishop Kirion was an ardent advocate of Georgian Autocephaly; for his stand on the issue, he was exiled from Georgia, and served in five different Russian Dioceses from 1902 to 1907. In 1908, Archbishop Nikon (Sofiisky), the Russian Exarch in Georgia, was assassinated. As a result, all Georgian Bishops were relieved of their duties. Bishop Kirion was sent to Monasteries in the Kharkov and Tambov Dioceses, and only allowed to resume his Episcopal duties in 1915, when he was assigned to the Polotsk & Vitebsk Diocese. After the abdication of the Tsar Martyr Nicholas II, he petitioned to be released from the Diocese. The petition was granted on 1 Aug 1917; Bishop Kirion then returned to Georgia. The Georgian Church had already proclaimed the restoration of its Autocephaly in Mar 1917. In Sep 1917, Bishop Kirion was elected as the first Catholicos/Patriarch of Georgia after the restoration of Autocephaly. He reposed in “unclear” circumstances on 27 Jun 1918, and was buried in the Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi, and was Glorified as a Saint of the Holy Church in 2002 by the Georgian Orthodox Church. After Bishop Kirion’s return to Georgia, Bishop Panteleimon was assigned to administer the Polotsk-Vitebsk Diocese. He was appointed Bishop of Polotsk & Vitebsk in early 1918. [1]**,[2]

During the years 1917 and 1918, Bishop Panteleimon often had to travel to Moscow as a participant in the All Russian Church Council then taking place. October 1917 brought revolutionary turmoil to Vitebsk. In January 1918, a meeting was held in Vitebsk by those who wanted education of a religious and moral nature to continue; the bolsheviks sought to control all education, and would not allow “counter-revolutionary” ideas to be taught. As a result of the meeting, Bishop Panteleimon organized a study group, which met at the Episcopal residence, as well as the Saints Peter & Paul Church. At every meeting of the study group, around 500 students attended. After the publishing of the Decree of Separation of Church & State in January 1918, a procession of 10,000 people took place in Vitebsk, held on the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple. The “message” of the procession was clear, both to the participants, and to the bolsheviks: the people remained faithful to Orthodoxy, and the people would defend their Faith. [3]op. cit. 18

In early February 1918, a meeting of the study group was being held, as usual, at the Episcopal Residence. An article entitled “Life’s Troubles, and How to Deal with Them” had been read, and a discussion was beginning, as several Red Guards entered the hall, and began wildly firing their guns. Miraculously, no one was injured, but an Icon of the Savior, with a vigil lamp always burning before it, plainly visible from the street, had been hit by several bullets. Later that night, on orders of the “Revkom” (Revolutionary Committee), into early the next morning, more Red Guards invaded the Episcopal residence, ostensibly to search for a machine gun which supposedly was going to be mounted in the belltower of the Cathedral. They ransacked Bishop Panteleimon’s residential rooms, as well as the Holy Cross Chapel in the Episcopal residence. They went into the chapel with their caps on, indiscriminately touching the holy things … causing great indignation among the people. They also arrested two priests, Father V. Tomkovid, and Father Ioann Osvyankin. Vladika Panteleimon was in Moscow during these events; if he had been at home, he, too, undoubtedly would have been arrested. [4]op. cit. 18

These outrages caused the people to act. A mass meeting ensued. As a result, a Byelorussian regiment began guarding the Episcopal residence and the Cathedral. The 5th Siberian regiment and a Lithuanian regiment demanded that attacks against the Church and its servants be stopped immediately; and many workers and railroad men at the meeting demanded that the Revkom punish those who had illegally searched the Episcopal residence and desecrated the Holy Cross chapel. In late February 1918, Vladika Panteleimon returned to Vitebsk and served a Moleben in front of the Cathedral, before the Icon that had been shot by the Red Guards. On 5/19 May 1918, Vladika Panteleimon led a huge procession of people through the city, beginning at the Markov Monastery. More clergy, a diocesan council member, and an elderly and widely respected doctor were arrested after the procession. Bishop Panteleimon went in person to the Vitebsk Cheka to plead for the release of those arrested, and also sent a petition for their release, as did many others in Vitebsk. The pleas went unheard- those held by the Cheka-Feodor Grigorovich, Georgy Polonsky, and Boris Byalinitsky-Birula-were shot. The Cheka announced the executions as being in reprisal for the murders of Moisey Volodarsky, Commissar for Press and “Agitprop” in Petrograd, and Moisey Uritsky, head of the Petrograd Cheka, as well as the shooting of Lenin by Fania Kaplan. The fact that the prisoners in Vitebsk had absolutely nothing to do with the murders or the wounding of Lenin apparently meant nothing. [5]op. cit. 18,[6]Lincoln, W. Bruce Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War NY, 1989 pp. 156-157

In the following days, some prisoners escaped from the Vitebsk Cheka. They informed Bishop Panteleimon that the Vitebsk Cheka had sentenced him to death. Under the guise of travelling to Polotsk-part of the route passed close by the border of Poland-Vladika Panteleimon slipped across the border into Poland. After arriving in Poland, Patriarch Tikhon appointed Bishop Panteleimon as Bishop of Pinsk & Novogrudok, to administer that part of the Diocese of Minsk that had been included within the new borders of Poland. [7]op. cit. 18


3 op. cit. 18
4 op. cit. 18
5 op. cit. 18,
6 Lincoln, W. Bruce Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War NY, 1989 pp. 156-157
7 op. cit. 18

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