The New Hieromartyr Benjamin (Kazansky) was appointed Metropolitan of Petrograd in the summer of 1917. During those tumultuous times, he was one of the few people in Russia with no interest in politics. He was more concerned with caring for his diocese and his flock.
In 1922, the Communists began confiscating Church treasures. They professed that they wanted to sell them in order to buy food for the starving population. When the people protested, there were bloody reprisals. Metropolitan Benjamin did not resist turning over the Church’s valuables, for he believed it was his duty to help save people’s lives. He wanted this sacrifice to be voluntary, however, and not a plundering of church property by the government.
On March 6, 1922 Metropolitan Benjamin met with a commission which had been formed to help the starving. They agreed to his request that the dispersal of funds from voluntary contributions should be controlled by the parishes. Newspapers of that time praised the Metropolitan and his clergy for their charitable spirit.
Party leaders in Moscow did not approve of the decision made by the Communists of Petrograd allowing voluntary contributions to be administered by the parishes, and declared that the confiscation of Church property would continue. Protesters gathered in Petrograd, shouting and throwing stones at those who were stealing from the churches.
On March 24, 1922 “Pravda” printed a letter from twelve priests who broke ranks with the other clergy, referring to them as “counter-revolutionaries” and blaming them for the famine. Most of these twelve would later be active in the “Living Church.” They called for unconditional surrender of all Church valuables to the Soviets.
The clergy of Petrograd were outraged by the letter from the twelve. Metropolitan Benjamin, hoping to avoid confrontations between the people and the Communists, tried to calm his priests. He also asked for a meeting with the authorities. Vvedensky and Boyarsky, two of the twelve, were delegated to talk with Soviet leaders, and came to an agreement. Parishes would be permitted to keep their sacred vessels if they substituted other property of equal value. This program seemed to work well for a time.
Vvedensky, Boyarsky, and others tried to wrest control of the Church from Patriarch Tikhon and the bishops. They informed Metropolitan Benjamin of the new state of affairs, declaring that Vvedensky had been appointed as the Petrograd representative of the new Church administration.
The Metropolitan could not accept this threat to Church order, so he proclaimed that Vvedensky would be regarded as being outside the Church until he repented of his error. This decree was published in the newspapers, and served to enrage the Soviets.
Vvedensky and the Petrograd commandant Bakaev went to see the Metropolitan and ordered him to rescind his decree. If he did not, they told him, he and others close to him would be placed on trial. They warned Metropolitan Benjamin that he and others would be put to death if he made the wrong choice. He refused to submit.
The courageous archpastor began meeting with his friends in order to say farewell. He also gave instructions for the administration of the diocese. A few days later, the Metropolitan was placed under house arrest. Not long after that, he was taken to prison.
As his trial began, the Metropolitan entered the courtroom with Bishop Benedict and other clergy. When everyone stood up for him, Metropolitan Benjamin blessed them. The judges tried to get the Metropolitan to renounce the idea of the parishes voluntarily contributing church valuables in order to feed the hungry, or to provide the names of those who had conceived this idea. It would suit their purposes very well if he could be made to “repent” or back away from his previous statements and submit to the authorities.
The other clergy and civilians on trial with Metropolitan Benjamin did not try to ingratiate themselves with the court, and did not accuse others in order to win leniency for themselves. During the trial, Archimandrite Sergius (Shein) explained that as a monk he had renounced the world in order to dedicate himself to God. Only the flimsiest of threads still connected him with the outside world, he asserted. “Does this tribunal imagine,” he said, “that severing this thread which connects me with life could frighten me? Do your deed. I pity you, and I pray for you.”
The trial lasted for two weeks, and the prosecutors presented witnesses who had been hired to bring false accusations against the defendants.
Many witnesses were called, and their testimony seemed to support Metropolitan Benjamin and to weaken the government’s case against him. A certain professor of the Technological Institute named Egorov angered the court by his testimony. He was accused of being a follower of the Metropolitan, so he was arrested on the spot.
In spite of all the evidence, the defendants were found guilty. Government supporters and members of the Red Army in the court broke into applause. The defense attorney addressed the court, saying that he knew that any pleas he might offer would be useless. “Political considerations come first with you, and all verdicts must favor your policy,” he declared. Even though everyone understood that the trial was a farce, the Soviet government could not afford to make a martyr out of Metropolitan Benjamin. The example of history, he pointed out, should warn them against such a course.
When the defense attorney had finished, there was loud clapping. The judges tried to restore order, but found that many Communists in the audience had also joined in the applause.
The defendants were given a chance to speak, and the Metropolitan stood to address the court. He said it grieved him to be called an enemy of the people, for he had always loved the people and dedicated his life to them. The rest of his comments were a defense of the others on trial with him. When the presiding judge asked him to say something about himself, he said that no matter what sentence the court decreed he would thank God by saying, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee for all things.”
At 9:00 P.M. on July 5, the chairman of the tribunal announced that ten defendants, including the Metropolitan, were to be shot.
Saint Benjamin and those with him (Archimandrite Sergius, George, and John of Petrograd) were executed on July 31, 1922. They had been shaved and dressed in rags so that the firing squad would not know that they were shooting members of the clergy.
These saints are also commemorated at the Synaxis of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia (January 25 or the Sunday after the 25th).