St. John comes to Chicago, 1895

This past weekend, those of us on the New Calendar celebrated the feast day of St. John Kochurov, the Russian New Martyr and former priest of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago. With that in mind, I thought I’d talk a bit about St. John’s arrival in Chicago.

John Kochurov was just 24 years old when he became a priest, in the summer of 1895. The ordination took place in Russia, but it was done by the visiting Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, the head of the Russian Mission in America, and Fr. John was to accompany Bishop Nicholas back to the United States. They arrived in November, just as Fr. Raphael Hawaweeny was getting settled in Brooklyn.

The young Fr. John was entering a bit of a sticky situation. From the Chicago Tribune (11/25/1895):

Nicholaei of St. Petersburg, Archbishop of All America, held solemn mass in the Greek [that is, Orthodox] Church, at No. 13 South Center avenue, yesterday morning for the installation of Father Kochureff as assistant priest of the parish. He was assisted by the local priest, Father Kazantsier, and assistant, and two pages from St. Petersburg. The vacancy of assistant priest was caused by a difference of opinion between Archbishop Nicholaei and R.A. Bouroff, late assistant pastor, who has come under the displeasure of his superiors by attendance at the University of Chicago.

Nearly 100 persons were crowded into the little room reserved for the congregation of the Greek Church in Chicago. It is the front room of a ground flat in a modest three-story building erected for a dwelling. The chancel occupies an adjoining front room. The service is more elaborate than that of the Roman Church, and differs radically in much of the ceremony, being conducted behind a high chancel screen, sometimes with the single entrance closed. All the appointments of the altar and chancel are different. The service is unique in many ways.

A pretty standard description of vestments, candles, etc. follows. Then, we read,

There is a division in the Greek congregation owing to the retirement of Assistant Priest Bouroff. It is said that a wing of the congregation is at outs with the authorities because of loyalty to the younger priest, who persists in carrying on his studies at President Harper’s institution. These members credit Archbishop Nicholaei with having caused the exile of more students to Siberia than any man in Russia. On this account it is easy to believe, they declare, that the Bishop of All America will never forgive the independence of ex-Assistant Pastor Bouroff.

About a dozen clergy from all over the country came to Chicago for Bishop Nicholas’ visit; these included Fr. Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky of New York, Fr. Anatolii Kamenskii of Sitka (the future bishop and confessor), and Fr. Theodore Pashkovsky of Jackson, CA (the future Metropolitan Theophilus).

Several things, right off the bat: Bishop Nicholas was not actually an archbishop, and his title was “Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska,” not “Bishop of All America.” Other newspapers give various names for the other Chicago priest; the most accurate rendition is probably “Fr. Pavel Kazanski.” Also, the Chicago Inter Ocean says that the parish is called “St. Ivan.” Originally it was “St. Nicholas,” and this was soon changed to “St. Vladimir” and later “Holy Trinity.” I’m not sure if, at some point, “St. Ivan” was used, or if this was a reporter’s mistake.

In the Tribune article quoted above, Fr. John Kochurov is named as the assistant priest, with Fr. Pavel Kazanski as the parish rector (having apparently replaced Fr. Ambrose Vretta, who was transferred to Seattle). However, I’ve found several reports from 1896 which put it the other way round, with Kochurov as the rector and Kazanski as his assistant. It’s possible that the earlier Tribune article got it wrong; certainly, it would be odd to have a formal “installation” for an assistant priest. Most probably, Kazanski held down the fort until Kochurov arrived, at which point the former became the latter’s assitant.

In any event, the most interesting part of this story is the Fr. Bouroff, who was apparently removed from his post for daring to attend the University of Chicago. I know some of our readers here have connections to that institution; perhaps there is something in the school’s archives which could shed more light on this episode?

Of course, for the Chicago parish, everything worked out fine in the end. Kochurov would prove to be a dedicated and exemplary pastor, and he would lead the community for more than a decade. It’s interesting; recently, we discussed the fact that Fr. Evtikhy Balanovitch, in New York, got into trouble and was replaced by a saint, Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky. Here, at exactly the same time, Fr. Bouroff got into trouble and was replaced by another saint, Fr. John Kochurov.

3 thoughts on “St. John comes to Chicago, 1895

  1. In any event, the most interesting part of this story is the Fr. Bouroff, who was apparently removed from his post for daring to attend the University of Chicago. I know some of our readers here have connections to that institution; perhaps there is something in the school’s archives which could shed more light on this episode?”

    Unfortunately I won’t have the opportunity to go myself to the alma mater, but I know some parisioners in the area.

    For one thing, it could be the school’s Protestant connections: the Old University of Chicago had been founded as a Baptist College by Stephan A. Douglas. He had offered its facilities to the Presbyterian Church, but the Baptist were the ones who managed to raise the funds, and its board’s rules required a Baptist majority. Rockfeller, a Baptist, incorporated the new (present) University as a secular school, but the co-founder, William Rainey Harper, was another Baptist whose field was OT, in particular Hebrew studies. In 1895 the University was less than 4 years old, and had the Old University had failed less than a decade before. Given the prior failure and the Protestant connections, and how Fr. Bjerring ended, it could have been more of a gamble than Bishop Nicolai was willing to tolerate.

  2. Pingback: OrthodoxHistory.org » Blog Archive » The controversial Fr. Basil Bouroff

  3. just came across a little something: NY Times, Dec. 8, 1895

    A Grand Cathedral Shrinks

    SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 7-Bishop Nicholas says that hte story telegraphed from Chicago that the Holy Synod has directed him to build a $500,000 cathedral at Chicago is incorrect. He has authorized the priests in Chicago to build a church there, but the price will be nearer $5,000 than $500,000.
    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9D0CE2DD1E3DE433A2575BC0A9649D94649ED7CFhttp://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9D0CE2DD1E3DE433A2575BC0A9649D94649ED7CF&scp=3208&sq=Russian+Church&st=p
    That’s $150,000 versus $15,350,000 in 2010 $$$

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