The controversial Fr. Basil Bouroff
Yesterday, I wrote about St. John Kochurov’s arrival in Chicago, which followed on the heels of Fr. B.A. Bouroff’s expulsion by Bishop Nicholas, on the grounds that Bouroff had taken classes at the University of Chicago. But who was this Fr. Bouroff, and what was his story?
As it turns out, the September 2, 1895 issue of the Chicago Tribune — which is my main source of biographical information on Fr. Ambrose Vretta — also gives some valuable background on Fr. Bouroff. From the Tribune:
… In the meantime Bishop Nicolaus appointed the Rev. Ambrose Wretta, D.D., as pastor of the Russian colony in Chicago and the mission at Streator, Ill. He requested the Holy Synod at St. Petersburg to send an assistant to Dr. Wretta as teacher for the Russian children and Superintendent for the Sunday-schools to be established. The synod at once acted on his suggestion and the present Superintendent, Mr. Basil A. Beuroff, a graduate of the Imperial Theological Seminary of St. Petersburg, and for many years stationed in London at the Russian Church establishment there, was ordered to Chicago.
This article is recounting events that took place a few years earlier, so it’s not clear how long Bouroff was in Chicago, or when he became a priest. But just two months after this article was written, Bouroff was out, and Fr. John Kochurov was in.
Why was Fr. Basil Bouroff’s attendance at the University of Chicago such a problem? In the comments to yesterday’s article, Isa Almisry said,
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.
It’s also possible that Bouroff was simply becoming too immersed in academia to adequately fulfill his priestly duties. In 1900, he was still a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and he published a book called, The Impending Crisis: Conditions Resulting from a Concentration of Wealth in the United States. Here’s a contemporary summary of the book:
The book consists largely of compilations of facts concerning the distribution of wealth in America and as such will constitute a valuable book of reference. These are summarized and arranged in various forms to make them more vivid but there is little that is new either in matter or manner of presentation.
Bouroff seems to have been a Progressive. In a 1905 article, “Freedom of the Press in Russia,” he concluded,
Moreover, as a result of the recent rescript giving religious liberty to all, the freedom of the press is greatly extended. New dailies and periodicals are now rapidly established. It is quite natural that the clerical censorship has fallen of itself, and organs of publication for various non-orthodox religious communities are expected soon to take existence in Russia. Now Russia begins to live a natural life in the sense of progress which can never be smothered. But the great work of her progress is just beginning, and how great a role the Russian press must play in it can be easily imagined. The Russian press now is the most interesting press in the world.
Finally, I found a couple of tantalizing snippets on Google Books, from the 1924 book Greater Love Hath No Man, by Alexander Marshall. Unfortunately, Google won’t let you view the whole text, but I was able to make out a couple of sections:
BASIL BOUROFF was born and brought up in the city of Rostock [i.e. Rostov], on the river Don, Southern Russia. At the age of fifteen he was awakened by the Holy Spirit to an apprehension of his guilt and peril. [...]
When Basil Bouroff learned that salvation was not of works, and could not be procured by the observance of forms or ceremonies, he began to think that help might be obtained in the Scriptures. [...]
At this point, all we can do is make an educated guess based on bits and pieces of information. Fr. Basil Bouroff, the assistant priest of the Russian church in Chicago, apparently began attending the brand-new University of Chicago (which had Protestant connections), and also became involved in the Progressive political movement of the day. It seems quite likely that Bouroff eventually became a Protestant himself, especially given the language of the Greater Love Hath No Man snippets quoted above.