In January 2010, I published an article about Fr. Jacob Korchinsky, who is being considered for canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church. Fr. Jacob spent many years as a priest in the United States and Canada (as well as Mexico and Australia, among other places) before ending his life as a martyr under the Soviets. What follows is that original 2010 article, with some minor revisions.
Here is an account of Fr. Jacob Korchinsky’s first five decades, from Michael Protopopov’s fascinating 2005 dissertation, The Russian Orthodox Presence in Australia:
Jakov Kosmich Korchinsky was born into a family of landed gentry in 1861, he attended the Elizavetgrad Secondary School and then a four year course to become a teacher. In 1886, Jakov married Varvara Yakovlev. Whilst working in diocesan schools, Jakov was recognized as an excellent teacher by the Ruling Bishop of the diocese, Archbishop Nicandor of Kherson and Odessa, and ordained a deacon on 8 November 1887. Whilst a deacon and still teaching, Fr Jakov enrolled at the Odessa Theological Seminary which he completed in 1895. Fr Jakov was then invited to teach in the missions in Alaska by Bishop Nikolai of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and the young deacon and his wife set off for the Americas. On 25 March 1896 Fr Jakov was ordained priest and began his missionary work in Alaska. Within two years Fr Jakov had been awarded his first ecclesiastical distinction for “converting to Orthodoxy more than 250 savages.” In 1901, he was again recognised for building a church whilst doing missionary work in Canada. By 1902 the Korchinskys returned to Kherson because of Varvara Korchinsky’s failing health and Fr Jakov was appointed rector of the Resurrection church in Bereznegova on the Black Sea. In 1906 he was appointed rector [of] the Protection church in the Kherson prison.
After two years in the prison church, Fr Jakov reapplied to return to America and was appointed to the St Michael parish in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. Whilst in Pennsylvania Fr Jakov was awarded the gold pectoral cross by an Imperial Decree. On 25 March 1911, the Korchinskys were relocated to Newark, New Jersey, where Fr Jakov was appointed rector of the St Michael church and visiting priest to parishes in Erie, Carnegie and Youngstown. In the years immediately prior to his appointment as missionary to the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines, Korchinsky was also Dean of Pennsylvania, a trustee of the Orthodox Orphanage of North America, Vice President of the Russian Emigre Society of North America and a member of the Imperial Russian Palestine Society.
And he still had another 30 years to go. Korchinsky was one of the jewels of the Russian Mission in America, one of those super-priests who covered vast territories and founded numerous churches. In 1900, he was sent to Edmonton, Alberta to become the first permanent parish priest in Canada. The same year, he visited Shandro, Alberta, and baptized 33 children in a single day. You get the sense, from reading about Korchinsky’s life, that this sort of event was rather commonplace for him. In his November 26, 1906 report to the Holy Synod, St. Tikhon wrote of Korchinsky, “He did much to convert the heathens to the Christian Faith and returned many Uniates to the Orthodox Church. He set the foundation for parish life in many places, built churches and assisted the unfortunate with his acquied medical knowledge.”
He founded churches in the United States, too. At the very least, I know that he was the founding priest of the Nativity of Christ Church in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1915. The same year, Korchinsky was elevated to Archpriest, and he relocated to Hawaii. From Orthodox Wiki’s excellent article on Hawaiian Orthodox history:
In 1915, an official request by the Russian Orthodox community in Hawaii and the Episcopal Bishop of Hawaii, Henry B. Restarick to the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg; a priest was dispatched that same year to Hawaii (with the blessing of Archbishop Evdokim (Meschersky) of the Aleutians) to pastor the large population of Orthodox Russian faithful. He establishsed permanent liturgical services in Hawaii and on Christmas December 25 (O.S.) / January 7 (N.S.) 1916, Protopresbyter Jacob Korchinsky celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Honolulu. Thus Orthodoxy was re-established in Hawaii.
While in Honolulu, writes Protopopov, Korchinsky happened to meet a group of Russian Latvians who were sailing from Australia to Egypt via Honolulu and the brand-new Panama Canal. They told him that there were Russians in Australia; not long afterwards, Korchinsky read this in the Vestnik (the official publication of the Russian Mission in America, January 1916):
[I]n Australia, there live thousands of Russian people, who are spiritually ministered to by a Greek priest who visits once a year. His services are conducted unwillingly and without a sense of piety, even though he receives a large amount of money for his services. It has also been reported that a self-styled “priest” has arrived in Australia from North America who has exploited the unsuspecting Russians with excessive fees for baptisms and weddings, so much so, that they complained to the police and the “priest” was arrested.
Korchinsky had heard enough. He wrote to the Russian Consul-General in Melbourne, who asked Korchinsky to come to Australia immediately. He arrived in March of 1916. In the months that followed, he visited 750 families and 500 isolated individuals, baptizing 16 children along the way (all these numbers are from Protopopov). But he contracted malaria due to the excessive heat, and in July, he returned to Russia. He wrote this to his bishop, Archbishop Evdokim Meschersky:
We have elected a committee to oversee church life, but my illness brought on by the excessive heat, has caused me to take to my bed and has deprived me of being of any further use… I most respectfully plead that Your Grace does not forsake the Russian Orthodox in Australia and especially their next generation of youngsters. I beg that Your Grace may raise the question of the Church in Australia at the forthcoming All Russian General Council and if it be appropriate to appoint me as the permanent priest for Australia.
The Holy Synod ended up placing Australia under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Tokyo. Korchinsky, meanwhile, needed money. He had spent all his own funds on his missionary work. All the while, his wife and three-year-old daughter had remained in America, and Korchinsky wanted to go to them. He was given permission, and money, but then World War I intervened. Korchinsky was assigned to be a chaplain at the military hospital in Odessa, serving there from December 1916 to August 1917. From Protopopov:
Upon being demobilised from military service, Korchinsky was again faced with the problem of having nothing to live on. On 29 August 1917, he again wrote to the Holy Synod asking that he be assigned a pension, as he was so poor that he needed to live in a rural village where the folk fed him out of compassion. A second resolution was made by the Holy Synod for a pension to be granted to Korchinsky, but no documentary evidence is available to confirm a pension ever having been paid. Nor is it known if he returned to his family in Pennsylvania.
One way or another, Korchinsky’s family made it back to Russia. About his family… At some point amidst his travels, probably in 1913 or 1914, Korchinsky spent some time in Mexico City. While there, he adopted an orphaned infant named Dominica. Here is the story, told by the girl’s daughter in Faith, a Russian religious periodical, dated May 2006. The original in Russian, which I can’t read, so I used Google Translator:
Jacob Korchinsky was not the actual father of my mother, he was her adoptive father. In 1912-1916. He was the rector of the Orthodox Church in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. There he gave the girl in foster homes, from a poor family of Spanish origin. In 1916-1917 grandfather returned to his home in Odessa, along with a girl (my mother was then year 3-4).
The translation obviously isn’t great, and the dates aren’t precise, but the gist is clear enough. (And there are more details if you follow the above link and can read Russian. Google Translator has some issues with Russian, unfortunately. To our Russian-speaking readers: if you have a moment and can do a quick translation, please let me know.)
Korchinsky stayed in Russia through the Revolution and the terror that followed. He was arrested on June 23, 1941. Two months later, like so many of his fellow priests, he was executed. He was 80 years old.
Based on all this, it seems to me that Fr. Jacob Korchinsky was indeed a saint, just like his fellow American priests and Russian hieromartyrs Alexander Hotovitzky, John Kochurov, and Seraphim Samuilovich. Korchinsky’s is a remarkable, multicontinental story which has not yet been told. If any of you have more information on Korchinsky, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
On Facebook, my friend (and historian of Alaskan Orthodoxy) Eric Peterson posted a link to an article on the impending (June 26) auction of a rare Alaskan Orthodox “peg calendar,” dating to the late 19th century. In the article, Fr. Michael Oleksa explained, “I think the average lay person kept track of the feast days of the church. They celebrated Christmas, they celebrated other church holidays that are fixed on the calendar year. And they kept track of the holidays and then when it was their name day or the anniversary of the birth of a child, the name day of a relative, the death of a relative — they had that all marked on their own personal calendars and could keep track of those dates just by moving a small peg from day to day.”
The small wooden artifact was owned by the same family for more than a century, but now the family is putting it up for auction. The auctioneer thinks it could go for up to $10,000.
To read the article, click here.
The following article appeared in the New York Times on March 23, 1880, detailing an early communication between Nestor Zass, the Russian Bishop of Alaska and the Rutherford B. Hayes, the President of the United States.
WASHINGTON, March 22. — On Saturday last the President received a letter from Bishop Nestor, of the Greek Church, who was appointed a year ago to the Diocese of Alaska. The document contained a request to permit the bearer of the letter, Mr. Ivan Petroff, to say a few words in behalf of the Russian-speaking inhabitants of Alaska. The interview was granted, and Mr. Petroff, who is one of our citizens acquired by the purchase, explained briefly the reasons that had induced Bishop Nestor to take this step.
The membership of the Russian church in the Territory is between 8,000 and 9,000, by far the largest single element of population in Alaska, and as such ought not to be overlooked in the event of legislation for the Territory. The bulk of this population is in the west, far away from the mining region now attracting immigration, entirely secluded from the outside world. These people have remained very much in their former condition, and, being deprived of all school facilities since the purchase, have even, in many instances, descended in the scale of civilization, and are to-day less fitted to hold their own among their new countrymen than they were 13 years ago. Should a full Territorial Government be bestowed upon Alaska this element of population would be in danger of suffering neglect, because they are not fitted to take part in a representative Government until some educational facilities are extended to them, and the English language is introduced among them.
The President listened with interest to this demonstration of an important feature in the Alaska question, ascertaining the location of the parishes of the Russian Church on the map, and measuring the distance separating them from what may be called the American settlements. At the close of the interview he begged Mr. Petroff to assure Bishop Nestor that due attention should be paid to his representations, if Congress places it in the power of the President to do so, by making appointments with a view of guarding the interests of the people in whose behalf the Bishop makes his appeal.
Editor’s note: The following article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on May 13, 1923, and was entitled, “Tolls Story of Old California.”
An old and battered bell, hanging in an orange grove where Ramona played in the days of her childhood, rang a new note in the song of California’s mission history yesterday.
After a silence of 127 years the ancient bell has spoken, and the tale it has told may alter certain chapters of the story of El Camino Real and prove facts of California’s history which in the past have existed only as theory. Further, it may refute one or two other phases of the King’s Highway chronicles which have always been accepted as a historical fact. It has been declared by several historians as one of the most important historical discoveries of a human interest nature ever made on the Pacific Coast.
Alice Harriman, noted campanologist and author, is accredited with uncovering the veiled past of the aged bell. Three years ago Mrs. Harriman first saw the bell as it swung in an orange grove at “Camulos,” where Ramona spent her girlhood days, and now the Del Valle ranch. Since then, she has devoted her time to tracing back the almost obliterated story of the bell. She announced yesterday the completion of her research work, in which she has been assisted by noted American and Russian authorities.
The bell is not of Spanish origin. Nor did it come to California from Mexico, Peru, Chili, Massachusetts or Russia — where almost all the famous bells of the world were cast. The Camulos bell was made on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, and presents the first glimpse into a phase of the earliest settlement of Russian America, now known as Alaska, which hitherto has been unknown to modern historians. The inscription on the Camulos bell, written in a forgotten language, betrays the secret. It reveals that it was cast at Kodiak in 1796 and that it was traded for food by Count Nicolai Resenov, one of the earliest settlers of Alaska, and that until sixty years ago it hung in the famed San Fernando Mission.
“I have found bells from Mexico, Spain, Peru, Chili, Belgium, Massachusetts, Sitka, and Russia,” said Mrs. Harriman yesterday, “but not until three years ago did I realize that I was to discover one of the most historical bells ever found.”
She told of a visit to Camulos when she first saw the bell in the orange grove. But the inscription was in Russian script. The Del Valle family knew little concerning the bell other than that it had been removed from the old San Fernando Mission to save it from vandals sixty-two years ago, and that ever since then it had been exposed to the ravages of the weather on Del Valle ranch.
A crude cross and a stenciled inscription “De Sn Ferno,” hammered on the bronze surface by the Franciscan fathers, proved it had once hung in San Fernando Mission.
Russian authorities could not translate the inscription around the lower rim. With the assistance of Dr. Herbert E. Bolton, noted historian, Mrs. Harriman learned that it was in the old Slavonic church language, now virtually extinct. She appealed to Rev. A.P. Kasheveroff, curator of the Alaskan Historical Society, and she learned portions of the inscription:
“Island of Kodiak — Alexander Baranoff — Month of January”
Two big gaps in the inscription could not be read from the photographs by Dr. Kasheveroff. She then sought the aid of Dr. Alexis Kall, of this city, a student of the forgotten language. The complete inscription read:
“1796 — In the Month of January, 1796, this bell was cast on the Island of Kodiak through the generosity of Arch-Mandrite Joasaph and elected church warden Alexander Baranoff”
Now, how did it get down into California, into an orange grove?” Mrs. Harriman asked. “Cast on a barely settled island with the wild, wide waters of the North Pacific pounding on the shores of the bay near where it was cast, by a Greek Orthodox arch-abbot for sponsor — how does it come that it was for years the bell for the Roman Catholic Franciscan Mission of San Fernando, in the lovely valley of the same name?
“The answer, almost certain and indorsed by historians and campanologists in California, Washington and Alaska, is that when Baranoff changed his headquarters from Kodiak to Sitka in 1805 he brough the bell with him.
“When Count Resenov visited Sitka and found the little settlement in such sore straights for food, he took the ‘Juno’ and came to California for food for starving Sitka. Knowing as the Russians did that the Spanish settlements of California had missions and that wherever there are missions bells are needed, Resenov brought this bell with other things that he thought he could exchange for the Southland’s grain and meat. When it was traded, the San Fernando inscription was stenciled on it.
“It may have been that the bell was brought by the Russians who hunted for otter on the Channel Islands; but bells are ungainly things to handle and it is doubted if there is any other explanation to be found than the one indorsed by those highest in authority on Pacific Coast history.
“The material in the bell also has an interesting history as research in Russian archives show. Baranoff wrote to Shelikoff, his superior in Russia and at whose instance the bell was first cast, that the copper he sent — meaning Shelikoff — had been received and that ‘that Englishman, Vancouver,’ had sent him some tin.
“Baranoff most fortunately, even wrote to Shelikoff revealing the name of the founder of this wonderful bell. It was Sapoknikoff.”
Mrs. Harriman stated that most of her positive information concerning the bell was found in Tekmeneft’s History.