Fr. Jacob Korchinsky: Missionary and Martyr

Fr. Jacob Korchinsky, 1916

Recently, on our Facebook page, someone left a comment requesting information on Fr. Jacob Korchinsky, who is apparently being considered for canonization. I was vaguely familiar with Korchinsky; I’d read his name before, but knew next to nothing about him. Obviously, I wanted to learn more. Over the past couple of days, I’ve pieced together as much as I can about Korchinsky. My own conclusion: the man is almost certainly a saint.

Just to clear up any confusion up front: if you search for “Jacob Korchinsky” on the Internet, you might find a reference to St. Juvenaly, the hieromartyr of Alaska. Coincidentally, St. Juvenaly’s name before becoming a monk was Jacob Korchinsky. I don’t think he’s related to this more recent Jacob Korchinsky, though.

Here is an account of 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.)

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.

UPDATE (1/6/10): A reader named Michael informed me that St. Juvenaly’s surname was “Govorukhin” (or “Hovorukhin”), not “Korchinsky.” He sent along numeous source which testify to this, and I have no doubt that he is correct. Just for the record, I found the reference to St. Juvenaly’s name being “Korchinsky” in Fr. Michael Oleksa’s 2008 commencement address at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. It’s possible that Fr. Michael just mixed up the two missionary-martyrs’ names. My thanks to Michael for pointing this out to me.

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