St. John comes to Chicago, 1895

This article was originally published one year ago, on November 2, 2009.


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.

For the rest of the story on Fr. Basil Bouroff, click here.

[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]

2 Replies to “St. John comes to Chicago, 1895”

  1. ” Bishop Nicholas was not actually an archbishop, and his title was “Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska,” not “Bishop of All America.”

    Yes and no.

    William Ford Nichols, the second bishop of CA of PECUSA, in his “Some world-circuit saunterings” (1913):

    “Another special interest in going the well known round of St. Petersburgh, which included the points associated with Peter the Great, the Monastery of St. Alexander Nevsky, with its famed Choir of Monks, the meeting place of the Douma, Cathedral of our Lady of Kazan, etc., was the hope of finding Bishop Nicholas, with whom the Saunterer had cordial relations when Bishop Nicholas lived in San Francisco as Bishop of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. He is now a member of the Holy Governing Synod of Russia and among the most eminent ecclesiastics of the empire. He did not happen to be in town at the time of our visit, and there was no opportunity to revive the memories of the days in the early nineties when there were such pleasant interchanges as the invitation in 1894 to the Saunterer to attend the services commemorative of the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Russian Orthodox Mission in North America, and the attendance of Bishop Nicholas and two of his priests at our Christmas service in St. Peter’s Church, San Francisco. The great fire of 1906 and removals have left now no vestige of the buildings associated with either event but this happy memory….The Saunterer has a card of Bishop Nicholas on which he is styled Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States of America, he having previously borne the title of Bishop of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.”

    It seems the title had officially been used unofficially for some time.

    I’m trying to get the original Russian of the Ukaze to Bp. Josafat, it seems was appointed bishop of America. The biography of St. Innocent states that his original ukaze from the Holy Governing Synod was for America, but the Czar changed it to the Kurile Islands. It seems the PECUSA-Orthodox detente at the time seems to have precluded making it official until St. Tikhon.

  2. I agree that, by the time of Bishop Nicholas, the unofficial title included “North America.” According to the 1906 Census of Religious Bodies (which got its information from the Russian Archdiocese), this enlargement of the diocese happened during Bp Nicholas’ tenure. I have seen some evidence that Bp Vladimir may have claimed jurisdiction over the entire continent (or even the entire hemisphere) during his tenure (1888-1891). There was no Russian bishop from 1883-1888, and based on the evidence I have seen, Bp Nestor (1881-1883) pretty clearly did not claim North America. So it seems that the designation “North America” was adopted sometime in the early 1890s, by either Bp Vladimir or Bp Nicholas, and was then made official during the episcopate of St. Tikhon.

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