More on Fr. Basil Bouroff of Chicago

Fr. Basil A. Bouroff, 1895

Over a year ago, I wrote about Fr. Basil Bouroff, one of the first priests of the Russian church in Chicago (now Holy Trinity OCA Cathedral). While serving as a priest, Bouroff began attending the new University of Chicago. His religious and/or political views put him in hot water with Bishop Nicholas Ziorov, who ousted Bouroff and replaced him with the young, newly-ordained St. John Kochurov. Needless to say, things worked out in the end for the Chicago parish.

But what of Fr. Basil Bouroff? I still don’t know the full story, but I just stumbled upon an enlightening article in the Chicago Tribune, dated March 31, 1906. Here is the article, in full (and you’ll probably want to read my original article before reading this one):

Is Chicago the cradle of Russian liberty? Were the recent manifestoes of the czar granting what is assumed to be a measure of freedom to the oppressed Slavs the direct result of the work of a Russian subject who fled from his mother country to America, and who is now residing in Chicago? Were the basic principles of the new Russian constitution outlined by this man, who has studied conditions here for the last twenty years?

These are questions which friends of Vasili Andreevitch Bouroff answer in the affirmative. Bouroff, who is a member of the Russian nobility, and who occupied at one time a prominent part in the machine of the Slavic government, is confident that he has been responsible for the recent reforms in Russia.

Bouroff, who has just received an A.B. degree from the University of Chicago, declares he is not a socialist, an anarchist, nor a believer in radical reforms. He has a superior education, having studied in Russia, France, England, and the United States. He declares he has the confidence of Prime Minister Witte and Count Pobyedonostseff, former procurator general of the holy synod, and through them has influence with the czar.

Bouroff has twice fled from Russia, and the czar has invited him twice to return and live among his people again. Twelve years ago he left Russia again and set out to study the governments of Europe and America. He now has crystallized his views and has presented them to his government for consideration.

Three pamphlets have been issued by Bouroff’s friends in Russia, putting forth his arguments for reforms, and after the appearance of each one has come, respectively, the “rescript,” the first manifesto, and the second manifesto.

“Nobody has presented these arguments to these people before,” said Bouroff yesterday. “It was the first article on this subject. The czar saw his nation standing below other nations, and I believed it opened his eyes. I aimed to abolish classes before the law and to elevate the peasantry to the same level. This was embodied in the main in the ‘rescript’ issued later.

“Prince Meschersky, editor of one of the prominent papers of Russia, replied to my statements, writing against constitutional government. After reading his views I wrote my second letter. I disproved his views on historic ground. He argued that the people were not ready. In this I showed he was wrong.

“The czar has been misrepresented in America. He is a sincere, intelligent man, who did not waste his youth but spent his time studying and reading. He is not a genius, perhaps, but he is open minded and has believed all along that what he was doing was the right course. Now he has seen a new light, as you say.”

Bouroff was born near St. Petersburg in December, 1864. After a common school education he went to the Academy of St. Petersburg. Since then he has studied in Paris and London. He entered the University of Chicago in 1894, and, after spending four years there, commenced a sociological and political study of the country. Later he returned to the university, and was given a degree at the convocation last week.

The most interesting thing about this article, of course, is that it makes no mention whatsoever about Bouroff’s career as an Orthodox priest. There’s a passing mention of his relationship with Pobedonostsev, the powerful Ober Procurator of the Holy Synod, but that’s about it. The “Academy of St. Petersburg” was actually the Theological Academy, and when Bouroff was in London, he was attached to the city’s Russian Orthodox church. Really, the utter lack of any comment on his priestly career seems almost intentional, as if Bouroff purposefully neglected to tell the Chicago Tribune reporter about it.

The remainder of Bouroff’s life is a mystery. The University of Chicago alumni directly of 1910 has Bouroff living in St. Petersburg, Russia. The 1919 directory, however, indicates that Bouroff’s address was not known.

Was he really a member of the Russian nobility, as he told the Tribune in 1906? Did he actually have close ties with Witte and Pobedonostsev, and a profound influence on the policies of the tsar? Or was he another Agapius Honcharenko, falsely claiming to be well-connected and influential? And what, exactly, was his relationship with the Orthodox Church? The answers to all of these questions remain unknown.

[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]

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