I have been blessed to give a homily today on the life of St John Kochurov, Hieromartyr of the Bolshevik Yoke. Here it is in written form.
O Hieromartyr John Kochurov, pray for us.
In The Name of the Father, and The Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen.
Glory be to Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, 98 years ago today, Heaven crowned a new martyr, in a village just outside of St Petersburg called Tsarskoe Selo named John Kochurov. He was a priest, just like his own father; in fact, he came from a long line of priests in Russia. He did something that none of them did, however, something any of us may be called to do. He left his home country as soon as he graduated from seminary, bringing his new wife with him, and he came to a foreign land, a land whose language he did not know, and he began his missionary work, which in reality was adjusting to a new foreign land, in New York City. He then went to the Diocese of Alaska, where the Church had been for over 100 years already, and there was ordained a priest by Bishop Nicholas in August of 1895.
In the true spirit of a missionary, he happily went to Chicago, where he took up the work of establishing and stabilizing the church there. There were two parishes there, both without a priest, and compared to Alaska or New York, there was no organization. He took on the two parishes there, the only two Orthodox Churches in Chicago at the time. There were no other priests in the area he could ask for advice from. The buildings they used for worship were horrible; the people were poor immigrants looking to live an American dream. They worked very hard, very long hours, and could barely feed their families. This is the Chicago Father John Kochurov ministered to.
For five years, he labored to stabilize and grow the church in Chicago; within that time, many who had left the church in their journeys returned to it thanks to Father John. Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholics came to the church. In that time, the church grew in Chicago to over three hundred men and their families, but as it grew, so too did the needs change.
Missionary work under those conditions can be very tiring and stressful. Let’s face it; being 6000 miles from where we grew up is going to make us homesick once in a while. Needing that visit, Father John did something extraordinary; he combined his vacation with fundraising in his native land. In his approximately four months back in his native Russia, he spread the word of his mission in Chicago to his fellow clergy, his family, his old friends, and he came back to Chicago successful enough in those labors so that in March of 1902, St Tikhon went to Chicago, and the foundation for what is now Holy Trinity Cathedral in the Ukrainian Area of Chicago was laid. That, however, is not the end of his story in America; it is the beginning.
He was elevated to Archpriest in 1906; he was awarded a gold pectoral cross for ten years of priestly service; he was appointed to Dean of the New York Area of the Eastern States; he helped organize what was the first North American Orthodox Council, and was essential in setting up the administrative aspect of a growing church in a new land. It is fair to say that he organized from almost nothing, just God’s grace, human availability and the request of St Tikhon, the administration of the church in North America.
Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago is still used for worship today, more than 100 years after its consecration. The parishes we have today benefit from the administration Father John organized. The missions we have today benefit from his love of God, his faith, his energy, in spreading God’s word in a strange land where everything is new, just as is true OF a mission parish where everything is also new. Were it not for those efforts just over one hundred years ago, there is no telling how the church may have grown in the USA, and knowing what we know now, we were very, very blessed to have this man of God, from a long line of men of God, organize and administer the needs of new missions and parishes in a new land.
Russia had those same needs, however, and in 1907, Father John left Chicago and returned to his native land, taking his family with him. For almost ten years, he was a teacher of God’s law in Narva, attached to the Cathedral there, and while he was successful in these efforts, they did not afford him the liturgical duties he so loved. In November of 1916, Father John was assigned as a parish priest to the second position at St Katherine’s Cathedral in Tsarkoe Selo, thus returning to active parish life as both priest and educator.
Hopefully, we all know the history of 1917 Russia. By the end of October, the Bolsheviks had pretty much gained total control of the land. As they came into Tsarskoe Selo unopposed, many residents of the town, most of them parishioners, came to the cathedral seeking comfort. They came to pray for peace, stability, and brotherhood. Father John led those services, he led those prayers, and he knew that all of them came to that church that day for God’s protection. He knew that day, protecting them was his duty as a priest.
They served a Molebien as the Bolsheviks entered the town. After further serving a Divine Liturgy, arriving back at the family apartment, the Bolsheviks came and arrested Father John, accusing him of praying for the Cossacks, who opposed the Bolsheviks. They took him to the outskirts of town. When accused of praying for a Cossack victory, Father John tried to explain the situation. Eventually, those who had rifles raised them at Father John, aimed, and fired. He fell to ground mortally wounded. They dragged his body by the hair through the town, with some yelling “Finish him like a dog”. They even stole his pectoral cross award. 98 years ago today.
Brothers and sisters, as we venerate the icon of St John Kochurov and read what is written on the opened scripture he is holding, we need to remember not only his martyrdom, but what his true crowning glory in Heaven is. Yes, he was a priest. Yes, he died rather than deny God. Yes, he died protecting his flock, praying for them even as he was bleeding. He is an example of courage and bravery beyond that of a man who lays down his life so that others live. He was a man who left home, the family he grew up with, left everything that was familiar to him; really, he sacrificed his life long before he was murdered. He not only died a martyr’s death; he lived a martyr’s life, and he did all of this so that we can live in Christ's immeasurable love, His church, and the fullness of the Gospel. His love of God, his love of the church, and all of his labor here in America are with us every day still. Whenever we need to talk to church administration, it is his labor that organized it. Whenever we start a new mission, his zeal and energy go with those who labor. When faced with denying God, he showed what those in Chicago already knew; he was one of the most courageous men ever to have walked this land. Let us pray that we have his love of Christ, his zeal, and his courage, not just as we commemorate him today, but in truly keeping with his example, even to our last breath just like Father John Kochurov.
Glory Be to Jesus Christ!