St Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
161 N. Murphy Ave. Sunnyvale, CA 94086
35th Sunday After Pentecost - New Martyrs of Russia

The New Martyrs and Confessors or Russia

            Today, we remember the new martyrs of the Russian communist yoke. Thousands of people gave up their life in this period for Christ. But there is a life of one of the martyrs under the communists which is very striking and should be known to us here in America, this because he was a priest here in the United States. This Saint was also the very first person to be martyred by the Godless authorities in communist Russia, whose name was PriestMartyr John Kochurov.

            Father John Kochurov was born on July 13, 1871, in the district of Danky in the Ryazan region, to a pious Priest family of many children. Fr. John was brought up in a traditional Orthodox family, which would prompt him to pursue theological education. After his graduation from Saint Petersburg Theological Academy, Fr. John was sent, in accordance with his long desire for missionary service, to the Diocese of the Aleutians and Alaska. From 1895 until 1907, he served in Chicago, built a strong community, and brought many people to the faith. He was also very close to Saint Tikhon the confessor while he was the Bishop of America. But however successful Fr. John’s service in North America may have seemed, he felt homesick for his beloved Russia. He returned to Russia in 1907 and served in a small parish ther. In November of 1916, Fr. John was assigned as an assistant Priest at Saint Katherine’s Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, near Petrograd.

In October 1917 the Bolsheviks came to Petrograd and seized power. On the morning of October 30, 1917, stopping at the outskirts of Tsarskoye Selo, the Bolshevik forces began to expose the town where Fr John was at to artillery fire in order to draw out the remaining Cossack troops. This prompted the clergy of Saint Katherine’s Cathedral to offer a moleben. The townspeople all flocked to the church. After the moleben, the clergy reached a decision to organize a sacred procession in the town, with the reading of fervent prayers for a ceasefire in times of civil strife. Precisely at that time the Cossacks were withdrawing from the town. The priests were warned about it: "Isn’t it time to stop the prayers?!" The priests declared: "We shall carry our duties to completion, these have departed from us, and those who are coming are our brothers! What kind of harm will they do us?"

On the morning of the 31st the Bolshevik forces entered the city, encountering no opposition. One of the anonymous witnesses to the aftermath of these tragic events stated: “Yesterday (on October 31) when the Bolsheviks, together with the Red Guard, entered Tsarskoye Selo, they began to make the rounds of the apartments of the military officers, making arrests. Fr. John was conveyed to the outskirts of the town, to Saint Theodore’s Cathedral, and there they assassinated him because of the fact that those who organized the sacred procession had allegedly been praying for a victory by the Cossacks, which surely was not, and could not have been, what actually happened. The other clergymen were released yesterday evening. Thus, there has appeared another Martyr for the Faith in Christ. The deceased, though he had not been in Tsarskoye Selo for long, had gained the utmost love of all, and many people used to gather to listen to his preaching.”

Another Journalist had this account of the martyrdom: The priests were captured and sent to the headquarters of the Council of the Working and Soldiers Deputies. A priest, Fr. John Kochurov, was trying to protest and to clarify the situation. He was hit several times on his face. With cheers and yelling the enraged mob conveyed him to the Tsarskoye Selo airdrome. Several rifles were raised against the defenseless pastor. A shot thundered out, then another, after which the priest fell down on the ground, and blood spilled upon his cassock. Death did not come to him immediately ... He was pulled by his hair, and somebody suggested, “Finish him off like a dog.” The next morning the body was brought into the former palace hospital. According to the newspaper The Peoples’ Affair, the head of the State Duma, together with one of its members, saw the body of the priest, but the pectoral cross was already gone from his breast…

This latter circumstance accompanying Fr. John’s martyrdom, as mentioned by the reporter, takes on a particular spiritual significance when viewed against the background of some words spoken by Fr. John twelve years before his death, which proved to be prophetic. In faraway America, when he received his gold pectoral cross at the ceremony marking the tenth anniversary of his priestly service, he said with emphasis, “I kiss this Holy Cross, a gift of your brotherly love for me. Let it be my support in times of tribulation… Let it remain here on earth for my children and posterity as a family Holy Relic, and as a clear proof that brotherhood and friendship are the most sacred things on the earth....”

To quote Priest Daniel Sysoyev, who was also martyred in the year 2009: "For a Christian, the best type of death is, of course, martyrdom for Christ the Savior.  In principle, that is the best type of death one may attain. While some people sent condolences to Optina Hermitage after the murder of three monks [on Pascha, 1993], for a Christian, [such death] is in fact a source of great joy.  In the ancient Church, people never sent condolences when anyone was killed. All of the churches immediately sent their congratulations.  Imagine!  To congratulate them with the fact that they had a new defender in Heaven! Martyrdom washes away every single sin except heresy and schism….

In fact, one should not take the word «martyr» to mean one who has suffered death by torture. It literally means ‘witness’. Thus, a person is a martyr if, with his death he bears witness to the fact that Christ has conquered death, that He was resurrected from the dead. One’s witness lies in this, and not in the fact that he has been tortured.

If we are talking about the natural end of life, the best such natural death is one whose approach you anticipate … For a Christian, the most awful possible death is one that is sudden and unexpected, for such a person departs into eternity unprepared."

This is a reminder to us in our day and age. The time is coming, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, where we too will have to be tested for our faith. This life is temporal, no matter what, we will die somehow. The question is are we willing to give up our earthly lives like the new Martyrs of Russia, or will we be apostates from the faith in order to preserve a few more years on this earth?

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