St. John Kochurov is a 20th C. martyr, but before we consider him, let us look at martyrdom in general. First, Christianity has always been a church of martyrs. One often hears it said that St. Stephen is the first Christian martyr. St. Stephen was one of the seven men ordained as deacons by the apostles. He was preaching the Gospel, was arrested and put on trial before the Council in Jerusalem. At his trial, he bravely spoke about how Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of all the hopes of the Old Testament. For this he was stoned to death, forgiving his murderers as he died. So St. Stephen is often referred to as the first Christian Martyr or Protomartyr. His story is found in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles 6:8 to 7:60. However we can call the Holy Innocents the first martyrs. These were the babies who were killed by King Herod in Bethlehem when he sent his soldiers to find and kill the Christ child. Now obviously these babies were not martyrs in the way we usually think of them, but in a sense they did die because of the world’s hatred of Christ. Their story is found in the Gospel of St. Matthew 2:16-18. In the first three centuries after Christ, there were periodic campaigns against the Christians with many martyrs. The last and worst of the Roman persecutions came under Emperors Diocletian, Maximus, Galerius and Constantine in 303 AD. About 3000- 3500 Christians died as martyrs then. As we can see these numbers are rather small compared to the martyrs of the 20th century. We all know about the millions of believers who suffered under the Nazis, Communists and so on. Unfortunately, persecution against believers of all religions continues today. For example, the Chinese government targets Christians, as well as Tibetan Buddhists, Daoists and Moslems. In the last decade of the 21st century as many as 100,000 Christians have died as martyrs. This was a statistic used by the Vatican and others. Others say the number is much smaller but we are still talking about thousands of martyrs each year. We should pray for them and also work in any way we can to save such people. On October 31st, we commemorate St. John Kochurov. St. John was born in ussia in 1871, in the family of a priest. After studying in Ryazan and St. Petersburg he got married and ordained to the deaconate and priesthood. After ordination St. John came to the United States as a missionary and was assigned to what later became Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago. He was instrumental in the building of the church. He worked as a priest in various cities in Illinois, New York and even in Oklahoma. He helped to organize the first All-American Council, which met in Mayfield, Pennsylvania in 1908. A little later he returned to Russia and served as a priest in Narva, Estonia. In 1911 he was assigned to St. Catherine’s cathedral in Tsarskoe Selo, a town close to St. Petersburg and one of the residences for the Russian Imperial family. It is now part of the town of Pushkin. When the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, St. John was arrested and quickly shot. He then became the first hieromartyr of the Bolshevik yoke. In other words, he was the first member of the clergy to be killed by the communists after their takeover. In December of 1994 St. John was glorified (canonized) by the Russian Orthodox Church. Of course, we in the United States should remember and be grateful for St. John’s work in building up the Orthodox Church in America and pray to him now as a saint, believing that St. John continues to intercede for us and the church in America.
Troparion — Tone 1
Aflame with love for God, you gave your life as a martyr for Christ and neighbor, for this you received a crown of righteousness from Him. Hieromartyr John, entreat the most Merciful God to preserve the Holy Holy Church in peace and to save our souls.
Troparion — Tone 1
You were revealed to all as a true shepherd O Hieromartyr John of Chicago, for you nurtured your people in the Orthodox Faith, guiding them by word and deed on the path of salvation, and defended the Faith even unto the shedding of your blood. Therefore, we, your spiritual children, cry out in thanksgiving: Glory to Him who gave you strength! Glory to Him who granted you the Martyr’s crown! Glory to Him who through you grants mercy to all!
Kontakion — Tone 8
As you zealously fulfilled your pastoral service, you brought your soul to God as a well-pleasing sacrifice, O Father John. Entreat Christ God to grant peace to the world and great mercy to our souls.
Kontakion — Tone 3
Now the holy Hieromartyr is glorified, for he took up his cross and followed Christ. In so doing, he gave us a model of true discipleship. Therefore, let us cry aloud to him: Rejoice, O Father John, the glory of priests!