“YOU’VE GOT WORK TO DO IN AMERICA”

1-10-2023

Fr. Sergei Kosov is a Russian priest and the father of several children, who has worked in America as a mover and a floorer. He was almost inconsolable when his long-awaited daughter was born with Down syndrome. But the Metropolitan told him: “It’s a blessing for you.” As a consolation, the Lord sent Batiushka, his family, and his parish land for a church. Twenty-nine acres—in America! This includes five acres of cleared land, and they’ve already begun construction. The rest is forest—and a future park. It’s simply a miracle of our times.

Fr. Sergei Kosov

Fr. Sergei Kosov    

We drove through the autumn colors onto a spacious plot in the city of Chesapeake, Virginia, where the parish of St. Joseph of Optina is building its own church. There are farms on both sides. On the left is a turkey farm; on the right, horses. And if the horses were quiet and barely noticeable until the parish children discovered them, then the turkeys mustered courage by the middle of the Liturgy and wandered into the parish’s plot of land. They froze when they heard the singing, but the children moved the birds onto the territory without any noise. And in the gazebo erected under the open sky and next to the dense forest, the rector of the parish of St. Joseph of Optina, the Muscovite priest Fr. Sergei Kosov, continued to serve the Liturgy—the first on their own territory in the nearly thirty years of the parish’s existence.

Most of the parishioners had already gathered by the beginning of the service. Those with children came later. The faithful are from former CIS countries: Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, and also Bulgarians, Romanians, American converts, and even Orthodox Christians from Morocco.

Childhood in the Kaluga Province

Childhood in the Kaluga Province    

—I spent my childhood in Moscow, but I spent every summer with my grandmother and grandfather in the Kaluga Province, helping them with their village labors. I heard my first prayers from my grandmother Vera. I would pray with her myself and go on pilgrimage—to St. Paphnuty of Borovsk Monastery, to Shamordino, and to the Optina Hermitage, which was little-developed in those years. And upon returning to Moscow, I served in the church in Peredelkino, where Archimandrite Iliy (Nozdrin) had just arrived in those years. He’s the one who blessed me to go to seminary. The Elder repeated the blessing of my spiritual father word-for-word.

Hieroschemamonk Theodosy (Elfimov)

Hieroschemamonk Theodosy (Elfimov)

My conscious church attendance began in 2009. It was then that, thanks to my former classmate and future wife, I found a spiritual father—Hieroschemamonk Theodosy (Elfimov) of the St. Michael-Mt. Athos Hermitage in the Republic of Adygea. I started helping with the Church services and carrying out obediences in the Skete of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist in the village of Novoprokhladnoe (Sakhrai).

I wasn’t planning to go to seminary or become a priest. As my parents’ only son, there could be no thoughts about going to America.

Once, my spiritual father and I went to the skete after the funeral of a newly reposed babushka. And he said to me: “Congratulations on the beginning of your service to God. You should to go seminary.” I thought about it. Then I returned to Peredelkino, I went into the altar, and there was Fr. Iliy. He turned to me and repeated the words of my spiritual father word-for-word, that I should go to seminary. And that was the first time he’d ever seen me!

At St. John’s Skete in Adygea

At St. John’s Skete in Adygea

I listened to both of them. Fr. Theodosy married Lali—my future matushka—and I. Later, when she was pregnant, she flew to America to visit a relative, and I submitted my application to the Moscow Theological Academy.

She called me one Sunday and said: “There’s an Orthodox seminary in America.” And she started telling me about it. It turns out she went to church on Sunday and started talking with the priest, telling him her husband was planning to go to seminary. And Batiushka told them they had a seminary too. She’s very lively; she rented a car and went to Jordanville. When she arrived, she met many people there. And when she returned home to Russia, I remember, we were sitting with Fr. Iliy in the trapeza, talking about this idea. Fr. Iliy looked at my wife and said: “You need to give birth there.” I even condemned him a little then: We live in Moscow—is there really nowhere to give birth here? But we obeyed and went overseas.

The blessing of Blessed Xenia

Nina Mikhailovna Solovieva

Nina Mikhailovna Solovieva

So in 2012, with the blessing of two elders, I went to Jordanville and started seminary. But the question was where would my wife and future child and I live?

I went to see the rector of the seminary, Fr. Luke (now the Bishop of Syracuse) and introduced myself, saying I was a new seminarian. He told me: “Go home, there’s nowhere for you to live here. All our married student housing is occupied.” Then he thought and said: “Go to the lower church, read the Akathist to Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg.” I took his blessing and went to the lower church. The next day, one of the monks, Fr. Cyprian, came to see me and said: “Babushka Nina Mikhailovna Soloviev is living on the hill there. She’s elderly, the monastery helps her. If you want, we can assign you to live with her. You’ll live for free and help an old babushka.”

Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) at Nina’s home in Jordanville

Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) at Nina’s home in Jordanville

Thus, within a day we had found a home. Nina Mikhailovna is a well-known parishioner in the Church Abroad (she reposed in August of this year). She was known by more than one generation of seminarians, which includes our hierarchs. She regularly had feast day meals for seminarians at her home. She gathered everyone under her wing. All her children and grandchildren were brought up in the faith. Her son Michael is a protodeacon at the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Albany, near Jordanville. It was at her house that I first met the ever-memorable Metropolitan Hilarion.

Time passed. When it came time for Matushka to give birth to our first child (Naum), whom Fr. Iliy had said needed to be born in America, we understood what he meant. During birth, the baby’s heart almost stopped. The doctors noticed and performed a C-section just in time.

Once, when we went to see Fr. Theodosy he asked: “How are things there with the babushka?” “Glory to God,” we said. “All’s well.”

Lord, such a cross right away?”

Fr. Sergei, let me interrupt you here. What do you think: is it the right thing for a family to have one spiritual father?

—For our family—yes. Batiushka knows us inside and out. He’s been feeding us spiritually for many years now.

What kind of person is Fr. Theodosy?

—Fr. Theodosy is a Siberian; he labored there all his life. Then he went to Krasnodar where he was the director of a school. Already at that time, as if jokingly, he began to foretell something to the students in class. And after a while, twenty-thirty years later, what he foretold came true. When his children were grown, his wife went to a monastery in the Krasnodar region, and he was tonsured too. Then Fr. Theodosy started building the St. John the Forerunner Skete in the mountains near Maykop.

My matushka went to visit Fr. Theodosy before there was a skete, and she and the girls went to help. They would sometimes spend the night in a tent, with coyotes running around, and sometimes with local babushkas. Then the babushkas died. And the people started coming to Fr. Theodosy for spiritual guidance more often. Then Batiushka started building a guest house for pilgrims. The people helped him physically, and Batiushka supported them with prayer.

Fr. Theodosy is a visual teacher for me. His life is a textbook, a visual aid about how to live now. And when doubts arise, I just think about what Fr. Theodosy would do. That’s the kind of relationship I’ve formed with my spiritual father over all these years.

We had a group of young people from Moscow, Krasnodar, and other cities. Every year we’d go see Batiushka at the skete for a few weeks. The young men would work on construction, and the girls would sew and help with the housework. We worked, talked, and prayed together.

During this time, Fr. Theodosy married many from our group. We became godparents of the children born in our families. And we still meet up and talk. There are lawyers, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, and iconographers. Everyone works, and everyone goes to church. I’m the only priest. But then, I became a priest out of obedience.

Batiushka is an example of life for all of us. His love is sacrificial, like that of the Savior.

With his family

With his family    

When they built the guest house, he fell and broke his leg. They took him to the hospital and they put pins in. I stayed to be in charge of the skete. I went to see him the next day, but he wasn’t in the hospital. I asked: “How’s that possible? He had surgery just yesterday. Where is he?” “The women picked him up,” they told me.

What women? I called him, and Batiushka said: “My child, everything’s fine. How can I leave my parishioners” They’re sick—I have to go give them Communion.” I said: “But you’re on crutches.”

They brought him back to the hospital. His leg had turned black. The doctor sternly said that if there’s any complication, he’d have to cut it off. Fr. Theodosy told the doctor: “It’s all up to the will of God!” I went to see him the next day, and again he wasn’t there. The doctor said: “You take him; we won’t make him come back again.”

In the end, Batiushka communed everyone, and his leg was whole and healed. There are many such stories.

One day, some young parents brought their infant whom the doctors in the hospital had turned away and sent home to die. They said medicine was powerless in his case. The town of Mineralnie Vody (Mineral Waters) wasn’t far away, and Batiushka said: “Why’d you come see me, a sinner? Go to St. Theodosy of the Caucasus and pray there.”

I called him and he said: “Tell me about the construction. We have to build quickly. I’ll come help and support you.” But they didn’t let him out…

Fr. Sergei Kosov is a Russian priest and father of several children who has worked in America as a mover and a floorer. He was almost inconsolable when his long-awaited daughter was born with Down syndrome. But the Metropolitan told him: “It’s a blessing for you.” As a consolation, the Lord sent Batiushka, his family, and his parish land for a church. Twenty-nine acres—in America! This includes five acres of cleared land, and they’ve already begun construction. The rest is forest—and a future park. It’s simply a miracle of our times.

As a deacon at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville

As a deacon at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville

Let’s return to the Jordanville period of your life…

—We returned to Jordanville, and it turns out Dcn. Michael was planning to move his mother into his house. We were left alone in the house and lived like that until we left for the parish.

In 2016, in my last year, the ever-memorable Metropolitan Hilarion ordained me to the diaconate, and a year after graduating from seminary, in 2018, the current Metropolitan Nicholas ordained me to the priesthood.

They left me to serve in Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. As during my seminary studies, I continued my obedience in the icon mounting studio.

We were supposed to have a daughter, Pelagia, then. And everything was fine, but when she was born, the daughters said she had Down syndrome. “Lord, how can this be?” I thought. “You vouchsafed me to become a priest, entrusted Your children into my hands—and then such a cross right away.”

It was hard for us, but Vladyka Hilarion told me: “Be at peace, this is God’s blessing for you.” And I had my forty Liturgies and a newborn child. I was saddened and mostly afraid for myself—would I be able to endure? I withdrew into myself, and Matushka endured and worried, when she herself was in need of support.

This is typical psychologically for men in such a situation…

—Yes, and only after a while did I come to understand what Vladyka Hilarion had in mind. Four years later, I look at my daughter—she speaks two languages, she’s so smart! And I’m grateful to God for everything.

My wife and I try to give the children everything we can: a good school, extra classes. And of course, the state helps. If not for the help, we wouldn’t have made it.

We have a Russian parish. But you should know—they have nothing”

—At one of our annual pastoral conferences, I went up to Metropolitan Hilarion and said: “What good am I if I just serve as the fifth or tenth priest in the monastery?” “We have a Russian parish. They need a Russian priest. But you should know—they have nothing. It’s a mission,” Vladyka warned, knowing my family—my wife and I, my mother-in-law, three children—Naum and Savva, and our little sunshine Pelagia. Vladyka introduced me to Fr. Richard, an American, who was the rector of the mission.

Pelagia

Pelagia    

I called my spiritual father. He told me: “My child, I bless you to go there.” “I have children. How can I take them?” I asked, a little frightened. “The parish won’t be able to provide for us—not financially, not even with housing.”

But we went out of obedience, knowing that I would have to work very hard to at least pay for housing in a good area, which means with good schools.

So in August 2018, you went to Virginia Beach…

—The parish paid me a little, but not even enough to rent a house. I met with Russian speakers in the city and started working for a moving company. On weekdays I would leave in the morning and return in the evening, and that’s how I earned money. Then I got a job laying floors, which I had never done before. And quite often, there was just enough money to pay the bills. We lived this way for four years. Now I deal with the parish and the children and Matushka works and studies.

Fr. Richard soon left to study in the seminary, and I was appointed rector. Unfortunately, no seminary teaches a young priest how to lead a parish. And parishes are all different anyways. It was hard. But I was lucky that my spiritual father helped, and our dean Fr. Victor Potapov supported me. This is the rock on which our Church Abroad is built. I’m a young priest to him, and he treats me like a father and gives me instruction.

Fr. Theodosy said: “You’ve got work to do in America”

—I gradually started examining people, and I reformed the parish council. And slowly things began to get better. And I became more experienced and confident because I had reliable people around me.

Our warden is Vladimir Karpov, a psychiatrist. He and his wife Anna moved to America in 1991. They had four children here. And he began his path to God from Solovki. Like many in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was a young Muscovite student who went to work in the summer at a monastery that was under construction. This became the impetus for his conscious coming to the Church. In Moscow it was the recently opened Danilov Monastery, and upon arrival in America, in Washington—the St. John the Forerunner Cathedral. Vladimir moved to Virginia Beach for work twenty years ago and went through all the places of prayer together with the parish.

And how has the parish itself developed over these thirty years?

—The parish began in 1989 in the Antiochian Church by the American Fr. Seraphim Stevenson. It was dedicated to the Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer. They didn’t have any permanent premises, and the faithful prayed first in Fr. Seraphim’s living room, then on the premises of the Filippino fish market, then in the priest’s garage.

In 2007 it was transformed into a parish named for St. Joseph of Optina in the Russian Church Abroad. A wooden church was built on the private property of one of the parishioners, but the parish soon had to leave there and later found shelter first on the territory of a Protestant church, then in a conference hall at a hospital in Norfolk. And two years ago, the local Greek church responded to the request of its parishioner and leased the St. Theodore’s Chapel in Norfolk to our parish.

Everything’s fine in the Greek church, but there’s no place for the parishioners to gather, to get to know each other, to talk, to eat, which is very important—so people would come to the church not just once a year, but regularly participate in the Divine services, Sacraments, and parish life. We began to think about our own church.

My spiritual father said we need to strengthen ourselves in prayer, and that we needed a parish rule of prayer, so that everyone would be praying. And it’s up to me to try to meet people’s expectations. So we started praying, and on Saturdays I would read the Akathist to the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God. Over the course of thirty years the parish had accumulated some savings in the bank, and we started looking for land to buy on credit.

    

A few months passed, and then one day one of our benefactors, a very modest man, invited me to see a plot—twenty-nine acres, five acres of clear land, and twenty-four acres of forest—now we just need to build. “How much does it cost?” I asked. He asked: “Do you like it?” and he gave me a check.

We bought the plot, and slowly the Lord brought me together with a good architect, who’s now in charge of our project. As soon as all the necessary documents are ready, with God’s help, we expect to start construction. We decided to first build a spiritual and educational center where we’ll arrange a temporary church. There will also be a large hall with a trapeza, a big kitchen, where we’ll be able to feed everyone. The third hall will be for lectures, Sunday School, and a bookstore. The people will have the chance to talk and become friends. I tell them: “We should be a family and try to live in a Christian manner. And all this should be around the church.”

We bought a tractor not long ago—it’s really necessary for our land. We’ll have a large garage for the tractor, where we’ll also arrange a workshop. In the spring we’re setting up an apiary for candles and honey. When our center’s ready, depending on finances, we’ll be able to build a church. Later, once the church is consecrated, we plan to have youth conferences here. We have a gorgeous place and the climate is wonderful.

    

With so many children in the parish, the school will definitely be a priority. How would you describe the school of your dreams?

—First we have to get to know them, because every child is an individual, and a group of children is also individual. Then we’ll decide how to arrange the school program, and choose lessons and activities that will interest these particular children—history, culture, art. My matushka is an iconographer. She studied professionally in Moscow how to make icons out of ceramics, so we can include activities like this in our school program too. The children can learn to make things out of ceramics with their own hands, and arrange exhibitions.

In my opinion, the parish school (or the Russian school, as some parishes call it) shouldn’t just teach the Law of God. This won’t work in our days. If it’s not interesting for the child; he won’t go. I’m dealing with this—I have three children! Nine, seven, and four years old. We have to consider what the children are like, and based on that, develop the program. Good, enthusiastic teachers can do this. It’s a real labor. But we have to develop our children’s talents. I’d like to eventually attract various kinds of people: specialists in language, folk art and handicrafts, singing, folk dancing, cooking, history, geography, and pilgrimage. Moreover, given the various nationalities of our parishioners and the diversity of Orthodoxy in America, all these classes will be in high demand.

And our parish children are already centered on the church. They help in the services, they pray. My sons gladly come with their papa to mow the grass at our site. Sometimes I see Savva sitting at the candle desk, and he’s not even eight. And I can say the same about the other boys.

***

I looked online, but didn’t find any other churches named for St. Joseph of Optina other than ours in Virginia. For the older members of the parish he’s even a contemporary, as he reposed in 1911.

For thirty years, St. Joseph was a spiritual child and cell attendant of the great St. Ambrose of Optina—basically his right hand man. The words of one blessed eldress were often repeated about him: “Ambrose and Joseph are one.”

In 1988, the holy relics of the saint were uncovered, and the Elder was canonized for Churchwide veneration in August 2000.

This year is ten years since I came to America. And when I’m in Russia, I always go to Kaluga. It feels like my homeland there—the village where I helped out from the age of five, the forest, the then-abandoned Optina.

​Liturgy at the parish site

​Liturgy at the parish site    

And Batiushka Theodosy has a part of America in his skete…

—That’s right. At the place where the people confess, there’s a small icon of the Kursk Root Mother of God, which he highly reveres. I made it with my own hands in my seminary years, with my obedience in the icon-mounting studio. Batiushka said to me: “Come on, let’s pray.” And since we started praying our land appeared, and the parish began to develop. And I remembered that when it was decided whether I’d go to America or not, Fr. Theodosy had said: “You’ve got work to do there.”

For a long time, Matushka and I didn’t realize what this work was. But with our arrival in in Virginia, I understood what work it was that could bring me to America, to this city, and why the Lord vouchsafed me to become a priest.

And today, when I served the Liturgy on our parish land for the first time, and then watched how our parishioners enjoyed fellowshipping during the picnic in the fresh air, I realized how important it is to do Church work under obedience. After all, then everything is done by the Lord, and I am but an instrument in His hands, and my work is to remain a worthy Christian and His co-laborer.

Tatiana Veselkina
spoke with Priest Sergei Kosov
Translation by Jesse Dominick

Pravoslavie.ru

12/14/2022

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