Archpriest Stephen Kachur (1913-2000) with his Beautiful Beloved Matushka.
Stephen Basil Kachur, the eldest son of Vasily Kachur and Elena Kunak, was born on August 15, 1913, in the Subcarpathian village of Novoe Davidkovo (Uj-Davidhaza). Originally part of Austria-Hungary, after the First World War the village became part of the new state of Czechoslovakia.
Novoe Davidkovo was an agricultural community located in a broad plain, where obtaining firewood entailed an all-day trek by horse-drawn cart to the hills, and where young Stephen would stomp grapes at a kinsman's vineyards. The area was also a crossroads of peoples and cultures, where each family in a village might identify themselves as part of a different ethnic group. As a small boy, Stephen's first source of pocket change was working as a shabbas goy for a local Jewish family, and by the time he graduated from the High Russian Gymnasium in the nearby city of Mukachevo (Mungac)where he was voted most suited to serve as a model for a statue of Adonishe already spoke his local dialect (Ponashomu), Russian, Hungarian, Czech, Ukrainian, Latin, and French.
Thus, from his youth we see characteristics that were to distinguish Fr Stephen throughout his life: He was always a very handsome guy; he had knowledge of fine wine and a love of nature; he had a great facility for languages; he was not afraid of hard work and respected those who live on manual labor; and although he was proud of his own people and traditions, he had tolerance and appreciation of other peoples and traditions.
The Kachur family regarded themselves as Russians, yet, due to historical factors in eastern Europe, they belonged to a Byzantine Rite Catholic church. Nevertheless, even as a youth, long before studying theology and church history, Fr Stephen saw the liturgy as the primary Christian experience, and so, whenever the priest concluded the Great Entrance with the words "i vsekh vas pravoslavnikh
khristian," he thought in the back of his mind that therefore he must be Orthodox
In 1933 he graduated from the gymnasium and, being one of the top students, was selected to study in Rome. For the next seven years he attended Pope Urban University (known locally as "Propaganda Fide" after the ecclesiastical department that administered the school), residing at St Joasaphat "Ruthenian" College on the steep slopes of Monte Gianicolo. Here he studied Greek and Hebrew, as well as English (in the School of Missions), German (just to be able to read Jakob Boehme in preparation for his thesis), Spanish (just for fun), and of course he became fluent in Italian. He received a baccalaureate in philosophy (1935), a baccalaureate in theology (1937), a licentiate in theology (1939), and a doctorate in sacred theology (1940), after writing a dissertation (in Latin) on "Sophia, the Wisdom of God according to Paul Florensky."
Before embarking for Rome, Stephen was told that ordination would take place only after return and marriagewhich is acceptable for priests in the Byzantine rite. However, this canonical provision of the Council of Brest-Litovsk was frowned upon in Rome, and after considerable pressure to accept ordination in the city of the pope, Stephen became a Uniate priest.
He returned to Carpatho-Russia in 1940 and served as prefect of studies and professor at the seminary in the district capital, Uzhgorod (Ungvar). His homeland, which was still recovering from the ravages of the First World War when he had left for Rome, was now in the throes of World War II, under Nazi occupation. Fr Stephen often had to interrupt liturgy and lead the congregation to the bomb shelter when the air-raid sirens began to wail.
In October 1944, after a "popular referendum" overseen by the Red army, the region was officially annexed to the Soviet Ukraine. Having spent much of his adulthood studying in Rome and traveling throughout Europe, Fr Stephen was already oriented to the democratic west, and with the invasion of Soviet ideology, he became determined to make his way to the United States. In 1945 he walked through the woods into neighboring Czechoslovakia, still at that time a democratic state, and lived for a while in Prague. However, seeing an imminent communist takeover, he managed to board a flight to Zurich, Switzerland, where, upon landing in a free country beyond the reach of Soviet agents, he bought a banana. After brief stays in Germany and Austria, he returned to Italy, and on January 9, 1947, he arrived in the United States.
Fr Stephen served at Uniate parishes in Cleveland, Fairport Harbor, and Ashtabula, Ohio, and also as prefect of studies as SS Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Pittsburgh, all the while learning English perfectly and contemplating his future place in America. In Fairport Harbor he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Dolores Deak, and he decided to marry and complete his spiritual and logical journey to the Orthodox Church. The wedding took place at St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Warren, Ohio, on June 14, 1951, and shorty thereafter the newlyweds traveled to New York to meet Metropolitan Leonty, who quietly laid his hands on Fr Stephen's head.
Assigned originally to SS Peter and Paul Church in Edinboro, PA (Crossingville), in November of 1951 Fr Stephen was transfered to St Michael the Archangel Church in Chicago. Here he became a naturalized citizen (1952) and witnessed the birth of three children, Stephen (1953), Paul (1954), and Mark (1955). The Chicago parish was very small, however, and in his spare time Fr Stephen studied at the John Marhsall Law School, graduating with a Juris Doctor degree in 1955 and the same year being admitted to the Illinois bar. Thereafter, in addition to parish duties, he served as staff attorney for the Legal Aid Bureau of United Charities of Chicago, an instructor at John Marshall, and legal advisor to Archbishop John of Chicago.
Although Father and Matushka were very happy in cosmopolitan, cultured Chicago, in 1957 the priest Stephen Varzaly, who had been of great assistance to Fr Kachur when he first came to this country (and who had officiated at his wedding), announced that he was dying and declared to Fr Kachur that he could entrust his flock to no one else. Answering to his first calling, Fr Kachur abandoned legal work and in July assumed pastoral duties at St Michael's church in Rankin, Pennsylvania. There he also served as editor of the religious newspaper Vistnik-Messenger and saw the birth of another son, Timothy (1958).
In 1959 the Kachurs moved to St John the Baptist church in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania. In 1960, son Matthew was born, and Fr Stephen received the gold cross that year and the title of archpriest the following year, both conferred by Metropolitan Leonty.
In 1962 Fr Luke Olchovy persuaded Fr Stephen to take over the Church of the Assumption in Clifton, New Jersey, where he was to remain for over sixteen years. 1964 saw the birth of son John and the tragic sudden death of son Mark. In 1966 the Kachurs finally had a girl, Daria.
During his long ministry in Clifton, Fr Stephen fulfilled many responsibilities for the national church, serving as Metropolia/OCA yearbook editor, sales manager for the Department of Religious Education, and Financial Secretary for the Pension Fund, and sat on committees for late vocations and the translation of liturgical texts; he was also at various times secretary and treasurer of the New York/New Jersey diocese. On the parish level, he oversaw the building and completion of a church hall with classrooms, auditorium and kitchen facilities, as well as the expansion and iconographic decoration of the sanctuary. More importantly, for the sake of future generations, he patiently and persistently pushed and pulled the parish in the direction of English-language liturgical services and integration into the life of the larger church. Most importantly, he guided the congregation toward full and frequent participation in the sacraments.
Fr Stephen retired in August 1978 and settled with Matushka and their two youngest children in Tucson, Arizona. However, the fluid demographics of the southwestern United States resulted in many pockets of Orthodox Christians, but without enough clergy to serve them, and Fr Stephen would always answer the call. Officially attached to the nearest OCA parish, SS Peter and Paul in Phoenix, he served regularly at the Holy Resurrection (Antiochian) and St Demetrios (Greek) parishes in Tucson, and as founding priest at mission churches in Portland, Oregon; Peoria, Arizona; Lake Havasu City, Arizona; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, in addition to frequent travels to report on new parishes for the Western diocese of the OCA.
Father Stephen and Matushka greatly enjoyed traveling all over America in their motor home, visiting their children on both coasts and even making it north of the Arctic Circle. And every time they returned to Tucson, it was with another pile of stones, to be placed in their back yard, which Fr Stephen had painstakingly cultivated into a "desert museum" with examples of all manner of native vegetation and a truly spectacular rock garden.
In July 2000, Fr Stephen suddenly became severely disoriented. He was admitted to the hospital and given tests and a blood transfusion. The next day, having returned to absolute awareness and coherence, he was given the diagnosis of acute leukemia and the prognosis of death within several days to several weeks, unless he submitted to extensive treatment in the hospital, hooked up to life-sustaining machines. Completely calm, of sound mind, he replied to the doctors: "I have been married to a beautiful woman for nearly fifty years, I have had seven children and eleven grandchildren, I have had a career I loved, serving the church for nearly sixty years, and I have traveled all over Europe and America. What more is there to do?" And he refused treatment. When the family had all gathered by his side a few days later, he ordered us to break out the champagne that he had been saving for his fiftieth wedding anniversary, and we toasted to his life. On July 19, 2000, after telling his wife "I love you so much," Fr Stephen fell asleep in the Lord.