Only an Instrument in His Hands

“You’ve Got Work to Do in America,” Part 2

Part 1

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


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