Monthly Archives: February 2016

Saint Nicholas of Japan

Nicholas_PortrBefore Christ ascended into heaven he told his disciples “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20) In other words, Christ is calling his disciples (and us) to be missionaries, so the church was a missionary church right from the start. In the Book of Acts we see St. Peter and St. Paul and others beginning to spread the Gospel. Missionary activity continued after the death of the twelve apostles, despite the persecution of the Roman emperor. After the emperor accepted Christianity the church sent missionaries beyond the bounds of the Empire, such as St. Augustine to the British and Ss. Cyril and Methodius to the Slavs. After the fall of Constantinople the Ottoman Turks, the Greek Orthodox Church was in no position to send out missionaries – it had to struggle to even survive. However, the Russian Orthodox Church took on the task of mission, sending missionaries throughout the vast Russian Empire and beyond to China, Japan and Korea. One of these missionaries was St. Nicholas, Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of Japan.
St. Nicholas (Ivan Dimitrievich Kasatkin) was born in 1836 in the family of a deacon. As a senior at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in 1860 he saw a notice that a chaplain was needed at the Russian Consulate in Hakodate Japan. He applied and was accepted. After becoming a monk and being ordained a priest he began his year-long journey to Japan. During this time he met St. Innocent, a great missionary. St. Nicholas received valuable advice about how to be a good missionary. He arrived in Hakodate, Japan’s northernmost island in 1861.
Japan had just been opened to foreigners. Prior to this for 300 years, with few exceptions foreigners had been forbidden to enter Japan and Japanese had been forbidden to leave. Christianity was illegal and being a Christian was punishable by death. St. Nicholas began by studying Japanese and continued for seven years, becoming one of the few westerners to have mastered Japanese at that time.
While living at the consulate, a Japanese samurai (warrior), Sawabe Takuma, who was teaching Japanese swordsmanship to the consul general’s son, burst into St. Nicholas’ room threatening to kill him because this samurai hated Christianity. St. Nicholas, showing no fear, said that it was dishonorable to kill a man before one knew what he actually taught. The samurai agreed and St. Nicholas began to tell him about Christianity. This samurai became a regular visitor to St. Nicholas. Finally, Sawabe requested baptism. St. Nicholas baptized him with a few others, giving him the name Paul. This was all done in great secrecy because Christianity was still illegal in Japan.
In 1871 St. Nicholas moved to Tokyo. There he eventually opened several schools, including a seminary after Christianity became legal (Paul Sawabe became the first Japanese to become an Orthodox priest). St. Nicholas also built a great Cathedral, named after the Holy sunday morning There, this cathedral, which still stands, is called by everyone as Nikorai-do, or Nicholas’ Cathedral, because it was so associated with St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a tireless traveler, visiting many areas in Japan, opening churches, which he filled with Japanese priests. He was a tireless translator, spending many hours each day translating the services and Bible into Japanese. In 1904 when war began between Russian and Japan, St. Nicholas was the only Russian who remained in Japan. As a good shepherd he did not want to leave his flock. St. Nicholas did a great deal to help Russian prisoners of war in Japan, and received awards from the Russian and Japanese emperors. St. Nicholas died in 1912 and left behind a church of 33,000 believers, 32 priests, 96 churches and 265 chapels, overcoming difficulties associated with the Russian Revolution and WWII, the Japanese church continues as an autonomous church within the Moscow Patriarchate. The Metropolitan and the great majority of clergy are Japanese.
St. Nicholas was obviously a great missionary in the tradition of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, St. Innocent of Alaska and St. Macarius of the Altai. It is clear that St. Nicholas intended to found a native Japanese church. He began preparing a native clergy and translating the service books into Japanese from the earliest days of his ministry. His success is shown in the way the Japanese Orthodox Church survived the Russian Revolution, when all support from Russian was cut off and the difficulties of the Second World War. We can learn from St. Nicholas that even in the most difficult of circumstances it is still possible to proclaim the Gospel.

Fr. John

The Martyrdom of Vladimir, Metropolitan and Hieromartyr of Kiev

Icon - Met Vladimir of KievThe English word martyr comes from a Greek word which means witness. In the secular world the word martyr was used to mean witness but soon the word martyr  came to mean someone who loses his or her life for the Christian faith. (Of course, there are martyrs in the non-Christian world also, but we are not concerned with that here.) The first Christian martyr is St. Stephen, one of the original deacons. The account of his martyrdom is found in Acts 6:8-7:60. St. Stephen was a zealous preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We find him put on trial for this and most of Acts 7 consists of his defense in which he showed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah prophesied by the Old Testament and awaited by the Jewish people. For this testimony St. Stephen was stoned to death. It is noteworthy that St. Stephen, as he was dying, asked God to forgive the people who were stoning him, much as Jesus had done on the cross.
Of course, there were many martyrs in the first Christian centuries as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. After the empire was Christianized, martyrs were often found among the missionaries who preached the Gospel in foreign lands, as well as their converts. The 20th century saw many martyrs being killed by totalitarian governments. Christian martyrdom continues today as thousands or tens of thousands die for Christ each year.
On January 31st this year the church remembers the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia who died under the communists. On February 7th we commemorate Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, who was the first bishop killed by the communists.
Hieromartyr Vladimir (in the world Basil Nikephorovich Bogoyavlensky) was born into a clerical family in Tambov province in 1848. He completed his education at the Kiev Theological Academy and taught in the Tambov seminary before getting married and being ordained a priest. After his wife died, he became a monk and shortly thereafter he was consecrated a bishop. He served as a bishop in various dioceses until becoming Metropolitan of Moscow in 1892, and Metropolitan of Petrograd in 1915.
Because he disapproved of Rasputin he was transferred to Kiev. In January 1918 the Civil War came to Kiev. On January 23rd the Bolsheviks seized the Kiev Caves Lavra and assaulted many monks. On January 25th the Bolsheviks seized St. Vladimir and beat him and killed him in a most brutal manner. His body had several bullet wounds, as well as cuts and gashes. Before he was killed St. Vladimir spent a few moments in prayer. Then he blessed his executioners and said “May God forgive you.”
As mentioned above, St. Vladimir was the first bishop to be murdered by the Bolsheviks. He was followed by countless others under the communist yoke. But St. Vladimir shows us that it is possible, even in the most terrible circumstances, to draw near to God in prayer and to follow Christ’s command to forgive those who hurt and kill us.