Orthodox America

  Enlightener of Japan Blessed Nicholas Kassatkin

Matushka Naomi Takahashi

In these evil times when the forces of materialism, ignorance and coldness of faith rise up against us, the believers, and challenge us to prove at all moments our faith, whether or not we are consciously aware of it, each of us is a missionary to those around us who are in darkness; that is, we are wit nesses of the power and glory of the Holy Spirit graciously transmitted to us through our Holy Orthodox Church. As Christ our Saviour taught us in the parable of the talents, we are not to bury our talents but to cultivate, invest and employ them that they might manifest the reality of our faith in God. Each of us has different talents-for some it is the achievement of virtues; for others, power of prayer; some are gifted with practicing mercy and charity-and a few, special chosen are granted missionary zeal and fervor to preach the Gospel to the far corners of the earth.


Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 28:19)

A young Russian priest, inspired by the Lord's call to preach the Gospel to all nations , traveled to one of the far corners of the earth, to the band of the Rising Sun. He was to become known as one of the greatest missionaries of recent times and the "Enlightener of Japan"-Blessed Nicholas Kassatkin.

This righteous hierarch was born in l835 to the family of a poor deacon in the provincial village Beryoza of Smolensk. His pa rents, Deacon Dimitri and Matushka Xenia, were blessed with four children, Gabriel, Olga, Basil and the future great missionary to Japan who was given the name of John at baptism. When john was still very young his elder brother Gabriel died and not long after- wards, his mother also departed this life at the age of 35. His father worked hard to preserve his little family and instructed his children in piety and service to the Lord. As little john was the eldest of the two remaining boys, it is only natural that his father paid special attention to the cultivation of virtue and love of God in this child. He also taught him secular subjects. Among other things, he told him about the far off land of Japan; about how highly civilized and polite its people were. This struck a responsive chord in the heart of the youth who soon developed a great sense of love and respect for the Japanese people. He himself grew up to be a highly refined and dignified personality with a determined will.

When john was old enough, he was sent to the local elementary school, and upon completion, he entered a seminary in Belinski. After graduating from the seminary near the top of his class , he was sent to the Theological Academy in Petersburg from which he graduated in 1361, Through all these years he never lost his love for the Japanese.

It was during this time that Japan, after several hundred years of isolationism, once again opened its doors to foreign traders and diplomats. For the young seminarian this signaled an opportunity to evangelize the Far Fast. When a Russian embassy was established in. Hakodate, a port in northern Japan, and there arose a need for a priest to serve the diplomatic corps. John enthusiastically answered the call.

Immediately upon graduating from the academy, he was tonsured and given the name of Nicholas. He was soon ordained and the same year, at the age of 26, this young priest- monk set out upon the arduous journey across Siberia-alone. Sometimes he traveled on foot, sometimes by coach and lastly, by ship. Upon his arrival to Japan, Fr. Nicholas wrote back to his superiors in St. Petersburg that he was impressed by the highly civilized, polite, and refined character of the Japanese people. Yet, he could not help pitying them for they lacked the one good thing-faith in Jesus Christ the Saviour of mankind.

Unfortunately, the young missionary was not very warmly received either by the Russiansin Hakodate, nor by the Japanese who, because of the nation's previous isolationism, were not well disposed to hear the Gospel. The situation was discouraging. However, on September 9, 1861, he received a visit from Archbishop Innocent, Apostle to America, who rebuked him for his waning enthusiasm and advised him to study the Japanese language. Thus, his missionary zeal was rekindled and Father Nicholas began to apply himself in earnest to the study of Japanese. He studied diligently with a private tutor and also visited the Buddhist temples to listen to the sermons and study the vocabulary necessary to preach about virtues. His teacher was filled with admiration for his pupil's patience and ability to withstand hardships and proudly introduced Father Nicholas to many important people.

I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist (Luke 21:15)

During the time he was studying the language, Father Nicholas began his preaching. One evening, as he was sitting in his study, a samurai (Japanese war-lord) burst into the room brandishing a sword and threatened his life if he did not stop preaching and "corurupting" the local people. Humbly, the gentle Father Nicholas agreed to die-if the man would listen to what he was studying. Out of customary Japanese politeness, the samurai laid down his sword and agreed to listen. Father Nicholas began to tell his would-be- assassin about the creation of the universe by God, about His will for man and about how Christ came for man's salvation. The war- lord, Takuma Sawabe, became so engrossed in what Father Nicholas was explaining, that he gave no more thought to his original murderous intent and, in S t e a d, returned time and again to listen to the words of life and wisdom which flowed so sweetly from the lips of the zealous missionary. This Japanese samurai became the first man to be baptized by Father Nicholas and fourteen years later, when be was ordained to the priesthood, he became the first Japanese Orthodox priest- Father Paul Sawabe.

Within seven years, Father Nicholas had mastered reading and writing Japanese sufficiently to begin his translation work. As much as he is admired by the Japanese people for his gift as a preacher and evangelizer and as a merciful and 10 v i n g pastor, Blessed Nicholas' greatest talent is universally recognized as his ability to translate. Besides all of the other works for which he is known the righteous hierarch must be ac claimed for the vast quantities of material which he translated; he translated all of the Scriptures and all of the major services and prayers with the exception only of the Synax- anon and Typicon. He did not, however, hide himself in a closet to translate. This great lover of souls applied himself equally diligently to preaching instructing and pastoral care for his people. One of the first things he did as soon as he had begun to gather a flock, was to set up a carefully organized system of catechism. He established some rules for catechists and sent out a network of instructors to preach in the outlying areas. His teaching was best received in the rural districts, where the people are closer to God's creation, but he was not rejected in the urban areas either; by the time he reposed there were churches in almost all of the major cities in Japan including an immense cathedral erected in Tokyo.

On March 30, 1381, while he was touring Russia to collect funds for the building of this cathedral, he was consecrated Bishop. He returned with the funds from the Russian faithful and a beautiful set of bells donated by the Tsar. It took seven years to complete the construction of the cathedral which was dedicated to the Holy Resurrection. A semi nary was built on some adjacent property be longing to the cathedral. Here Orthodox young women were also accepted for instruction. This was one of the first public institutions of higher learning where ladies could study in all of Japan.

The fame of this outstanding missionary hierarch grew. The cathedral received more members and visitors so that each Sunday when he served, Nicholai-do (the affectionate name given in the cathedral by local residents) was filled from the front to the back. Bishop Nicholas continued to translate, preach and baptize. By the time of his repose on Feb. 3, 1912, more than 35,000 people had received Holy Baptism in Japan

May Blessed Nicholas' spirit of love and evangelism move everyone to employ his own talent, however small, to be a living witness, to the power and glory of Holy orthodoxy throughout the whole world!