Nikolai of Japan

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Saint Nikolai of Japan, Nikolai Kasatkin (born Ivan Dimitrovich Kasatkin August 1 of Julian calendar/ August 13 of Gregorian calendar, 1836; died February 16, 1912) was a Russian Orthodox priest, monk, and saint. He introduced the Eastern Orthodox Church to Japan. The Orthodox cathedral of Tokyo (metropolitan diocese of Japan), Tokyo Resurrection Cathedral, was informally named after him as Nikolai-do by the local community, in remembrance of his work.

Nikolai was born on 1 August in Smolensk prefecture, 1836 (in the Russian calendar), son of Dimitry Kasatkin, a Russian Orthodox deacon. His mother died when he was five years old. He grew up in the church hierarchy: in 1857 he entered to the Theological Academy in Saint Petersburg. On July 7, 1860 (by the Julian calendar, July 19 by the Gregorian calendar), he became a monk and chose the name of Nikolai. Nikolai was ordained a deacon on July 12 (July 24) in the same year, on the day of Saints Peter and Paul, and on the next day July 13 (July 25) was ordained a priest, on the feast day of the Holy Apostles, which was the commemoration day of the Academy's Chapel of the Holy Apostles.

On July 2, 1861, Nikolai landed at Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan, as a priest attached to the chapel of the Russian consulate in Hakodate. He had volunteered for the appointment to this duty, attracted since the day he noticed a poster calling for a priest for this chapel when he was a seminary student. After he arrived at the consulate he had studied Japanese and quickly gained mastery of the language.

While at consulate chapel, he converted three Japanese. Later, he moved to Tokyo, and began an extensive missionary effort. He bought property on a height in Kanda Surugadai for his headquarters which later became the site of the see of the Bishop of Japan. Under his leadership more than 250 communities were formed, and churches built.

Nikolai was consecrated bishop on March 30, 1880, as Bishop of Revel, auxiliary to the Archdiocese of Riga. He was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop of All Japan by the Russian Holy Synod on April 6, 1907.

During the Russo-Japanese War, Nikolai stayed in Japan. Those days were very difficult for him—his love for the land of his birth, Russia, conflicted with his duty as the bishop of Japan to support his faithful and to pray for the Japanese Emperor and the Imperial Army and Navy. Nikolai therefore did not participate in any public services during the war; instead he encouraged his Japanese faithful to both pray for and to contribute to the Army and Navy. Some encouraged him to go back to Russia but he refused and worked eagerly for Japanese faithful and Russian captives. In a letter on the conditions of a camp in Hamadera, Osaka, Nikolai wrote of his astonishment at the Russians soldiers' illiteracy: nine of ten captives couldn't read. Nikolai sent priests and teachers to camps who educated and cared for the captives. His attitude and manners impressed not only the Orthodox faithful but also non-Christians.

Even Emperor Meiji was impressed with his character, especially his Christian and diplomatic efforts between the Russian Imperial Household and the Japanese government. When the Russian Tsar Nikolai II was the Tsarevich under Alexander III, the young Nikolai II visited Japan and was injured by a mentally-ill Japanese policeman, Otsu Jiken, Bishop Nikolai made a great effort to resolve this incident.

Nikolai's study of Japanese was fruitful, allowing him to translate all liturgy books and many parts of the Bible including the whole of the New Testament, Psalms, Genesis, and the Book of Isaiah with help from a Japanese Christian and scholar Nakai Tsugumaro who ran a famous kanbun private school Kaitokudo in Osaka. Nikolai was the first saint of the Japanese Orthodox Church. After his death his body was buried in Tokyo Metropolitan Yanaka Cemetery, near Ueno. In 1970 he was canonized as Equal to the Apostles, Archbishop of Japan, St. Nikolai. His feast day is February 3, February 16 old-style. The Russian Orthodox Church and the Japanese Orthodox Church celebrate this feast nationwide on the old-style date.

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