Nicholas of Japan bigraphy, stories - Russian Orthodox priest

Nicholas of Japan : biography

1836 - February 16, 1912

Saint Nicholas, Equal-to-the-Apostles, Archbishop of Japan, born Ivan Dimitrovich Kasatkin ( August 1 (August 13) 1836 - February 16, 1912) was a Russian Orthodox priest, monk, and saint. He introduced the Eastern Orthodox Church to Japan."Святый Николае, иерарше равноапостольне... молися о всем мире", Pravoslavie.RU, February 2007, in Russian The Orthodox cathedral of Tokyo (metropolitan diocese of Japan), Tokyo Resurrection Cathedral, was informally named after him as Nikorai-do, first by the local community, and today nationwide, in remembrance of his work.


On July 2, 1861, Nicholas landed at Hakodate, Hokkaidō, 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 studied Japanese and quickly gained mastery of the language.

While at the consulate chapel, he converted three Japanese, one of whom, a former samurai and Shinto priest named Sawabe Takuma, had originally come to his home to kill him. After conversion, Sawabe became one of the first Japanese Orthodox priests. In 1870, Nicholas was made an archimandrite and 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 Orthodox Archbishop of Japan. Under his leadership, by 1870 the Orthodox community numbered more than 4,000 people and by 1912 - about 33 thousand people and 266 Orthodox communities.

Nicholas was consecrated bishop on March 30, 1880, as Bishop of Revel, auxiliary to the Archdiocese of Riga. While Nicholas never visited the city, the parish of Revel supported his Japanese mission financially. In the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, bishops sign with their parish, but Nicholas made his habit to sign as "Episcop (Bishop) Nicholai", without mentioning Revel.小野貞治「聖アンドロニク主教来日百周年」、『西日本正教』、2007年 He presided over the consecration of the Tokyo Resurrection Cathedral in 1891, and was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop of All Japan by the Russian Orthodox Holy Synod on April 6, 1907.

Russo-Japanese War

During the Russo-Japanese War, Nicholas stayed in Japan. Those days were very difficult for him. His love for the land of his birth conflicted with his duty as the bishop of Japan to support his faithful and to pray for the Japanese Emperor and the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy: in the orthodox liturgy at that time, priests must explicitly pray not only benediction on the sovereign and his army, but also for the defeat of his enemies in the intercession. Nicholas 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 prisoners of war. In a letter on the conditions of a camp in Hamadera, Osaka, Nicholas wrote of his astonishment at the Russians soldiers' illiteracy: nine of ten captives could not read. Nicholas sent priests and teachers to camps to educate and care for the captives. His attitude and manners impressed not only the Orthodox faithful but also non-Christians.


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. Nicholas'. 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.

There is a church which commemorates him in Maebashi, Gunma, built in 1974. There is also an Eastern Orthodox Church dedicated to Saint Nikolai of Japan in Moscow.


Even Emperor Meiji was impressed with his character, especially his diplomatic efforts between the Russian Imperial Household and the Japanese government. When the Russian Tsar Nicholas II was the Tsarevich under Alexander III, the young Nicholas II visited Japan and was injured during the Ōtsu Incident by a Japanese policeman. Bishop Nicholas made a great effort to resolve this incident.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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