THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR AND ST. NICHOLAS OF JAPAN

Written by Vladimir Moss

The Russo-Japanese war of 1905-05, which ended in defeat for Russia, caused particular problems for the Russian Orthodox Mission in Japan, headed by Archbishop Nicholas (Kasatkin). A peasant from Smolensk province, St. Nicholas first went to Japan in 1861. Encouraged to learn Japanese by St. Innocent, enlightener of Alaska, he began an astonishingly successful mission that brought tens of thousands of native Japanese to the faith and aroused the admiration of all, including the Japanese. In July, 1882 he presided over the first All-Japanese Orthodox Council. A delegation from Peking was also present, including several churchmen who were later martyred during the Boxer Uprising in 1900.[1]

On the eve of the Russo-Japanese war, “alarmed by the possibility of war with their co-religionists, the Orthodox Japanese turned to their bishop. He replied that they, like all Japanese, were obliged by their oath to carry out their military duty, but to fight was not at all the same as to hate one’s enemy, but meant to defend one’s fatherland. The Saviour Himself bequeathed patriotism to us when He sorrowed over the lot of Jerusalem.[2] The archpastor himself decided to stay in Japan with his flock, even if there was a war…

“It began in February 1904. Then Bishop Nicholas handed over all ecclesiastical affairs to the council of priests, and himself served his last liturgy before the war. At the end of the service in his farewell sermon to his flock he called on it to pray for victory for their fatherland, but he, as a subject of the Russian Emperor, could not take part in the common service; but he would be happy to see his flock carrying out their duty. In his encyclical of February 11, 1904, Bishop Nicholas blessed the Japanese to carry out their duty, not sparing their lives, but reminded them that our fatherland is the Church, where all Christians constitute one family; he told them to pray for the re-establishment of peace and asked for mercy to prisoners of war.[3] After this he shut himself away and gave himself over to exploits of prayer…

“Nobody in Russia understood the hierarch of Japan as well as Emperor Nicholas II. At the end of the war the Tsar wrote to him: ‘You have shown before all that the Orthodox Church of Christ is foreign to worldly dominion and every tribal hatred, and embraces all tribes and languages with her love. In the difficult time of the war, when the weapons of battle destroy peaceful relations between peoples and rulers, you, in accordance with the command of Christ, did not leave the flock entrusted to you, and the grace of love and faith gave you strength to endure the fiery trial and amidst the hostility of war to keep the peace of faith and love in the Church created by your labours…’”[4]

St. Nicholas made some penetrating remarks on the course of the war and its spiritual causes. Thus on July 19 / August 1, 1904 he wrote: “The Japanese are beating us, all the peoples hate us, it seems as if the Lord God has poured out His wrath upon us. And how could it be otherwise? Why should we be loved and pitied? Our nobility has been corrupted over the centuries by serfdom and has become debauched to the marrow of its bones. The simple people has been oppressed over the centuries by the same serfdom and has become ignorant and crude to the highest degree; the service class and the bureaucrats have lived through bribery and stealing from the State and now at all levels of service, wherever it is possible to steal, there is the most shameless and universal stealing from the State. The upper class is a collection of monkeys; they are imitators and worshippers, now of France, now England, now Germany and of every other thing that is foreign. The clergy, oppressed by poverty, can hardly repeat the catechism – are they capable of developing Christian ideals and sanctifying themselves and others through them?… And with all that we have the very highest opinion of ourselves: we only are true Christians, we only have real enlightenment, while there we see only darkness and corruption… No, it is not for nothing that the present woes have overwhelmed Russia – she herself has drawn them upon herself. Only work it, O Lord God, that this may be the punishing staff of Thy love! Do not allow, O Lord, that my poor Homeland should be destroyed to the end! Save and have pity!”

Again, on May 20 / June 2, 1905 he wrote: “Russia is not a naval power. God gave her land covering one sixth of the world and stretching without interruption across the continent, without any islands. And she could have taken possession of it peacefully, exploiting its wealth and converting it to the good of her people; she could have taken care of the material and spiritual well-being of her citizens. But all this was not enough for the Russian government; it is expanding its possessions more and more; and by what means! Is it really a good thing to attempt to conquer Manchuria and take it from China?

“’We need a warm-water port.’ Why? To give our sailors something to boast about? Well, let them now boast in the unheard-of shame of their defeat [at Tsushima]. It is obvious that God was not with us, because we destroyed His righteousness.

“’Russia has no outlet to the ocean.’ What for? Do we have trade here? None at all. The fleet had done a good job defending a handful of Germans who are conducting their German trade here… All we needed were a few ships to catch those who are stealing from our fishermen, and a few fortresses on the coast; in the event of war these same fortresses would defend the ships and would not allow the enemy to take control of the coast.

“’Why do you need Korea?’ I once asked Admiral Dubasov. ‘It should be ours by natural right,’ he replied. ‘When a man stretches out his legs, he is chained down by what is on his legs; we are growing and stretching our legs. Korea is on our legs, we cannot stop stretching out to the sea and making Korea ours.’ So that’s what they did! They cut off our legs!

“And God is not defending His people because it has done unrighteousness. The God-Man wept over Judaea, but did not defend it from the Romans. I used to say to the Japanese: ‘We will always be friends with you, because we cannot bump into each other: we are a continental power, you are a naval power; we can help each other, supplement each other, but there will never be a reason for enmity.’ I always said this boldly right up to our taking Port Arthur from the Japanese after the Chinese-Japanese war. ‘God, what have they done now!’ were my first words and groan when I heard about this unclean act of the Russian government. Now we can see to what misfortune it has brought Russia.

“… It was not need for a fleet that created the Russian fleet, but vainglory; while lack of talent prevented us from arming it properly, which is why everything ended in dust. Will Russia at least now renounce the role of a great sea power that does not belong to her? Or will she continue in her blindness and try again to create a fleet, exhausting her resources, which are very much needed for more vital, truly vital things, like the education of the people, the exploitation of her internal resources and such like? She will be unprecedentedly powerful if she firmly and clearly recognizes herself to be a continental power, but fragile and weak – like a weak hermaphrodite – if she again begins to see herself as also a great sea power which must therefore have a big fleet, which in such a case will always be the prey of her enemies and the source of shame for herself. Help her, O Lord, to become cleverer and more honourable!… My soul is in torment for my dear Fatherland, which its ruling class has made stupid and dishonourable…”

Archbishop Nicholas may have been a sharp critic of his Homeland, but his noble affirmation, in word and deed, of the primacy of faith over politics did not go unappreciated. After the war he was awarded the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky by the Tsar, and the Holy Synod raised him to the rank of archbishop. His death in 1912 was covered by all the newspapers of Japan. His life witnessed vividly to the fact that Christianity, while supporting true patriotism, is a universalist religion which always places the universalist message of the Gospel above the interests of any individual State or nation.

September 26 / October 9, 2018.

[1] http://www.orthodox.cn/history/martyrs/188207jpcouncil_en.htm.

[2] As he wrote in his diary for January 30 / February 12, 1904: “Pray to God that He give victory to your emperor’s army. Thank God for the victories He gives. And sacrifice to the needs of the war… Fight, not out of hatred to the enemy, but out of love for your fellow-citizens… In a word, do everything that is required of you by love for your Fatherland. Love for the Fatherland is a holy feeling. The Saviour consecrated this feeling by His example: out of love for His earthly Fatherland He wept over the wretched lot of Jerusalem. But besides our earthly Fatherland we also have a Heavenly Fatherland. This Fatherland of ours is the Church, of which we are all equally members and through whih the children of the Heavenly Father truly constitute one family. Therefore I am not separating from you, brothers and sisters, and I remain in your family. And we shall together fulfil our duty with regard to our Heavenly Fatherland.” (V.M.)

[3] Many wounded Russian prisoners of war were nursed by their Japanese co-religionists. (V.M.)

[4] Pravoslavnaia Zhizn’ (Orthodox Life), 1982; in Fomin and Formina, op. cit., vol. I, p. 372.

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