Russian Orthodox Missions — July 9, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Hakodate and the Sendai Clan!


Father Nikola

While Pere Nicolai had been absent Dr. Sakai had come again to Hakodate, where he soon gained an extensive medical practice. Although the company of enquirers in Mr. Sawabe’s house received help from members of the Sendai clan who had no interest in Christianity, Dr. Sakai seemed indifferent to there needs . Mr. Sawabe and others were indignant at what they considered his stinginess. Some of the younger men went so far as to force their way into his house and show by their rough behavior how much they disapproved of his conduct. Whatever may have been the reason for his indifference, he afterwards showed that he was not miserly, for soon after the coming of the Archimandrite, Dr. Sakai brought to him a large package of silver coins ,saying, he had been saving this money in order that it might be used in the service of the Church. Pere Nicolai, while commending the zeal thus displayed, told him that perhaps the money would have been more acceptable to the Lord if it had been used for helping the brethren in their time of need.

Soon after this Mr. Sawabe was sent to Tokyo to make arrangements for the removal of Pere Nicolai to that city .On his arrival he found lodgings near Nihonbashi, the very center of the metropolis, and set himself to studying the state of affairs. There were all sorts of rumors concerning the attitude the Government was about to assume towards Christianity. Some said that the old edicts were soon to be removed. Already two scholars of growing influence, Nakamura Masanao and Fukuzawa Yukichi, had expressed sentiments in favor of religious liberty, and others were approving their views. Mr. Sawabe met some high officials of his acquaintance who expressed their willingness to have Christianity taught. He believed that whatever the real sentiment of the Government might be ,the favorable time for evangelistic efforts had come and that, since American and French missionaries were already in Yokohama and Tokyo, the Greek Church ought at the earliest possible moment to enter a field that to the enthusiastic pioneer seemed full of promise. He was living at this time with some friends belonging  to his own clan, who invited him to join them in a business enterprise that they were sure would make them rich. He refused saying, “Money  making is all very well in its way; but I have some business of far greater importance. I have consecrated myself to God for the work of preaching the Gospel.” In December, when Mr. One came on private business to Tokyo, Mr. Sawabe thought that his friend was the one best fitted to prepare the way for Pere Nicolai, and he therefore insisted on an exchange of places by which he himself was transferred to Sendai.

Fukuzawa Yukichi (福澤 諭吉?, January 10, 1835 – February 3, 1901) was a Japanese author, writer, teacher, translator, entrepreneur and political theorist who founded Keio University. His ideas about government and social institutions made a lasting impression on a rapidly changing Japan during the Meiji Era. He is regarded as one of the founders of modern Japan.

Nakamura was one of the first prominent Japanese philosophers to convert to Christianity, which he tempered with Confucian humanism and belief in the innate goodness of humanity. He viewed Christianity as the foundation for the military and economic strength of the western nations, and stated that Japan needed to discard its traditional beliefs as a necessary step in strengthening the nation. In this, he was one of the more radical members of the original circle of philosophers in the Meirokusha.

News from Sendai caused much anxiety.

Reports of what was going on spread though the city. It was commonly believed that the evangelists practiced magic. In February one of the hearers, who was well acquainted with the prefectural officers, heard reports that the latter were beginning to think they ought prohibit the teachings of Christianity and where preparing to make arrests. To his suggestion that the meetings be temporarily discontinued, Mr. Takaya replied:

“ From the first we were well aware that the officials might interfere with our work. If at the first rumor of trouble we cease proclaiming the Gospel, when will the time ever come for making Gods mercy known? It is not our business to consider whether the officials will make arrests. So long as we are left free, we shall continue our work”.

Several persons who had attended the meetings were put into prison, while others were summoned to the office for examination. Their names were learned from a list in Mr. Sawabe’s notebook. One hundred and fifty persons were put under the surveillance of relatives, who astonished the examiners by asserting their willingness to suffer punishment for the sake of Christ.

Guido Herman Fridolin Verbeck (born Verbeek) (28 January 1830 – 10 May 1898) was a Dutch political advisor, educator, and missionary active in Bakumatsu and Meiji period Japan. He was one of the most important o-yatoi gaikokujin (foreign advisors) serving the Meiji government and contributed to many major government decisions during the early years of the reign of Emperor Meiji.

Mr. Ono could not bear to think as his brethren as groaning in captivity, while he remained at liberty .He said that he ought to go and share their imprisonment, or even there death, if it should come to that. Pere Nicolai frowned upon such idea, and told  him that he ought to remain in Tokyo, devising some plan for the rescue of his brethren. Mr. Ono had an interview with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and though the agency of friends got Mr. Fukuzawa Yukichi to plead with the high officials against a persecution that would bring disgrace upon the nation. Some samurai from Sendai, who were in Tokyo, consulted with Dr. Verbeck, then an adviser to the Council of State, who appealed to Mr. Okuma and others connected with Government. When the prefectural officials presented a report of their action, the matter could no longer be disregarded by the central Government, and though there were differences of opinion among those in  authority, orders were sent to Sendai for the release of the prisoners. They were brought before the local officers that they might receive their sentence as follows:


During a trip to Nagasaki, Ōkuma met a Dutch missionary named Guido Verbeck, who taught him the English language and provided him with copies of the New Testament and the American Declaration of Independence. These works are often said to have affected his political thinking profoundly, and encouraged him to support efforts to abolish the existing feudal system and work toward the establishment of a constitutional government.

“ Although you are blameworthy for having studied the foreign religion, you are mercifully pardoned because you have repented of your fault .Take heed that you do not offend again”.

On hearing this Christians protested that they had repented of nothing, and therefore could not assent to the statement; but the officials would not listen, and ordered them to leave the place. Those that had been under surveillance were also called to the office and told that they were pardoned, but that they must henceforth be more careful to obey the laws.

It was a happy day for the released prisoners and their friends when they met in the chapel to return thanks for the deliverance . The persecution had its natural effect in dividing the chaff from the wheat. Some of the former attendants at the meetings had denied having any interest in Christianity; others had fled from home. The real enquirers had been bold, and considered it an honor to suffer persecution. The number of hearer were for a time diminished; but those that remained were more earnest then ever . After awhile there were additions to there ranks. In 1873,there were in Sendai twenty Christian families, besides about a hundred others in which were one or more believers. In all, there were about two hundred persons who had accepted Christianity, though few of them were baptized until 1875, when Mr. Sawabe, having been ordained as a priest administered the rite to one hundred and twenty nine persons.

Three days later, Mess-rs, Tsuda and Kageta were ordered to appear at the office.

After some delay, they were brought into the room where criminals were examined. On every side were displayed instruments of torture, whose very sight was thought sufficient to make persons tremble. With several police to guard them, the prisoners were placed before a platform on which were seated the examining official and his clerk.

After the names and ages of evangelists had been recorded, they were asked:

“On what business did you come to this city?”

“I came”, answered Mr. Tsuda, “for the purpose of studying the Russian language”.

“Why are you doing so?”

“In these days, when Japan is having dealings with other nations, I am likely to be asked by foreigners why their religion has been prohibited. It seemed to me that inability to give a reason would bring disgrace upon me and upon my country. Hence, I thought it necessary to examine their doctrines. In doing so, I soon found out that there was nothing to justify opposition. The religion at which this prohibition was aimed must have been something other than that Jesus, whose excellent teaching has brought the countries of Europe and America to the present state of civilization. Convinced of its truth, I was led to study it more thoroughly”.

“ This religion of Jesus, as you call it, is just the same as Christianity, and is not Christianity strictly forbidden by the edicts that are posted throughout the land” ?

“I of course know what is written in those edicts.”

Moreover I have from childhood been acquainted with Shintoism and Confucianism, as also with Buddhism, which has been the religion of my family. Since however, it was in the religion of Jesus that I first found the way of salvation and righteousness, I have desired to learn all that I could about it.”

“Since you are a student, there may be some reason for making an investigation of Christianity; but why have you been teaching the others?”

“Jesus said that we should bestow on others the same blessings that we desire for ourselves. Hence it is my whish to teach this religion, not merely in Hakodate, but in all parts of Japan.”

“The people of Hakodate are unintelligent. Hitherto they have been satisfied with Buddhism. To teach them something new, even though it may be good in itself , will only confuse them.

Mr. Tsuda seemed vexed at these words and said:

“Intelligence and lack of intelligence depends largely on the degree of instruction that a person receives. Hence, I am specially desirous to teach those that are ignorant”.

The officer, who seemed to be seeking some ground for pronouncing a sentence of condemnation again asserted: “The religion of Jesus is certainly the same as that which has been long prohibited”.

“Is it prohibited because it is evil, or because it is good “?asked Mr. Tsuda, thinking that if the answer was that it was evil, he would ask to be shown what points in it were evil ;while if acknowledgment were made that’s its doctrines were good, he would ask why then it was suppressed

The officer however waived the question, and simply said: Law is law, and you as a law breaker should tremble at thought of your wrong doing”.

“I am not conscious” said Mr. Tsuda, “of being a law breaker, for I have done nothing but study a good religion”.

The Colonization commission tried in vain to make the evangelists recant, and then, not knowing what to do with them, sent a report to the department of Justice with a request for instructions. The report arrive at about the time the case of the Sendai Christians was decided, and orders for the release of the evangelists. They were set free on May  1st, after an imprisonment of about two months. At the same time the officials of the Colonization Commission sent word to the prefectures to which these men belonged, asking that they be summoned to return to their homes.

Pere Nicolai’s name was becoming well known among all classes of people, and various stories of him were in circulation. Some said that he belonged to the Imperial Family of Russia; many considered him a spy; and others believed that he had been sent to win men’s hearts in order to facilitate the military conquest of Japan. Knowing that some of the officials suspected him of political designs, he sent the Foreign Department a memorial in which he denied that the doctrines’ of Christianity tended to shake the loyalty or patriotism of those that accepted them. The suspicion of the Government was not easily allayed. It had several spies enter the school to see whether anything taught there was likely to be a source of danger. One of these men became a Christian, and prepared a pension in favor of the public recognition of Christianity. Contrary to the advice of Mr. Ono, he tried to have this presented to the Emperor; but probably it did not get far beyond the first official into whose hands it came*

In 1877 a student in the Theological School confessed to Pere Nicolai that he had been sent by the police as a spy. He also became a believer.

Soon after the expiration of this sentence, Dr. Sakai was again summoned to the office and asked:

“Why is it that since being let out of prison you have broken your promise not to preach Christianity?”

“I have never made such a promise,” was the reply;”nevertheless, since my release I have not attempted to do missionary work. When I go about my duties as a physician, people ask me questions concerning my religious views, and I must make some reply .I could not refuse to answer if they asked about Buddhism or Shintoism; still less, when there are inquiries  about Christianity. If you forbid this, I am willing, for my disobedience to sufferer for whatever you may inflict upon my body ,but my spirit will not yield to such commands”.

At a later examination he was asked: “Why not give up Christianity until the Government approves of it? Ought you not to do what it commands?”

“Not if it commands what is wrong .If it ordered me to steel I would not obey”.

He was condemned to eighty days incarceration. At the time it was customary to let out the labor of prisoners. Dr .Sakai was employed in the garden of a man who often came out to converse with him while he was at work. Religious subjects were introduced, and the man became so much interested that he continued to hire Dr. Sakai from day to day, often inviting him into the house, where they could converse more at ease.

The officials said in one of their reports that it was useless to imprison such a person as Dr. Sakai, for while at work he was preaching to his employer, and after the day’s labor was over he taught his doctrines to the other prisoners. Among the latter he gained considerable influence. They thought him a strange person, but could not fail to honor his upright charter. When disputes arose among them, he was chosen to act as a judge. To keep him in prison was nearly equivalent to placing a Christian chaplain there.

With the increasing number of evangelists, a difference arose in Tokyo and those in Sendai, concerning the policy that should govern missionary operations. Pere Nicolai therefore called of them together or a council that met in May,1874.Several days were spent in consulting about the interests of the work, and in drawing up a new set of rules According to these realizations, there were to be two classes of workers; viz, evangelists and assistant evangelists. The duties and salaries of persons were prescribed..Changes in the location of evangelists were to be decided by the Tokyo Church as the metropolitan. While making the proclamation of the Gospel their chief work ,the evangelists might employ their spare time in any occupation for which they were fitted, and thus, by their industry, be an example to believers.

In may 1876,they took upon themselves the financial support of one evangelists.

Some of the other evangelists in that place were unwilling either to be a burden to their brethren or too receive help from the Mission.they therefore decided to support themselves by labor or trade, giving only their spare time to teaching Christianity。There withdrawal to this extent from evangelistic labors was regarded with so much concern by the Church that a meeting was held  in which it was decided to ask them to devote themselves as before to the propagation of Christianity. Mr. Ono consented to become an evangelist again, though he continued though he continued to provide for his own support as he was in the position of some property. the others refused to comply with the request, whereupon Pere Nicolai sent them a letter in which he commended their desire not to be burdensome to the Church but said that, while they needed little for their support, it took most of their time to gain that little and it would be better for them to present this time to God by using it for the benefit of the Church. Some of them finally consented to follow his advice that they accept support from the general fund used for the work of the Mission. When Pere Nicolai visited Sendai in 1877 a meeting of the Christians was held to consult with him concerning evangelistic efforts, one of the decisions being to divide the city into five parishes.

In 1877 Mr. Ono began to publish what is said to have been the first magazine in Northeastern Japan. The articles which dealt with moral, literary, and educational, as well as strictly religious subjects, attracted considerable attention and did much to put new ideas into the minds of the educated classes. The evangelists also arranged a course of public lectures that were held twice a month.

Though the subjects were largely secular and some of the speakers were not Christians, the lectures of the evangelists often turned to Christian themes, while their efforts in seeking the enlightenment of the people helped to recommend the religion.

He and eleven others that had taken some part in the matter were brought before courts and fined. In 1879 a church building was complete at the cost of some three thousand yen. Rev. Paul Sawabe then urged upon the believers the desirability of having the building provided with the various utensils used in the ceremonies of the Greek Church, whereupon the woman brought their hair ornaments, some of which had considerable value, as contribution toward the cost of what was needed.

It is one of the noteworthy features of the Holy Orthodox Church in Japan that it has depended so little upon  the  personal labors of the foreigners. Much of the time Pere Nicolai was the only one in the country, and at no other time has he had more than five or six European assistants.

As with the Protestants and Roman Catholics ,the members of this church early began to show that they had learned from the second of Christ’s great commandments the duty of charity. About 1873 the Christian woman of Hakodate formed a society whose purpose was in part to help the poor. Their zeal stirred up that of the men. Among the gifts of that year was a sum of money sent for the relief of those who were suffering from a famine in Russia. In Sendai and other places there were societies that lent money, sometimes with and sometimes without interest, to members of the churches.

Some of the funds were given outright to those that were unable to repay.

In 1875 when the overflowing of a river caused great distress among the poor in Sanuma ,the Christians of the place took measures for their relief.

Trouble frequently arose in connection with the burial of the dead. In January,1875,the father of a young girl that had died in Hakodate gave the usual notice to the officials and told the Buddhist priests of his intention to have a Christian burial..He was soon summoned to the office and told that only Buddhist and Shinto rites could be allowed, To this he replied: “My daughter is a Christian and so am I. To have a heathen ceremony would be to disobey the commandments of the true God, and so I cannot permit such to be performed.”

“But Christian rites are contrary to law”.

“I must obey God. If by so doing I offend against the laws of the land, I must submit to the punishment that awaits me”.

Some of the friends advised that the burial should be in a cemetery that had been set apart for the use of foreigners, over which the priests had no control; but the Japanese ought not to consent, and rather than do it, he would suffer the penalty that might be incurred by violating the Law. Finally the burial took place in a piece of ground that Pere Anatolius succeeded in renting for a cemetery, and though the father was summoned before the officials no punishment was inflicted on him.


The following statement prepared in1903, by one of the Bishop Nicolai’s assistants, shows what response was made to the objection that came from the prejudice felt against Russia:

“From the present political situation of Japan and Russia, since the Japanese Orthodox Church is aided by the Russian Missionary Society, some are led to believe that the church is necessarily Russianised and given the Russian forms. This is indeed a misapprehension. Such misconceptions have occurred in every age and we rather pity those who thus misunderstand us. it will be evident to one who has observed both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Japanese Orthodox Church, that the Japanese Church is not Russianised at all, even though it be aided by Russia. Bishop Nicolai, who is the apostle to Japan, did not introduce customs which were exclusively Russian at all. He only handed down the doctrines and customs of the Eastern Church of the Holy Catholic Apostles.In1893 Archbishop Deonish of Zante, an island of the west cost of Greece, visited our Japanese Orthodox Church The Archbishop is a Greek and belongs to the Greek Church However he came to the Cathedral at Surugadai and worshiped with the Japanese priests without changing his form of the worship. He thus proved by his action that the Japanese Orthodox Church, which was established by the Russian Missionary society, is just the same as those Orthodox Churches found in Greece and neighboring countries In the year 1895 Archbishop Gerashim of Jerusalem sent to our Japanese Orthodox Church a holy Image that our reciprocal and harmonious relations might thereby be manifest. This shows plainly that the Orthodox Church established in Jerusalem is wholly like the Orthodox Churches found in all Eastern Europe”.*

Besides the objection growing out of its relation to Russia, the Orthodox Church shared with others the popular dislike of Christianity. The following instances will show how this dislike manifested itself. In 1894 an evangelist visited a village in the province of Ise where there were two converts..The villagers were soon aroused to active opposition, and drew up a covenant containing the following articles:

“Christians shall be deprived of their former rights in the common forests”. Christians shall not be admitted into our houses, nor will we enter theirs. If it is necessary to transact any business with them, we will stand outside of their houses while talking with them”.

“We will prevent the Christians from working in the mountains. We will not turn aside for them when we meet them upon the street”.

In places where both Greek and Protestant evangelists were working, their relations, though not very close, were usually cordial except as sometimes feeling was aroused by the converts of one passing over the other. In case the removal was from the Greek Church ,the severe terms of the ban of excommunication prescribed by its ritual were not calculated to promote harmony.

In the city of Wakayama the workers of the Greek Orthodox, the Episcopalian, and the Presbyterian churches, thirteen in number, and including four foreign missionaries, had a society which met once a month.

The Church members also had an alliance that provided for public lectures once a month. When attempts were made in 1898 to introduce into Wakayama Prefecture the system of licensed prostitution, from which it had hitherto been exempt, the Protestant churches proposed to the Greek and Roman that they should unite in opposing this effort. This was done; Letters signed by representatives of each church  were sent out , officials and legislators were interviewed, and a mass meeting was held in a theater with addresses by the Protestant and Greek evangelists.*

Another address made by Bishop Nicolai about five months later after the beginning of the war expressed his appreciation of the attitude of the Japanese Government and spoke of the difficulties experienced by the church .It will also serve to show us something of his own spirit he said:

“Dear brethren and co workers. Our meeting is at an unfavorable time for the church, but from our hearts we give praise and thanks to God that through his mercy the church remains in peace unmolested and that its members still maintain their good faith each worker doing his duty faithfully. We also give thanks to the Japanese government for its kind protection .From the beginning of this war the Government declared that religion and politics or war should not be confounded that no one should be hindered in religious rights or faith. As you know this declaration has been kept. Only one or two suspicious persons have disturbed the peace of our Christians ,and they have since been suppressed by the local governors. But the protection of the Government is only from the outside storm, and if in the inner life of the church troubles should arise, the government cannot protect us. A rotten boat is easily sunk by the waves; a worm eaten tree falls easily by the wind. Toward our church there is at present no heavy storm but there are winds of hatred brewing by which we have been so far unmoved. No Christians have broken faith no workers have left their posts of duty

As the blood flows through the whole body and gives life ,we have evidence that just so  the mercies of God are flowing through our Church body and that the Greek Church of Japan is not built upon the sand but is founded upon the cornerstone of eternity .

Brethren observe this and know that God has accepted and blessed our little service, and rejoices that our labor is not in vain. Is this not a great comfort and consolation to us ?.Our church is not only existing in the mist of this troublesome time, but it is growing. Of course the number of additions this year is less than the last .The voice of the gospel of peace is drowned by the shouts of war. It is hard to reach the ear but some few have heard and accepted, and these are precious fruit to the kingdom of God”.*

After the war with Japan, the disturbed state of Russia and the financial stringency existing there led to a great falling off in the receipts of the Russian Missionary Society. This necessitated a reduction in the activates of the Japanese Church .At the Annual convention held in July 1907,it was decided to lessen  expenses by diminishing the number of evangelists and students. This difficulty was bravely met by the Archbishop

A statement under his direction says:

“Faced as it is by the necessity. Of attaining self support, the Japanese Church will rather look upon this necessity as a providence of the Most High which is designed to be a strong stimulus to further progress”.

Hitherto this Church had made but little advance in the way of self support; and it may be that, as has been the case with some others ,the lessening of Foreign aid will prove a blessing, and that what now seems a misfortune will hereafter be looked upon as one of the best  things that could have happened to it at this stage of its development.

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