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February 3, 2018

An Article About Saint Nicholas of Japan From 1904

The following article, titled "Father Nicolai and the Holy Church", was originally published in the Fukuin Shimpō, which means "Weekly Gospel", a prominent weekly Christian paper in Japan, and republished in the Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal in May of 1904 (Vol. 35, No. 5, pp. 219-345), eight years prior to his repose.

By K. Ishikawa

Father Nicolai first came to Japan as a missionary in 1861, or the first year of Bunkyu (文久), the sixth month, before the writer was born. He was then twenty-four years old. From that time to this, almost fifty years, he has had but a single purpose — evangelization — and his labors have resulted in the establishment of the Sei Kyōkwai (Holy Church, 聖教会).

Few of us today can realize the difficulties of his environment during this half-century, the suspicion and hatred of which he has been the object. But he himself does not seem to think that his difficulties have been great or unusual. He seems to think it a matter of course that those who propagate the Christian religion should encounter the opposition of men.

He began his work in Hakodate (函館) about the time of the Restoration (1867-8). At that time Hakodate was the rendezvous of the defeated adherents of the Tokugawa (徳川) and other malcontents from the provinces. Many of them sought the acquaintance of Father Nicolai. On this account the leaders of the victorious Sat-Chō party (薩長同盟) came to regard him with suspicion as a Russian spy, and all who associated with him were looked upon as friends of the lost cause of the Tokugawa and enemies of the existing government. This foolish suspicion against Nicolai is not entertained by any today, but until a few years ago it was widely held.

And again, on account of the transactions with the Russian government regarding the Kurile Islands and other matters, Russia came to be regarded by the Japanese as an unfriendly country; and as the name of Father Nicolai was better known than even those of the Russian Minister and Consuls, whenever the word "Russia" was named, Bishop Nicolai was thought of, and since the people hated Russia, they came to hate the name of Nicolai.

Such was the evil condition of Japanese society in which he had to do his work as a missionary, a very different condition from that which met the missionaries from England, America, France and Germany, who had in their favor the incoming tide of Western civilization.

But his greatest difficulties were not those from without, but internal. It has been a common opinion that the Russian Church bore the expenses of this mission—a very great mistake. There is no special fund in the Russian Church for foreign missions. There is a small Foreign Mission Society, but its object is evangelization in Siberia and other frontier regions of Russia. It does not lay stress on foreign missions proper. Its contributions to the Japan Mission from the first year of Meiji (明治, 1868) have been very meager, and even today there is no increase in the appropriations. Hence, since nothing could be accomplished with the meager grant from the Mission Society, Bishop Nicolai has, with great difficulty, procured funds from individuals from year to year. These individual contributions have come mainly from priests in Russia, rarely from nobles and rich merchants. And since these gifts were insufficient, he has used the whole of his episcopal salary for the work.

The expenses of the Mission in all its departments, including schools, printing, buildings, repairs, etc., do not exceed Yen 72,000 or 73,000 ($36,000). The difficulty of maintaining such a mission on so small a sum is truly great. And what of the organization which is carried on at such small cost? The number of churches whose pastors and evangelists are supported by the Mission is over 200. Those churches are able to bear, as a rule, only their incidental expenses; there being scarcely any self-supporting churches. The salaries of pastors and evangelists are all paid from the treasury of the Central Church in Tokyo. This fact is greatly to the shame and grief of the members of the Sei Kyōkwai. At present the membership of the Nihon Sei Kyōkwai totals 27,966. There are forty pastors (priests), 140 evangelists, about thirteen editors and translators, seven or eight professors in a theological school, twelve or thirteen teachers in a girls' school, seventy-eight theological students, sixteen students in a training school for evangelists, and eighty-three students in a woman's theological school. Besides these, there is a large number of teachers of singing and ten or more priests employed in various ways. The students of the theological schools, girls' school, etc., are nearly all boarding pupils, whose expenses are borne by the Church, about one-third of the Mission funds going for school expenses.

There are also periodicals of three kinds maintained at no small expense; and every year large expense is incurred in the publication of translations and new books. It is plain, therefore, that, after all these expenses have been met, the amount remaining for direct evangelistic work is not great.

The man who labors as an evangelist in the Sei Kyōkwai has need of great patience and steadfastness; none but those who voluntarily and gladly choose a lifelong fight with poverty could remain in the service a single day. The evangelists of the Sei Kyōkwai, as a rule, live on about one-half the salary received by evangelists in the various Protestant denominations. Nevertheless, for the sake of the Way, they are joyfully maintaining the fight with poverty as they go on preaching. Not being an evangelist himself, the writer can make this statement without reserve.

Father Nicolai sympathizes profoundly with the evangelists in their hard life and grants all the aid in his power, at the same time earnestly urging upon the churches the importance of helping their evangelists and pastors. And these nearly 200 pastors and evangelists who preach the gospel while enduring hardness have a worthy example in the Bishop himself. Being, of course, unmarried, he has no house of his own. This man, who in Russia would be fit for a Minister of State, has not only no home of his own, he has no property, hardly anything at all. In a corner of the Cathedral at Surugadai (駿河台), a room of eight mats (twelve feet square) serves as office, bedroom and dining room. The furniture consists of a table, a bed, two chairs, a small bureau, bookshelf and book rack. There is not a single article of ornament. He has also a small reception room, where he receives everyone, student or Minister of State alike. As for clothes, he has one or two suits for special occasions and two or three ordinary suits for summer and winter. Bishop though he is, he has a scantier wardrobe than some of us. In his room no clock is seen. The plain silver watch he carries was given him by relatives. He has no finger rings or other such ornaments, of course. His best pair of spectacles is framed in silver. I have friends, evangelists, who have finer watches and spectacles than the Bishop.

As to daily habits. He rises at six a.m. and breakfasts at half-past six on a bit of bread and a cup of tea. Butter and the like he does not use at all. At half-past seven, the year round, he goes to his translation. The New Testament, prayer books and other important literature used in the Sei Kyōkwai were all prepared by the Bishop and his helpers. He works till noon, with an intermission of ten minutes. At noon he takes luncheon, consisting of two or three very plain articles. He then takes a siesta till about two p. m. From two p. m. he transacts business with his secretaries and managers for several hours. From six to nine p.m. he works as in the forenoon. As he takes no evening meal, he has really but one meal a day. [The light breakfast above mentioned not counting as a meal, apparently, in the mind of the writer.-Tr.]

During this period (evening?) he writes with his own hand his letters to learned men in Europe and America, to the Russian Church, etc., not troubling his secretaries with such work. He only employs a secretary for correspondence when writing a Japanese letter. All other letters and his accounts he writes with his own hand.

In our church there is but one missionary, Bishop Nicolai. There have come two others who are called missionaries, but they are priests for the Legation and have no connection with the Church (Sei Kyōkwai).

The whole business of the Church is in the hands of this one man, Father Nicolai, with his sixty-eight or sixty-nine years. On this account he never takes a summer vacation. We usually go away for a month in summer, but he remains summer and winter working away in the little room described above. Here he works without relaxation the year through. In my opinion Father Nicolai does more work than the eight Ministers of State in Japan put together.

And in the midst of all this labor he reads the Japan Times, the Ji Shimpō, daily papers of Russia, five or six theological magazines and recent publications in English, German and Russian, so that he is thoroughly informed in the affairs of the world and in the theological developments of the West. He also reads Uchimura Kanzo's "Bible Study" (a Japanese periodical) and always marks with a blue pencil his criticisms. He reads also the writings of distinguished Japanese like Shimada Saburo and the late Mr. Fukuzawa. Being thoroughly conversant with the Japanese written language he can, of course, read such works in the original.

Father Nicolai is the only missionary in the Sei Kyōkwai, but, as a religionist, he is a pattern in his life of self-conquest, self-control and unresting industry. We may be ever so poor, but we cannot be poorer than Father Nicolai. We may be ever so diligent in labor, but we cannot excel him in the amount of work done. He is now nearly seventy years old. The writer is only twenty-nine, but in physical energy he cannot compare with the Bishop. If there were ten missionaries in the Protestant churches who would put forth half the energy exerted by Father Nicolai, I believe the power of those churches would be increased ten-fold. Whenever I compare the hundreds of missionaries with their wives and children enjoying their vacations at the summer resorts with Bishop Nicolai in his little room at Surugadai, dripping with perspiration as he toils on at his work, strange feelings arise.

The existence of the Sei Kyōkwai of today is due to the labors of Father Nicolai. The policy of his Mission is to evangelize Japan through Japanese alone. No effort is made to introduce foreign customs into Japan, apart from the customs inherent in universal Christianity. The aim is to establish a truly Japanese church.

In methods no attempt is made at external show. The one method of the Sei Kyōkwai is a method of the utmost quiet and mental concentration, viz., expounder and hearers sitting together in a quiet room, tasting the gospel. Instead of noisy "lecture-meetings," like the blare of trumpets in the ears of hundreds of auditors, our method is to sit in the secret room urging sinners to repentance by the light of the gospel. The kingdom of Christ is not to be organized from students seeking novelty, nor from people who are amused with the striking terms of the so-called "New Theology," but it is to be made up of repentant and converted sinners.