St. Nicholas of Japan, Equal to the Apostles

St. Nicholas, Equal to the Apostles and Archbishop of Japan, is  commemorated on February 16.  Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, the former bishop of Japan and now retired writes:

 

“I was in Japan when Nikolai Kasatkin was recognized as a saint and as a founder of the Japanese Orthodox Church given the title ‘equal to the apostles.’  I wished to know him as well as possible and so I set myself the task of translating his sermons, which were written in the Japanese of 100 years ago, as remote from modern Japanese perhaps as Slavonic is from Russian, so much has that language changed.  . . .  But gradually I filled a notebook with these sermons deciphered as if from a code and I was struck by the figure of this man . . .  First by his titanic will, a true soldier, or samurai, of Christ living in considerable isolation for 50 years and yet building a national church.  Beyond this I was struck by his pastoral spirit–how he reached out to the Japanese trying to find the words they could receive …

St. Nikolai… out of the pastoral need to explain to Japanese believers how Christianity could fit to the history and culture of their country… began to develop [a vision] from his first encounters with Buddhism, staying for some time in a Buddhist temple in Tokyo while the Holy Resurrection Cathedral was being built.  His first encounters with the native religion, Shinto, had been less positive, being threatened with death by a young Shintoist whom however, impressed by Nikolai’s courage and calm, became a convert and the first Orthodox Japanese priest.  And Nikolai saw good also in the Shinto heritage.   . . .

 

We would note that St. Nikolai does not engage what could be said to be a deeper metaphysics of Buddhism, for example the sense of ‘Nothingness’ and ‘Void’ as later Christian writers will do.  Nonetheless his orientation of in a sense full acceptance is in the spirit of the early Christian Fathers who regarded Greek and other cultures as being, like the Hebrew Old Testament, a good to be accepted as the ground which is completed in Christ.  The phrase Nikolai uses of ‘nursemaid’ is an early Christian expression for previous philosophy and religion. . . .  the vision of St. Nikolai Kasatkin, born out of the pastoral situation in Japan, both reaches back to the vision of the early church fathers such as St. Justin who said that all that is good is the heritage of Christians, whatever its source, and unites to and supports the vision of the world moving through the ages to God . . . 

So for one thing we see Fr. Men as in the tradition of St. Stephen of Perm, St. Innokenty Venniaminov and here clearly St. Nikolai Kasatkin, in openness to the cultures of those we approach in mission, and as to other religions the case is explicit in St. Nikolai… it is a building of bridges to other families of humanity and their faith.  This is in accord with the example of early Christians such as St. Justin who said that all that is good in human culture is our inheritance in Christ, and it is explicitly stated by St. Nikolai as we have seen…” 

(TAPESTRY, pp 86-92)

 

 

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Zacchaeus (1993)

Sermon notes from  January 31, 1993

We have all heard the story of Zacchaeus many times. The wee little man who wanted to see Jesus. We all know that it is a lesson to each of us to seek out Christ the Lord and He will find us, where ever we are.

Today, I also want to speak to you about the lesson of Zacchaeus from the point of view of Jesus the Son of God. For it was Jesus who saw Zacchaeus sitting in the tree, and it was Jesus who spoke first to Zacchaeus. The significance of these factors is important for those of us in this mission parish. Because, we are now the body of Christ in the world. We are the Lord’s hands, and feet and eyes. And we, my friends, must keep our eyes open for others like Zacchaeus who are seeking Jesus or who want to take a peek at Jesus. There still are many such people out there behind the crowds, some who are almost too small to notice, some who have climbed into some obscure place or tree because they think that will give them a better vantage point to see Christ or His Church. There are such people out there, and we as the body of Christ, and as eyes of Christ, must seek them out and call them into the fellowship of the Church.

The Lord Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost. We must keep our eyes open for such lost. The lost are not always found in the most obvious or convenient places. Our eyes must be open to see them where ever they are.

The lost may not be people we want to associate with. Remember that the good people who followed Jesus, were shocked that Jesus would associate with the likes of Zacchaeus. For Zacchaeus was a thieving tax collector. Zacchaeus was a traitor to his nation for he chose to collect taxes for the Roman conquerors. Not only did he collect taxes to give to Rome, but by his own admission he forced his fellow Jews to pay higher taxes than normal so that he could get rich. Zacchaeus was repugnant in the eyes of his people. But that is not how Christ saw him. Christ saw him as the lost sheep, seeking mercy and love. And Christ extended love to him.

We my friends are to do the same, to see those who are looking for Christ, even if they are undesirable, and then to invite them into the fellowship of faith. If they come, it is because God has called them, not because we chose them.

There is an old Jewish story about Moses that says when Moses was tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, a young lamb escaped and ran away. Moses was tired and angry from a hard day of work, yet he had to give chase to the run away lamb. The lamb ran through the rocky wilderness terrain until it came to a pool of water where it stopped to drink. When Moses got to the pool, he looked at the lamb and said, “I did not know that you ran away because you were thirst: now you must be tired.” So he picked up the lamb, put it on his shoulder and walked back to the rest of the flock. God then said to Moses, “Because you have shown mercy in leading the flock of mortal man, you shall surely lead MY flock, Israel.”

God has called us to seek the lost sheep. God has called to seek the sheep that have run away. God has called us to seek sinners, blasphemers, agnostics and atheists and to invite them into HIS church.

Our Lord Jesus said to us, (John 15:16) “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and your fruit should remain.” As biblical scholar A.B. Bruce noted, Jesus expects more of us than that we not lose heart in the face of the world which rejects Him. He expects us to make our mark on history, to be His body and to carry out His objectives in the world. (Bruce, Training of the 12, p. 411).

Remember Zacchaeus. Remember Moses the good shepherd, and Jesus who lays down His life for His sheep. We are expected to go into the world and preach the Gospel and to bear the fruit of growth for God. As you think about these words and as we plan our evangelism as a parish, hear the words of St. John Chrysostom on evangelism:

“Do not neglect your brethren, therefore, nor consider only your own concerns; instead, let each of you be anxious to snatch your neighbor from the jaws of the devil and those illicit spectacles, and lead him to church, showing  him in all restraint and gentleness both the extreme risk of harm and also the extent of the good things to be gained here.  Do this not merely once or twice but ceaselessly.  I mean, even if today he doesn’t heed your words, he will heed them in future; if not in future, in due course seeing your insistence he will perhaps feel ashamed, will come to respect your care for him and desist from those harmful pursuits.  Never say, once, twice, three times, again and again I told him and got nowhere.  Don’t stop telling him; the more you persist, the more your reward will be increased as well.  Don’t you see how much longsuffering we enjoy from the God of all, and how day after day we fail to heed his commands without his desisting from caring for us but rather supplying us with everything, making the sun to rise, giving us rain from heaven and everything else?  Let us, in exactly the same way, take great pains in regard to our brethren and take issue with that evil demon so as to render his wiles ineffectual.  After all, if everyone attending here managed to gain one person, consider how much the Church would receive great satisfaction in the vast numbers of its children and the devil would be dismayed to see his net cast idly and to no purpose.  If in fact you do this, you too will hear on the dread day, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in possession of many.'”   (HOMILIES ON GENESIS 18-45, pp 404-405)

On the Edge of the World

I sat down to read again a favorite book of mine, ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, by Nikolai Leskov.  (The book was translated by Fr. Michael Prokurat, a friend, who passed away several years ago at the age of 53).  The book is a very easy read (my fourth time through), but a very profound story of a Russian Orthodox missionary bishop in 19th Century Eastern Siberia. 

The story is great:  for it is the story of a missionary bishop who himself receives enlightenment into the true faith and into the nature of evangelism. The bishop is Orthodox and thus a ‘right believer.’  But he learns from experience what it means to be Christian and the difference between those who are cultural & institutionally Christians and those who follow Christ whether or not they claim membership in the Church.

Many follow Christ – in all diverse manners – but not all are disciples. Think about any Gospel text – there is often a crowd around Him, following Him, gawking at Him, watching Him, trying to trap Him, hoping to see a miracle, wanting to learn from Him, hoping to touch His garment, wanting to accuse Him.  Luke’s Gospel lesson in 8:41-56 captures that sense of the teeming crowd, swarming around Christ.  All are followers, not all are disciples.  True faith is not represented in the lesson by those who adhere strictly to the Torah; obedience to the Law is not equivalent to true belief.  

This is just as true today in every Christian congregation. The pastor has to come to recognize this truth. It is not the pastor’s job to drive people away from Christ – Christ Himself did not do this and even picked as His chosen Twelve the disciple who would deny Him and the one who would betray Him. Our task is to make Christ present so that many will follow Him and want to be with Him, and see Him, and hear Him, and touch Him, and have their faith strengthened, and their sins forgiven, and their ailments healed.   Whether or not the crowd is interested in God’s commandments, in correct theology, or in observing right pious practice, if they come simply wanting to touch Christ’s garment, to know the power of God, it is a desire also blessed by God.

Do the Work of an Evangelist

St. Paul instructs Timothy, his spiritual son, to “DO THE WORK OF AN EVANGELIST   (2 Timothy 4:5).   St. John Chrysostom offers some thoughts on what doing the work of an evangelist might mean:

St. Innocent, Evangelizer and Equal to the Apostles

“Do not neglect your brethren, therefore, nor consider only your own concerns; instead, let each of you be anxious to snatch your neighbor from the jaws of the devil and those illicit spectacles, and lead him to church, showing him in all restraint and gentleness both the extreme risk of harm and also the extent of the good things to be gained here.  Do this not merely once or twice but ceaselessly.  I mean even if today he doesn’t heed your words, he will heed them in future; if not in future, in due course seeing your insistence he will perhaps feel ashamed, will come to respect your care of him and desist from those harmful pursuits.  Never say, Once, twice, three times, again and again I told him and got nowhere.  Don’t stop telling him; the more you persist, the more your reward will be increased as well.  Don’t you see how much longsuffering we enjoy from the God of all, and how day after day we fail to heed his commands without his desisting from caring for us but rather supplying us with everything, making the sun to rise, giving us rain from heaven and everything else?  Let us, in exactly the same way, take great pains in regard to our brethren and take issue with that evil demon so as to render his wiles ineffectual. After all, if everyone attending here managed to gain one person, consider how much the Church would receive great satisfaction in the vast numbers of its children and the devil would be dismayed to see his net cast idly and to no purpose.  If  in fact you do this, you too will hear on the dread day, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in possession of many.”  (HOMILIES ON GENESIS 18-45)

October 1978

From my missionary journal – Kenya, 1978

October 30 –  “I read the Gospel of Matthew today (Matthew 16:24-28) about denying yourself and taking up the cross and losing your life for the sake of the Gospel.  It made me think about my own situation here – I feel frustrated and hopeless because it seems sure that we will gain no success here, but that is purely a feeling of human success.  I am nothing more than a common laborer for Christ – my job is to go and sow the seed, but there is no promise that I will reap the harvest.  My denying myself or losing myself also means I cannot boast about any work I do here in Kenya.  I have nothing to boast about but what the Lord does.  God will make the seeds I sow to grow.  I just need to do my work – to persevere and not expect any glory.

I guess this is the hardest part of being a Christian – the daily grind – carry your cross daily.  Only on occasion are you nailed to the cross or freed from the burden of carrying the cross.  Most of the time you just must trudge on.  Being nailed to the cross is a form of glory, as is being delivered from carrying the cross is a joy.  I live for days like yesterday when I had a chance to witness to Christ and in fact to somehow make Him present in the lives of the people.  It is a true sensation, but you don’t get to live like that always.  The effect may be great or total on the lives of these people and it just as surely changes one’s own life, but the power is also easily forgotten.  The children of Israel knew this.  So it’s the daily struggle which is so hard, even seeming impossible at times – no chance to witness to others about Christ – you’re alone with nothing to do.  How do you do nothing as a Christian?

These are the trying moments which defeat so many Christians.  You think Christianity will be a continuing series of spectacular events – a never ending brilliant fireworks display  – but most of the time there isn’t  even the smallest firecracker.  It’s just you, with the knowledge of Christ, knowing you have to carry on and no one else knows or cares but God and sometimes you even forget Him or wonder if He can be bothered with a self pitying idiot like yourself.

I know many people back home look at me as having a spectacular chance  to be a Christian – a missionary, a witness, a martyr with thousands of chances to sacrifice myself and to witness to Christ.  If only they knew how frequently dull my life here is – the loneliness, the daily grind, the boredom, waiting for a chance “to show” my Christianity – to witness to Christ.  The same dullness in their lives back home is here and everywhere.   The same is true of being a Christian anytime and any where.

A priest really does have a very special witness – he brings Christ sacramentally present to the people.  Even a bad priest does this.  But if he is a good priest – a good Christian – what power he possesses to witness to Christ and to make Christ present in the lives of others. And though the priest’s witness is unique, the power behind it is found in the scriptures, in the epistles and gospels.  I’m sure it is the same power that every Christian has through Chrismation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

October 31   “The rains have continued for several days and through the nights leaving everything in the house damp and outside everything is mud.  To add to the gloom the sun has disappeared far behind the heavily overcast skies and the rain.   (In the photo –  heavy rains caused people to take rufuge in the church buildings.  Note the motorcycles in the church – also brought into the church to protect them from the rain.  Other valuables including livestock also would be brought in for protection.  If the church had a steel rather than thatch roof, the din from the heavy downpours would be deafening.  And many roofs leaked so one could get wet even if under the shelter of the church roof).

Read Galatians 6:9-10 this morning:  ‘And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.’    Seemed very appropriate for our work here because we are so near giving up hope.     Also read Psalm 37 which too is very appropriate to our fears that the politics here are moving the bishop to be against us. 

Some of our villagers and other visitors are hinting that Bishop Gathuna has turned against us.  While some visitors were here some men from the village came and told us that we should not be speaking with these visitors.  They told the visitors that the bishop has ordered that everyone is to come to them and to get permission to talk with us.  One priest warned us today that our position in this village is dangerous because the bishop has turned against us and this village is loyal to him.  I actually feel physically threatened for the first time since coming to Kenya – but not by enemies of Christ, but by people within the church – they very people I came to serve!”

Embarrassing Myself – Kenya, 1978

From my journal:  18 September 1978, Kunjeru, Kenya

In my journal, I called it “A day to remember.”   The Kunjeru villagers had built for us a stone house to live in – a magnanimous gesture on their part, done with not a little personal sacrifice.  The two photos in this blog show the house being built at the edge of the village, next to the church.   The village had one connection to modern technology – a plastic pipe brought running water to the village.  The water only ran intermittently, but it was a great thing when it ran as it meant villagers didn’t have to carry water over a long distance to the village but had water brought directly to them – at least on occasion.  Jack, my Canadian missionary co-worker and I had moved into our new house and as good “Europeans” (which is what the locals called any who were white skinned) decided to plant some flowers around our new house.  This was not common from what I saw in Kenya.  Though beautiful flowers abounded wildly in the moderate near Equator climate, few  cultivated flowers around their dwellings and instead kept all gardening to raising crops for food – vitally necessary in a subsistence culture.     So we dug  a little around the house and planted various plants and flowers.  Then – I’ll let the journal speak:

“Jack noticed that water was bubbling out of the ground around our 1st plant.  He wondered if maybe our diggings had loosed a well.  The water began pouring fourth.  We began digging to investigate the problem.   We apparently had struck the plastic water pipe, buried less than 12 inches below ground and cracked the pipe.  When we uncovered the pipe, water gushed forth.  We called the villagers for help.  They knew we were digging for plants and immediately realized what we had done.  Children gathered round to watch what we were doing.  The water began to spray 15-20 feet into the air.   The villagers sent someone by foot to the main tap some distance from the village to turn the water off.  The water geysered forth for about 40 minutes attracting all kinds of attention.  The 2 great N. American missionaries had destroyed the only piece of technology in the area.  The water had to be turned off for the whole valley until the pipe cold be repaired.    We just stood there soaked from trying to stop the water.  The villagers were greatly amused, despite what we had done.  It has to be the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me.  There I stood, guilty as anything, with hoe in hand and the water spurting forth like Old faithful.”

St. Nina, Georgia’s Enlightener and Transformer

With the war going on in Georgia between two nations who are united by a common Orthodox faith and history, it is worthy considering how it was that the Georgians embraced Christianity.  The story is told in The Life of St. Nina, Equal to the Apostles, Enlightener of Georgia.   St. Nina has remained a favorite missionary saint of mine.  I have for many years had an interest in mission work, and her story was inspiring to me because she was a slave and a woman – a rather insignificant person in history, and yet she changed the history and direction of an entire nation.  She owned nothing, and was herself owned by others.  Like St. Paul she saw all of her life and trials as being part of being a slave to Christ, not to the world.   In the first life of St. Nina I read I also was impressed by the fact that because of her missionary effort, she was given permission by the bishop to herself baptize the King of Georgia when he embraced Christianity.   That struck me as being especially unique in a church which is so dominated by male clerics.  (Only some accounts of her life report this, many do not.  But the unusualness of such a claim gives it some credence to me).   She is one of a dozen or so people in the world given the title of “Equal to the Apostles” for her work in spreading the Christian faith, and one of maybe 3 women given that title.  The people of Georgia need her heavenly intercession today.  And may all of them because of her remember first their commitment to Christ as they attempt to deal with national politcs and international war.