It is the 13th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1836.
It was the era of the so-called “Wild West” in America. Expansion and its concomitant territorial conflicts were underway. 1836 is the year our brothers and sisters in Texas remind us to remember. It was in ’36 that a gang of ruffians led by James Bowie and Davy Crockett fought off attackers in a Franciscan monastery outside of San Antonio. That building they ultimately did not hold was likely named after the cottonwood trees nearby, the Spanish word for those trees being “álamo.”
In 1836, in that same part of the world, the city of Houston was founded. It was named after Sam Houston, the first president of the Republic of Texas. Today it is amongst the most populous states in the Union. Also, a few years back, their professional baseball club won the world series by cheating.
U.S Patent #1 was granted in 1836. This was the patent for the locomotive wheel. It wasn’t the first patent in America, but the first after they started being numbered. The locomotive wheel, of course, would be part of that invention and revolution that would change the face of the world as few inventions ever had or would.
As revolutionary as the locomotive was the essay “Nature” published this year by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau and the other so-called “transcendentalists” would form the backbone of the emerging American religion.
Across the globe, another landmark publication, the “Sovremenik,” began with its first quarterly edition. Named for the Russian word for “Contemporary,” the brainchild of Alexander Pushkin would introduce new Russian literature from the likes of Gogol, Tyustchev, Bulgarin, and Turgenev. It also published the writings of Tolstoy and translated works by the likes of Dickens. It was a heady time to be in the Russian Empire, but the expansion of far eastern nations began to dissolve the balance of power in that region.
In Japan, the Edo period was winding down, and within a few decades, the Meiji Restoration took the island nation from isolationist to a player on the world stage. It was the Russo-Japanese war that cemented Japan as a significant player on the world stage.
And so, with both Russia and Japan in mind, today we remember a man born who was born in Russia and worked in Japan. It was on this the 13th of August in the year 1836 that St. Nicholas of Japan was born. He was born Ivan Kasatkin in Smolensk, Russia, to a father who was a deacon in the Orthodox Church and a mother who died tragically when Ivan was five.
Ivan excelled in school, went to seminary in Smolensk, and then was granted a scholarship at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. In 1860, he received his tonsure and became a deacon in the Russian Orthodox church. He volunteered to go to Japan, even though the last of the Edo emperors still banned westerners and Christianity on the island.
Before leaving, Ivan, who took the name Nicholas, met with the man who would later be recognized as St. Innocent, the apostle of America. Innocent told Nicholas to keep a low profile, to learn the culture and language, and then translate the scriptures. This is the path Nicholas would take.
By 1868, Nicholas had a small group of twenty Japanese Christians with him, and the Russian church recognized him as an Archimandrite and the head of Japanese missions. Nicholas and the church endured religious persecution from 1871 to 1873 but then flourished in the new open Meiji empire. By 1878 there were over 4,000 Christians across Japan. And now as Bishop of Japan, Nicholas began work on building churches, schools, and seminaries. In 1904, the Russo-Japanese war broke out. Nicholas insisted on staying and deferred to Japanese authorities, who requested that his churches hold services to intercede against the Russians. Nicholas agreed but kept a safe distance from Japanese nationalism. The favor gained from the Japanese would allow Nicholas to be the only Russian and Christian in the country during the conflict. By the time Nicholas died, there were over 30,000 Christians in Japan.
The church survived Nicholas’s death in 1912 and was separated from the Russian Orthodox after the Russian Revolution. Nicholas’ church, the Cathedral of the Holy Resurrection, still stands today in Tokyo. Nicholas became the first European to be buried in the ancient cemetery in Tokyo. Born on this day in 1836, St. Nicholas of Japan was 69 years old.
For our reading today, we will stay in Japan for a quote from Kazoh Kitamori, the Japanese Lutheran theologian.
“Salvation is the message that our God enfolds our broken reality. A God who embraces us completely—this is God our Savior. Is there a more astonishing miracle in the world than that God embraces our broken reality? …Accordingly, the pain of God which resolves our pain is ‘love’ rooted in his pain.”
That was Kazoh Kitamori from his "Theology of the Pain of God."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who likes his pie álamo-ed, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.