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Posts Tagged ‘bishops’

Why do all Russian dudes look like Rasputin?

Why do all Russian dudes look like Rasputin?

Sometimes I purposefully pick a saint that doesn’t seem to have too much weird stuff going on in the hopes that I can post on him or her in a quick, timely fashion. I’m never right. There’s always too much interesting historical stuff in the way.

St. Nicholas of Japan was, in fact, a Russian. Although I tend to think of Russia as “Eastern Europe” and Japan as “East Asia,” it turns out that Russia is really big and they’re right next to each other, and as such they’ve had lots of contact throughout history. His birth name was Ivan Dimitrovich Kasatkin, and he was born in 1836 to a Russian deacon. He went through the usual priest school, and then volunteered to serve at a chapel in Japan. He went there in 1861.

Until 1873, Christianity was technically illegal in Japan, or at least, proselytizing wasn’t allowed. For some reason, I was surprised to find out that a largely Buddhist nation has a long history of religious persecution. It was first outlawed in the 1500’s, partly to avoid the religious wars Europe was having at the time. The Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu also claimed it was because he feared the Christians would have a greater loyalty to each other than to the Shogunate–sort of like another big empire I can think of.

In 1880, Nicholas became the bishop of Revel, Russia, which he never actually visited.

Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov–later Nicholas II of Russia and the last Czar–visited Japan in 1891, and St. Nicholas was around for it. At the time he was tsarevich, which is like the Russian Prince of Wales. While he was there, one of his police escort attacked him with a saber and his cousin, the Prince of Greece and Denmark, saved him by blocking the blow with his cane. It left a huge scar on his forehead, and he ended up cutting his visit short. It’s now known at the Otsu Incident.

The Japanese totally freaked out when this happened. One town forbade use of the attacker’s family name. 10,000 telegrams were sent. A seamstress named Yuko Hatakeyama slit her throat in front of a government building as an act of public contrition, and the media praised her patriotism. Obviously I’m not a Japanese or Russian history expert, so I can only make stabs at why the Japanese reacted that way. Clearly it’s a big deal to almost have a foreign leader assassinated on your watch, but the Japanese army was also MUCH smaller than Russia’s at that point.

Fourteen years later, the Russo-Japanese war began. It was an imperialist deal, mainly over Korea and Manchuria. Basically, all imperial Russian wars start when someone important says, “You know, guys, we could really use a port that isn’t frozen over half the year.” This time they wanted one on the Pacific.

Being a Russian in Japan, the war was hard on Nicholas. On the one hand, he was Russian; on the other, part of his job was to pray for the Emperor of Japan publicly. The Orthodox liturgy at this time demanded that one pray not only for one’s sovereign, but for the explicit defeat of the sovereign’s enemies. Nicholas didn’t participate in public church services during the war.

He also helped Russian prisoners of war, at one point discovering that 90% of them couldn’t read, and dispatching nuns and priests to help sovle the problem. His attitude and manners during the war impressed everyone, including the Emperor Meiji. Russia lost the war pretty badly, which contributed to the Russian Revolution of 1905.

After all this, in 1907, Nicholas was elevated to the Archbishop of All Japan by the Holy Russian Synod. He was also the first to translate the New Testament and parts of the Old into Japanese–translations which are still used today. He’s considered the first saint of the Japanese Orthodox Church, and his saint day in February 16 if you’re old school, 3rd if you can handle that the earth goes around the sun.

Wikipedia

Orthodox Wiki

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This week we’ve got our first Armenian saint, St. Blaise. He’s probably the least obscure saint I’ve covered yet–at least one former Catholic I asked had a vague idea of who he was.

Blaise was also hugely popular in the Middle Ages, because he was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers/ Martyrs, a group of saints who specialized in healing and were called upon largely because of the Bubonic Plague.

Getting to the bottom of his history is a little shaky; the first mention of him happens in late versions of the Martyrology of St. Jerome, dated to the late 700’s; the Acts of St. Blaise are dated to the mid-700’s. Since he is reported to have died in 316 CE, that’s plenty of room for error.

According to the legend, he was born to a noble family as a Christian, became a physician, and later the Bishop of Sabastea. Under the governor Agricolaus and the Emperor of the East Licinius, Christians were being persecuted again, and Blaise received a message from God telling him to go hide in the wilderness.

Later, some hunters out looking for beasts to kill Christians in the amphitheatre came upon Blaise in his cave, surrounded by sick wild animals he was healing. He was captured and taken to the jail to be starved, and on the way, he saw a wolf with a pig belonging to a poor woman in its jaws, and convinced the wolf to release the pig. The pig’s owner was so grateful that she secretly brought him food and water in jail. Possibly she was feeding him the pig.

While in jail, he miraculously healed a child who was choking nearly to death on a fish bone, making him the patron saint of not choking on things. He was first tortured with iron carding combs–what they use to make wool–and then beheaded.

St. Blaise’s feast day is February 3 for Roman Catholics and February 11 for Eastern Orthodox; that’s also the day you can get your throat blessed by having candles pressed against it by a priest.

St. Blaise at New Advent

St. Blaise at Catholic Online

St. Blaise at American Catholic

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