Nicholas Kassatkin

I am putting together notes and presentations and video for a Missions History class I was asked to teach.

One of the values of doing this is that one gets the opportunity to relearn how little one knows. I keep learning how little I know.

Going through “Encountering the History of Missions” (by John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher), there were a couple of missionaries who were brought up as being truly excellent missionaries who really were not on my radar screen as individuals I might go to for inspiration.

One of those was Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg. He was a Moravian missionary to India. I was familiar with him, but as I read more on him, there is much to be admired. Still, I generally knew about him.

The other was one who I had heard of briefly before, but I had learned so little that I did not remember his name when I came upon it.

This was Nicholas Kassatkin. Some put his name as Nicholas Kassathin. (I don’t know Cyrillic enough to know which spelling is closer to the original.)

Nicholas Kassatkin died in 1912 after serving in Japan for approximately 50 years. He was a Russian Orthodox monk her served in Japan. He was part of the Russian Orthodox mission movement that was especially active from the 1700s until the early 1900s. Kassatkin was different from most other Russian Orthodox missionaries during this period, and different from most other Christian missionaries during the “Great Century” in that he served in a place that was neither conquered lands nor colonized lands. He was a Russian Christian serving in Japan… neither conquered land nor colonized land of Russia or any other “Christian nation.”

I will quote from Richard Durmmond who was quoted by Terry and Gallagher:

The life and life fruits of Nicholas compel us to recognize him as one of the greatest missionaries of the modern era. In accordance with Orthodox tradition, he respected highly the language and cultural traditions of the people among whom he served. He respected the epeople and loved them as persons. He went beyond the common traditions of Orthodoxy in freeing his work to an extraordinary extent from the political aims and interests of his homeland. His apostleship was remarkably non-polemical for the day; he was in singular fashion an aposlte of peace among men. His method of evangelization was concentrated upon the family, and he stressed above all the raising up of national workers and the indigenization of the Church, even as he urged it to remember its distinctive association with the kingdom of God.

-Richard H. Drummond. “A History of Christianity in Japan (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 354. Quoted by Terry and Gallagher on page 80.

He came to Japan shortly after the opening of the doors to outsiders, even though there still was considerable hostility to foreigners. He also came from a country that has had conflict with Japan. In fact, during his time in Japan, a war occurred between his country and Japan (in 1905). During that time, he struggled with his role as a foreigner. Japanese converts to Christ and Russian Orthodoxy were told by Kassatkin that they should be good Christians AND good Japanese citizens even if he himself could not go against his own country— Russia.

In his lifetime, he baptized approximately 20,000 converts. That is amazing in a country that has, generally, been very standoff-ish to Christianity. Actually, today, there are a little less than 10,000 Japanese who identify as Russian Orthodox. The church has not grown in the last century but considering wars and social upheavals in Japan and even more so the Russian Orthodox church, the endurance of the church in Japan shows the strength of the work of Kassatkin.

As Protestants, we may be tempted not to give proper due to Catholic missionaries, and even less to the Eastern Churches. But that is a mistake. There is much we can learn. I am glad I have had this chance.

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