War and Peace for Holy Hierarch Nicholas of Japan

The holy hierarch Nicholas of Japan gave his blessing to the Japanese Orthodox faithful to protect their motherland, while he prayed for the victory of Russia


During the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), anti-Russian sentiment grew rapidly in Japan. Holy Hierarch Nicholas of Japan (1836–1912), who left for Japan as a missionary in 1861 and founded the Orthodox Church of Japan, made a decision to stay behind in Tokyo, and quit his participation at the services, instead holding services and praying in the privacy of his home. St. Nicholas told his Japanese parishioners:

“Before this time, I prayed for the welfare and peace of the Japanese Empire. But at this moment, since war was proclaimed between Japan and my country I, a subject of Russia, can’t pray for the victory of Japan over my own motherland. I also have an obligation to my country and that is precisely why I will be happy to see you perform your duty to your own country.”

It was during these days that he made the following entry in his diary: “What I find truly distressing is that the fire rages on deep inside my heart. There is not a single soul with whom I can share thoughts, no one to whom I can spill sorrow; so utterly alone, no one but the Japanese around me, and their interests and aspirations are worlds apart from mine. I am at least fortunate to have people close to me who act so considerately; not a single word is spoken about the war, much less about the Japanese victories. Their faces look so sullen, as if they can’t experience joy or triumph over the steady flow of their victories that would be as natural as my grief over our constant losses.”

Russo-Japanese war. Military cemetery near Mukden, 1905. Reproduced by TASS Russo-Japanese war. Military cemetery near Mukden, 1905. Reproduced by TASS   

The Saint sent a letter to all the parishes of the Orthodox Church in Japan. It read:

“Should anyone amongst you go into battle, go and fight without regard for your own life—not out of hatred for your enemy, but out of love for your fellow countrymen… To love one’s country is holy… But, in addition to our earthly homeland, we also have a fatherland in Heaven… This fatherland is our Church, we are Her equal members and, because of Her, the children of our Heavenly Father truly form one family… Let us all fulfill our duty with regard to our heavenly fatherland, whichever it is for each one of us… And so, along with this, let us also pray fervently that the Lord will soon restore the disturbed peace…”

The hierarch made the decision to cease all correspondence with Russia. When the first Russian prisoners of war arrived in Japan (up to seventy-three thousand in all), Holy Hierarch Nicholas—with the consent of the Japanese government—founded the “Society for the Spiritual Comfort of P.O.Ws.” Each new prisoner who came to Japan received a silver cross from the Church of Japan as a blessing.

The wartime activities of Bishop Nicholas were highly praised in Russia. Emperor Nicholas II wrote to him at the end of 1905:

“You have shown us all how the Orthodox Church of Christ, alien to worldly dominion and every tribal enmity, equally embraces with love all tribes and peoples. Fulfilling the covenant of Christ, you did not abandon the flock entrusted to your care, and the grace of love and faith gave you the strength to endure the test of fire, and in the midst of war and strife, to preserve peace, faith and love in the Church built by your labors.”

The exceptionally unconventional, wise position of the Russian bishop living in Japan at the time of the war with Russia only increased his prestige in the eyes of Japanese society after the end of the war.

From: Diaries of St. Nicholas of Japan (in five volumes) (Hyperion Publishing, 2004) [Russian].

Translation by Liubov Ambrose



George Larin2/21/2023 6:17 pm
It's heart-warming to learn that when Bishop Nicholas informed Moscow of his members' request for special prayers before embarking their warships, he received the following reply: "Pray for the victory of Japan !"
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