The Inspiring Story of Fr. Stephen Hatherley - English Orthodox Pioneer
Mission is the spirit of the early Church. What drives men and women to bring the Gospel of Christ to the world? It is the prompting of the Holy Spirit who moves us suddenly and unexpectedly with sufficient grace and power to make real the hope and faith that He has placed in our lives.
Father Stephen Georgeson Hatherley
was such a man with a mission. He was an Englishman who converted to
Orthodoxy in the late 19th century when it was difficult to do so. Such
a move invited scorn and persecution from the prevailing intolerance of
the establishment. He was ordained priest in
The Church is not the building but the people of God, Fr. Stephen’s (Timothy’s) brief ministry was not without effect.
Fr. Jonathan Hemmings
Orthodox Christian Mission
a talk by Fr. Gregory Hallam
at the Orthodox Mission
on the Feast of St. David of Wales (Dewi Sant) 1 March 2003
St. Nicholas of Japan
The very idea of Orthodox Christian Mission, to some peoples’ ears sounds a little strange. The Orthodox Church is not well known for its missionary work; indeed the prevailing impression is that Orthodoxy has retreated within an ethnic ghetto mentality and exists merely for those who want to perpetuate their own culture in a diasporal environment or for those in the mother country who want Orthodoxy to bolster a nationalistic agenda. This has led many western Christians to tie Orthodoxy into an adjective; by which I mean, if you say that you are Orthodox, the next question will be: "is that Greek or Russian?" …. if you are lucky, that is. The unenlightened will often assume you are Jewish! This has also created the false impression that the different Orthodoxy national churches are in some sense different denominations. After all they may have exotic appeal but what repellent family squabbles!
It must be conceded that some Orthodox have fallen into these errors, but only gradually. Initially, when diasporal communities settled in the west, chaplains were imported to meet spiritual needs. Many were so often shell-shocked by persecution or alienated by a strange culture that mission was not uppermost in their minds. Most considered it to be discourteous to one’s host to evangelise locally. Indeed this was frowned upon by other churches! 300 years later there is no such excuse for missionary torpor. In countries dominated by Islam and Marx it is often said that mission was suppressed. Suppressed, yes, but not eliminated.
An understanding Orthodox mission and an appreciation of its historical legacy are best acquired from a detailed analysis of specific successful examples rather than theoretical abstractions or fixations on those atypical deviations that only confirm existing prejudices or stereotypes. This is what I shall seek to do today: to present a specific example of a successful Orthodox mission that clearly sets out the underlying principles of all Orthodox mission and its methodology. Is there such a paradigm, such a paragon of missionary endeavour? I believe that there is, in the person and in the work of Nicholas Kasatkin, the now glorified St. Nicholas of Japan, evangeliser of that country, who lived from 1836 to1912.
At the end of his life work St. Nicholas left behind him more than 30,000 Orthodox Christians, translations of almost the entire Bible, almost all of the Orthodox liturgical texts and theological literature, several schools, a seminary, a library and countless other institutions, many of which are still functioning today. Bishop Tucker of the Episcopalian Church called him "one of the most outstanding Christian missionaries." Richard Drummond, a non-Orthodox historian, regarded him as "the greatest missionary of the modern era." So, what can we discover about this man, his faith, his vision, his missionary methodology?
Nicholas was born in the Belsky district of Smolensk province, the son of a deacon and a devout mother who died when he was only 5 years old. He entered the Smolensk seminary in 1853 and graduated with honours at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in 1860. With a brilliant academic career ahead of him his mentors tried to persuade him to stay at the Academy and pursue his research interests. It was not to be. He responded to a request for a chaplain to the Russian Consulate in Japan but with mission very much on his mind. Before he left Russia he was tonsured as a monk and ordained to the priesthood. He arrived in Japan in June 1861 after spending some time with the great missionary bishop, St. Innocent of Alaska en route who encouraged him.
A great disillusionment, however, awaited his arrival. The Japanese had just begun to emerge out of their centuries of xenophobic isolation but not confidently enough to abolish the laws that prescribed deportation for active foreign missionaries and possible death for any Japanese convert. Nicholas retreated into his study and his love for European languages in the Consulate. It was another visit by Bishop Innocent that rekindled his missionary zeal and stirred him into the colossal task of learning Japanese. It took Nicholas 7 years to learn the language and during this time he also studied the culture and history of Japan, its mythology, literature and religious philosophy. He even attended the sermons of popular Buddhist preachers and storytellers to get an authentic appreciation of the Japanese religious mind. Here we may remark upon one of the most important principles of Orthodox Mission … a respect for the indigenous, culture, language and spirituality. This was no Russian pseudo-missioner, a political puppet using religion to extend Russian political and economic hegemony! Much later, when war broke out between Russian and Japan, Nicholas refused to return home and continued to labour selflessly for the Japanese people. He was considered a traitor by some of the Russian political elite and a spy by the Japanese. His commitment to Japanese culture was founded upon a desire for Orthodoxy to be a truly indigenous phenomenon in Japan, not a Russian transplant. The language was necessary to get the Scriptures and liturgical texts accessible and used in Japanese. The culture was necessary so that Orthodox Christianity would send down deep, lasting and nourishing roots into Japanese society. In all of this work of listening, absorption and translation, Nicholas worked tirelessly. However, he knew that this, in itself, is not evangelism, only the preparatory groundwork. For that he had to wait and pray for God to open up a possibility for the gospel to spread in Japan by the Japanese. This happened through a most unlikely encounter.
A certain Samurai Shinto priest named Sawabe Takuma was
employed by the Consulate to give fencing lessons to the son of a Russian
officer. Sawabe was a xenophobe who openly expressed contempt for
Christianity and considered St. Nicholas to be a worthy object of his
disdain. One day he decided to confront the Christian priest.
"Why are you angry at me?" Fr. Nicholas asked Sawabe.
"All you foreigners must die. You have come here to spy on our country and even worse, you are harming Japan with your preaching," answered Sawabe.
"But do you know what I preach?"
"No, I don’t he answered."
"Then how can you judge, much less condemn something you know nothing about? Is it just to defame something you do not know? First listen to me, and then judge. If what you hear is bad, then throw us out."
Sawabe returned the next day and Nicholas presented to him the sacred history of the Old and New Testaments. The samurai’s demeanour changed. He began to take notes and started to ask penetrating questions. He made a commitment to Christ and started his own catechism under Fr. Nicholas’ direction. Even before he had finished his catechumenate, he started sharing his faith with his friends even at the risk of his own life. Initially, two friends, John Sakai and James Urano joined him for baptism, he himself taking, most appropriately, the name Paul. This group started to evangelise those whom they knew and within one year there were 12 baptised Christians and 25 catechumens. This was God’s moment, His kairos. In the same year, the Emperor abolished the Japanese feudal system and formally renounced the country’s isolationist policies. Nicholas returned to Russia for a little while to present his work to the Russian Church and to enlist the Holy Synod’s support, spiritually and materially for the Mission in Japan. This he received together with 4 monks to join him in the work … all of whom returned home through ill health or personal reasons!
Back in Japan the Church continued to grow starting in
Hakodate where Nicholas had originally entered the country. This growth
happened in part because Nicholas insisted that the Japanese build their
own church in a most methodical and spiritual manner. These were his
instructions concerning outreach and instruction:-
"The evangelists shall be organized as a deliberate body. These evangelists shall teach Christian truth to other people while still continuing to study it for themselves. There shall be two kinds of meetings. In the first, the evangelists, together with others who know the essential doctrines but desire further study, shall meet to read and explain the New Testament. Such meetings shall be held twice a week, the evangelists taking turns in conducting them. None of the number should fail to attend; if any person is unavoidably prevented from coming, he ought before the next meeting, to learn from some one else what was said. The second meeting is for the benefit of those - whether men, women or children - who are commencing to study Christian doctrines. The evangelists shall explain to them the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. This meeting shall be held twice a week . . . Besides conducting the two kinds of meetings already mentioned, the evangelists shall go about the city every day trying to win new enquirers. If among those interested are persons unable to attend the meetings, the evangelists shall go to their houses in order to explain the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. This is to be regarded as of prime importance and should be done even if, for lack of time, the evangelist is obliged to omit the meeting for reading the New Testament. When persons have thoroughly learned the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and are established in the faith, they shall be presented to the priest for baptism."
The three friends rapidly became most effective leaders of this fledgling church. They obtained premises for worship and attracted a congregation of over 150 Japanese enquirers. This is when the government sat up and began to take notice. The Emperor may have relaxed restrictions against foreigners but the edict against Christianity and missionary work remained in place. The persecution began in 1872 when Sawabe and many of his followers were jailed or put under house arrest. Throughout their interrogations not one of the 140 who were arrested apostasised; rather their faith was strengthened. Indeed, the Japanese State eventually released John Sakai complaining that as a result of his witnessing in jail: "to keep him in prison was nearly equivalent to placing a Christian chaplain there." Finally in 1873 the old edicts against Christianity were abolished and the work could proceed openly.
Here, therefore, we may discern the second principle of Orthodox missiology. There is a purpose, a method and an expectation that God will bless and make fruitful a faithful response. There is a readiness to suffer for the gospel because the joy of knowing God in Christ far outweighs such things; indeed opposition becomes an opportunity. Furthermore, there is an insistence that missioners must be locals, even if this means using recent converts. There is all the difference in the world between this kind of work, bringing people to know Christ, and the longer-term task of helping the new Church to develop structures and an inner life that will enable it to transform and not destroy a whole culture. This does require input from the Mother Church but not in such a manner as to supplant the indigenous leadership but rather to encourage and equip it for this task. This is precisely what Nicholas proceeded to do. Bishop Paul of Kamchatka came to Japan to ordain the first Japanese clergy and soon with the Japanese Church growing to some 4100 souls, Nicholas himself was consecrated Japan’s first resident Orthodox bishop in 1879.
Nicholas now turned his attention to a comprehensive translation of the Scriptures and liturgical texts into Japanese. The use of Japanese in the Church made great demands on the new bishop but his intellect, faith and sensitivity to Japanese culture and linguistics soon enabled him to complete the work. His formation at the Theological Academy at St. Petersburg had been but a preparation for this moment. He knew that everything was now coming together as God intended. A cathedral was built in Tokyo, a symbol of what the Japanese knew to be their own Orthodox Church, even if most of them of course were still not Christians. It was dedicated to the Holy Resurrection but popularly became known as "Nicholai-do," (the house that Nicholas built).
The Japanese Church experienced in later years an erosion of its life through the impact of the war between Japan and Russia in 1904 when the saintly bishop refused to take sides and thereby antagonised the narrow-minded of both countries. He continued to minister to persecuted Japanese Orthodox Christian communities that were often portrayed as puppets of the Tsar by the Japanese government. The Revolution in Russia effectively terminated any further assistance from the Mother Church. Nonetheless by 1911 when Nicholas celebrated the 50th anniversary of his arrival in Japan there were 33,017 Christians in 266 communities with 43 clergymen, including the new Archbishop, a bishop, 35 priests, 6 deacons, 121 lay preachers, 200 teachers, a seminary with 94 students and two girls’ schools with 80 children. Nicholas reposed in the Lord a year later on 3rd February 1912.
St. Nicholas’ example is by no means exceptional in the field of Orthodox missionary work as you may indeed conclude from the appended historical schedule: "Orthodox Missions." I propose now to offer you a brief commentary from this document in order to put Orthodox Missions as a whole in their proper ecclesiological context.
You will notice that I have included the major western missions to northern and central Europe in the second half of the first millennium. This is quite deliberate because from our point of view the west was Orthodox in this period. Orthodoxy, therefore, not being an eastern phenomenon only in the time of the Undivided Church, rightly lays claim to this rich missionary tradition from which we on these shores have benefited.
This approach, of course, determines how Orthodox evaluate their mission in the west today. We are not seeking to recreate little-Russia or little-Greece on British soil. We are reaching out to the people of this country with their own Orthodox inheritance of faith and life, some of which, or maybe most of which, you also will share. If we can all agree on this common understanding of faith, life and mission, then there is a good prospect that this will serve to bring the churches back together. This means that the relationship between mission and unity must involve both an historical recapitulation of the faith and life of the Undivided Church and, with it, a rediscovery in the present of a shared orthodoxy that is truly catholic in space and time. Neither ecclesiastical land enclosure nor turf wars within Orthodoxy or between Orthodox and non-Orthodox churches can be at all acceptable to us. Neither can we afford to indulge notions about any one of us holding the spiritual "title deeds" to this country whether from a Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or Protestant perspective. It may represent an authentic ecclesiology but by itself it doesn’t help us to advance. We must all share a level playing field with no sleight of hand and no fudging of those difficult issues that impede closer unity.
The second evident discovery from the historical schedule is that Orthodox mission has not only been alive and kicking for the last 1000 years but it has also often been strongest during times of persecution. The Greeks were neither comatose nor indolent under the Ottoman yoke as St. Kosmas and his companions bear witness. The Russian Church was committed to mission both before, during and after the Revolution. Arguably, the Church in Russia has emerged in better shape after 70 years of unrelenting and bitter communist persecution than many western churches that have not been tried in the fire. This robust defence of the Orthodox missionary record is not a defensive posture but rather a plea that we move beyond the stereotypes and pre-conceived notions in order to understand one another better.
Finally, I need to say something about the Orthodox missionary strategy in the west for this is where I, as an Antiochian Orthodox Christian have been planted. I am pleased to say that our missionary strategy is in no way different from that of your own. We also aim to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in the planting of new Christian communities up and down the land. We also are committed to using English where the gathered Orthodox have this as their first language, (or Welsh or Gaelic). We also are in the business of discerning vocations, training and equipping indigenous ministers both lay and ordained to the task of preaching and living out the gospel. We also are seeking to have Christianity fleshed out in the culture and saints of this land. A specific objective for us in an area where we are currently lacking concerns the growth of monastic vocations and communities. Although all Christians do not share this vision, Orthodox regard any national Church which is monastically weak to be impaired in its spirituality and prophetic witness. It is pleasing therefore to see our monks and nuns now spreading out beyond our largest community in Tolleshunt Knights in Essex to populate new hermitages and nascent communities across the country.
I think we must all be careful, however, that any
analysis of method in mission doesn’t blind us to a consideration
of what the gospel is, and how we live by its teaching. Much of
what I have said about strategy could just as easily have been applied to
Buddhist outreach as Christian evangelism. Our Muslim neighbours do not go
out on to the streets because they have merely worked out how to
"do" mission. They go because they are convinced that they have
the truth concerning God and the human condition. If we are honest and
opened up this issue under the heading of mission, I suspect that we might
be less united ecumenically that we would care to admit. I know many of
you will not agree with me here but I have to say that becoming Orthodox
has revealed to me with greater clarity the differences which reflect our
ecumenical divergence, perhaps not so much between Catholic and Protestant
but between Orthodoxy and the post-Schism western tradition as a whole.
There is much to do to close his gap and close it we must for as the
Blessed Apostle St Paul declared:-
"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. [Ephesians 4:4-6]
Major Orthodox Missions
from the time of the Constantinian Settlement
314: Gregory the Enlightener consecrated bishop
for Greater Armenia.
318: Nina, Equal-to-the-Apostles evangelises
311-383: Bishop Ulfilas and Christian missions to the Goths and related peoples in Romania. At this time, Martin of Tours is active in Gaul.
Early 4th C: Abba Salama consecrated bishop of Axum / Ethiopia.
395: Porphyrios of Gaza organises missions across Arabia.
400 >>>: John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, sends Orthodox missions beyond the Byzantine Empire. He helps Unila found the Orthodox Church of Gothia (Crimea) and supports Marouthas and the Orthodox Church of Martyropolis (Kurdistan).
432: Patrick’s mission to Ireland.
527-565: Byzantine and Coptic missions to Nubia (modern Sudan).
596: Pope Gregory sends Augustine to the English of south east Britain.
635: Syrian Christian missions are active across China.
7th C: Celtic missions are launched in Northumbria, (Aidan, Cuthbert). Boniface’s mission to Germany and surrounding areas gets underway.
7th C: Syrian missions established in Indonesia. The names of the first missionaries are Fathers Yaballah, Abdisho, and Denha
8th C: Willibrord develops his mission to the Netherlands and surrounding areas. Celtic missionaries are active across Northern Europe.
830: The first mission to Sweden by Anskar.
858: Photios the Great, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, reorganises Christian missions to Bulgaria, Central and Eastern Europe.
860: The monks (and brothers) Cyril and Methodios lead missions to the Khazar Empire in Central Asia and from 862, onwards to Greater Moravia, (Czech and Slovak Republics, southern Poland, Hungary).
865: Khan Boris establishes the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
867: The Serbian and Montenegrin peoples embrace Christianity. Clement (d. 886) and Naum (d. 893) coordinate missions to the peoples of the Skopje region.
10th C: Nicholas Mystikos, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, reorganises Orthodox mission to the people of the North Caucasus, the independent Orthodox Churches of Alania-Ossetia, Zichia and Gazaria founded in this region. Nikon Metanoeite (d. 990) establishes monastic missions amongst the non-Christian peoples along the Byzantine frontiers.
988: Prince Vladimir and Olga establish the Kievan Orthodox Church in Rus. Orthodox missions are active across Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, eastern Poland, Karelia and Finland.
after the Great Schism
1174: Empress Tamara of Georgia re-establishes Orthodoxy across the countries of Southern Caucasia.
c1200: Sava Nemanja (d. 1236) establishes the Serbian Orthodox Church.
1315-1340: Prince Gediminas of Lithuania strengthens Orthodox Christianity amongst the Baltic peoples. Stephen of Perm (d. 1396) inaugurates the Orthodox mission to the Zyrians and other peoples of the Ural region (Komi, Mari, Udmurts, Mordovans, Chuvash etc.)
1555 >>> Gury and Varsonofy consolidate missionary work among the Tartars, Bashkirs and related people of the Steppes.
1702: Orthodox missions to Siberia.
1715: Renewed Orthodox mission work in Manchuria and Northern China.
1778: Theodore Sladich is martyred for missionary work to counter Islamic influence in the western Balkans.
1779: Kosmas Aetolos is martyred for missionary work to counter Islamic influence in the Greece and Albania.
1759-1781: Anthimos of Cephalonia established monastic missions across the Near East amongst newly Islamicised communities.
1794: The monk Herman launches the Alaskan missions.
1830 >>> Makary Glukharev (d. 1847) takes Orthodox Christianity to the Altai regions with extensions to the Oirat and Dzungar tribes of Chinese Central Asia.
1868: Innocent Veniaminov, the leading Orthodox missionary to Siberia, Alaska and the Far East is consecrated Metropolitan of Moscow. He founds the Orthodox Mission Society to coordinate worldwide Orthodox Missions and the Palestine Society to support the Christian communities of the Middle East.
1891: Death of the linguist and missionary Nicolas Ilminsky who had facilitated new translations of Holy Scripture into all the languages of the peoples of the Russia Empire.
1880 >>> Nicolas Kasatkin (d. 1912) introduces a highly successful mission to Japan creating within a generation a vibrant indigenous Japanese Orthodox Church.
1898: Chrysanth Shchetkovsky leads the Korean Orthodox Mission.
1907-1962: Nestor Anisimov launches new Orthodox missions to Kamchatka, the Far East, India and Sri Lanka.
1920 >>> The African Orthodox movement gains momentum in East Africa.
1929-1966: John Maximovitch launches Orthodox missions to China the Philippines, Western Europe and America.
1934: Russian Orthodox Missions sent by Patriarch Tikhon to Manila and Jakarta
1937: First Orthodox altar (Mother of God of Vladimir) in Manila
1946: St. John Maximovitch estabishes orphanage in Samar, Philippines
1988 >>> Orthodox missions are established in Indonesia and Haiti. The 1980’s see a period of expansion in indigenous Orthodox missions within the Americas, Northern Europe and Australasia.