This glorious account of the work of St. Nicholas Kasatkin, the Apostle to Japan, is truly inspiring. Even more so, the account and destiny of his first convert to Christ, Fr. Paul Takuma Sawabe. What a warrior priest for Christ!
St. Nicholai Kasatkin was an Orthodox priest serving Christ in Japan during the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, in the Edo period (1603-1868). Foreigners were distrusted, even hated, and it was illegal to promote any foreign faith. In the early years of his ministry, St. Nicholai was fiercely confronted by a samurai warrior and Shinto priest by the name Takuma Sawabe. Armed with his katana sword, Sawabe faced the young priest Nicholai with the intent of killing him before he did any preaching.
With a fierce look on his face, the samurai stepped in front of Father Nicholai. What business had this man, coming into the samurai’s beloved homeland and preaching a strange faith? He would tell this young priest a thing or two! If words would not convince him, perhaps other steps must be taken.
There wasn’t much Father Nicholai could do. He knew many Japanese were against the Orthodox religion. And here in front of him stood this proud samurai, a heathen, a priest of the city’s most ancient Shinto temple, staring coldly at him and expressing his contempt of the Christian faith. Father Nicholas could not simply ignore or avoid the priest. The situation demanded initiative, and because he had been prepared by years of work, study, and hardships early in his life, Father Nicholai was able to meet even this difficult challenge. Showing loving concern, he brought about a calm discussion with the irate man. The hatred the samurai had felt could no longer hold up. He became serious and thoughtful.
St. Nicholai continues in his own words:
“Beginning the next day, I penned to him the sacred history of the Old Testament. He produced paper and brush and proceeded to take down everything that was spoken to him. My speech was interrupted at nearly every word by objections which, in their turn, necessitated explanations. As the days passed, there were fewer and fewer objections, and he continued to record every thought and name. The process of a man’s rebirth into a new life by the hand of God was unravelling before my eyes.”
The samurai warrior-priest Takuma Sawabe was, by the grace of God, baptized in April 1868 alongside two of his friends, Sakai and Urano. He took the name Paul in baptism – and the three men became the first Japanese converts to Orthodox Christianity. In 1875, Takuma (Paul) was ordained to the Holy Priesthood, and became the first native Japanese priest ever to be ordained. Father Paul Sawabe continued to serve his new faith as his church grew over the following decades. He was to survive his mentor and bishop Nicholai by a year, dying in 1913.
May the memory of this holy warrior for Christ be eternal!