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February 3 Saints of the Day – Nicholas of Japan and Blaise of Sebaste

Nicholas of JapanOn this day in 1690, the Massachusetts Bay Colony issued the first paper money in what would become the United States. Sadly by 1949 the scrip was no longer legal tender in Boston, and thus Charlie could not use it get off the M.T.A.

Today our eastern calendar bids us commemorate Nicholas of Japan (1836 – 1912), Equal to the Apostles, also called the Enlightener of Japan. In seminary he saw a poster from the Russian consulate in Hakodate, Japan, asking for a priest (“See the world!”), and he volunteered. Before you could say Иван Дмитриевич Касаткин, he was Hieromonk Nicholas and headed for Japan. En route he enjoyed meeting (the future Saint) Innocent of Alaska, but when they met again about a year later, and Nicholas confessed he had been reading European books, Innocent told him sternly to devote his time to learning Japanese. He took this to heart, and became an attentive student of Japanese history and culture, and even a patron of traveling storytellers and Buddhist preachers. (He did teach himself English, but nobody needs to know that except us, right?)

One night in 1865, Nicholas was accosted at sword-point by Takuma Sawabe, a member of a xenophobic group that had targeted the consulate for a murder spree. He softly asked why the man would kill him before hearing what he had to say. The other put down his sword and listened, and three years later he and two of his friends received baptism at Nicholas’ hand while a reader (go readers! yay!) guarded the door. Paul Sawabe, the first Japanese Orthodox Christian, went on to become the first Japanese Orthodox priest.

In 1869, unable to get really good eel-on-a-stick in Hakodate, Nicholas left his parish in the hands of an associate and relocated to Tokyo. In 1880, he was elevated to the episcopacy. In 1891, he won the admiration of Emperor Meiji for his diplomacy during the Ōtsu Incident, an assassination attempt on the visiting tsarevich (later Tsar Nicholas II). In the 1905 Russian-Japanese War, he stayed in Japan, tending his flock and directing literacy work among the Russian prisoners-of-war. Over the course of his life he translated the church services and New Testament into Japanese, started six schools, and oversaw the construction of the beautiful Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo, affectionately called “Nikorai-do” by everybody who knows that’s what it’s called. He saw the Japanese Orthodox Church grow from nothing to over 33,000 souls in 266 communities, with 41 priests and deacons. At his glorification in 1970, he was only the third Russian to receive the title “Equal to the Apostles,” after Vladimir and Olga.

BlaiseToday the western calendar bids us commemorate Blaise (Սուրբ Բարսեղ) (d. ca. 316), bishop of Sebaste, Armenia (modern Sivas, Turkey). A doctor as well as a bishop, he famously saved a boy from choking on fish bones, and for this reason on his feast day priests bless their flocks by touching their throats with crossed candles (the candles enter the story later; you’ll see).

Blaise fled Sebaste for a nearby cave when the local governor started persecuting area Christians. Word (snort, snuffle, etc.) soon spread that he healed sick or wounded animals, and a community of wild beasts (including the oh-my three) gathered about him and tended to his needs. This was witnessed by hunters seeking animals for the amphitheatre, who thought he must be a wizard, and hauled him off to stand before the governor. En route, they came upon a woman shouting at a wolf carrying a pig (her pig, as it chanced). She begged Blaise to help, so he spoke to the wolf, and it released the pig unharmed. For some reason this did not dissuade the hunters of their suspicions. The governor threw him in jail, intending to starve him to death, but the pig lady secretly brought him food (bacon?) as well as candles to lighten his dungeon (told you I’d get to the candles). He was tortured by having his skin lacerated with heavy wool combs, then beheaded. Thus it only stands to reason that he is the patron saint of wool combers — as well as those suffering from any and all throat problems, including stuck bones, coughs, and goiters.

This Day in History for 3rd February (History Orb)
First Use Of Paper Money In America (PDX Retro) — Neat photo of the original American paper money
Colonial American Banknotes ~ Massachusetts-Bay
Nicholas of Japan (Wikipedia)
Otsu incident (Wikipedia)
Nicholas of Japan (Orthodox Wiki) — Primary source for Nicholas
Holy Resurrection Cathedral (Tokyo, Japan) (Orthodox Wiki)
Paul Sawabe (Orthodox Wiki) — First Japanese Orthodox Christian. Very interesting read!
St. Nicholas of Japan, equal-to-the apostles (Holy Transfiguration)
St Nicholas, Equal of the Apostles and Archbishop of Japan (OCA)
Blaise of Sebaste (St. Patrick Catholic Church, D.C.) — Primary source for Blaise
Saint Blaise (Wikipedia)
Saint Blaise (SQPN)

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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