February 3 – Nicholas of Japan; Blaise of Sebaste

Shrine icon of Nicholas of Japan, at Hakodate Orthodox Church, Hakodate, JapanNicholas of Japan, Equal to the Apostles (1836–1912), (aka the Enlightener of Japan), whilst in seminary saw a poster from the Russian consulate in Hakodate, Japan, asking for a priest (“See the world!”), and 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 (Mar 31), 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 also taught 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[1]. Nicholas softly asked why the man would kill him before hearing what he had to say. Takuma shrugged,  listened, and three years later received baptism at Nicholas’ hand, thus becoming the first Japanese Orthodox Christian. He went on to become the first Japanese Orthodox priest.

In 1869, unable to get really good eel-on-a-stick in Hakodate[2], Nicholas relocated to Tokyo. In 1880, he was bishopified. In 1891, he won the admiration of Emperor Meiji for his diplomacy during the Otsu Incident, an assassination attempt on the visiting tsarevich* (later Tsar Nicholas II). 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 affectionately 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 (Jul 25) and Olga (Jul 11).

Drawing of Blaise of Sebaste, from the flag of the former Republic of RagusaBlaise (d. ca. 316) (Սուրբ Բարսեղ) was bishop of Sebaste, Armenia (modern Sivas, Turkey). He was also a doctor, and famously saved a boy from choking on fish bones, for which reason on his feast day priests bless their flocks by touching their throats with crossed candles (the candles enter the story later as you’ll see).

Blaise fled Sebaste for a nearby cave when the local governor started persecuting area Christians. Word (snort, chirp, 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 (combs for wool, not combs of wool), 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. People with candles in their throats—well, just don’t.

[1] Murderous xenophobic terrorist groups are like mushrooms. No names.
[2] Or some other reason.