08 November 2007

Persecution and tradition

Protestants often denounce "tradition" as something evil, and yet tradition is what keeps the church going in times of persecution.

Hat tip to A conservative blog for peace


In effect, among the victims of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, two thirds of the small but vibrant Japanese Catholic community disappeared in a single day. It was a community that was nearly wiped out twice in three centuries.
In 1945, this was done through an act of war that was mysteriously focused on this city. Three centuries before, it was by a terrible persecution very similar to that of the Roman empire against the first Christians, with Nagasaki and its "hill of martyrs" again the epicenter.

And yet, the Japanese Catholic community was able to recover from both of these tragedies. After the persecution in the seventeenth century, Christians kept their faith alive by passing it on from parents to children for two centuries, in the absence of bishops, priests, and sacraments.

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In the Orthodox Church one saw the same thing in the same country, though in the far north. Fr Nikolai Kasatkin went to Japan in 1861, officially as chapl;ain to the Russian consulate at Hakodate, but in his heart as a missionary to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the Japanese people.

He learnt the Japanese language, and gave lessons in Russian language and culture to Japanese who wanted to learn. As part of the lessons on Russian culture, he talked about the role of the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Christian faith in Russian history, culture and society.

Some samurai (members of the military class) heard of this and one of them, Sawabe by name, went to see the Russian priest, accused him of "destroying Japanese culture", and threatened to kill him if he did not stop. Father Nikolai said, You have not heard what I have said to people. Should you not hear first, before making such accusations?

Sawabe agreed to hear, and, having heard, brought two fellow samurai to hear, and became the first to ask to be baptised. But then the Japanese government began to clamp down on Christianity, and so the three scattered to their homes in the country, but as they went they told friends and family about what they heard, and soon there was a flourishing Japanese Orthodox Church. Father Nikolai returned to Russia where he was consecrated bishop and by his death in 1914 there were more than 20000 Orthodox Christians in Japan. He is now known as St Nicholas of Japan.

His method of evangelism was simple, and was the same as that advocated by St Paul: "what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who wil be able to teach others" (II Tim 2:2). That is the essence of tradition (paradosis), and that is how the Church has been able to withstand and survive through persecution at many different times and places.

2 comments:

The young fogey said...

You're right, Father: that approach to tradition is entirely Orthodox.

Deacon Jim has posted another writer's poem about that from a Polish Roman Catholic peasant's point of view.

The Scylding said...

well, not all protestants are so anti-traditional. In the Lutheran church, and some sectors of the anglican communion, there is still a healthy respect for tradition. It is also interesting that it is these 2 protestant traditions that had, in times past (and in some areas in the present, notably in finland), fruitful interaction with Orthodoxy.

But nobody is without tradition:

"We are agianst tradition. we have always been against tradition"... duh!

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