03 February 2010
Nicholas was born in the Smolensk prefecture to Dimitry Kasatkin, a Russian Orthodox deacon. His mother died when he was five years old. He grew up in the church hierarchy: in 1857 he entered the Theological Academy in Saint Petersburg. On July 7, 1860 (July 19 in the Gregorian calendar), he became a monk and chose the name of Nicholas. Nicholas was ordained a deacon on July 12 (July 24) in the same year, on the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. He was ordained a priest the next day, on the feast day of the Holy Apostles, the commemoration day of the Academy's Chapel of the Holy Apostles.
On July 2, 1861, Nicholas landed at Hakodate, Hokkaidō, Japan, as a priest attached to the chapel of the Russian consulate in Hakodate. He had volunteered for the appointment to this duty, attracted since the day he noticed a poster calling for a priest for this chapel when he was a seminary student. After he arrived at the consulate, he studied Japanese and quickly gained mastery of the language.
While at the consulate chapel, he converted three Japanese. Later, he moved to Tokyo, and began an extensive missionary effort. He bought property on a height in Kanda Surugadai for his headquarters which later became the site of the see of the Archbishop of Japan. Under his leadership, more than 250 communities were formed, and churches were built.
Nicholas was consecrated bishop on March 30, 1880, as Bishop of Revel, auxiliary to the Archdiocese of Riga. While Nicholas never visited the city, the parish of Revel supported his Japanese mission financially. In the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, bishops sign with their parish, but Nicholas made his habit to sign as "Episcop (Bishop) Nicholai", without mentioning Revel. He was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop of All Japan by the Russian Holy Synod on April 6, 1907.
During the Russo-Japanese War, Nicholas stayed in Japan. Those days were very difficult for him. His love for the land of his birth, Russia, conflicted with his duty as the bishop of Japan to support his faithful and to pray for the Japanese Emperor and the Imperial Army and Navy: in the Orthodox liturgy at that time, priests must explicitly have prayed not only benediction on the sovereign and his army, but also defeat of his enemy in the intercession. Nicholas therefore did not participate in any public services during the war; instead, he encouraged his Japanese faithful to both pray for and to contribute to the Army and Navy Some encouraged him to go back to Russia, but he refused and worked eagerly for Japanese faithful and Russian captives. In a letter on the conditions of a camp in Hamadera, Osaka, Nicholas wrote of his astonishment at the Russians soldiers' illiteracy: nine of ten captives could not read. Nicholas sent priests and teachers to camps to educate and care for the captives. His attitude and manners impressed not only the Orthodox faithful but also non-Christians.
Even Emperor Meiji was impressed with his character, especially his Christian and diplomatic efforts between the Russian Imperial Household and the Japanese government. When the Russian Tsar Nicholas II was the Tsarevich under Alexander III, the young Nicholas II visited Japan and was injured during the Ōtsu Incident by a Japanese policeman. Bishop Nicholas made a great effort to resolve this incident.
Nicholas's study of Japanese was fruitful, allowing him to translate all liturgy books and many parts of the Bible including the whole of the New Testament and Psalms, most of the Book of Genesis and the Book of Isaiah with help from a Japanese Christian and scholar Nakai Tsugumaro who ran a kanbun private school Kaitokudo in Osaka. His translations are still used in the liturgy of Japanese Orthodox Church. Being fond of church singing, Kasatkin made a significant contribution in introducing this art to the Japanese.
He wrote a diary in Russian for years, recording the pastoral life of early Orthodox Church of Japan as well as his thought and observation of Meiji era Japan. His diary was believed to have been burned and lost in Great Kanto Earthquake but rediscovered by Kennosuke Nakamura, a Russian literary researcher, and published in 2004 as Dnevniki Sviatogo Nikolaia Iaponskogo (5 vols. St. Petersburg: Giperion, 2004). Nakamura translated the whole diary into Japanese and published with his commentary in 2007.
Nikolai was the first saint of the Japanese Orthodox Church. After his death, his body was buried in Tokyo Metropolitan Yanaka Cemetery, near Ueno. In 1970, he was canonized as 'Equal-to-the-Apostles, Archbishop of Japan, St. Nicholas'. His feast day is February 3, February 16 old-style. The Russian Orthodox Church and the Japanese Orthodox Church celebrate this feast nationwide on the old-style date.