Orthodox Translation of Gospel into Japanese
In the end of the 19th century an Orthodox congregation emerged in the town Takasaki in Tokyo metropolitan area. A member of this parish, an old man and devoted Christian, Iov Suto due to his illiteracy knew only a few ideographs and could not read Gospel. Therefore, he started a work of rewriting the printed copy of Gospel into Japanese in handwritten large characters with Japanese sound alphabet readings for each ideograph. It took him several years to complete this beginning. The old man always kept this Gospel at hand and took the manuscript with himself when leaving the house.
Iov has made this copy from the original in the proper old Japanese language. It was written according to the rules of classical grammar and contained multitudes of Chinese characters, including extremely complicated and rare ones. The author of this original is a Russian person Saint Equal to Apostles Nikolai, Archbishop of Japan. With Lord’s help St. Nikolai has done the work of Gospel translation, similar to that accomplished by St. Cyril and Methodius for the 9th century Slavonic countries. St. Nikolai has also followed the steps of the first Disciples of Christ in propagating Gospel to all people and has become the enlightener of this pagan country.
Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Japan and Gospel Translation
Roman Catholic monk Francis Xavier was the first to start Gospel propagation in Japan in 1549. He was successful in settling 230 congregations with 200 thousand faithful in extremely short period of time. However, after the end of the local war period, the newly formed Tokugawa shogun system feared the growth of Christianity and went off settling limits to missioners. This coincided with overall tendency to avoid foreign influence in the country. Firstly, the overseas visitors were denied entrance to the country and Japanese were not allowed to go abroad. Then, the 1637 charter demanded deportation of foreign missioners. The Japanese Christians were forced to deny their faith, stepping on the icons of Christ and Our Lady. Those who would remain to the true faith had to pay with their lives. Hundreds of martyrs have been crucified in Japan on the crosses set along the roads.
These trampling on the icons and denials were to be repeated by several generations of the early Japanese Christians’ descendants. However, the Catholic mission to arrive in Nagasaki in the 19th century found 200 thousand secret worshippers of the Only God who had kept their faith throughout the 200 years.
The black ships of Commander Perry in 1853 and a series of trade treaties with world powers of the time served as an impulse for opening the country. Japan was no longer closed and began establishing contacts with the foreigners. The 1855 saw the signing of Japan-Russia treaty and in 1861 a 24-year old graduate of Saint Petersburg Ecclesiastical Academy hieromonk Nikolai (Kasatkin) arrived in Hakodate as a chaplain of the Russian embassy church. “Having the burning desire to see Japanese people brought to Christ, Equal to Apostles Nikolai, ye have spent long years there, studying the wisdom of that country, and the words of Our Lord have translated to be understood by your children into their native language. Now, standing by Lord’s throne, pray for them” (troparion of the 7th song of the canon to St. Nikolai of Japan).
Bishop Seraphim (Sigrist) of Sendai and East Japan renders his vision of St. Nikolai zeal for missionary preaching: “…St. Nikolai was a kind of samurai, whose indomitable will and labor over 50 years built the church of Japan. The story is told that in his early days of studying Japanese, Fr. Nikolai (then a priest in Hakodate) would go with the Japanese children to school and sit in the back and learn as best he could with them. Indeed at one point the perplexed teachers put up a sign at the door, “the bearded foreigner is not allowed”. In a way this story shows that indomitable samurai will, and yet I love it because it shows something else and perhaps still deeper, the humility (which no samurai would have but which comes from the Gospel) to become like a little child in service of the Lord who deigned to be born in a manger”. To Russian readers this episode may remind the path of the prominent scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, the founder of Moscow State University and Russian Academy of Sciences. In the start of his scholarly career, the 19 year old Mikhail, then a peasant in the northern Russian region of Archangelsk, traveled on foot to Moscow, and had to share the school bench with little children twice younger than he.
Ivan Dmitrievich Kasatkin was born on the first of August, 1836 [O.S.] in the village Beryozha [Birch tree] of the Belsk district in Smolensk region in the family of a deacon. His father, deacon Dmitry Kasatkin had 4 children: firstborn Gavriil, who died in his early childhood, the daughter Olga, the second son Ivan and the youngest son Vasiliy. When little Vanya was five, his mother reposed and Olga, whose husband served deacon in rural church, took care of the children. The future Saint Archbishop studied in Belsk Ecclesiastical primary school, then in Smolensk Ecclesiastical Seminary. After graduating with the highest rating in the class, in 1856 he received a state scholarship to enter Saint Petersburg Ecclesiastical Academy. In the spring of 1860 an announcement, inviting a graduate to serve the chief priest of the embassy church, was posted in the academy. “I saw a sheet laying in the room, - told bishop Nikolai to hieromonk Andronik (Nikolsky) who arrived in Tokyo mission in 1898. – I read it and find out that this is a proposal on behalf of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs: whether any of graduates wishes to go to Hakodate in Japan to Russian Consulate either as a priest or a monk. And then I see the three names of volunteers: Blagorazumov Nikolai (future rector of Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy, currently [in 1898] Moscow protopriest); and two others: one (Gorchakov) as a priest and the other in any title”.
Having calmly read the announcement, the young man went for the evening service, where he experienced a sudden desire of going to Japan. Many years later St. Nikolai described his decision to the students at Tokyo Seminary: “…I firmly admit, given my unworthiness, that it was God’s will that sent me to Japan: first, the talk of [Smolensk] seminary professor Ivan Feodorovich Solovyov about China and the trip to China of professor’s friend Fr. Isaya Polkin had caused my desire to go to China and propagate Gospel; reading Golovnin’s travel notes in academy had revoked that forgotten desire in direction of Japan; reading the critics of Oblomov lead to the solution of the crucial question: to serve God or the world?”
By completing the application of going to serve as a monk, not as a married priest, and in Mission, not in Russia, the future St. Nikolai “outscored” all the candidates. “I come to conclusion that the above moments were indeed mysterious signs of Lord’s will, for never in my life have I repented becoming a monk or felt grief because of coming to Japan”, - told the Bishop to Tokyo students.
On the 21 of June, 1860 Ivan Kasatkin was tonsured a monk with the name Nikolai, was ordained hierodeacon on June, 29, and hieromonk - on the following day. Then there was a long journey to Japan. Hieromonk Nikolai spent the winter of 1860/61 in Nikolaevsk on the river Amur where bishop Innokenty (Veniaminov) of Katchatka, the future Saint Metropolitan of Moscow, enlightener of Siberia and Alyaska, gave necessary directions to the young missioner. St. Nikolai did not forget these talks with Bishop during the whole life. When 40 years later bishop Nikolai was building Cathedral in Kyoto, he remembered Kamchatka shepherd: “The very altar here [in Tokyo] is 3 Japanese square feet and 3 dimes; in Kyoto we ought to have the same one. I have notified about the height as well: 3 feet, 2 dimes, 5 lines. All the altars are of the same height here in the Cathedral, it is customary everywhere in the Orthodox church. This I remember from the words of His Eminence Innokenty, when during the Nikolaevsk winter of 1860 he gave me various lectures on Sunday evenings, which I spent at his place on his kindness invitation”. Bishop Innokenty inspired the young missioner to learn the language and culture of his future flock: “The godfather of Nikolai’s Japanology was, of course, St. Innokenty Popov-Veniaminov. His versatile genius – as linguist, ethnographer, and evangelist – was a source of inspiration to Nikolai throughout the years of his mission in Japan”.
Finally, in June 1861 hieromonk Nikolai arrived in the Hakodate port. Since then Fr. Nikolai lived all his life in Japan, briefly returning to Russia only twice: in the years 1869/1870 to request for establishing Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Japan and in 1879/1880 to be consecrated Bishop of the growing mission and collect money for its needs. This unavoidable lack of real missionary activity in Russia seemed extremely tiresome and exhaustible to St. Nikolai. Each time he was particularly eager to go back home, to Japan. During the second trip St. Nikolai visited a number of countries. Having returned to Tokyo, Bishop described this journey, talking to his flock: “First of all, I left Japan for America and visited San Francisco and New York. The Orthodox Christians there all expressed their gratitude that by the grace of God the Orthodox Church was established in Japan…My next stop was in London, England. People there also expressed their happiness in hearing about the building up of the Japanese Orthodox Church, and they asked me to tell you how happy they were to hear the news that the Church was established in Japan…On the way back [from Russia] I stopped in Constantinople and met the Patriarch. He said: “I am very happy to hear about the Orthodox Church in Japan…I ask you to carry my blessing to the Christians in Japan.””.
The life and missionary service of St. Nikolai, Orthodox Disciple in the pagan country demanded enormous effort, concentration, self-discipline and endless trust upon Lord’s will. “Japan is the golden middle…Having listened to atheist foreign teachers and various instructors, that faith is gone; and if one wants to have anything of the kind, he must keep to the original paths, they have resembled Shinto, which is currently followed by the Court in the slightest details,” – wrote Bishop in his diaries.
When hieromonk Nikolai came to Japan, the medieval charter of 1614 of full prohibition of Christianity was still into force. Although the later government law of 1873 allowed freedom of religion, the hardships to propagation continued to exist; and persecutions, especially in rural areas, emerged within a long period of time. Therefore, missioner Nikolai started with studying the country’s culture and history. According to Matushka Doreen Bartholomew, “He sometimes strolled around the streets of Hakodate, listening to the ordinary people and professional storytellers. He made the acquaintance of leading Buddhist priests and listened to their sermons… Hieromonk Nikolai spent fourteen hours a day over the course of seven years studying every aspect of Japan…As a result of his relentless study of the Japanese language, Hieromonk Nikolai eventually acquired the knowledge of several thousand Chinese characters, giving him access to materials printed by the Orthodox mission in Peking, where Yosif Goshkevich had spent almost ten years. This allowed Nikolai to study Chinese texts of the Old and New Testaments, as well as some of the liturgical books”.
His success in learning Japanese and Chinese scripture enabled Fr. Nikolai to read medieval Buddhist sutras, incomprehensible by most of the Japanese. The discoverer of St. Nikolai’s diaries in the St. Petersburg National Archives in 1979, the leading researcher and contemporary biographer of St. Nikolai, Prof. Kennosuke Nakamura calls him “one of the first Russian Japanologists”. “It is widely recognized that hieromonk Nikolai Kasatkin was one of the founders of Japanology, - writes Prof. Nakamura. – In addition, several Russian scholars whom he befriended and advised eventually became prominent Japanologists in Russia, Western Europe, and America. …Since his knowledge of Japanese history and culture was extensive and detailed, Vladyka Nikolai became a sort of academic advisor to the young Russians who came to him for spiritual and scholarly guidance”.
Before moving to Tokyo and buying land on Surugadai knoll where later he opened the schools of Russian Mission and supervised construction of magnificent Resurrection Cathedral, St. Nikolai wrote in Hakodate: “…one might conclude that in Japan, at least now, the harvest truly is plenteous. And the labourers, on our part, are none, but for my completely personal activity. Even had I continued the studies in the previous direction, the abilities of a single person here may be compared to a single drop in the sea. The translation of the Gospel alone, if done distinctively (and can one do it otherwise) will demand at least 2 years of devoted work. Then, there is the need for Old Testament Translation. To have the smallest Christian church it is absolutely necessary to celebrate in Japanese; apart from that there are other books, such as Holy History, History of Church, Liturgy, Theology. All the above issues are of primarily importance. These and other books should be translated into Japanese, which is very questionable to become such a tool for a foreigner that the latter could write in it at least half as fast and easy as in his own native language”.
On the 6 of April, 1870 due to Fr. Nikolai’s petition the Holy Synod established Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Japan, consisting of the head of mission, Fr. Nikolai, ordained archimandrite, 3 hieromonks-missioners and 1 deacon. According to the special order, explaining missioners’ responsibilities, they were not only to spread the word of God in Japanese, but to translate Holy Bible, as well.
“Currently, the general work of mission in any country can not be constrained by oral propagation, - said St. Nikolai. – The times of Francisc Xavier, who was running along the streets with a bell and thus called upon the listeners, have already passed. As for Japan, given the love of its population for reading and the spread of respect to written word, faithful and catechumen should be first of all given the book, written in their native language, necessarily in good style and thoroughness, beautifully and cheaply printed. Here, the books, revealing dogmatic differences with Catholicism and Protestantism, are of the major importance. I have often witnessed how our Christians, armed with the knowledge gained from Mission’s publications, hold talks with Catholic and Protestant compatriots and remained the winners. The printed word should be the soul of Mission”.
Non Orthodox Gospel Translations into Japanese and their Correspondence to the Original
When hieromonk Nikolai arrived in Japan, there had already been a number of Gospel translations into Chinese and Japanese. The first attempts can be dated back to the times of Francisc Xavier and Roman Catholic Mission: “It is known that they translated the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. Besides these they doubtless translated some of the narrative portions of the Old Testament, some of the Psalms, and parables and portions of the New Testament, sufficient for their liturgical worship. But nothing of it remains that we know of. All was no doubt collected by the government and destroyed”.
A Prussian Reverend Dr. Charles Gutzlaff came to China in 1832, where he translated the New Testament in Chinese. 4 years later he studied the Japanese in Macao. In 1838 the press of the American Board Commissioners for Foreign Missions printed this Japanese sound alphabet – katakana – translation of the Gospel of John in Singapore. It did not contain any character. “This undoubtedly, was the first effort to render the Word of Life into Japanese, - says Protestant missioner Dr. Hepburn, - and though exceedingly imperfect and abounding with errors, it cannot but be regarded by every Christian heart with respect”.
Dr. Samuel Well Williams, an American missionary printer of the American Board arrived in China in 1833. In July, 1837 he was one of the mission to try to land to Japan. The American ships were denied landing both in Edo and Kagoshima, but took aboard some of the Japanese shipwrecked mariners. Learning from them their native language, Dr. Williams accomplished the translation of the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mathew.
The third translation of Bible is assigned to Reverend B. J. Bettelheim, sent to Loo Choo islands in 1846. In Hong Kong he published the katakana translation of the New Testament into Loo Choo dialect, with parallel Chinese Gospel text by Gutzlaff.
The Protestant Missioners were the first to arrive in Japan in 1850s. They were followed by Roman Catholics. All the priests made certain trials in telling or writing Bible into the Japanese or Chinese. The Japanese Christian Bibliography in the Meiji period outlines the publications of Old and New Testaments as early as in 1858. The hiragana translation of Rev. J. Goble of the Gospel of Mathew was printed in 1864.
The 24-year old St. Nikolai enthusiastically started to translate Gospel into Japanese in 1861, unconsciously following the paths of his Christian missioners-predecessors: “…Instinctively I have finally somehow learnt to speak and acquired the simplest and easiest way of writing, which is used in original and translated scientific literature. Empowered with this knowledge, I immediately commenced to translate Gospel into Japanese, not from Russian, for the labour of finding Chinese ideographs for each Russian word is yet beyond my strength, and useless, too, but from the Chinese. This was the seemingly easy work: the native Japanese, who can understand Chinese books well, translates Gospel into Japanese with almost every word represented by Chinese ideograph and transcribed according to Japanese meaning, consequently all grammar forms were represented by Japanese phonetic ideographs, as well. My job was to check and correct translation together with another Japanese scientist. The work proceeded extremely fast, until becoming gradually accustomed to the Chinese text, I had become once and for all disappointed in its authority”.
In September 1872 the Protestant missioners in Japan met on a convention in Yokohama. It worked out the plan for appointing representatives of several protestant missions: Rev. S. R. Brown, J. C. Hepburn, Rev. D. C. Green, Rev. R. S. Maclay, Dr. Nathan Brown. Several native Japanese: Mr. Okuno, Mr. Takahashi, Mr. Miwa and Mr. Matsuyama assisted foreign missioners in their work. Dr. Hepburn described the process of translation: “…It was, at the very first, a matter of considerable anxiety in what literature style our work should be brought out to make it most acceptable and useful. The conclusion was not difficult to arrive at; that, avoiding on the one hand the quasi Chinese style, only intelligible to the highly educated, scholarly, and comparatively very small portion of the people; and on the other hand, a vulgar colloquial, which, though easily understood might make the scriptures contemptible – we should choose that style which, while respected even by the so-called literati, was easily and intelligible to all classes. We thus adhered to the vernacular, or pure Japanese, and to a style which may be called classical, in which many of their best books intended for the common reader are written”. In 1879 first edition of the completed the New Testament translation from Greek into Japanese was published in Yokohama.
In 1876 and 1878 the Protestants settled other committees to translate the Old Testament. The parts of the Holy Bible were assigned to local committees in Hakodate, Tokyo, Yokohama, Niigata, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagasaki. The 3 Japanese translators Mesrs. Matsuyama, Uemura, and Ibuka were appointed to assist the English-speakers. In 1888 the work was completed.
As for Russian Orthodox Mission, Fr. Nikolai continued his scrupulous work in translating Gospel, the book of prayers, liturgical texts. It took his many years to revise the previous translations. The 60-year old Bishop Nikolai, who has acquired the deepest knowledge of Japanese language and culture, did not give up hope of finding co-workers in his missionary beginning: “After the morning service Pavel Nakai brought the Catholic translation of Gospel by Mathew and Mark, which he bought; 4 pastors with Japanese scientist translated from Vulgate, then other 2 pastors corrected the translation, which, nevertheless, is similar to that of protestants – extremely vulgar… I wish I could not use a really good translation in my work!”
Below is an attempt to outline the major drawbacks of Protestant and Catholic translations of the time:
· Incompliance of certain words and terms with Orthodox mentality and Holy Bible commentary by Saint fathers
The early translations used either the Chinese term Dao for the God-Word, which already had an idiomatic meaning of Confucian teaching or the Japanese word “michi” – the way, the road, which could easily raise Buddhist and mystic associations, alien to Christianity. The request “God, have mercy” was translated literary, which made Japanese listener compare God to the judge or executioner, settling the prisoner’s fate.
“I ordered another Gospel translation from China, - St. Nikolai describes his translation work in late 1860s. – It turned out that one was translated word-for-word in uneven and often incomprehensible style; the language in another was embellished, which implied absolute paraphrasing and either avoiding or inserting words”.
· Combination of over scientific style, on the one hand, and language vulgarization in order to make the text understandable by all the classes, on the other.
“These people have neither shame nor fear of God! – writes St. Nikolai in 1897, having looked through Old and New Testament translations, published by protestants in Hankow. – The Lord’s word is the ball for them: they throw phrases and words, make them longer or shorter, embellish, and spoil. I can hardly make an opinion of these people and these translations”.
St. Nikolai renders the following dialog with one of such non-professionals - the scientist Dr. Cherevkov - in his Diaries:
- Isn’t “shogun” right?
- This is cacophony; the Japanese do not have the sound “sh”.
- How should I then correct it? – asks [Cherevkov].
- Easily, - I advised, - you should have a [native] Japanese sit by your side and write down the names the way he pronounces them.
Principles of Orthodox Translation of Gospel
St. Nikolai endeavored to translate keeping to the original style and meaning, so that “each word reached the mind and soul of the listener and reader”. Due to the specific features of the Japanese language St. Nikolai faced the two problems: to choose the necessary vocabulary and appropriate grammar. Besides that, the 19the century Japan, has just revoked from the self-isolation and feudal disunity. Many peasants talked in their local land - “kuni” – dialect and could hardly understand the neighbours at several hundred miles’ distance. Therefore, St. Nikolai has chosen the “bungo” language – official literature language of educated elite and samurais. Due to excessive use of Chinese vocabulary, the texts were enough complex and substantial, in reading the sounds of ideographs was adapted according to Japanese phonetics.
Bishop Nikolai described the principles of translation: “I believe, it is not the Gospel and service translation that should descend to reach the level of multitudes. On the contrary, faithful should rise to understand Gospel and service texts. Vulgar language is inadmissible in Gospel. When I find two absolutely identical characters or phrases and both are equally noble for Japanese ear and eye, I will doubtlessly prefer the most prevalent one, but never will yield to illiteracy and do not allow for slightest compromises in translation precision, even if I had to use extremely rare Chinese ideograph. I do feel that sometimes my translation requires much concentration the part of the Japanese”.
The first results of the daily 7-hour translation during several years of immensely devoted work are summarized by St. Nikolai in his diaries: “We have employed all the means of clear reasoning and expressing the text; we used three Greek, two Latin, Slavonic, Russian, English, French, German, three Chinese, Japanese texts, commentaries in Russian and English, all the lexicons. Every day, almost every hour we had to dig through all this…At least, our translation is clear and the link between ideas, where possible, is kept”.
St. Nikolai was happy to find a trustworthy and highly educated companion-in-arms for his work – the leading specialist in Chinese and Japanese philology, Orthodox Japanese Pavel Nakai Tsugumaro. Professor and researcher in Chinese studies Pavel Nakai was the dean of the public Osaka University in the pre-Meiji period. Later this school became Osaka State University.
The following note in St. Nikolai’s diaries reflects the recognition of Pavel Nakai in Japan: “…The celebration in honour of his [Nakai’s] family will be held in Osaka. This family is indeed the honour of Osaka, it had a famous Chinese literature and Classicism school there. Osaka’s governor and many celebrities participate in honouring Pavel Nakai’s forefathers. On his part, among other things he will bring our translations of the New Testament and Divine Service. The time, stolen from our translation, we shall compensate studying from 1 till 5 in the afternoon”.
Below is the brief outline of the new ideographs and terms, invented by St. Nikolai for the translation:
· Character – (the upper, Chinese reading “shin”, used only in word combinations; lower, Japanese reading “kami”) has the meaning “idol, god, ghost” and previously used to name pagan, and in particular, Shinto gods. St. Nikolai used the same character, but added a circle to it ?O and assigned it reading “shin”, so that the character became the translation of the term “Spirit”.
This is St. Nikolai’s explanation of his choice: “In the morning [we were involved in] the usual work of correcting the New Testament translation. We came to the word “Spirit”, the hardest one in the whole Gospel. One hardly knows what to do; whether to use old, completely out-of-use scripture “shin”, which can not be found in any lexicons…but this would imply to settle a mummy among the alive; to create a new ideograph…but if the word is not adopted, this would mean settling an artificial doll among the alive. The best thing seemed to use this “shin”, but with a circle, which would reflect that “spirit” (shin) and not God (kami) is assumed”.
· Character “kotoba” – “word”, which was attributed Orthodox meaning. In the Gospel of John “kotoba” means God’s word.
· The verb “awaremu” – “co-suffer, have mercy, love, cherish” – equivalent to Russian verb “have mercy” (milovat’).
Following the steps of St. Cyril and Methodius, the enlighteners of the Slavs, St. Nikolai filled a number of existing characters with the new meaning. The reading of the above mentioned character “kami” – “Shinto god, idol” became the meaning of Christians’ God. This change the usage of word was identical to the evolution of the Slavonic word “bog” 900 years before St. Nikolai’s work.
Certain Bible realities were translated descriptively according to Greek original. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness” (King’s James version) [in Slavonic – “the voice of one crying in the desert”] is translated as “the voice of one crying in the field”; “our daily bread” is translated as “our daily food” (with the key element of the ideograph “food” meaning rice); “scribe” [in Slavonic – “educated person, scientist”] is translated as either “the one, who knows the law” or the “teacher”; “pagan” as “without the knowledge of law”. All measures of length and weight are translated into Japanese. The Japanese word “ten” – “stroke, line” – connected to traditional calligraphy is used instead of Greek “iota”.
The New Testament Translation by St. Equal to Apostles Nikolai of Japan
“Pavel Nakai and I are occupied in the Holy Scripture translation from half past seven in the morning till noon and from 6 to 9 in the afternoon. This will continue everyday, so in future I needn’t mention it”, - writes St. Nikolai in his diary on the 22nd of August, 1895.
St. Nikolai predominantly used the Slavonic Gospel – almost one-to-one literal translation from the Greek original. The major source for interpretations was St. John Chrysostom’s Commentary. St. Nikolai polished each word and phrase, sometimes he would telegraph different versions of his translation to all Japanese parishes, so that altogether the faithful might choose the best one.
Half a year after the first note on translation, St. Nikolai writes: “Today at the divine service and vespers the Gospel according to the new translation was read [in Church] for the first time. From now on we will always read it to see ourselves, what is the translation like and to hear other opinion, and correct, while it has not been fixed in publication, the parts which need correction”.
The highest acknowledgement of St. Nikolai’s work is reflected in the contemporary letter of protestant bishop in Kyoto: “Whatever is being said about archbishop Nikolai’s translations, his translation of the Gospel of John and Acts is undoubtedly higher of all the existing ones”.
In an attempt to reconstruct the work of St. Nikolai, the back translation of the first 5 verses of the Gospel of John first chapter from old Japanese “bungo” into the modern Russian and English is implemented below. This allows comparing St. Nikolai’s translation with the Slavonic original and St. John Chrysostom’s Commentary.
To outline the work of St. Nikolai more distinctively, the back translation of the same part from modern colloquial Japanese into Russian and English is provided according to the Old and New Testaments publication by Japan Bible Society.
Gospel of John: I, 1-5. Translation by St. Nikolai of Japan.
Japanese translation by St. Nikolai: 1. Hajime ni kotoba ari, kotoba wa kami to tomo ni ari, kotoba wa sunawachi kami nari. 2. Kono kotoba wa hajime ni kami to tomo ni ari. 3. Banbutsu wa kare ni yorite tsukuraretari, oyoso tsukuraretaru mono-niwa itsumo kare ni yorazusite tsukuraresi wa nasi. 4. Kare no uchi ni inochi ari, inochi wa hito no hikari nari. 5. Hikari wa kurayami ni teri, kurayami wa kore wo oowazariki.
Russian back translation: 1. Iskoni prebivaet Slovo, Slovo prebivaet s Bogom, Slovo i est’ Bog. 2. Eto Slovo iskoni prebivaet s Bogom. 3. Vsyo suschee sozdano Slovom, i net nichego sozdannogo, chto ne bilo bi sozdano Im. 4. V Nem zhizn’, zhizn’ stala Svetom dlya lyudei. 5. I Svet osvechaet t’mu, i t’ma ego ne pokrila.
English back translation: 1. Since the [very] beginning there was the Word, the Word has been with God, God was the Word. 2. This Word was with God since the [very] beginning. 3. All the existing has been created with Him, and nothing existing has been created without Him. 4. In Him was life, life has become the Light for men. 5. Light was shining in the darkness, and darkness did not cover It.
Gospel of John: I, 1-5. Translation by Japan Bible Society.
Japanese translation by Japan Bible Society: 1. Hajime ni kotoba ga atta. Kotoba wa kami to tomo ni atta. Kotoba wa kami de atta. 2. Kono kotoba wa hajime ni kami to tomo ni atta. 3. Subete no mono wa kore ni yotte dekita. Dekita mono no uchi, hitotsu to site kore ni yoranai mono wa nakatta. 4. Kono kotoba ni inochi ga atta. Sosite kono inochi wa hito no hikari de atta. 5. Hikari wa yami no uchi ni kagayaiteiru. Sosite, yami wa kore ni katanakatta.
Russian back translation: 1. V nachale bilo Slovo. Slovo bilo s Bogom. Slovo bilo Bog. 2. Eto Slovo s nachala bilo s Bogom. 3. Vsyo etim voszniklo. Sredi voznikshego net nichego, chto ne vozniklo bi Im. 4. V etom Slove bila zhizn’. I zhizn’ stala Svetom dlya lyudei. 5. Svet sverkaet v temnote. I temnota Ego ne pobedila.
English back translation: 1. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. 2. This Word was with God since the beginning. 3. Everything has appeared with Him, and nothing existing has appeared without Him. 4. In this Word was life, and life become the Light for men. 5. Light is sparkling in the dark. And dark did not win over It.
Gospel of John: I, 1-5. Church-Slavonic text.
1.V nachale be Slovo, I Slovo be k Bogu, I Bog be Slovo. Sei be iskoni k Bogu. 2. Vsya tem bisha, I bez Nego nichtozhe bist’, ezhe bist. 3. V tom zhivot be, I zhivot be Svet chelovekom. 5. I Svet vo t’me svetitsya, I t’ma Ego ne ob’yat.
Gospel of John: I, 1-5. King James Bible.
1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2. The same was in the beginning with God. 3. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4. In him was life; and the life was light for men. 5. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Commentary by St. John Chrysostom
Considerable differences in St. Nikolai’s and modern translation, both in vocabulary and grammar formation for each verse, may be seen even at first glance. The table below summarizes major disparities of the two translations, with regard to their correspondence to the Church-Slavonic original.
Starting his commentary, St. John Chrysostom underlines the importance of Gospel by John, which narrates the Divine Essence of the second personality of the Holy Trinity – the Son of God: “Father was admitted by everybody, though not as Father, but as God; but the Begotten was not known”. Following the way Moses began the Book of Genesis by describing the creative power of God: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” (Gen. 1,1), St. John the Theologian commences Gospel with the glory of God-Son, thus implicitly starting narration from the glory of God-Father: “In the beginning was the Word”.
Evangelist stresses the birth of Son prior to the Eternity, which is the evidence of the absence of time category in Divine ontological properties. “Similar to the way expression: existing when referred to a person, reflects only present time, and when to God, means eternity, the expression: was, when is used for our matter, means past time for us, in particular a certain time limit, and when is spoken of God – implies eternity”, - explains St. Archbishop John. Consequently, St. Nikolai’s choice of the present-past time for translating this verse into Japanese (hajime ni kotoba ari) is, indeed, justified. It may be noted that the form of aorist in Slavonic text grammatically means present time, too.
“The Word was with God” (John 1,1). [In Slavonic: the Word was towards God]. Saint Archbishop John explains: “It is not said: was in God, but: was with [towards] God, thus meaning His eternity by personality”. St. John quotes identical words of the Saviour of His unity and inseparability with God: “I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (John 14,10), “I and my Father are one” (John 10, 30). In choosing the words to reflect the essence of the first verse most precisely, St. Nikolai decided in favour of particle “tomo”, meaning [together] with. Consequently, in Japanese this part of Gospel sounds “The Word was with God”, which reflects unity of the Holy Trinity essence and eternity of the Word by personality, similar to the God-Father eternity.
“…As dictum: in the beginning was the Word implies eternity, saying: the same was in the beginning with God shows His co-eternity”, - continues St. John Chrysostom in the next talk on Gospel. St. Nikolai’s translation mirrors this time immeasurability by using the word “the very beginning”, with etymologic meaning “remote/distant past, eternity”.
St. John Chrysostom emphasizes the creative power of God, reflected in the verse “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1,3). “In describing the Genesis of the Old Testament, Moses narrates about perceptible objects, and outlines them in detail. Having said: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, he adds, that later emerged light, firmament, the essence of the lights, moving creatures of all kind etc… Ignoring what was already known to the listeners and lifting their mind to higher objects, embracing all the creativity as a whole, he speaks not of creatures, but of Creator, Who has made all from non-existence into existence”. To express this creative power St. Nikolai used the verb “to create, to construct, to bring to existence”. In the simplified modern translation with the verb “to be done, to make, to produce” the power and glory of the God-Word and consequently the God-Father is being considerably belittled. Interestingly, the same modern translation in to Japanese employs the ideograph “create” in the first verse of the first chapter of Genesis. In other words, this translation involuntary contrasts two personalities: the God-Word and the God-Father.
“The light shineth in darkness” (John 1, 5). “Darkness is the word used to call both death and deceit, - explains St. John Chrysostom. – The sensible light shines not in the darkness, but in its absence; however, Gospel propagation shined in the darkness of deceit, which enveloped everything, and dissipated it. The light penetrated this very darkness and won over it, so that those up to be possessed by death were saved from it. Hence, since neither death, nor deceit have overcome this light and it shines with its own power everywhere, Evangelist says: and darkness did not cover it”. To reflect the all-triumphant action of light in inert, spiritual darkness within people, St. Nikolai chose the verb “to shine” and used the word “darkness” [kurayami]. Two characters, constructing this word: dark [kurai] and darkness [yami] underline the depth of this spiritual gloom.
With Lord’s help St. Nikolai has accomplished the New Testament translation, a rare and almost impossible deed for a single person. During daily morning and evening studies within the last 17 years of St. Nikolai’s life he has translated and repeatedly corrected all the books of the New Testament. He has also accomplished the translation of the Lent Triodion, Pentecostarion, Feast Services, Book of Psalms, Irmologion, excerpts from the Old Testament.
Even sentenced to death by the doctors, the Archbishop tried to complete the major work of his missionary propagation – the translation of Divine Service into Japanese. St. Nikolai demanded the hospital doctor to tell him the exact number of the day left for him, in order to devote all the remaining time to work.
One evening Bishop Sergii (Tikhomirov), the future successor of St. Nikolai, entered the hospital to see his teacher: “A low table stands by the window of the room…Japanese manuscripts, ink-bottle, brush are laid on it, Slavonic Triodion is close to Archbishop…Nakai reads Japanese translation…Archbishop follows his reading, looking into another notebook…At times they stop, insert a comma…Archbishop wears golden glasses, is cheerful…Could one have said that this is an old man, sentenced to inevitable death?”.
On the 16 of February at 7 p.m., Tokyo time, Eminent Nikolai, archbishop of Japan passed away. On the next day all Japan new about the death of Nikolai. “Tokyo Christians started moving one after another to the Mission; Christians of other confessions expressed their compassion… Those, not yet accepted, Christ teaching, hurried to the Mission to bow or to pass visiting card. They were not only ordinary citizens, but lords, counts, viscounts, barons, ministers and non-civil servants as well…”, - writes bishop Sergii. “But the highest glory rendered to Archbishop Nikolai by Japan was the fact that the Emperor of Japan Himself…sent magnificent and colossal wreath of natural flowers for Archbishop’s coffin, - continues bishop Sergii. – And did not do this in secret!... Accepting the wreath and replying with words of gratitude, we placed the wreath towards St. Nikolai head…The very Emperor of Japan crowned the head of God’s Saint with flowers of glory!...Two characters inside the wreath: “On-Si”, i.e. the Highest Gift… And all the Japanese saw these two characters, read them, and bowed their heads in front of the wreath in deepest respect!... Having started at tremendous risk for his life, Archbishop Nikolai accomplished his work under high Throne’s approval…”.
Japanese Church has kept the canons and traditions of regular Orthodox celebration, established by St. Nikolai within its almost a 100 year history since Bishop’s death. Nowadays, as in the times of the young Japanese Orthodox Church formation, “Japanese orthodox faithful live in apostolic times, when earth had not been enlightened with Christ’s light”, - says Seraphim, bishop of Sendai. The current 69 congregations of Japanese Orthodox Church - Nihon seikyou kai - have united the 276 parishes of the time of St. Nikolai. “…I am not more than a matchstick, with which the candle is lightened. The match becomes dim and is thrown on the ground”, - said St. Nikolai.
A number of language reforms and language evolution in the 20th century caused the modern Japanese differ from the old written one in the way Church Slavonic differs from the modern Russian. All Divine books are written in old bungo, and without the due knowledge of characters or without having the written text in front of one’s eyes, it is usually extremely hard to understand the meaning of the words. Therefore, there are a number of literatures, commenting on the essence and linguistic parts of the worship. On the other hand, modern translation often simplifies and distorts the original Greek text, and thus becomes an obstacle to proper understanding of the teaching.
Plenty of Divine Service literature still remains non-translated. “Lord, there is enormous amount of translation ahead! – writes St. Nikolai in 1904 and seems to repeat it to us again in a hundred years. – But how useful will they be! We just need to distinctively read and sing in Church, and one who worships – to listen attentively – and all the Christian teaching comes into one’s spirit, lights the mind with understanding the doctrine, enlivens hearth with Divine poetry, inspires and moves the will to follow the examples of the Saints. This is not poor church worship of protestants, who exist on several psalms of the Old Testament, tear-causing verses and self-made sermon of each pastor “we are happy with what we have”; nor Catholic prayerful indistinctiveness with organ’s howl. This is light, alive, authoritative propagation and prayer by the whole ecumenical church, by the voice of Saint Fathers granted with the Divine Spirit, who are all together as authoritative as Evangelists and Apostles, the leaders of Church prayer…Help, O Lord!”.
In 1970 archbishop Nikolai was glorified as Saint Equal to Apostles. With his help, Russian Japanologists repeated Archbishop’s work of rendering Divine Service into Japanese, and have translated the full text of Russian language vespers and Divine Liturgy feast service for St. Nikolai. Nowadays, the prayers for St. Nikolai’s help in front of Lord’s throne are celebrated in the old-Japanese bungo, the official language of Japanese Orthodox Church.
I would like to thank Alexei Potapov of the Japanese Embassy in Moscow for help with learning the language of Japanese Orthodox Church. I am grateful to Dr. Grant White, Principal of Cambridge Orthodox Institute for Christian Studies, for assisting in finding the British sources about early Christian missions in Japan, and to Matushka Maria J. Matsushima of The Holy Annunciation Nagoya Orthodox Church for valuable advice on this paper.
1. Full Collection of St. John Chrysostom Writings in twelve volumes. Volume 8, book 1. Moscow, 2001.
2. Nakamura, K. Saint Nikolai – One of the First Russian Japonologists. Japan today. 2004. No.11. P.6-8.
3. Platonova, A.F. Apostle of Japan. Petrograd, 1916.
4. Pozdneev, D. M. Archbishop Nikolai of Japan. (Reminiscences and Characteristics). Saint-Petersburg, 1912.
5. Saint Martyr Andronik (Nikolsky), Archbishop of Perm. Works. Book I. Missionary Year in Japan. Tver: Bulat, 2004.
6. Seraphim, bishop of Sendai. Our Church has all Preconditions for Worship and Missionary Work. www.pravoslavie.ru
7. Sergii (Tikhomirov), bishop. In Memory of Eminent Nikolai, Archbishop of Japan. In the memory of his departure on the 3 of February, 1912. Christian reading. Saint Petersburg, 1913. Part 1. PP.3-76.
8. The Diaries of St. Nikolai of Japan: in 5 volumes. Ed. K.Nakamura. Saint Petersburg, 2004.
9. The Harvest is Truly Plenteous in Japan, too…The letter of a Russian from Hakodate. Appendix to The Diaries of Saint Nikolai of Japan. Ed. K.Nakamura. Hokkaido, 1994.
10. The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Reprinting of the 1876 publication [in Church-Slavonic]. Kozelsk, 1998.
11. Vasiliev, A. Some Reminiscences of Archbishop of Japan Nikolai. Journal of Moscow Patriarchate. 1962. No. 6.
12. Aurell, K.E. History of Bible Translation in Japan. P.210. In The Christian Movement in Japan and Formosa. The Federation of Christian Missions in Japan. Tokyo, 1927.
13. Bartholomew, D, Hieromonk Nikolai (Kasatkin). The Hakodate Years: 1861 – 1869&1871. Divine Ascent. A Journal of Orthodox Faith. 2000. No. 6.
14. Nakamura, K. Some Aspects of Life and Work of St. Nikolai of Japan. In Cooke, N. St. Nikolai and the Spread of Orthodoxy in Japan. Divine Ascent. A Journal of Orthodox Faith. 2000. No. 6.
15. Ohgoe, S. Speech Given on the Return of Bishop Nikolai from his World Trip in 1880. (Translated from Japanese by Emiko Lyovin). In Cooke, N. St. Nikolai and the Spread of Orthodoxy in Japan. Divine Ascent. A Journal of Orthodox Faith. 2000. No. 6.
16. Seraphim (Sigrist), Bishop. Letter of Salutation. Divine Ascent. A Journal of Orthodox Faith. 2000. No. 6. P.14.
17. The Christian Movement in Japan and Formosa. The Federation of Christian Missions in Japan. Tokyo, 1927.
18. The Holy Bible. Containing the Old and New Testaments. Translated out of the Original Tongues and with the former Translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty’s special commend. Appointed to be read in churches. Oxford University Press, London.
19. Nihon kurisuto-kyo bunken mokuroku. Azia bunka kenkyu iinkai. Kokusai kirisutokyo daigaku. (The List of Literature on Christianity in Japan. Meji Period. Part II (1859-1912). Asian Committee on Culture Studies. International University of Christianity). Tokyo, 1965.
20. Seisho. Nihon seisho kyokai. Holy Bible. Japan Bible Society. Tokyo, 2001.
21. Wa-ga-shu iisusu harisutosu-no sin’yaku. Nihon seikyoukai hon’yaku. Tokyo, 1985. (The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The translation by Japanese Orthodox Church).
 B.A. Japanese Studies, M.A., Ph.D. Economics (Moscow); e-mail: ni-hon (at) yandex.ru
 The Diaries of St. Nikolai of Japan, 18-19 November, 1892.
 The Christian Movement in Japan and Formosa. The Federation of Christian Missions in Japan. Tokyo, 1927. P.210.
 Nikodim, Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod. Service of Saint Equal to Apostles Nikolai, Archbishop of Japan. February, 3. (In Russian).
 Seraphim (Sigrist), Bishop. Letter of Salutation. Divine Ascent. A Journal of Orthodox Faith. 2000. No. 6. P.14.
 On the 1 of August 1998 the 5 meter cross with Russian and Japanese signs was established in the contemporary village Berezha of Mostovsky rural okrug of Oleninsky district of the Tver region on the place of the 18 century church, destructed during World War II. On 16 of February, 2000 on the day of the feast of St. Nikolai, Archbishop of Tver and Kashin Viktor has lead a solemn celebration due to laying of the foundation stone of the church. The construction was accomplished in three years, and 16 February, 2003 saw the first divine service in the wooden 2-storey church.
 Became a priest and served in the Russian town Sizhran.
 Saint Martyr Andronik (Nikolsky), Archbishop of Perm. Works. Book I. Missionary year in Japan. Tver: Bulat, 2004. P.199.
 Nikolai Blagorazumov was a fellow student of future Archbishop Nikolai. He became a priest and was a Moscow servant of Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Japan. Fr. Nikolai offered various kind of assistance to St. Nikolai of Japan and to the young Japanese church during almost 50 years of St. Nikolai’s service.
 The Diary, 21 October, 1907.
 The Diary, 3 August, 1901.
 Nakamura, K. Some Aspects of Life and Work of St. Nikolai of Japan. In Cooke, N. St. Nikolai and the Spread of Orthodoxy in Japan. Divine Ascent. A Journal of Orthodox Faith. 2000. No. 6. P.45.
 Ohgoe, S. Speech Given on the Return of Bishop Nikolai from his World Trip in 1880. (Translated from Japanese by Emiko Lyovin). In Cooke, N. St. Nikolai and the Spread of Orthodoxy in Japan. Divine Ascent. A Journal of Orthodox Faith. 2000. No. 6. P.53.
 The Diary, 19 September, 1889.
 Consul general in Hakodate in 1858-1865
 Bartholomew, D, Hieromonk Nikolai (Kasatkin). The Hakodate Years: 1861 – 1869&1871. Divine Ascent. A Journal of Orthodox Faith. 2000. No. 6. P.27.
 Nakamura, K. Saint Nikolai – one of the first Russian japonologists. Japan today. 2004. No.11. P.6.
 Nakamura, K. Some Aspects of Life and Work of St. Nikolai of Japan. In Cooke, N. St. Nikolai and the Spread of Orthodoxy in Japan. Divine Ascent. A Journal of Orthodox Faith. 2000. No. 6. P.45.
 The harvest is truly plenteous in Japan, too…The letter of a Russian from Hakodate. Appendix to the Diaries of Saint Nikolai of Japan. Ed. K.Nakamura. Hokkaido, 1994. P.714.
 Platonova, A.F. Apostle of Japan. P.31.
 Pozdneev, D. M. Archbishop Nikolai of Japan. (Reminiscences and Characteristics). PP.13-14.
 Aurell, K.E. History of Bible Translation in Japan. P.210. In The Christian Movement in Japan and Formosa. The Federation of Christian Missions in Japan. Tokyo, 1927.
 Ibid. P.211.
 Nihon kurisuto-kyo bunken mokuroku. Azia bunka kenkyu iinkai. Kokusai kirisutokyo daigaku. Tokyo, 1965. (The list of literature on Christianity in Japan. Meji Period. Part II (1859-1912). Asian Committee on Culture Studies. International University of Christianity).
 Printed in Chinese in Shanghai, No.2013, P.49; No.2334, P.60.
 The harvest is truly plenteous in Japan, too…The letter of a Russian from Hakodate. Appendix to the Diaries of Saint Nikolai of Japan. Ed. K.Nakamura. Hokkaido, 1994. P.710.
 Aurell, K.E. History of Bible Translation in Japan. PP.219, 226. In The Christian Movement in Japan and Formosa. The Federation of Christian Missions in Japan. Tokyo, 1927.
 Ibid. P.221.
 The Diary, 30 January, 1896.
 Vasiliev, A. Some reminiscences of Archbishop of Japan Nikolai. P.75.
 The harvest is truly plenteous in Japan, too…The letter of a Russian from Hakodate. Appendix to the Diaries of Saint Nikolai of Japan. Ed. K.Nakamura. Hokkaido, 1994. P.710.
 The Diary, 13 May, 1897.
 The Diary, 2 September, 1895.
 Vasiliev, A. Some reminiscences of Archbishop of Japan Nikolai. P.75.
 Pozdneev, D. M. Archbishop Nikolai of Japan. (Reminiscences and Characteristics). PP.16-17.
 The Diary, 26 November, 1896.
 The Diary, 24 August, 1911.
 The Diary, 16 April, 1898.
 glas vopiyuschego v pustini
 no-ni youbu koe
 nichiyou-no kate
 The Diary, 24 of December, 1895.
 Pozdneev, D. M. Archbishop Nikolai of Japan. (Reminiscences and Characteristics). P.17.
 wa-ga-shu iisusu harisutosu-no sin’yaku. Nihon seikyoukai hon’yaku. Tokyo, 1985. (Our Lord’s Jesus Christ’s New Testament. The translation by Japanese Orthodox Church). P.233.
 seisho. nihon seisho kyokai. Tokyo, 2001. Holy Bible. Japan Bible Society. New Testament. P.135.
 The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Reprinting of the 1876 publication [in church-slavonic]. Kozelsk, 1998. P.221.
 The Holy Bible. Containing the Old and New Testaments. Translated out of the Original Tongues and with the former Translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty’s special commend. Appointed to be read in churches. Oxford University Press, London [reprint of 1555].
 Full Collection of St. John Chrysostom Writings in twelve volumes. Volume 8, book 1. P.17.
 in Slavonic “syi”
 Ibid, P.25.
 Ibid, P.26.
 Ibid. P.35.
 Ibid. P.43.
 Seisho. Nihon seisho kyokai. Tokyo, 2001. Holy Bible. Japan Bible Society. Old Testament. P.1.
 Sergii (Tikhomirov), bishop. In memory of Eminent Nikolai, archbishop of Japan. P.40.
 Ibid. P.66.
 The Diary, 13 April, 1900.
 The Diary, 11 October, 1904.
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