Articles Metropolitan Sergii (Tikhomirov) Moscow Patriarchate Non-Orthodox

The Foundation of the Japanese Orthodox Church

Seminarians with Archbishop Nicholas in the monastic headgear and Bishop Sergii
Seminarians with Archbishop Nicholas in the monastic headgear and Bishop Sergii on the right from him. Source: A.E.Kulanov, "В тени восходящего солнца"

An account of the relations of the ROCOR with the Orthodox in the territories controlled by the Axis powers.

Bishop Sergii (Tikhomirov) was appointed to Japan in 1908 as the successor of the renowned Enlightener of Japan, Equal of the Apostles Nicholas. Bishop Sergii was gentle and modest and a devoted supporter of Vladika Nicholas until his passing away. In his appearance, Bishop Sergii resembled a scholar with refined aristocratic features. Both hierarchs understood the missionary mission in Japan in the same manner. According to contemporaries Vladyka Nicholas considered opinions of a very few Russians and Bishop Sergii was among them. Notwithstanding the fact that they differed greatly in character, Vladika Nicholas always confided in his assistant and spoke of him fondly.

The Japanese Mission enjoyed some thriving periods but also endured severe crises. It is generally believed that the Russian revolution of 1917 and the earthquake of 1923 in the Kantō region were the major events that triggered the decline of the Orthodox Church in Japan. However, the causes behind the declining authority of Orthodoxy in Japan are far more complex.

Archbishop Sergii (Tikhomirov) was elevated to the rank of metropolitan by a decree issued by Metropolitan Sergii (Stragorodskii), Deputy Patriarchal Locum Tenens, in 1931.

The situation in Japan was turbulent. The nationalistic and militaristic sentiments were spreading fast. This manifestation was reflected in Japan’s economic and aggressive military policies for China.

In 1939 Japan’s Parliament introduced a law prescribing all of the country’s religious organizations to register by April 1941 as a legal entity with the Ministry of Education. However, the Orthodox Church, due to the paucity of its parishioners, was not registered as a legal entity but simply as a religious group. Furthermore, rules governing the registration process forbade foreigners from assuming the governance of a religious community. Metropolitan Sergii (Tikhomirov) was hence deprived of the leadership of the Japanese Orthodox community since he refrained from adopting Japan’s citizenship. With the blessing of Metropolitan Sergii, during the Council of the Orthodox Church held in Tokyo in July 1940, the administration of the Japanese Church was temporarily transferred to Arsenii Iwasawa, a Japanese layperson. A Japanese bishop was to be elected in due time.

Metropolitan Sergii remained in the Mission’s residence from September 1940 to January 1942. The Japanese parishioners asked him to assist in the Church’s management. However, due to the rising conflicts and hostilities amid the clergy, Vladika Sergii was forced to move into the former residence of the Anglican Mission in Tokyo’s Setagaya neighborhood, where he began conducting services attended by the Russian community and a few Japanese faithful. Metropolitan Sergii provided spiritual guidance to more than four thousand believers, conducting services on his own, without any support from either priests or deacons.

Back in 1937, certain individuals and orthodox members of the clergy in Yokohama tabled a proposal of a reform of the Orthodox Church in Japan. This marked the beginning of Metropolitan Sergii’s criticism and a pretext for excluding him from participating in the life of the Orthodox community. The supporters of this movement count many influential people, including a “Russian Group” formed in the headquarters of Japan’s Army for the potential use of the Orthodox Church in Siberia in case of the Japanese successful expansion in the Far East.

Toward the end of 1940 Japanese orthodox communities began calling for the organization of a council consisted of clergy and laity. However, Arsenii Iwasawa did not approve such a council. The Japanese parishes gathered at a spontaneous council on January 1941 and removed Iwasawa from his office at the Orthodox Church. The governance was temporarily transferred to Archpriest James Shintaro Tohei from Osaka. By early 1941, two major groups emerged from all of the conflicting factions – one headed by Arsenii Iwasawa and the other by James Tohei.

Arsenius Iwasawa, as a layman, could not become the primate of the Orthodox Church in Japan, and hence the group brought forward Archpriest John Kiichi Ono as a candidate for episcopal consecration. Since the civil authorities prioritized the rapprochement of the Japanese Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), contact was established with Metropolitan Anastasii (Gribanovskii), First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. The episcopal consecration of the first Japanese bishop was to be held in the pro-Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. John Ono took monastic vows with the name Nicholas. On March 14, 1941, the hierarchs of the ROCOR, headed by Metropolitan Meletii of Harbin and Manchuria (Zaborovsky) consecrated Bishop F. John (Ono) a bishop.

However, on the Easter of 1941, the faithful that rejected the Russian Church Abroad, locked the gates of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Tokio and did not admit Bishop Nicholas (Ono) and his Japanese following onto the premises, and consequently, there was no service at the cathedral. The Easter service was held at the deacon’s home.

The parishes gradually assembled under the governance of Vladika Nicholas (Ono). In the summer of 1941, the Ministry of Education issued a fixed and incontestable decision that the Japanese Orthodox were to recognize Bishop Nicholas as the head of the Church. The authorities offered as a compromise, to consecrate Archpriest John Tokhei a bishop, to alternate between the two bishops church governance on annual terms. ROCOR’s hierarchs agreed to the episcopal consecration of Fr. James Tokhei. However, Harbin’s military authorities declared that no consecration was to be officiated until the end of the war.

Bishop Nicholas (Ono) conceded on many occasions for the misappropriation of the Church’s property. A church building used by the Mission during cold season was leased. Vladika Nicholas opened an English language school there, which he formally managed and where he received a salary. The Bishop gave his permission to smoke and sing in the building of the “winter Church,” which raised the indignation of the orthodox Christians – many of them stopped attending the Church. An investigation was initiated against Bishop Nicholas regarding the misappropriation of the Church’s property. All of the Church bank accounts were frozen. As a result, the court banned Vladika Nicholas from taking part in the Church’s governance.

Nevertheless, the Church pursued its everyday life. An organization was founded for raising funds for the government; prayers for soldiers were carried out on the first Sunday of each month. With the worsening situation on the front and due to the shortage of food, services were irregular – wine and flour were lacking for the preparation of prosphora. By the end of the war, there were but two priests left. Services were practically halted at the cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ. Since the Church did not have any sources of funding, the Church sold metal fence surrounding the cathedral, and even the roof’s copper was disposed of. In 1945, Tokyo was the target of air raids and bombings, so the cathedral was painted black to avoid being hit.

On April 1945, Metropolitan Sergii (Tikhomirov) was arrested on suspicion of espionage on behalf of the USSR and subjected to torture. The forty days he spent under arrest seriously undermined the health of the 74-year old hierarch. On August 10, 1945, a day after the nuclear attack on Nagasaki, Vladika passed away alone in a small apartment in Itabashi, a Tokyo suburb. The funeral took place in the only remaining building of central Tokyo, which survived the American bombings and fires – the Nikorai-do Cathedral. Vladika Sergii (Tikhomirov) is buried in the Yanaka cemetery, next to the grave of Saint Nicholas of Japan.

The proposed interview with Tokyo’s Metropolitan Sergii (Tikhomirov), suspended at the time from the governance of the Japanese Church, relates the crisis-ridden early stages of the national Japanese Church in the difficult political prewar environment.

The interview was prepared by D. Garnishevskii and initially published in Harbin’s daily newspaper Zaria, #1, January 1, 1941, and again in February 1941 in the monthly Khleb Nebesniy – it is now presented to the readers of ROCOR Studies.

Archpriest Dionysii Pozdnyaev,
Hong Kong, February 2018

Property of the Russian Spiritual Mission – Japanese Church. – The Church remains without a Bishop. Inquiries from Harbin, Shanghai, Sremski Karlovci. – New governance A.H. Iwasawa. – The present situation of the Church. – Metropolitan Sergii’s plans. – Statement of Metropolitan Sergii to Tokyo correspondent from Zaria.

Tokyo, December 25 (by airmail from our correspondent).

A major historical event has just occurred in Japan affecting the life of the Orthodox Church and of all Christian Churches throughout the world.

The Church reforms are also politically motivated and driven by the composition of a new national structure.

The Russian Orthodox Church no longer exists in Japan – it is being supplanted by a newly formed Japanese Orthodox Church.

The Russian Spiritual Mission is still operational and represented by a single individual in the person of Metropolitan Sergii.

The vast movable and immovable property gathered by the Russian Spiritual Mission has been transferred to the Japanese Orthodox Church. The governance of the new Church has been attributed to a Japanese by the name of A.H. Awasawa while new administrative policies are being developed.

The formation of the new Japanese Orthodox Church is ongoing, and Metropolitan Sergii has refrained from commenting on the proceeding events. However, owing to the numerous requests from all over the world for information regarding the situation surrounding the Orthodox Church in Japan, and the multiple rumors, Metropolitan Sergii has accepted a request from Zaria’s correspondent to fully clarify the situation surrounding the formation of the Japanese Orthodox Church.

Accordingly, the present discussion is the first and still the unique source of information and should provide some insight into this historical event in the life of Christian Churches in Japan, and more specifically in the Orthodox Church.

The discussion with Metropolitan Sergii took place over a few meetings.

As a result, the numerous issues raised by the correspondent with Metropolitan Sergii provided for the following declarations:

New Legislation

The draft legislation on the government’s control of religion (Shintoism, Buddhism, and Christianity) was introduced into the Japanese parliament many years ago. However, this project was invariably defeated in either the Lower or Upper Houses due to the strong opposition by the Buddhists and some opposition by the Christian communities. However, this draft legislation on the control of religions was approved by both legislative chambers and was signed into law in 1939.

Metropolitan Sergii indicates that religious communities were initially under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (Naimu-shō). It was consequently transferred in the last few years to the Ministry of Education (Monbu-shō) and its Religious Affairs Bureau (Jinja-kyoku).

“Zoikeo-kekycheo” is the Director of the Religious Affairs Bureau and the Ministry of Education, but there is also a direction specifically responsible for Shintoism, Buddhism, and Christianity (Islam has not yet been registered among Japan’s religions).

From April to August 1939, the Ministry of Education developed a model Code with over 400 clauses for religious organizations (Kyōdan), for “Jinja-Kyōdan”, which was supplied to all religious organizations – Shintoist, Buddhist, and Christian. Each religious organization had to integrate the Code in conformity with its distinct characteristics.

Vladika Sergii indicates that they also received the Code in early September. To develop the Code of the Japanese Orthodox Church (Nihon Harisutosu Seikyōkai), the 1939 Council (July 13-15) created a special commission composed of the following members:

а) Honorary Observer – Metropolitan;

b) Members of the Soomu Kuku (Church Council) – clergy and parishioners;

c) Other Tokyo Clergy;

d) Christian Representatives (unfortunately non-elected, self-appointed).

We implemented the Code by April 1, 1940, eight months later. The code was printed, and I was supplied with a copy of a Russian translation. I consequently approved them, and they were delivered to the Ministry of Education on April 1 for adoption (to the Religious Affairs Bureau). The first edition of the Code consisted of 171 paragraphs.

The Religious Affairs Bureau reviewed the Code and left 159 paragraphs. It made a significant number of corrections and amendments. It demanded certain supplements.

As a result, the Commission produced the Draft Code consisting of 153 paragraphs in time for the Council of 1940. It was reviewed by the Council (July 13-18 1940). Paragraph 10 reads as follows: “In the absence of a Ruling Bishop, his duties will be assumed by the senior bishop (by the date of his consecration) appointed by the Ministry of Education. In such an event, the Chairman of the Church Council (Soomu Kuku) must at once request the said appointment from the Ministry of Education”… Vladyka indicates that Paragraph 20 stipulates that even a temporary replacement of the ruling bishop by another bishop during let’s say an illness, must be approved by the Ministry of Education.

The replacement of the bishop by an archpriest in the absence of a bishop must also be approved by the Ministry of Education (paragraph 24).

Furthermore, the Ministry of Education also subjects the reinstatement of the recovered bishop to an approval (paragraph 26).

I concluded, says Vladyka, that until now we were simply registered with the Ministry of Education. We are now under the direct management of the highest authorities of the Ministry of Education.

But my superior is the Patriarchate…

Jesus Christ’s words are everlasting: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24).

Having agreed to the new rules, perfectly coherent and helpful for the Japanese, I decided during the Council to resign from the Japanese Orthodox Church and to relinquish the title of “Japanese.” I will remain in the function that was originally assigned to me, namely Head of the Orthodox Mission in Japan and to continue as part of the Patriarchal jurisdiction.

I obviously knew, and actually know, that as of November 7, 1917, I am the sole representative of the Mission. However, if the idea is alive, the Mission may resurrect from a single living seed.

I did not conceal this decision but only made it official on September 4th of the present year.

Vladika Sergii continues as follows: I must note the following: conforming with the general trend “to keep up to the spirit of the times”, the Mission received an instruction from the Ministry of Education, and the Commission resolved on August 28, 1940, to “request Metropolitan Sergii to bless the Japanese Orthodox Church to be governed by a Japanese.”

This request was presented to me on September 4, 1940, following the luncheon in my honor at the Chuo Tei, and I briefly replied in the following manner:

Japan is presently investing some heroic efforts to unify all of its spheres and areas to become an invincible rock – a Japanese unparalleled rock.

Notwithstanding how much a foreigner loves Japan, no foreigner is psychologically capable of doing that which a Japanese will do easily and naturally. Vladyka added: I fully understand your request and it does not come as a surprise.

When I was getting ready to move to Japan some 32 years ago (June 1908), the ever-memorable Metropolitan Anthony (Vadkovskii) of St Petersburg bade me farewell with the following words: “Consider yourself the future successor of Archbishop Nicholas and… the last Russian bishop in Japan. You should prepare a Japanese successor.”

The renowned Archpriest from Berlin, A.P. Maltsev, wrote me in the same vein.

Metropolitan Sergii indicates: This was the thinking that guided my work in the Japanese Church.

In 1912, I called upon a “Bishop’s Council” consisting of clergy and parishioners and appointed a chairperson in the person of Archpriest S. Mii.

In 1919, I conferred a “Kempoo” (Status – Constitution), governing the Church with a Soomu-keku, with an elected chair, members from the clergy and parishioners, reserving myself but the higher administrative and financial supervision.

I have told the Japanese that I am ready to transfer my obligations with an easy heart to a Japanese, be it A. Awasawa of Archpriest I. Kodera, or anyone else for that matter.

I understand that it is impossible to operate without resources – I consequently transfer all the property, movable and immovable, accumulated by the Russian Spiritual Mission, to the Japanese Orthodox Church, which was incidentally registered by Archbishop Nicholas as a legal entity (Idzi-Zaidan) as far back as 1909.”

Vladika solemnly added: May God Bless the new Japanese National Orthodox Church. May it remember its Mother-Church, and the 33 years that I have devoted to the Japanese Church.

The gathered Japanese (12 people), replied, some tearfully, that they will eternally remember the blessings of the Mother-Church and will provide for my last moments.

I added during some private conversations that I transfer my obligations to my future Japanese colleague with great joy since I turned 69 this year, and on November 19 I will mark 35 years as a bishop, and on December 4 it will be 45 years since I joined the priesthood – respectable figures that indicate that it is time to rest and work in peace.

On November 5 of the present year, I temporarily transferred the governance of the Church with the title of “representative” (Dai kheosia) to A. Iwasawa, Doctor of Theology.

Arseniii Iwasawa holds a degree of Master of Theology from the St Petersburg Theological Academy from 1888, a fellow of Patriarch Tikhon – he is about 77-78 years old. He joined the Mission’s Seminary in 1875 and graduated in 1883. He traveled to Russia in 1883 (Suez-Marseille-Berlin-Petersburg). On August 1883, he enrolled in the sixth grade of the Moscow Seminary, which he completed in 1884. He enrolled in the St Petersburg Theological Academy in the fall of that same year.

He graduated in 1888 with a Master of Theology. He returned to Tokyo on December 22, 1888, and joined the Mission Seminary as a teacher of philosophy and moral theology. He remains at the seminary until its closing in 1918.

His salary at the Mission represented 40 yen – he also taught Russian in military schools. He presently earns a pension from the military schools where he taught.

Arsenii Iwasawa is a highly respected and educated man, a former professor, dedicated to the Church, and the first candidate for the office of bishop (a widower).

In general terms, he is a most pleasant and fine person, with a phenomenal memory. Since the “Model Code for Religious Organizations” is still being drafted and is expected by March 1941, Arsenius Iwasawa held a temporary title of Deputy Head (Toorisia) of the Japanese Orthodox Church becoming higher than a Soomukeku.

I have so far related facts, but I refuse to comment on events for which I am not responsible.

I wish to remain neutral about the founding of the Japanese Orthodox Church, concerning the “New National Structure” of the Japanese Empire.

I only know that it was decided on September 8 to convene a Council (obviously without my presence).

I know that the Council met on September 21-22 and was closed without any official resolutions.

I know that there are many persons (probably 99% clergy) that await the convocation of a council to elect either a bishop or  head of the Church from among its archpriests.

It is obvious that the present uncertain situation is like a dark cloud that hangs over not only the Church’ center in Tokyo, but also over all of the provincial communities.

There is, however, a Highest Bishop – Jesus Christ. Archbishop Nicholas watches over his child. And I, a sinner, pray for the fruitful progress of the Church.

And we sincerely believe that a fine young Japanese Orthodox Church will see the light.

Christ was born and has stepped forth in the social ministry. He Began his sermon. John the Baptist said: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The Mission began its objective in 1861 of bringing Orthodoxy to the Japanese.

Some 40,000 orthodox Japanese make up the Infant – Japanese Church.

Our Mission on September 4 of the current year stated: “The Japanese Church must increase, and I (Mission) must decrease.” No person should be troubled by that which has happened and is actually taking place.

Do I believe?…

Do I believe in a bright future for the Japanese Orthodox Church?

I am familiar with every nook and cranny of the Japanese Orthodox Church.

I know and forgive the feebleness of some.

I know and delight in the valor of many, the majority.

I love, loved and will continue loving the Japanese Orthodox believers – their communities, temperament, catechists, their Church wardens, grandfathers and grandmothers, their vigorous young people, their sweet children.

My love for everyone is clear, and I believe in the bright future of my beloved Japanese Church.

I will answer the questions that are currently being raised not only by you but also from many others.

There is no bishop at the time?

But there will be one, either A. Iwasawa, definitely deserving, or the most deserving as well Senuma, or someone else, at God’s behest. We are three months without a bishop. However, in Russia, in Kamchatka, they are 20 years without a bishop! There is no reason to sound the alarm when there is no fire.

Will they keep the faith?

Some 80 % have a strong faith! And some 20 % – better that the former Russian intelligentsia. Orthodoxy in Japan will remain sacrosanct.

Will they retain their church spirit and practice?

It is true that it is not well-formed yet. Nevertheless, it is gradually ingrained in its customs: Archbishop Nicholas said that it would be rooted by its fourth generation.

Will the services remain true to tradition and unabridged?

The foundation, essence, will remain unchallenged. The Russian traditions may disappear (e.g., Easter ritual kissing) – they are not a prerequisite for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Will the Orthodox merge with the Protestants?

No, but there will be brotherly work cooperation.

Will the Orthodox merge with the Catholics?

No, under no circumstances….There can be careful fraternization with the Anglican Church.

How about Shintoism?

Every Orthodox Japanese must venerate the builders of his nation, his government, and to observe the memory of outstanding individuals and the history of his empire. Shinto is not an opponent of Christianity!

My personal situation?

Financially – the Japanese Orthodox Church commended during the meeting of September 21 (80 attendants) providing me with lifelong monthly assistance, and a onetime remuneration. I believe that the earlier mentioned assistance will be approved during the Council of the Japanese Orthodox Church, which will gather as God Wills.

My Plans

I still live in the Mission’s apartment. I have a great longing for seclusion – either a leased apartment near Tokyo, or a small house in the country.

I have been invited to America and other places. But I would feel like a stranger in any place besides Japan – here I feel at home.

Out of the 69 years, I have lived, 33 years were spent in Japan. Out of the 45 years of service, 33 were devoted to Japan. My heart belongs to Japan – I speak Japanese, I think in Japanese, I dream in Japanese. I love Japan, its nature, and people.

My plans are as follows: to spend what is left of my life in Japan laboring spiritually.

In what capacity?

I will provide spiritual guidance as head of the Russian Orthodox Mission to the Russians living in Tokyo (some 200), in Yokohama (up to 150), sometimes in Kobe (up to 250), and other cities throughout Japan. Liturgies, all-night vigils, baptisms, confessions, marriages, offices for the dead, funerals, thanksgiving services, extreme unctions, and sermons and homilies… for the Russians in Japan. A Japanese should teach the Japanese. There is plenty to do, more than I can accomplish during my remaining years.

I am presently translating my Twelve Holy Apostles to Japanese. It should be published shortly (some 500 pages). I am working on Eighty Years of Missionary Work in Japan (1860-1940 – up to my deliberate removal from the governance of the Church). I have already written some 2,500 pages. There are about 1,000 pages left. A quiet country environment will help me finish all of the remaining in 4-5 months. Afterward, I will revise this monumental writing, hopefully in the same setting. Then, maybe, my effort will be published while I am still alive.

The cathedral services in the St Sergii and Nicholas churches with the Russian choirs, Russian parishioners, and the Japanese clergy that I hold in great esteem, will support me spiritually.

These are my short-term plans, my work, and my occupation.

This was Metropolitan Sergii’s conclusion – he further invited the correspondent to get better acquainted with his enormous missionary work in Japan.


  • There is an interesting if somewhat overlooked part of the story of Saint Nicholas of Japan … apparenlty he was a difficult taskmaster, and not “liberal” with the purse strings. Both the New Martyr Andronik of Perm and then Bishop Sergei (Stragorodsky) were sent to Japan. Both basically begged to be relieved of that duty.
    Bishop Sergei was in some considerable “trouble” for having served a Panikhida for Peter Schmidt, leader of the Black Sea Mutiny during the Revoluti0n of 1905. Panikhidas for the mutineers had been forbidden the Holy Synod. Students in Saint Petersburg “urged” then Bishop Sergei (Tikhomirov) to perform the Panikhida. It also wasn’t clear that Schmidt was Orthodox … at any rate, the action was not appreciated in “higher places,” and Bishop Sergei was transferred to Japan. This was most defiintely seen as a harsh punishment at the time. But took Bishop Sergei to the “place he should be.”

    • Thanks for commenting. I thought that it was Bishop Sergii of Yamburg (Stragorodskii), who served a memorial service for Schmidt.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.