Preface of Holy Week
[Common of a Martyr]
[Of the Holy Cross]
[On the Anniversary of a Disaster]
PRAYER (traditional language)
O God our Father, who didst bring the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the joys of eternal life: Grant that we, encouraged by their example, may hold fast to the faith we profess, even unto death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
O God our Father, who brought the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the
joys of eternal life : Grant that we, encouraged by their example, may hold fast to the
faith we profess, even to death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This commemoration appears in Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018 with revised lessons and collects.
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Last updated: 5 Dec. 2020
THE MARTYRS OF
(5 FEBRUARY 1597)
Christian faith was first introduced into Japan in the sixteenth century
by Jesuit and later by Franciscan missionaries. By the end of that century,
there were probably about 300,000 baptized believers in Japan.
Unfortunately, this promising beginning met reverses,
brought about by rivalries between different groups of missionaries and
political intrigues by the Spanish and Portuguese governments, along with
power politics among factions in the Japanese government itself. The result
was a suppression of Christians.
The first victims were six Franciscan friars
and twenty of their converts, who were executed at Nagasaki on 5 February
1597. (They were tied to crosses, the crosses were raised to an upright
position, and they were then quickly stabbed to death by a soldier with
a javelin.) After a short interval of relative tolerance, many other Christians
were arrested, imprisoned for life, or tortured and killed; and the Church
was totally driven underground by 1630. However, when Japan was re-opened
to Western contacts 250 years later, it was found that a community of
Japanese Christians had survived underground, without clergy, without
Scriptures, with only very sketchy instructions in the doctrines of the
faith, but with a firm commitment to Jesus as Lord. (I remind you that
250 years is a long time -- 250 years ago Americans were loyal subjects
of King George II. The preceding statement is valid only until 2010.)
by James Kiefer
February 5,1997 marks the 400th anniversary of the first Christian martyrs in Japan.
The Japanese martyrs became Christians as a result of the witness of Roman Catholic
missionaries who first arrived in Japan with the Portugese in 1543. The Jesuit priest
Francis Xavier, whose mission work between 1549-1551 from Kyushu to Kyoto, laid the
foundation for the future Christian church in Japan. In 1563, Omura Sumitada became the
first daimyo baptized by a Jesuit priest. The first church was built in Kyoto in 1576.
According to Martin Repp of the NCC Center for the Study of Japanese Religions,
"between 1579 and 1582 the early missionary work was revised under Father Alessandro
Valignano, one of the few who understood that Christianity had to loose its European
flavor in order to become acceptable to the Japanese" (Martin Repp,
"Introduction" Japanese Religions, Vol. 19 No. 1&2, Jan. 1994, p.1).
Because of unrest among his subjects attributed to Christians, Shogun
Hideyoshi issued in 1587 the first decree banishing the propoagation of the Christian
faith. After a century of civil war, he feared unrest that might lead to peasant revolts.
He stated that the religions of Shinto and Buddhism were the only religions of Japan.
Nevertheless, for ten years Christian missionaries enjoyed toleration in a restricted way.
After the arrival of Spanish priests of the Franciscan and Dominican orders in the
beginning of the 1590's, rivalry and quarrel arose among the Christian missionaries. The
conflict was also between different European nationals. In 1596 the "San Filipe"
incident dealt a serious blow to the Christian mission. The Spanish ship "San
Filipe" ran aground and its cargo containing a lot of ammunition was confiscated. The
ship's pilot was said to have told during interrogation that Spanish colonial expansion
was normally proceeded by missionaries preparing the way for military conquest. This
argument was taken up very quickly by the Japanese rulers.
In 1597 Jesuits and Franciscans were taken prisoner
in the capital (the Jesuits were released soon due to their connection
with the court) and twenty-six Christians, Japanese and foreigners, were
executed in Nagasaki, becoming the first martyrs in Japan. The Rev. Sigfrid
Schneider describes an incident from the martyrdom on February 5, 1597,"
On the way up the hill a nobleman tempted the youngest boy, Louis Ibaragi,
who was only twelve years old to renounce his faith, He would not yield
but eagerly asked: 'Where is my cross?' When they pointed out the smallest
one to him he immediately embraced it and held on to it as a child clings
to his toy." (Sigfried Schneider, Ofm, The 26 Martyrs of Japan,
Chuo Press, 1980, p. 16)
In spite of local persecutions, the Roman Catholic mission continued to
expand. Finally, in 1614, Shogun Ieyasu issued the edict of persecution and ensured its
implementation: churches were destroyed, foreign missionaries were expelled, and Japanese
Christians tortured and killed. From this time on Christians went into hiding and were
known as Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians). In 1637/38 the "Shimabara
Rebellion," a peasant uprising in Kyushu under Christian leadership, was put down. In
reaction to the turmoil caused by this last attempt at survival, the government closed the
country to Roman Catholic traders as well as Christian missionaries. The contact with the
West was henceforth strictly controlled. As an annual procedure, fumi-e (stepping on a
metal image of Christ or Mary) was performed and Japanese had to publically confess that
they had nothing to do with Christianity. In spite of the most cruel persecution, some
Christians managed to survive and worshipped Christ in secret or under the guise of other
religious rituals or tea ceremonies. Persecution of Christians continued until 1854 when
Japan was opened by Commodore Perry.
by Jeff Powell, from Koinonia, the Newsletter of the Tokyo