Simeon Michiro Mii
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The Protopresbyter Simeon Michiro Mii was an early convert and disciple of St. Nicholas of Japan. He became an Orthodox Christian as a 15-year-old teenager. He was an early graduate of the Tokyo Orthodox schools and Theological Seminary and was the first Japanese to pursue advanced studies in Russia, at the Kiev Theological Academy. In view of his intellect and knowledge of languages, Fr. Simeon became key assistant to Abp. Nicholas and later to Metr. Sergius. He attended the 1917 Moscow Sobor as the representative from the Japanese Diocese and was instrumental in the re-building of Nikolai-do and the Tokyo church headquarters after the destruction of the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923.
Fr. Simeon was born Shuji Mii in 1858 in the town of Morioka in northeastern Honshu Island. His family was a member of the Nambu clan, who were the rulers of the area where they lived and in which his father was a high-ranking official. With the changes begun with the Meiji Restoration of 1868, his family changed his name to Michiro. In 1870, befitting the position of his family he began his education in the clan academy, with an interest in learning English. With the end of the Tokugawa social order in 1871, however, the academy was closed.
From a chance meeting in 1873 with Ippei Taira, an Orthodox catechumen with the Morioka Orthodox mission, Michiro learned of the Orthodox Christian faith and soon became a catechumen himself at the age of 15. Receiving permission from his parents, he journeyed later in 1873 with others from the castle town of Morioka to Hakodate where they were baptized by Fr. Anatoly Tikhai. Michiro took the Christian name of Simeon. Immediately Simeon entered the Hakodate Mission school. Showing an aptitude for languages and knowledge of the English language, Simeon was invited to meet mission leader Archimandrite Nicholas in Tokyo in late 1873. Simeon was enrolled in the Russian language school and seminary and thus became, in the 1800s, a rare Japanese teenager with a competency in two foreign languages. In a few years Simeon was assigned editorial duties on the new Church paper Seikyo Hochi and later renamed Seikyo Shinpo.
After graduating from the seminary in 1883, Bp. Nicholas sent Simeon to the Kiev Theological Academy in Russia for advanced theological studies. There, after passing the oral and written entrance examination, he was enrolled as a student in September 1883. He was the first student from an East Asian country to be enrolled in the Academy, a fact that was widely publicized. In June 1887, he graduated with the high rank of Magistrant, one of only seven in a class of 60. A Magistrant was one step before a Doctor of Theology.
He returned to Japan in the autumn of 1887. Then, in September 1888 he married a young Orthodox lady, Harita Hiroko Uematsu. With his abilities with the Russian language and his status as a Magistrant alumnus of the Kiev Academy, Simeon was named, in the spring of 1891, as part of the four-man delegation from the Japanese Orthodox Mission for the formal farewell ceremony for the Russian Crown Prince, the future Czar Nicholas II, after his visit to Japan.
In March 1893, after the couple lost their first-born son Alexander, Simeon chose to enter the clergy. He was ordained a deacon by Bp. Nicholas in January 1894, and then a priest one month later in February. With his high intellectual ability and advanced education, Fr. Simeon rose rapidly. In addition to his clerical duties Fr. Simeon became the publisher-of-record of the new Japanese Orthodox theological journal Shinkai (Divine Sea), holding this position for the next six years.
For his first parish Bp. Nicholas assigned Fr. Simeon to the church in Kyoto, an important Japanese cultural center and former imperial capital, with additional duties of making periodic pastoral visits to missions in western Honshu. As his parish grew he found a need for a larger church building. Receiving Bp. Nicholas' approval he managed the construction of the Church of the Annunciation as a building worthy of the cultural importance of its location in Kyoto. Construction of the church began in late 1898 and was consecrated in May 1903. The iconostasis and bell were donated by Russian citizens. Also, presented to the new church was a Gospel inscribed with a greeting by Fr. John of Kronstadt.
The onset of the Russo-Japanese war 1904 brought Fr. Simeon more work. Although Bp. Nicholas refrained from active affairs in the Japanese Church, he asked that Fr. Simeon administer to the Russian prisoners of war. With his thorough knowledge of the Russian language, Fr. Simeon spent the war years serving the internment camps around Kyoto and Nagoya in addition to his own parish duties. In 1906, Fr. Simeon was awarded a gold commemorative pectoral cross by Czar Nicholas II in honor of Bp. Nicholas' elevation to Archbishop and the established of the Japanese mission as an independent archdiocese of the Church of Russia as well as for Fr.Simeon's efforts on behalf of the Russian prisoners held in Japan.
With the arrival of Bp. Sergius in 1908 as Bishop of Kyoto, Fr. Simeon began a long time association with him. Fr. Simeon became Bp. Sergius' chief assistant when Bp. Sergius succeeded Abp. Nicholas in 1912 following his death. Abp. Sergius, who had been Dean of the St Petersburg Theological Academy, and Fr. Simeon, who alone among the Japanese priests had studied in Russia and knew Russian well, proved to be compatible. Fr. Simeon moved to Tokyo in July 1912, to take up residence at the Kanda Surugadai property. In April 1917, Fr. Simeon was raised to the rank of protopresbyter by the Holy Synod of Russia.
Also in 1917, Fr. Simeon was named Abp. Sergius' personal representative to the All Russia Sobor of 1917. He thus became an eyewitness and participant of the events of that year in Moscow. He alone among the Japanese Orthodox clergy was a participant in the discussions during the Sobor and the reinstitution of the Patriarchate. He also witnessed the happenings in Moscow during the Bolshevik takeover. He was also able to meet again with old friends, former missionary priests, former classmates at the Kiev Academy, and former prisoners of war from the Japanese internment camps, many who had risen to high positions in the Russian church hierarchy. After attending the consecration ceremonies for the new Patriarch Tikhon on November 21, 1917, Fr. Simeon departed for Japan in company with a number of Siberian bishops, finally reaching Tokyo on the last day of the year.
Fr. Simeon, with three other Russian-speaking Japanese priests, returned to Siberia in mid-1918 at the behest of the Japanese government to generate goodwill by providing relief services as part of the so-called Siberian Intervention by Allied military forces supporting White Russian partisans in Siberia. He returned to Tokyo before Christmas 1918. On returning, Fr. Simeon presented his report on the relief effort to the new Japanese Prime Minister, Kei Hara, Fr. Simeon's former schoolmate.
In the Great Kanto earthquake of September 1, 1923, Fr. Simeon and his family lost their home and possessions as did so many in the Tokyo area. Beside his personal losses his church also lost everything and the great Nikolai-do cathedral was severely damaged. In the recovery and re-building effort Fr. Simeon remained in charge of the General Directorate of the Church in Tokyo to coordinate, with Abp. Sergius, the recovery efforts of the various committees for financing and rebuilding, jobs that could no longer look to outside support from Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution. Fr. Simeon continued to serve the Japanese Church in an administrative capacity through the next two decades, providing an important force keeping the church together as it weathered difficult times.
Fr. Simeon reposed in the Lord in early 1940 and was buried in the Somei Cemetery in Tokyo.
- The Japanese Disciples of St. Nikolai - Protopresbyter Simeon Michiro Mii, Mitsuo Naganawa, Divine Ascent - A Journal of Orthodox Faith, No. 6, Autumn 2000