St. Nicholas of Japan in Brixton: A Balm for My Messy Brain

by | Jun 28, 2022 | Arts and Culture, Brixton, Johannesburg, Museums and Buildings, Religion | 25 comments

I’ve been doom-scrolling too much and sleeping too little lately. The U.S. government has been hijacked by right-wing zealots. Women’s rights have been rolled back by 50 years. The South African government can’t provide basic services to its people and we face Stage 6 loadshedding tonight. The war in Ukraine grinds on. I’m struggling to cope with the world and I know I’m not alone.

I have a backlog of topics to blog about, but I can’t focus my brain enough to write more than a few hundred coherent words. So I’m going to say as little as possible and share photos from the biggest bright spot of last week — my visit to St. Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church.

St. Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church in Brixton
The St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Brixton.

St. Nicholas of Japan

This tiny, white-washed church looks like it belongs in Mykonos but is actually one block from my house in Brixton. I’ve been yearning to look inside for years and I finally made contact with the parish priest, Father Elias Palmos, a couple of weeks ago. I asked Father Elias if I could take photos during the church’s Sunday service and he graciously agreed.

Pulpit at St. Nicholas of Japan
The pulpit at St. Nicholas. All of the beautiful icons in the church were painted by artist Cathy MacDonald. (Cathy’s daughter, Dionne, is also an artist and involved with the Spaza Art Gallery, which I blogged about recently).

I don’t want to say too much about St. Nicholas yet — I’m hoping my friend Ang of Jozi.Rediscovered is going to write a longer post about it very soon. (Hint, hint, Ang.) But briefly: St. Nicholas, founded in 1987, is a multi-ethnic Orthodox church and its services are in English, which sets it apart from other Orthodox churches. St. Nicholas is a missionary church and its parishioners come from a variety of religious backgrounds — Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, and many other Christian faiths. I’ve never seen such a diverse crowd in a South African church before.

Inside St. Nicholas of Japan
The scene when I first arrived: The service hadn’t officially started but several people were praying as the choir warmed up.

You might wonder how an Orthodox church in South Africa was named St. Nicholas of Japan. Here’s your answer: St. Nicholas was a 19th-century Russian Orthodox priest who worked as a missionary in Japan, eventually building a Japanese Orthodox Church with more than 33,000 members.

Lighting candles at St. Nicholas of Japan
A parishioner and her child light a candle as they enter the church.

The St. Nicholas choir performs a cappella in four-part harmony. The choir director, Georgia Jammine, has been leading the choir since the church started 35 years ago.

Georgia the choir director
Georgia and the choir.

Now I’ll shut up and show you the rest of the photos.

Paintings in St. Nicholas
Paintings in St. Nicholas
Paintings in St. Nicholas
Parishioner reading in St. Nicholas
People praying in St. Nicholas
Congregation in St. Nicholas
Child in St. Nicholas of Japan
Sermon at the Sunday Service at St. Nicholas in Brixton

I’m not a religious person. But my visit to St. Nicholas reminded me why people go to church. The service cleared my head, if only an hour or two, and gave me space just to be: to see the beautiful paintings, hear the beautiful singing, and listen to Father Elias’ sermon, the gist of which was (forgive me for badly summarizing your words, Father Elias): The world is a pretty ugly place right now, but we must just hang on and remember that God is love, people are (mostly) love, and love is love. It was nice.

Thanks to the congregation at St. Nicholas of Japan for welcoming me into your community. I’m sure I’ll be back.

Paintings in St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas of Japan is at 156 Fulham Road, Brixton. The Divine Liturgy (which I attended) takes place from about 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Sundays.

25 Comments

  1. davidjbristow

    As we say in Japan, how off of God, to chose the Jews, 🙂

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Hahaha, I do not comprehend this joke at all but I like it anyway.

      Reply
    • Caroline

      How odd of God …
      and the response …

      But not so odd
      As those who choose
      A Jewish God
      Yet spurn the Jews.

      Have often wondered what that church is like inside – thanks for investigating and sharing!

      Reply
  2. Stan Garrun

    Beautiful post about a beautiful church and community. Thank you for your blogs.
    Hang in there – know that there is nothing wrong with taking strain especially in dark times such as these. Nothing wrong with taking a breath and a break if you have to. There will always be a morning after.
    Best, Stan

    Reply
  3. dizzylexa

    Great photo’s of a really beautiful little church. Yeah also finding the world a tad ugly right now so you are not alone.

    Reply
  4. Peggy Laws

    Beautiful. I have never been inside this Church but now I really want to. Will add it to my ongoing list.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      You would love it Peggy!

      Reply
  5. Raluca

    I am impressed of your photos and the article written about St. Nicholas of Japan Church. I want to add also
    that there are Romanian community people who are part of the church and the Sunday when you visited us we commemorated the memorial service for Constanta Enescu, Romanian, the oldest parishoner (she died at almost 99 years old on 19 May 2022) victim of communism and Russian violent oppression 70 years ago She was loved by all.
    I also want to add that our religion support pro life and this is a moral stance not a political one.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks so much for the comment, Raluca. The ceremony for Constanta was beautiful. I’m sorry for your loss!

      Reply
  6. AutumnAshbough

    I, too, am having a hard time writing. I’m glad you got some peace.

    As an atheist, I’m always envious of the comfort people find in religion. And the beautiful architecture, too.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I totally know what you mean. I find it comforting to go every few years though.

      Reply
  7. Nicholas

    Thank you sharing your visit. As this St. Nicholas is my patron saint I’ve been familiar with this community for 30 years. But yours are the first images I’ve seen of the church. The photos are beautiful. I’m praying for your journey and may St. Nicholas bless it as well.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thank you Nicholas!

      Reply

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