Born on the sixth of May 1831, of Jewish parents, in the Lithuanian town of Tauroggen (then part of the Russian Empire), Joseph Schereschewsky’s early education was directed toward the rabbinate, but during graduate studies in Germany he became interested in Christianity through missionaries of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, and through his own reading of a Hebrew translation of the New Testament.
In 1854 Schereschewsky emigrated to America and entered the Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh to train for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. After two years, he decided to become an Episcopalian and to finish his theological studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, from which he graduated in 1859.
After ordination, in response to Bishop William Boone’s call for missionaries in China, Schereschewsky left for Shanghai. Always facile in languages, he learned to write Chinese during the voyage. From 1862 to 1875 he lived in Beijing and translated the Bible and parts of the Prayer Book into Mandarin. After Bishop Channing Moore Williams was transferred to Japan, Schereschewsky was elected Bishop of Shanghai in 1877 and was consecrated at Grace Church, New York City. He established St John’s University in Shanghai and began his translation of the Bible and other works into Wenli. Stricken with paralysis and confined to a wheelchair, he resigned his see in 1883.
Schereschewsky was determined to continue his translation work, and after many difficulties finding support, he was able to return to Shanghai in 1895. Two years later, he moved to Tokyo, where he died on the fifteenth of October, 1906.
With perseverance that rose to the heroic, Schereschewsky completed his translation of the Bible with the help of Chinese and Japanese secretaries, typing some two thousand pages with the middle finger of his partially paralyzed hand. Four years before his death, he said, “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.” Joseph Schereschewsky is buried in the Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo, next to his wife, who supported him constantly during his labors and his debility.
from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980), alt.
O God, in your providence you called Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of this Church, and sent him as a missionary to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the Holy Scriptures into languages of that land. Lead us, we pray, to commit our lives and talents to you, in the confidence that when you give your servants any work to do, you also supply the strength to do it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.