Chinese Orthodox Church
Church of the Intercession, Harbin
|Territory||People's Republic of China|
The Chinese Orthodox Church (simplified Chinese: 中华东正教会; traditional Chinese: 中華東正教會; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Dōngzhèngjiàohuì) is an autonomous Eastern Orthodox church in China. It was granted autonomy by its mother church, the Russian Orthodox Church, in 1957.
Christianity is said to have entered China by the apostle Thomas around the year 68 AD, as part of his mission to India. There is also evidence to suggest the missionary of a few Church of the East Assyrian Christians during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220AD).[self-published source]
Church of the East
The earliest archeological evidence of Christianity in China, is from the Church of the East in the seventh century. The Eastern Christianity of that period is commemorated by a stele and the Daqin Pagoda of Xi'an. Though it was suppressed in the ninth century, Christianity was reintroduced in the 13th century. It again declined rapidly with the coming of the native Chinese Ming dynasty in the 14th century.
Russian Mission and background
The religious and missionary spirit of the Russian Orthodox church towards China was considerably minimal and was often a low priority compared to strategic, political, and diplomatic interests.
During the 1680s, Siberian Cossacks along with a few Orthodox clerics, created a settlement at Albazin on the Amur River. The Kangxi Emperor considered Albazin within Qing territory so he set out a force of 10,000 troops to assault the Russian garrison there. Most of the Cossacks retreated back to Siberia while 30 joined the Qing army.
After the Treaty of Nerchinsk of 1689, along with other concessions, a biannual Russian caravan was allowed to enter Beijing for trade. These trade caravans would soon lead to it being closely knit with the ecclesiastical Russian mission. The mission was at first meant to cater to the Albazinians in Beijing. In the late 1690s, Peter the Great saw Russian trade in Beijing as a potential method to press for Russian interests in China so he sent an Archimandrite priest to China. He also requested that priest and clerics be trained as missionaries and ordered the Metropolite of Kiev to dispatch two or three monks along with a priest to Beijing so that they learn can Chinese. A Russian-Chinese negotiation in 1713 brought the first archimandrite priests to Beijing to cater to Russian merchants and the Albazinians.
The first mission establishment was begun in 1715 at Beijing by an Orthodox Archimandrite, Hilarion. This mission is first recorded in the Russo-Chinese Treaty of Kyakhta (1727). Under Sava Vladislavich's pressure, the Chinese government conceded to the Russians the right to build an Orthodox chapel at the ambassadorial quarters of Beijing. The mission published four volumes of research in Chinese studies in the 1850s and 1960s. Two clerics became well known for scholarship in the subject, the monk Iakinf and the Archimandrite Palladius, who also compiled a dictionary. During the Boxer Rebellion, the mission suffered greatly, including the destruction of its library.
Leaders of the Russian Mission
- Father Maxim Leontieff, 1685-1712.
- Archimandrite Hilarion (Lezhaysky), 1715—1728.
- Archimandrite Anthony (Platkovsky), 1729—1735.
- Archimandrite Hilarion (Trusov), 1736—1743.
- Archimandrite Gervasius (Lentsovsky), 1744—1755
- Archimandrite Ambrose (Yumatoff), 1755-1771.
- Archimandrite Nicholas (Tsvet), 1771—1781
- Archimandrite Joachim (Shishkovsky), 1781—1794
- Archimandrite Sophronius (Gribovsky), 1794—1807
- Archimandrite Hyacinth (Bichurin), 1806-1821.
- Archimandrite Peter (Kamensky), 1821-1830.
- Archimandrite Benjamin (Morachevich), 1830—1840
- Archimandrite Polycarp (Tougarinoff), 1840-1849.
- Archimandrite Palladius (Kafarov), 1849–1859 and 1864-1878.
- Archimandrite Gurias (Karpoff), 1858-1864.
- Archimandrite Flavian (Gorodetsky), 1878-1884.
- Archimandrite Amphilochius (Loutovinoff), 1883-1896.
- Metropolitan Innocent (Figourovsky). Archimandrite 1897-1901, Bishop of Beijing 1902-1921, Archbishop of Beijing and All-China 1922-1928, Metropolitan 1928-1931.
- Archbishop Simon (Vinogradov), 1928-1933.
- Archbishop Victor (Svjatin), 1933—1956
Boxer Rebellion and the Cultural Revolution
The Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900 targeted foreign missionaries and Chinese converts to Christianity. Orthodox Chinese were among those killed. The rebels also burned the mission's library at Beijing. The Orthodox liturgical calendar for June 24 remembers 222 Chinese Orthodox Christians, including Father Mitrophan, who were slaughtered in 1900, as the Holy Martyrs of China. In spite of the uprising, by 1902, there were 32 Orthodox churches in China with close to 6,000 adherents. The church also ran schools and orphanages.
106 Orthodox churches were opened in China by 1949. Parishioners included Russian refugees and approximately 10,000 Chinese converts. Many churches were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (St Nicholas' Orthodox church in Harbin, for example).
The government of the People's Republic of China extends official recognition to five religious communities: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism (though with the latter two, the Chinese government had formed the Patriotic Catholic Association — which is not in communion with Rome — and the Three-Self Churches, respectively). However this recognition does not extend to the Orthodox Church; no national Orthodox association has ever been created in China. Nonetheless in the 2010s tentative steps have been taken between China and Russia to revive the Chinese Orthodox Church; it has been speculated that this is part of an effort by the two governments to forge closer ties in response to perceived American hegemony.
At present, there are only three communities in Mainland China with regular weekly services and resident clergy. The Beijing community meets at the restored Church of the Dormition in the grounds of the Russian Embassy in Dongzhimen; the Shanghai community at the Russian Consulate; and the Church of the Intercession, Harbin, the only one open to Chinese nationals for regular worship. Elsewhere, priestless congregations continue to meet in Northeast China (in Heilongjiang and elsewhere) and in Western China (Xinjiang - Ürümqi and Ghulja) with, apparently, the tacit consent of the government. There are also Orthodox parishes in the Province of Guangdong and in Shanghai; two former Orthodox churches in Shanghai are currently in a process of being returned to the church but no activities are currently held inside them.
In March 2018, the Chinese Orthodox church acquired the government's approval to prepare new priests in Russian theological seminaries.
The Orthodox Church operates relatively freely in Hong Kong, where there are two parishes: St Luke's Greek Orthodox Cathedral (Eastern Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia under the Ecumenical Patriarchate) and the Russian Orthodox parish of Saints Peter and Paul under the Moscow Patriarchate. There is also a presence in Taiwan (where Archimandrite Jonah George Mourtos leads a mission church).
Although many of them have adopted Tibetan Buddhism, the Evenks of both the Russian Federation and China are a nominally Orthodox Christian people. They are some of the only Asiatic peoples who nominally practice Orthodox Christianity, which they had voluntarily (as opposed to being coerced to do so) adopted. There are also around 3000 Evenks in neighbouring Heilongjiang.
- Christianity in China
- Timeline of Orthodoxy in China
- Catholic Church in China
- Protestantism in China
- Oros Niru
- Amur Cossacks
- Harbin Russians
- Chinese characters for transcribing Slavonic
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- Orthodoxy in China
- Article on Chinese Orthodox Church by Ronald Roberson on the CNEWA website
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