The beginnings of Orthodoxy in China coincides with the expansion of
the Russian Empire in the Far East and the occupation (1644) of
Beijing by the Manchu Army which brought the new Qing dynasty
into power. By the middle of the seventeenth century the Russians had
penetrated to the northern borders of Manchuria and had established
forts along the Amur River. The Muscovites had been pushing eastward
across Siberia until northeastern Manchuria was threatened. The fort
of Yakutsk had been built by the Russians in 1636 and from here Cossack expeditions were sent out to explore the resources of the territory
north of the Amur River. In 1650 the adventurer Khabaroff had built a
fortress and trading post at Albazin (Yacsa) on the northermost point
of the river. These Russian activities must have alarmed the Manchus.
The Chinese in those parts claimed that the Russians were treating them
with cruelty, and they appealed to Beijing either for assistance or for
permission to become Russian subjects.
In the following years several Manchu armies were sent against
the invaders with little results. Albazin was captured and destroyed
several times but the lure of the riches of the Mongol and Manchu lands
was so great that the Russians returned again and again. Finally, the
Tsar sent a special envoy, Prince Feodor Golovin, to attempt to stabilize
the situation and to negotiate a treaty. The discussions between the
Manchus and the Russians took place in the Russian town of Nerchinsk
(Nipchou, Níbùchǔ), built in 1658. Several important royal emissaries and hundreds of other officials and soldiers came from Beijing for the negotiations which began on 12 August 1689. The talks were aided by two
Jesuit interpreters brougnt by the Manchus. The treaty was finally
signed on 7 September 1689 and it became the first formal agreement
between China and a European power. 
What is of most importance to us, however, is that at one of the
earlier sieges of the fortress of Albazin, perhaps in 1685, some thirty-one
prisoners were captured by the forces of Emperor Kangxi and taken
to Beijing.  These men were given a place of residence in the northeast
corner of the Forbidden City. Later they were made part of one of the
"banners" and were put in charge of the defense of their section of Beijing. These Cossacks were members of the Orthodox Church and, as far
is known, were the first members of the Orthodox Church to dwell within the Eighteen Provinces of China. Centuries before, interestingly enough,
another Eastern Christian Church, the Nestorian, had done missionary
work in China.
When the Cossacks came to reside in Beijing, their chaplain, Father Maximus Leontiev, an Orthodox priest, was persuaded to go with
them. In ministering to his small flock, Father Leontiev first used a
Buddhist temple which was transformed into a Christian chapel and in
which was erected an ancient icon of St. Nicholas of Mozhaisk.  Later a
chapel was built especially for the small Christian community.  In 1695
ties were formed with Metropolitan Ignatius of Tobolsk who gave his
recognition to this Orthodox community and sent them an Antimins as
a sign of his jurisdiction over them. In 1698 the chapel was converted
into a church and consecrated in honor Sophia-Wisdom of God. At this
time the Metropolitan apparently gawe instructions for missionary work
to be undertaken among the Chinese, but this order seems not to have
As time went on the Cossacks inter-married with the native women
and their descendants soon came to resemble the Manchus and Chinese
in physiognomy. Their wives adopted Orthodoxy, however, and the Albazinians persevered in their religion. The request of the Albazinians to
send a replacement for Father Leontiev, who was getting old, was not
heeded until three years after the priest died (1712). At the behest of
Peter the Great, the first Spiritual Mission was sent to Beijing by Metropolitan Philotheus of Tobolsk in 1715. At the head of it stood the Archimandrite Hilarion Lezhaisky of Yakutsk, and it was composed of another
priest, a deacon, and seven lesser clerics, probably monks. The following
year, the Mission transformed the former "Russian House" in Beijing,
reserved for Russian travellers, into an ecclesiastical establishment and a
small monastery. The members of this Mission were appointed military
chaplains to the Orthodox Albazinians by the Beijing government for
which the Manchus gave them a small salary. This first Mission also occupied itself with scholarly works and the learning of Chinese and Manchu. It is interesting that the Mission adopted the Chinese word for
temple, miao, for their church, and they utilized the Buddhist terms fo for
God, and lama for clergymen.
Soon the need was felt to make some changes in the Beijing Mission. It is not clear whether it became necessary to replace Archimandrite Hilarion as head of the Mission or whether it was felt that a bishop
was needed in Beijing. At any rate, the Russian court sent an Ambassador, named Izmailov, to Beijing with the express purpose, it would
seem, to receive permission to send a bishop to Beijing. It is claimed that
Izmailov was not successful in this project because of the interference of
the Jesuits at the Beijing court.
Be this as it may, in 1720 the Holy Governing Synod at St. Petersburg appointed the Archimandrite Innocent Kulchitsky to Beijing" to
preach the word of God." After his appointment the question of what
ecclesiastical rank he should hold arose. It was only after a year's time
that it was decided to send Innocent to Beijing in the rank of a bishop
and, on 5 March 1721, he was consecrated in St. Petersburg as Bishop of
Perejaslav and directed to proceed to the "Khin Kingdom." In Moscow
Bishop Innocent received an Ukase which directed him not to reveal the
fact that he was in episcopal orders and to refer to his status only under
special circumstances and with "no littlle caution." He and his retinue
arrived in the city of Irkutsk in March of 1722 and soon left for the border town of Selenginsk where "he awaited the conclusion of diplomatic
negotiations and permission to enter China." Bishop Innocent, however,
never did arrive at his destination for reasons which are not altogether
clear. Some writers say that there were several reasons: the suspicious
attitude of the Manchu leaders of that time, the inexperience of the
Russian diplomats, and the intrigues of a certain Archimandrite Antony
Platnovsky who himself desired to become head of the Beijing Mission.
At any rate, the bishop was held up in Selenginsk for about five years,
living under the most difficult conditions, receiving no salary and without quarters. Anthony Platkovsky apparently succeeded in his intigues
and, thanks to the cooperation of the Ambassador Gaguzinsky, he was
appointed the Superior of the Mission. Meanwhile Bishop Innocent was,
in 1727, appointed Bishop of Irkutsk where he laid the foundation for
the evangelization of the Yakuts, Tunguses, and Buryats. He died on 26
November 1731 and because of his singularly saintly life was canonized
on 9 February 1805. He is known as the Apostle of Siberia.
By 1727 the ever-growing relations between the Chinese and Russians made it necessary to make supplementary agreements: the Burin
tractate of 1727, and the Chakta treaty of 1728. Besides regulating trade,
diplomatic relations, and other matters, Article 5 of the latter document concerned the Orthodox Mission in Beijing. This article provided
for the residence in Beijing of a Mission composed of ten persons: four
clergymen and six scholars. In actual practice the Missions were usually
made up of one Archimandrite (the Superior), two hieromonks, one
hierodeacon, and a doctor, while the other members were students of
Chinese and Manchu. The scholars, it was hoped, would return to Russia
and assist in the conduct of relations between the two countries. The
duration of each Mission was to be ten years and it was agreed that
no Mission would leave Beijing until it was replaced.
The chief aim of the Spiritual Mission was to care for the spiritual
welfare of the descendants of the Albazinians and of Russian travelers
and inhabitants of the Capital, and also to provide a means for Oriental
studies. The Mission did not carry on any activities among the Chinese
other than those married to the Albazinians and their offspring. The
Mission was supported financially by both the Chinese and Russian governments. Until 1737 all its members were Chinese Civil Servants but in
that year the Russian government managed to change this status. The
Beijing court continued to support the Mission until 1858. The Mission
fulfilled the duties of diplomatic representatives of the Russian state
until 1861 when a lay Ambassador was first appointed by the Russian
government and the Mission began to devote itself to spiritual matters
alone. Thus it was that the head of the Mission was also the Russian
diplomatic representative to Beijing and at the same time a Chinese
Civil Servant financially supported by the Beijing regime.
Despite the fact that Article 2 of the "Statute for the Russian Spiritual Mission in China" direced it to spread the Light of Christ among the
heathen population as far as it was able, the Mission apparently did
not engage actively in preaching to the Chinese until after the treaties
of 1858, made as an outcome of the Second War between China and the
Western Powers. The treaties guaranteed the toleration of Christianity
and gave permission for a certain number of missionaries to propagate
their faith. In these stipulations the Russian government apparently led
the way. The treaties also concerned the Orthodox Mission in Beijing.
It is not certain how large the Orthodox community was at this time, but
it seems to have numbered about two hundred in 1856. After the treaty
of 1858 between Russia and China, there were some changes in the Mission's activities and it seems to have carried on some work among the
Chinese other than Albazinians. In 1871 the number of Orthodox Christians was about 500 and about ten to forty Chinese were converted yearly.
Probably the Mission's most important activity in the nineteenth
century was the scholarly work of its students who learned Chinese and
Manchu and through various publications and translations of Chinese
literature acquainted Russia with the ancient civilzation of the Middle
Kingdom. Although in theory the Mission's personnel was to change every
ten years, in practice the intervals of change were not so regular. By
1860 about 155 men had served in the Mission which meant that it provided a considerable number of scholars—some of whom became quite distinguished as Orientalists. Among such may be mentioned the head of
the ninth Mission (1806-1821), Archimandrite Hyacinthus Bichurin, and
the head of a later Mission, Archimadnrite Palladius Kafarov.
Bichurin studied Chinese literature quite seriously and compiled a
lexicon of 12,000 Chinese characters. Among his other achievements was
the translation of the Orthodox Liturgy into Chinese. He wrote a great
deal on China, Mongolia, and Tibet and, later in 1826, was appointed to
the Russian Foreign Office as an adviser on Far Eastern affairs. Although
a scholar, Bichurin did not have a vocation for monasticism and this
caused him considerable trouble. Probably the most important scholar
turned out by the Beijing Mission was the Archimandrite Palladius (1817-
1878). Before his tonsure he was known as Peter Ivanovich Kafarov. He
is said to have been a saintly person, possessed of many talents. He spent
three "terms" in Beijing, the first from 1840 to 1847 as a member of the
Mission, the second from 1849 as Superior for ten years. In 1865 he again
returned to Beijing and at the conclusion of his service he died while returning home at Marseilles in 1878. Palladius is noted for his Russo-
Chinese Dictionary and his Life of Buddha, and other outstanding works.
Bichurin as well as Palladius produced many scholarly works but, as Latourette said of the latter, "Few missionaries of any branch of the Church
have deserved the title 'sinologue' as much as he."
Another noted Russian Sinologue, Basil Pavlovich Vasiliev (1818-
1900) spent eleven years in the Beijing Mission. In 1851 Vasiliev became
Professor of Chinese at the Kazan University and in 1855 he was transferred to St. Petersburg. Another student of Oriental matters was Archimandrite Flavian Gorodetsky (1841-1915) who was Superior of the Mission towards the end of the nineteenth century. He is said to have tran-
Slated the remaining liturgical books into Chinese. Flavian died as Metropolitan of Kiev.
At the beginning the services at the Mission had apparently been
in Church Slavonic, but after 1858 Chinese had come to be used gradually. A school for children was maintained and quite early at least two
centers were established outside Beijing and some converts were made.
Between 1860 and 1897 it is said that 500 converts were baptized. The New
Testament was translated by members of the Mission and published in
1864 at Beijing. The language chosen for the scriptures was the so-called
High Wenli, the language of the Chinese classics and no longer a spoken
tongue. The Mission's interest in literary matters brought about the translation ot most of the liturgical books of the Orthodox Church allowing,
from 1892, the celebration of most of the services in Chinese.
It was only near the end of the century that any plans were devised for more extensive evangelization of the Chinese by the Mission.
The new Superior, Archimandrite Innocent Figurovsky, instituted several
reforms. He introduced the daily celebration of Divine Worship in Chinese,
sought to establish business enterprises to make some of the poverty-
stricken Albazinians self-supporting; he sent out preachers and tried to
institute parochial activities of various sorts and charities. Unfortunately
many of these projects were suspended because of the Boxer Rebellion
of 1900 which worked havoc with the Orthodox Mission as well as with
other European establishments.
The Russian Orthodox Church settlement in Beijing (E-guo-guan
or Beiguan) was a large estate in the north-eastern corner of the Tatar or Manchu City in Beijing. It contained several buildings, schools,
and churches, its own printing plant, and was a self-contained city within itself. Until the Boxer storm the Chinese had never molested the Mission and, in fact, from time to time non-Orthodox missionaries, Jesuits as
well, sought shelter within its walls to escape recurrent attacks of anti-Europeanism. In the uprising of 1900 many of the Mission's buildings were
demolished, a precious library destroyed, and about 400 Orthodox Chinese,
some of them in Sacred Orders, were slain. To commemorate the victims of the uprising, a church of the Chinese Martyrs was erected within
the Mission grounds.
After the Boxer Rebellion had ended, the Mission's work was renewed with even more vigor and extended and in the years up to the
outbreak of World War I, the Orthodox Church's missionary work in
China was marked with great strides forward. A serious effort was now
made to convert Chinese and to push out further from Beijing. Although
the Mission continued to care for the spiritual needs of the Orthodox already within the bosom of the Church—the descendants of the Albazinian-Cossacks and the large numbers of Russians who were settling in
Manchuria and the treaty ports of the various Provinces—now specific
mission stations were started for the Chinese non-Christians and many
of Archimandrite Innocent's plans formulated before the Boxer storm
were now put into effect.
Archimandrite Innocent was called to Petrograd in 1901 to report
on the status of the Mission to the Holy Governing Synod. In 1902, while
he was still there, it was decided to consecrate him to the episcopacy and
he was given the see title of Perejaslav as was St. Innocent before him.
Why the Synod refrained from calling him the Bishop of Beijing is not
known, but his territory, nevertheless, covered some 300 square miles. The
new Bishop Innocent soon returned to the Chinese capital with more
clergy. A Sinologue, the Bishop did scholarly work on a dictionary and
engaged in other literary undertakings. He was an active worker and a
good administrator. Through his efforts a printing plant was established at the Mission, a meteorological station set up, and various small
industries and trades instituted. He is said to have been a tall man physically and well-liked by the Chinese.
In 1906 the Orthodox Mission had two churches in Beijing, one in
Shanghai, one in Jun-nping-Fu, and one in Dun-Dunan. It possessed a
monastery dedicated to the Theotokos in Beijing, five mission posts in various places, two conventual-hostel churches in Manchuria, a church in
Xinjiang, several chapels, and a total of seven schools. At this time the
number of Orthodox Chinese was counted at 636 and there were about
80,000 Orthodox Christians of various other nationalities and races under
the Mission's jurisdiction. In 1909 the Mission is said to have had as
clergy: one bishop, two archimandrites, ten priests (of these three were
Chinese), six deacons (two Chinese), three lectors, ten monks, and seven
nuns. Besides the above churches, by 1909 the Mission had churches in
Hànkǒu, Dalian, and Port Arthur, fifteen schools, two chapels, and five
"churchyards." By the conclusion of 1914 the Mission is reported to have
possessed 19 churches, five conventual churches, 20 schools, and mission
stations in Zhílì, Húběi, Hénán, Jiāngsū, and Mongolia. There were
500 students enrolled in its schools, and the Chinese converts totalled
5,035, although another source gives this figure as 10,000.
The outbreak of World War I did not seem to affect the Mission
to any great degree. By 1916 there were reported to be twenty missionaries, with twenty-one churches and chapels, and forty mission stations.
There were twenty schools and the number of Chinese Christians remained about the same. After the Russian Revolution matters changed,
however. All financial support was cut off and the Mission was consequently hard hit. The theological seminary was forced to close and
much of the missionary work among the Chinese is reputed to have
stopped except in the vicinity of Beijing. The ecclesiastical disorders in
Russia also made themselves felt in China and especially in Manchuria
which was flooded with Russian political emigres. It is stated that many
Chinese Orthodox Christians lapsed. With the influx of emigres, Bishop
Innocent needed help in ministering to their spiritual needs and, consequently, in 1923 Bishop Simon was consecrated to assist him. Gradually the Church in China managed to come from near destruction to a
semblance of recovery. The property in Beijing was retained and a small
nucleus of about 300 faithful clustred about it.
In the early 1920's, the Mission in China together with the diocese in Manchuria entered into relationship with the so-called Karlovitz
Synod of emigre bishops located in Yugoslavia, because of the difficulties
of communication with the Moscow Patriarchate and because of political
reasons. Thus Innocent of Beijing, who by this time was an Archbishop,
Bishop Simon of Shanghai, and Bishop Jonah of Tianjin, together with
the Manchurian prelates: Archbishop, later Metropolitan, Methodius Gerasimov, formerly of Orenburg (died 1930), Bishop Meletius Zaborovsky
of Zabaikal (1869-1946), and Bishop Nestor Anisimov of Kamchatka, by
1922-24 became associated with the Karlovitz Church in Exile. Orthodoxy
in the Far East was established at two important centers: Beijing, where
at the head of the Mission stood Archbishop Innocent (who died in 1930
as Metropolitan), and Harbin, which was erected into a diocese in 1930-31,
and where the large parishes were of a predominantly Russian emigre
character. Metropolitan Innocent was succeeded by Archbishop Simon,
while in Harbin, Archbishop Meletius (Metropolitan from 1939) became
The balance of power swung to the Manchurian Church which was
the largest. In 1935 the Karlovitz Synod organized all the Orthodox
churches in the Far East into one Metropolitical District with the see city
at Harbin, thus making the Mission in China a part of the Far Eastern
District. Bishop Demetrius Voznesensky represented the Far East at the
deliberations which formed the District. The churches in the Far East
were represented at the second Council (Sobor) of the Karlovitz Church
in Exile held in 1938 by Meletius, Archbishop of Harbin and Manchuria,
Nestor, Archbishop of Kamchatka and Petropavlovsk, and Bishop John
Maksimovich of Shanghai.
Thus in the 1930's and 1940's there was an Archbishop at Beijing
and two vicar bishops, at Shanghai and Tianjin. Most of the Orthodox in
China were either recent Russian emigres or descendants of Russians
and many were naturalized Chinese subjects. There were also Orthodox
of other nationalities, such as Greeks and other Slavs in the Port cities.
The Chinese Christians were both recent converts scattered in the various provinces where the Church had established mission stations, and the
descendants of the Albazinians. There were parishes in Beijing, Tianjin,
Qingdao, Shanghai, Hànkǒu, and other places. Besides the Beijing monastery, there were convents with orphanages. At Shanghai there was a
theological school three and the number of Chinese priests was gradually growing and, like the deceased Father Sergius Chen and Father Basil
Du, were greatly honored. In the thirty-five year period from 1915 to 1950
new Orthodox churches had been founded in Shanghai, Beijing, Zhāngjiākǒu (Kalgan),
Zhīfú, Hong Kong, Guǎngzhōu, and other cities. Work continued in the preparation of cadres of missionaries and the preaching of the Gospel did
There were also native Christians in Xinjiang or Chinese Turkestan,
in Mongolia, and in Manchuria, besides emigre Russians and Siberian
natives. The Orthodox Church in Manchuria was the largest and though
it contained some Korean, Japanese, and other native Christians, it was
of a predominantly Russian character.
Shortly after the Soviet occupation of Manchuria and the liberation
of the land from the Japanese who, especially in 1943 and 1944, had been
particularly obnoxious to the Orthodox in Manchuria and, among other
things, had tried to force them to worship the Japanese goddess Amateras,
an ecclesiastical delegation arrived in Harbin from Moscow. This was on
24 October 1945 and the delegation, composed of Bishop Eleutherius (now
Metropolitan of Leningrad) and a priest, remained in Harbin until 14 November 1945. The delegation's purpose was to receive the bishops of the
Far East back into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. On 26 October the following bishops decided to terminate the schism: Metropolitan
Meletius, Archbishop Nestor, Archbishop Demetrius, and Bishop Juvenalius.
Presumably the Church in China was also reconciled at this time. At
any rate by Ukase of Patriarch Alexis of Moscow, dated 27 December
1945, the Mission in China was re-united to the Russian Mother Church
and the break caused by the schismatic activities of the Karlovitz Synod
was healed. But the perspectives for church work were somewhat clouded
by the schism in 1946 of the vicar bishop of Shanghai, John Maksimovich, who took the lead in an opposition movement against the Patriarch
and his ruling bishop at Beijing. Through the intrigues of this hostile
group, Archbishop Victor of Beijing was arrested on false charges by the
Shanghai military authorities on 19 October 1947 and it was only after
energetic mediation by the USSR consular officials that he was set free.
The schism ended after the establishment in China of the People's Republic.
After reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate, the Mission in
China continued to be a part of the Metropolitical District. Metropolitan
Meletius died on 6 April 1946 after a long illness. Archbishop Nestor
Anisimov was appointed his successor, raised to the dignity of Metropolitan of Harbin and Manchuria, and given the title Exarch of Eastern
Asia. Upon the death of Metropolitan Meletius, Archbishop Nestor had
acted as pro tempore administrator of the East Asian Metropolitanate
which now was raised to the status of an Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Soon after World War II many clergymen from East Asia began to
return to Soviet Russia. Among these were Archbishop Demetrius Voznesensky, who soon died as noted above; Bishop Juvenalius Kilin, who returned to Russia in January 1947 and was given a diocese in Siberia. About
this time, 1948, Metropolitan Nestor, ceased to be heard of. Among the
many lesser clerics who emigrated to Russia was the Archimandrite Gabriel Ogorodnikov, a member of the Mission in Beijing, who was consecrated Bishop of Khabarovsk and Vladivostok on 29 August 1948.
In the period between the two World Wars and especially during
the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, considerable numbers of Russians
emigrated South and settled around Shanghai. It was not long before the
Roman Catholics, capitalizing on the poverty of these people, started a
"Russian Mission" in Shanghai as well as Manchuria, and through schools
and other means endeavored to wean away the children of these Orthodox people to the Roman Church.37 In their efforts to win "souls" the
Roman clergy adopted the Byzantine-Orthodox rite, grew beards to make
themselves look Russian, and even learned the Russian language. To show
the psychology of these Roman Catholic "birds of prey" it is enough to
quote the following words from a letter written by two Jesuits of the
"Russsian Mission" working in Shanghai:
The Orthodox Church is in a bad way, and is rushing toward a
split. Archbishop Victor of Beijing is definitely for the Soviets, while
John of Shanghai has elected to stay independent. For a time he
wavered, but it seems he has made up his mind. The priests are divided, but I think most of them are against the Soviets, or at least
are trying not to commit themselves. One or two are definitely black-listed. I should think this would work in favour of the Church, but
as yet we haven't much concrete evidence that men's minds are turning towards Rome.
Fortunately for the Orthodox Church in China, it does not have
to contend with this type of "missionary" hacking at its back at the present time, for the Jesuit "Russian Mission" has been forced to flee to
In June of 1949 another delegation was sent to Harbin by the Moscow Patriarchate. They apparently came to regulate the ecclesiastical
affairs which were probably being hampered by the Chinese authorities
with its program of sinization of Manchuria. The delegation met with
Bishop Nicander Viktorov, Bishop of Qiqihar who was also Exarch pro
tempore in the absence of Metropolitan Nestor of whom no mention is
made in the source materials for this period. Discussions were also held
with Archpriest Daniel He who was at the head of the Mission Council
for Manchuria on how to fight the remnants of heathenism among the
The Archbishop of Beijing and China, Victor Svjatin, and the Mitred
Archpriest Theodore Du of the Chinese Mission arrived in Moscow on 17
July 1950. The purpose of the visit was to report on conditions in China
and, at the same time, Archbishop Victor took part in the sessions of the
Sacred Synod at which it was decided to consecrate Father Theodore Du
as Bishop of Tianjin. Father Du was tonsured on Sunday, 23 July and
given the monastic name Simeon. His consecration took place on 30 July
in the Theophany Patriarchal Cathedral in Moscow. Among his five co-consecrators were Patriarch Alexis, Metropolitan Nicholas of Krutitsy and
Kolomna, and Metropolitan Eleutherius of Prague and Czechoslovakia,
presently Metropolitan of Leningrad. After his consecration, Bishop
Simeon blessed the assembled multitude and "the faithful Russian people received their blessings from the first Chinese Orthodox bishop with
emotion." The two bishops of the Far East left for home on 30 August
after visiting Georgia, Armenia, and various cities of the Soviet Union
where they participated in church services. This was Du's third visit to
Moscow— the first two presumably before the Russian Revolution.'
There seems to be little doubt that it was at this time that it was
decided to raise the prestige of the Beijing diocese at the expense of the
Church in Manchuria, even though the latter was the larger of the two.
It is known, i. e., that during the delegation's visit to Moscow the East
Asian Exarchate was re-organized.'
The following interesting passages are quoted from the Address delivered by Archimandrite Du at his Nomination ceremony as Bishop of
I am Chinese, but Russian blood also runs in my veins. My ancestors were Russian Cossack-Albazinians who settled in Beijing in 1685.
My faith is the Orthodox Faith which I inherited from my fathers,
all of whom belonged to the Orthodox Russian Church. They witnessed to their faith and fidelity to the Orthodox Church by their
blood which they shed in 1900 when, without fear, even women and
children accepted suffering for Christ's Faith. My father and my
closest relatives perished in that difficult moment for our Mission
and I, being only a fourteen year old youngster, escaped death only
by a miracle.
The firm adherance to the Faith by my relatives, and people
close to me, laid a strong foundation of belief in God in my young
soul, and this belief became stronger in the passing years of my
I graduated the courses in the Spiritual Seminary at our Mission
in Beijing and for several years fulfilled the duties of Lector and Catechist. When I completed my twenty-second year, the Superior of the
Mission, the late prelate Innocent ordained me into the diaconate,
and I received an appointment to the Annunciation Conventual church
of the Mission in the city of Harbin where, besides the ministry of
deacon, I fulfilled the duties of a missionary, economus, and supervisor of the chancellery.
In the course of the following years it fell upon me to do missionary work in many cities of China: in Shanghai, Hànkǒu, Hǎimén,
Kāifēng, Zhangde, Weihou, Bǎodìngfǔ, Zhāngjiākǒu (Kalgan), Shěnyáng (Moukden), Jílín, Qiqihar, and in Station Mǎnzhōulǐ where the Mission has an extensive
hostel with a grandiose church in honor of St. Innocent, the Irkutsk
Wonderworker, as well as orphanages and schools.
From 1932 I settled in Tianjin where the present Superior of the
Mission, Archbishop Victor, elevated me to the rank of Protodeacon
and soon ordained me to the Priesthood and appointed me to the post
of Rector of the St. Innocent missionary church. I am serving in this
capacity at the present time."
He went on to mention that there was a great need for church
workers in China, and indicated that a great number of Pastcrs had
died during the difficult years of the war. A month after his consecration, on 26 September 1950, Bishop Simeon was transferred as Bishop of
Sometime during 1950, probably at the sessions of the Sacred Synod
which re-organized the Exarchate, Archbishop Victor was appointed Exarch, while Bishop Nicander Viktorov was made Vice Exarch and Superior of the Mission in Manchuria. They were styled thus in a list of
personages who had sent the Patriarch greetings at Christmas, 1950.
Neither the Ukase formulating these changes nor any other specific mention of these events was made in the publications of the Moscow Patriarchate, neither were Metropolitan Nestor, who lost his title as Exarch,
The 14 March issue of the Church Times (London) said that the
Communist regime of China had allowed in recent times the Russian
Orthodox Church to expand its activities in China. It said that in 1951
the Russian Orthodox Church had increased the work of its missions both
in China and Manchuria. The article mentioned that whereas in the
past the work had been carried on among Russian emigres in such centers as Harbin and Shanghai, now new Orthodox Archbishoprics and
Bishoprics had been established. It said that the Manchurian Archdiocese
had 60 parishes, 200 priests, and up to 100,000 laymen, with two monasterise, and a theological school. In the remainder of China there were
150 Orthodox parishes and up to 200,000 parishioners. The article said
that political motives had played their role in the support of the Church
which is so closely bound up with Russia, the chief ally of China but,
in spite of this, it says, the final fruit of this expansion of Christianity
may be for the glory of God.
This item from the Church Times is a bit exaggerated in view of
the fact that there were only three hierarchs in all of China and Manchuria. Some of the other figures, also, are over-inflated and probably
represent wishful thinking. However, it is known that the East Asian Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate was composed of five dioceses:
Beijing, Harbin, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Sin-Tsian. As for the so-called
"support" of the Orthodox Church by the Chinese government, this, too,
is probably far from reality. There is an article in the Journal of the
Moscow Patriarchate which, in some respects, is almost reminiscent of the
apologies of Tertullian. The article stresses that in the past it was the
Russian Church which began the process of bringing closer together the
peoples of China and Russia through its early diplomatic and scholarly
activities. It says that for 235 years of activity the Orthodox Mission
never once had the shadow of political suspicion fall on its reputation,
something which can not be said of the non-Orthodox missions. The
article says that in the construction of a new society and life in China,
the "peace-making voice of Orthodoxy can only operate for the good."
Among other things the same article quotes from a 1951 issue of the
Chinese Evangel (Kitaisky Blagovestnik) and mentions various Chinese
Orthodox clergymen by name: the Priest John Du and Protodeacon Thallelaeus Mao. There is mention of the visit of professors and students
from a Protestant theological school who, on 21 October 1951, visited the
St. Innocent church of the Orthodox Mission in Beijing during the celebration of services. They were welcomed by the Pastor, Father Pinnas
Another article in the same journal mentions two concerts of religious music given in Shanghai on 23 and 30 November 1952 with the
blessing of Bishop Simeon. The hymns were apparently sung in Russian.
Before each concert Protopresbyter M. Rogozhin gave a short talk, recommending that all Christians ought to acquaint themselves with Orthodoxy and the purpose of the concerts was to acquaint people with Orthodoxy's spiritual treasures. He spoke in Russian with an interpreter
translating into Chinese, while Bishop Simeon spoke in Chinese during
the intermissions, translating his own speech into Russian. These two
concerts were given in the Shanghai Cathedral by the Cathedral Choir.
The edifice, which holds over a thousand ,was filled with Orthodox Chinese
who stood for almost two hours for the music and talks.
In June of 1954 Archbishop Victor was again called to Moscow to
report on the affairs of his Exarchate. He was there from 12 through 27
June and was accompanied by Archpriest Leonidas Liu En-hoy, the Rector of the Sophia church in Tsindao. The outcome of this visit is not
known. However, by a decree of the Sacred Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archbishop Victor was transferred to the Krasnodar diocese in
Russia and relieved of his duties as Exarch of the East Asian Exarchate. About the same time Bishop Nicander of Harbin left for Russia and eventually was appointed to the cathedra of Archangelsk. The
re-calling of these two bishops and the general exodus of Russians from
China and Manchuria seem to indicate that another step was being
taken in the sinization of the Orthodox Church in China. In February
of 1953 the Rector of the Tianjin Cathedral, Archpriest V. Sinaisky, received a visa from the Soviet Government and emigrated to the Soviet
Union where he received a post in Sverdlovsk. In Tianjin, Father Sinaisky had been the assistant to the head of the Exarchal chancellery. In
January of 1957 Protopresbyter M. Rogozhin, mentioned above in connection with the Shanghai concerts, returned to Russia and was appointed
to church work in the Krasnodar diocese where the diocesan bishop was
It is interesting to note that in July of 1956 Metropolitan Niphon
Saba of the Syrian Orthodox see of Heliopolis stopped in Moscow on his
way home from China. He remained in Moscow from 2 through 11 July
as the guest of the Moscow Patriarchate. Unfortunately nothing more
than this fact is known.
The next event of importance in the life of the Orthodox Church
of China was the arrival in Moscow of a delegation of members of the
Orthodox Church of China on 27 May 1957. It included Archimandrite
Basil Yao Fu'an (Shuang) who had received an Ukase, dated 23 November
1956, nominating him to the see of Beijing. He had been recommended
to the post by Archbishop Victor. The two other members of the Chinese
delegation were the Archpriests Leonidas Liu Enhou and Anicetus Wang
Yulin. The ceremony of Nomination of Archimandrite Basil took place
on 28 May 1957 and he was consecrated Bishop of Beijing on 30 May, the
Feast of the Ascension, in the church of the Transfiguration in Moscow by
Metropolitan Nicholas, Archbishop Victor, and Archbishop Macarius of
Mozhaisk. While in the Soviet Union the Chinese delegation visited
Odessa, where they met the Patriarch, and other cities.
The new Bishop of Beijing was born on 23 December 1888 in Beijing.
His Christian name as a layman was Ignatius. He completed his seminary
studies at the Mission in Beijing and was ordained to the diaconate on 11
May 1915 by Bishop Innocent. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1948
and that same year, on 30 August, he received the monastic tonsure and
was given the name Basil by Archbishop Victor. Elevated later that same
year to the status of Hegumen, he became the Confessor of the Dormition monastery and the Convent of the Protection. In July of 1950, by the
Ukase of Patriarch Alexis, he was made an Archimandrite and in December of the same year was appointed Superior of the Catechetical School
of the Mission and a member of the governing council of the Exarchate.
From February of 1951 he was a member of the Council of the Spiritual
Mission which was a separate institution within the Exarchate. Finally,
he was Dean of the Assumption Cathedral in Beijing and pro tempore
administrator of the Beijing diocese in the absence of a bishop.
In his Address at his Nomination ceremony, the bishop-elect mentioned that as early as 1951 he had been chosen to be bishop of the Tien-tsin diocese by the Patriarch and Sacred Synod, but had refused the
honor because of his infirmities and the knowledge that the flock of
Christ in China was under capable leadership. "Now, he says, when the
Exarch has been re-called and the Bishop of Harbin has gone to his
native land, I, by the Providence of God, am chosen to occupy the most
ancient cathedral of Beijing by a new decision of the Most Holy Patriarch
and Holy Synod." He goes on to say that though he still is infirm both
spiritually and physically, he will accept this office of responsibility in
this moment of accounting in the life of the Orthodox Church in China.
In the customary address given by the consecrator of a new bishop
when presenting him with his crosier, we find these interesting words uttered by Metropolitan Nicholas of Krutitsy and Kolomna:
You are now to exercise your episcopacy under new conditions of
Orthodox ecclesiastical life in China, your great native land.
You know well that the Russian Orthodox Church gave birth to
Orthodoxy in China through its Spiritual Mission which labored with
honor and glory through the course of many decades, and adorned itself with many praise-worthy workers, the names of whom will never
die in the history of Orthodoxy .
For a certain time the Orthodox Church in China was an Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church and it, together with the
Russian Spiritual Mission in latter years, was headed by the most
worthy, and beloved by us all, Master-Archbishop Victor, one of our
con-celebrants at your consecration. He is also your spiritual father.
Now the Orthodox Church in China is transformed into the
Chinese Autonomous Church. In your internal life you will be independent.
Although the date for the decree granting the Church in China an
autonomous status has not been published, and the only inkling of it is
the above quotation, it would seem that the sinization of the Chinese
Church is well on its way. Although there are varying degrees of
autonomy, there is no way of knowing to what extent the Chinese
Church will be self-governing until the decree is published or until the
new statutes of the Chinese Church become known. As of this writing
there are now only two bishops for all of China (including Manchuria) and
both of these are Chinese. There are three dioceses left to fill with hierarchs. These two bishops are both apparently quite old—Bishop Basil, as
we have seen, being born in 1888. The Beijing Mission has had a glorious
past and some of its Superiors (by 1950, in 235 years there had been a
total of 19 superiors of the Mission) will long be remembered for their
various labors. Now, however, a new chapter has opened in the history of
Orthodoxy in China and it will be the duty of the descendants of the
Albazinian-Cossacks to carry on the works of their fathers.
In Manchuria, with which this article has not_ specifically concerned itself, but which now is part of China, the situation does not look
very hopeful. Several monasteries have been closed with the monks and
nuns dispersed. The orphanages have been taken over by the state, and
though the Cathedral and some churches remain open in Harbin, the
seminary and most schools are closed. The Russian colony there has
grown much smaller and it would seem that the Chinese authorities wish
to rid themselves of the Russian missionaries. The number of parishes in
Manchuria has diminished and, as we have seen, the cathedra of the Exarchate was removed to Beijing. The see of Harbin, once occupied by a
Metropolitan, now is vacant, though, presumably a bishop will be found
to place there.
There are now apparently no church periodicals published in Russian, if any at all. In the last several years there was considerable pressure to consecrate Chinese bishops but it was difficult to find suitable
candidates because most of the native clergymen were married. Archpriest He was apparently to be consecrated Bishop of Harbin but he
died. The Chinese seem to be all out to make Manchuria thoroughly
Chinese and treat even the native Manchurians with contempt, while
the Japanese and Koreans, for most part, have been expelled since
1945. There are only the Russians to contend with and there has been a
mass exodus of these to the Soviet Union—including numerous churchmen. It does not seem so simple to get a Soviet visa judging from several
statements in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, and it is probably
even more difficult to get visas to other countries. The Chinese regime
apparently does not care which country the Russians choose for emigration.
The sinization of Manchuria with the departure of the Russians
will amount to a near catastrophe there as far as the Church is concerned for even if some churches remain open with Chinese priests, it is
doubtful that these can be supported by the Orthodox natives. The diocese of Harbin, in 1941, possessed three bishops and 217 lesser clerics, with
69 churches, three monasteries, a theological facutly, and other schools
and institutions—all built up, for the most part, after World War I.
As for the problem of Metropolitan Nestor of Harbin, it is said that
he was arrested in 1948 for his "former associations with the Russian
emigres and the Japanese conquerors of Manchuria," and sent to Siberia. Other sources place his "arrest" later, in the early 50's but, as we
have seen above, this is probably wrong. This problem and other developments in Manchuria are discussed elsewhere. On 8 July 1956 Metropolitan Nestor was appointed Metropolitan of Novosibirsk, a Siberian diocese
of the Russian Orthodox Church.
There were still almost 100 Orthodox clergymen in Manchuria in
1953 but by 1955 their number fell to thirty and has probably gotten even
smaller since. After Bishop Nicander left, he and other clergy appealed
in the Russian press in Harbin for others to return to Russia. Twenty-eight left even before the Bishop. In 1953 there were four Chinese
priests in the city of Harbin and in 1954 Archbishop Victor ordained eight
Chinese priests to replace the departing Russian clergy. The situation
in China proper is probably comparable to that in Manchuria.