Русский | "Orthodoxy in China" by Priest Dionisy Pozdnyaev (1998)

English translation by Katherine Ilachinski

The Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church

After the departure of Archbishop Victor from Beijing, the Chinese clergy continued to transfer church property to the Chinese and Soviet (Embassy) authorities. On July 16, 1956 the temple of Tabynsk Icon of the Mother of God in Beijing has been closed. Its iconostasis has been transported to St Serafim church in the cemetery, and the Vestry has been moved to the library (in the territory of Beiguan). St Serafim church has been damaged by rain - repair of a roof was necessary. The Administration of Religious Affairs has rejected to provide any assistance, believing, that repair of the church building should be entirely subsidized by Church funds.

Before the organization of a new temple, the Administration of Religious Affairs has authorized divine services to be conducted in St Innokenty temple of the former Mission.

On July 19, 1956 the kindergarten and school have finally been transferred to the Chinese authorities. On July 23, the transfer of a dairy farm has been completed, and the printing house on July 31 has been transferred. On August 8, documents on Beiguan, Southern park, cemetery and area Si-miao have been transferred. In September the transfer of a vestry building was completed.

By the middle of November 1956 the bridge over Dongzhimennei (at the bell tower) Street, a water pumping station, a soap factory and a kitchen garden of female Pokrovsky monastery have been demolished. The Southern park of the Mission was being altered as the City garden.

For clergy and former inhabitants of Beiguan the local civil authorities have constructed an apartment house in Si-miao area, however a building for vestry and library could not be found. The new temple was to be situated behind the fence of Beiguan on the western side. For construction of the temple it was decided to use the house of the former secretary of Mission, M.A. Uspensky. The iconostasis of the new Uspensky temple has been taken from Pokrovsky annex of the church of the Martyrs; the icons from the archbishop’s cross church were also transferred there.

Archpriest Nicholas Li was appointed secretary of Beijing diocese; he was also econom, treasurer, key bearer, choir director and chorister.

The only remaining bishop in China was Right Reverend Simeon (Du) of Shanghai. As Archimandrite Vasily (Shuang) has not been consecrated yet as bishop, Vladika Simeon took all measures to head the Orthodox Church in China himself. So, for example, he insisted that during divine services only he should

be commemorated as the only Chinese bishop. Before the news from Moscow about appointment of Archbishop Victor (Svyatin) to the Krasnodar faculty, they were commemorating him during divine services as the ruling bishop. Afterwards they commemorated only the Patriarch.

In Tianjin three parishes united into one church – giving the old Saint Nicholas with the new name of Holy Pokrov parish. By invitation of the oldest priest from Tianjin Reverend John Du (the relative of Bishop Simeon), Shanghai Right Reverend accompanied by the secretary of Shanghai diocese Zhang Huai-dei Protodeacon Evangely Lu on October 11, 1956 has arrived to Tianjin for consecration of a "new" temple. He assumed to use this event for the confirmation of his nomination to the Beijing faculty by the Chinese clergy. Archimandrite Vasily (Shuang), alluding to his illness, refused the invitation to Tianjin. The part of the Beijing clergy, however, without his knowledge has gone to the “Pokrov” in Tianjin where they took part in celebrations on the occasion of consecration of a new temple.

Bishop Simeon on October 19 has arrived in Beijing where he stayed in the hierarchical premises of the former Chief of Mission. During the stay in Beijing Vladika Simeon arranged assemblies during which he brought up the question about the head of the Chinese Orthodox Church. He suggested to abolish the empty faculties. However partly because the view of the authorities about the structure of the Orthodox Church in China was already partly set, he had to abandon this plan and to insist only that he himself should head the church administration. And nevertheless the attempt of Vladika Simeon to establish himself in Beijing has not succeeded.

Uncertainty of the position of Archimandrite Vasily and delay in the decision of a time of his consecration to the episcopacy was draining his strength. Many wanted to accompany Father Vasily on his trip to Moscow which led to unnecessary disputes and disagreements. Softness of character and indecision of Archimandrite Vasily aggravated the difficulty of the situation created. Eventually according to Archbishop Victor’s counsel to accompany Father Vasily, Archpriest Leonid Liu and from Harbin diocese Archpriest Anikita Wang were appointed.

By then in Moscow they urgently discussed the plans of ecclesiastical reform in China so protracted that they could be no longer delayed. The Administration of Religious Affairs under the State Council of the People's Republic of China has been informed about the opinion of the Patriarchate on the organization of administration of the Orthodox Church in the People's Republic of China. On November 23, 1956 in meeting of the Holy Synod under chairmanship of the Patriarch the project about granting of autonomy to the Chinese Orthodox Church has been authorized, as well as granting of consecration to the episcopacy of Beijing to Archimandrite Vasily (Shuang).

The soon approaching year 1957 was marked by the first destruction of Orthodox temples in the territory of the People's Republic of China. At the time when the Bejing municipal authorities behind walls of Beijing arranged for Orthodox Chinese new Uspensky temple (address Zheng-wu-miao, 1, 4-th east area of Beijing), in the territory of Beijing the new owners – Soviet Embassy under the order of Ambassador P.F.Yudin have destroyed the greatest relic of Orthodox China - a temple of Holy Martyrs, built on the blood of Martyrs of the "Yihetuan" revolt. The relics of the holy martyrs and the remains of Metropolitan Innokenty (Figurovsky) and Archbishop Simon (Vinogradov) blessed by the Patriarch to be transferred from the temple of the Martyrs to St Serafim church in the cemetery. Same fate had fallen on the bell tower. Uspensky temple has been altered to be an ambassadorial garage, a vestry - to a consular department, and St Innokenty temple - to a reception hall and embassy hotel. The Soviet authorities have resembled the destroyers of Mission - "Yihetuan", who razed Beiguan to the ground in 1900. By eyewitness’ account of the events of 1957, just as half a century ago the Mission library not needed by anybody was burned; in part the library was transferred by Archbishop Victor to the Embassy. All “the attention of high Soviet authorities“ to the Orthodox Church, and to history of their country, was reflected in this blasphemous destruction of Beiguan temples.

In the beginning of January 1957, the Administration of Religious Affairs under the State Council of the People's Republic of China has given consent to the trip of Archimandrite Vasily to Moscow and on his Episcopal consecration for China. Archimandrite Vasily accompanied by Archpriest Leonid Liu and Archpriest Anikita Wang have left for Moscow on May 16 and have arrived in 8 days, on May 24, 1957.

Father Vasily (in the world Ignaty Yao Shuanglin) was born in Beijing on December 23, 1888. In the Orthodox Theological Seminary he has received theological education and on May 11, 1915 has been ordained a deacon by Bishop Innokenty (Figurovsky), the Chief of 18th Russian Spiritual Mission in China. After 33 years of diaconal service, in 1948, Father Ignaty has been ordained to the priesthood. In the same year on August 30 he took monastic vows with the name Vasily, was ordained a hieromonk and appointed confessor of Uspensky male monastery and Pokrovsky female monastery belonging to the Mission. In 1950 by the decree of the Most Holy Patriarch, Father Vasily was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite and in December of the same year was appointed as Administrator of the Catechetical School and a member of the Administration of the East-Asian Exarchate, and in February 1951 - a member of the Council of the Russian Spiritual Mission. In 1951 the synod has appointed Father Vasily on the hierarchical faculty of the Diocese of Tianjin, but because of his humility he evaded consecration and till 1957 remained Father Superior of the Uspensky Monastery of Beijing, and in the last years – he was the temporary Administrator of the Beijing diocese.

On May 28, 1957 in a boardroom of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church the naming of him as Bishop of Beijing took place. Archimandrite Vasily (Shuang) was consecrated to the rank of bishop of Beijing on May 30, 1957, on the feast day of the Ascension of our Lord during the Divine Liturgy in the Transfiguration temple of Moscow. The consecration was conducted by Metropolitan Nicholas of Krutitsky and Kolomensky, Archbishop Victor of Krasnodar and Kubansky, and Archbishop Makary of Mozhajsky. Upon delivery of the staff to the newly elevated bishop, Metropolitan Nicholas said: “You know well, that Orthodoxy in China was given birth by the Russian Orthodox Church through her Spiritual Mission… Now, the Orthodox Church in China is transformed into the Chinese Autonomous Church. In internal affairs you will be independent…Remember, that all of us, Russian bishops, will remain your loving brothers, always ready to help you by deeds and advice in the new work of the Chinese Orthodox Church. May the Lord grant you, the prelate of capital Beijing diocese, the strength and might to rightly divide the word of truth in a longitude of days " [119].

After returning to China the newly consecrated Bishop Vasily should, according to protocol, be elected the Head of the Chinese Orthodox Church. For this purpose it was necessary to convene the Council. However the position of Bishop Simeon actually promoting division of clergy in two competing camps has prevented the convening of this Council.

The Harbin eparchial administration has requested Bishop Vasily on September 28, 1957 to visit the diocese. With the consent of the Administration of Religious Affairs Bishop Vasily has left for Harbin on October 5, 1957. By then, up to 5,000 Orthodox remained in Harbin, around 2,000 of which were waiting for the exit visa to the USSR and Australia. The eparchial administration has asked Bishop Vasily to take up the administration of Harbin’s diocese. From Moscow, Metropolitan Nicholas wrote to the secretary of the diocese - Archpriest Anikita Wang, that Bishop Vasily at the request of the Eparchial Council can be considered as the Administrator of Harbin’s diocese [120].

In Harbin during divine services they began to pray for Bishop Vasily. However the bishop himself, alluding that he is not capable to cope with problems even of his own Beijing diocese, has reported to Patriarch Alexis, that, in his opinion, the diocese of Harbin should be governed by the Eparchial Council together with the local governments [121].

Meanwhile, the internal policy of the People's Republic of China for all religions became tougher. In 1958 in Harbin the temple of Annunciation has been closed and transformed into a circus school. Remains of Metropolitan Melety of Harbin of blessed memory, resting in this temple were desecrated. In the same year both Orthodox cemeteries of Harbin - Pokrovsky and Uspensky (about 100,000 tombs) have been destroyed. The quay of the river Sungari was paved with tombs stones. For a burial place, the Chinese authorities offered a parcel of ground in area Sankeshu, approximately 25 kilometers from the center of Harbin. All were offered to transfer ashes of previously buried to this site, but only few managed to do that. On a new site in Sankeshu the church of the Nativity of John Baptist has been constructed - she has not been destroyed. To this church they transferred the Altar Table and relics from the church of Boris and Gleb in Chenghe.

Destruction of Russian cemeteries in Harbin has been accomplished in infringement of laws of the People's Republic of China, in particular articles 20 ("During confiscation and requisition of the ground the tombs and groves in cemeteries should be kept inviolable ") and 21 (" the well-known ancient monuments or monuments of culture of historical value should be carefully protected: Tsitany, temples, monasteries, churches and other public buildings, and also houses of landowners should not be destroyed"), of the Agrarian Reform Law of the People's Republic of China, and also articles 88 and 97 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. [122]

Pokrovsky temple has been transformed into a book warehouse, and Uspensky - into an amusement hall with concaved mirrors. Bell tower of Uspensky temple is crowned today with a five-pointed star. Not having any help from Russia, Orthodox in China defended their Church only with deep belief and passionate prayer.

At the end of the 1950s approach of "Cultural Revolution" was already felt everywhere. In the letter from January 29, 1958 Bishop Vasily wrote to Archbishop Victor:" We study two times in a week political correctness…". By this time about 70% of the Beijing employees have been transferred to agricultural works – this approach has touched also former inhabitants of Beiguan. Sometimes Bishop Vasily sent letters to Krasnodar to Archbishop Victor - they are today, perhaps, a unique and laconic source of data on Orthodoxy in the Beijing diocese in the beginning of the 1960s. From Shanghai on a regular basis only official congratulations were sent on Pascha and Christmas, addressed from Bishop Simeon to the Patriarch - and nothing else.

Immigration of the Russian population from Harbin and Tianjin proceeded. The Senior priest of Tianjin temple, Archpriest John Du, in January 1959 has appealed at once to several Russian bishops with the request to allow him to serve in one of dioceses of Russian Orthodox Church: " all parishioners have departed… and I do not know, what will be the future of a church life " [123].

Soon the Chinese authorities have suggested to all Russians who did not have citizenship of the People's Republic of China to leave the premises of the People's Republic of China. Due to new circumstances there were few Orthodox Chinese remaining. And even if such zealous priest-missionary as Archpriest John Du, a relative of Bishop Simeon, asked about a new place of service in Russia, it testified that the church life almost completely has stood still.

On February 26, 1960 Archpriest Nicholas Li informed Metropolitan Nicholas that Bishop Vasily is seriously sick. On February 14, 1960 Bishop Vasily began to show signs of abnormal behavior..."[124].

Before the commemoration day of the Chinese Martyrs, on June 23, 1961 his condition has sharply worsened - having fallen from the bed, he had broken his right hip.

Bishop Vasily has passed away on January 3, 1962. He has died of a stroke at 9 o'clock in the evening. He was dressed in hierarchical habits; he has been transferred to Uspensky temple where they served the first panikhida.

On January 5 Archpriest John Du arrived from Tianjin to Beijing and from Harbin - Archpriest Anikita Wang and Priest Grigory Zhu. They read the Gospel in turn at the coffin of the Bishop. Burial service for Bishop Vasily was conducted by Archpriest Nicholas Li with the arrived clergy. Also present were representatives of Central State Administration of Religious Affairs of the People's Republic of China. After the body was carried out from the temple, the coffin with the body of Bishop Vasily was transported by lorry to the cemetery behind Andingmen Gate, where in the temple of St Serafim of Sarov Archpriest Leonid Liu served the last memorial liturgy for Bishop Vasily. Bishop Vasily of Beijing was buried near the heads of 18th and 19th Missions - Metropolitan Innokenty of Beijing and Archbishop Simon of Beijing. In the same place the holy relics of the martyrs of the boxing revolt were resting. Archpriest Nikolai Li informed Moscow about the burial of last Beijing bishop only on June 30, 1962. [125]

From the day of repose of Bishop Vasily, he himself took the post of the head of the Beijing diocese. During the divine service after the name of the Patriarch they began to commemorate the name of Bishop Simeon. In the middle of 1964 the last temple in Beijing has been closed. It has been transformed into a warehouse. The church property was taken without the knowledge of the clergy to an unknown destination.

Archpriest Nicholas Li wrote that many inhabitants of Beiguan were seriously ill. Many have passed away - Archpriest Michael Min, nun Fiva, nun Olympiad and others… the Russian Orthodox Church at that time could not help the Church in China - because of an uneasy internal political situation in the USSR, and because of the extremely intense relationships between the USSR and the People's Republic of China.

In Harbin after departure to Australia of Archimandrite Filaret (Voznesensky) on February 23, 1962 the Kamchatka estate and the House of Mercy founded earlier by Bishop Nestor (Anisimov) have been closed. By the order of authorities during Christmas days the St Nicholas Cathedral has been closed. Divine service on holiday had to be conducted in Iversky chapel. In the Cathedral they again have allowed the services on a temple holiday, on May 19, 1963.

At the beginning of 1963 the Chinese authorities have forbidden the distribution of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate. By March 1963 in Harbin there were only two Russian priests left - archpriests Nicolas Starikov and Victor Chernyh.

On March 3, 1965 in Shanghai the last Chinese bishop - Bishop Simeon has passed away. After his repose the Shanghai cathedral was closed (today it houses a bank). There was even nobody to send to Moscow the notice of his death – parishioner from Harbin Svetlana Vshivkin informed of this loss in the letter to Archimandrite Yuvenaly [126].

On July 10, 1965 in Beijing rector of Harbin Transfiguration temple Archpriest Foty Huo has reposed. The only monastery in territory of the People's Republic of China in Harbin was closed on August 28,1965 with departure to USA of its last inhabitant, Abbess Ariadna.

On February 6, 1966 the last Russian priest who has left China - Archpriest Victor Chernyh informed Moscow from Hong Kong about the situation of Church in the People's Republic of China. He asked to be excluded from lists of bishops of the Chinese Orthodox Church and from the personnel of Harbin eparchial administration.

According to his message, in Harbin there were 4 priests left – Archpriest Anikita Wang, Archpriest Stefan Wu, Priest Grigory Zhu and Hieromonk Simon (Bai). The functioning churches were Iversk church and a church of a former female monastery. In Beijing there were left Archpriest Nicholas Li, Archpriest Leonid Liu, Father Alexander Du and Archpriest John Du. Priest Nicholas Duisin served in the Inner Mongolia, and in Three rivers (two churches there were still open) Priest Antony Huo served.

Today little is known about the destruction and closing of Orthodox churches in China. In detail is described by eyewitnesses only destruction of Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Harbin. On December 7, 1966 addressed to the most holy Patriarch Alexis from Pnompenh the letter from Russian emigrants - refugees from China, has been sent. In it there was a report about the destruction of the Cathedral.

On August 18, 1966 in the Saint Nicholas Cathedral a solemn all-night vigil was held. At the same time nearby to the Cathedral hongweibing organized a meeting during which the destiny of the Cathedral and other temples of Harbin were decided. The last Liturgy in the Cathedral was celebrated by Archpriest Stefan Wu on the next day, on the Feast of the Transfiguration. During service some young Chinese who spoke Russian entered the Cathedral. Calling themselves students of the Beijing Polytechnic Institute, they have asked for the permission to go to the choir where they have stood during the entire liturgy. Saying goodbye, they said, that they will return.

Destruction of the Cathedral has been arranged especially solemnly. In the city they had meetings and demonstrations. Within three days drumbeat did not cease.

In the morning on August 23 hongweibing of Harbin led by students, who were present previously at the Transfiguration liturgy in the Cathedral, with drumbeat, shouts and dancing have burst into the Cathedral. Parishioners who hastened to church have seen, that all fencing of the Cathedral is filled with hongweibing. Some of them climbed on the roof of the Cathedral to put red banners, others took out from the church sacred icons and church furnishings, throwing them in huge fires. On these fires all icons of the Cathedral, including a great relic of the city - the wonder-working image of Saint Nicholas, which earlier was at city station, have been burnt. Icons of Saints Aleksis and Iversk temples have been burnt also. During three days of icon burning, hongweibing randomly rung the bells of temples. In some parks and working clubs icons have been displayed for public desecration.

Disassembly of the roof and walls of the Cathedral began on August 24. First with the help of fire truck ladders they have disassembled the main dome and surrounding it roofs and domes. Then they have started with timbered walls which were immediately disassembled. On August 27, on the eve of Dormition, there was nothing left from the Cathedral except for the foundation. In its place a tall monument devoted to "Fighters of the Cultural Revolution" has been built. Now in a place of the Cathedral the square was built: flower beds, fountain, paths. Nothing reminds that earlier on this square there was a majestic Cathedral.

After closing of Holy Iversk temple the sewing workshop was arranged there. The St Sofia temple has been transformed into a working hostel. St Alekseevs temple was remodeled to a dining room and a grocery warehouse. In a male monastery in Gondatjevsk the factory for manufacturing boards from the pressed shaving was equipped. All temples on the railroad line have been closed already in 1958.

In days of disgraceful excesses of hongweibing the Orthodox clergy has suffered also. Priests were clothed in clown’s dressing gowns, their faces smeared with soot, hanged with posters with blasphemous inscriptions, gave crosses in their hands and in such attire led on streets. They were beaten; the crowd was reviling them, mocking the Orthodox relics.

Most of all has suffered Archpriest Stefan Wu, last rector of Saint Alekseevsk temple in Majiagou. Before his temple they have put a table covered with sharp rubble, and on rubble they have put Archpriest Stefan on his knees. They have dressed him in clown’s dressing gown, on his head they put up a cap, filled with metal shavings. His face was smeared with soot. During two days Father Stefan was beaten over the head with a wooden hammer, was beaten with steel sticks on shoulders, they spat on his cross, till, half-dead, he was taken to a prison hospital. They treated him lightly there and in the same prison they shot him. Remains of the new martyr are resting in Orthodox cemetery Sankeshu near Harbin. Archpriest Anikita Wang the head of Cathedral suffered less than others. He was not dressed in clown’s dressing gown, they have only hung the tablet on his back with an inscription "traitor" – and he was also taken around the city. He was not tortured - Archpriest Anikita has transferred church furnishing to authorities and was actively involved in destruction of the Cathedral [127].

After being subjected to people's mockeries other priests have been judged and have been sentenced to long punishments to forced labor in mines and stone quarries. Before the death of Mao Zedong in the People's Republic of China it was impossible to recollect openly Orthodoxy – in these years of "Cultural Revolution". The Church was kept in hearts of a few remaining Orthodox Christians. They could not serve divine services, but could pray. Orthodox Chinese, not having opportunities to openly glorify the name of God, kept in their hearts fidelity to Faith and Church.