On September 21, after a prolonged illness, priest Gregory Zhu, the caretaker of the Holy Protection parish of the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church, died. Father Gregory used to serve at the Holy Protection church from the time of its reopening in 1986. Thus, he was the only Orthodox cleric who celebrated divine services in the People's Republic of China.
The parishioners of the Holy Protection church addressed the Religious Affairs Bureau of Heilongjiang province with a plea to be allowed to invite Fr Dionisy Pozdnyaev, a representative of the External Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, who at that time was on a service tour in Beijing, to perform the funeral rite for the newly reposed priest. But there wasn't a positive response on the side of the Chinese authorities, and so Fr Gregory was buried with a lay funeral service in the Russian cemetery of Harbin on September 23.
On September 27th a representative of the Religious Affairs Bureau of Harbin city made a visit to the Holy Protection parish, during which he discussed with the parishioners the future of the church. The parishioners of the Holy Protection church (both Chinese and Russian nationals) expressed hope that the Chinese authorities will find solution for the question of pastoral care for the Orthodox residents of Harbin.
Of course, it is important that such a solution is needed which would correspond to the spirit and the letter of the Chinese legislature that guarantees in the area of religious policy keeping of the principles of freedom of conscience, noninterference of secular authorities into the affairs of the Church, safeguarding the religious freedoms of both Chinese and foreign nationals on the territory of the People's Republic of China, and at the same time watching over the independence of Chinese religious organizations and their protection from foreign interference.
One way of resolving the problem is by allowing priests of the Russian Orthodox Church to perform services on invitation by the parishioners of the Holy Protection parish according to the laws of the People's Republic of China. The Russian Orthodox Church, which granted autonomous status to the Chinese Orthodox Church in 1957 and transferred to it all of its property on the territory of PRC, stands for keeping the status of autonomy of the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church and it does not intend to meddle with the religious affairs of China.