On January 9, 2008 the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople redefined the boundaries of the Metropolis of Hong Kong (established in 1996), having included the People's Republic of China and a number of Southeast Asian nations in it. In that way they declared instituting a new eparchial structure on the territory of the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church.
On April 15th at the Holy Synod meeting on the matter, there was made a special announcement (see №20), the full text of which is published below.
The Holy Synod noted with a great pity, that the decision made on January 9th by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the reorganization of the Hong Kong Metropolis of the Church of Constantinople (by including in it the territory of the Chinese People's Republic) is an infringement on the rights of the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church. The decision was taken unilaterally, without the knowledge of Orthodox believers living in China.
Pastoral activity of the Russian Orthodox Church in China began in the 17th century, when a Russian priest Maxim Leontev came to Beijing. In 1713, the Russian Spiritual Mission in China was established.
Through the efforts of the Russian Orthodox missionaries, the Orthodox Faith penetrated into China. The loyal attitude of the Orthodox (being pious to Chinese authorities and traditions) caused a prolonged and peaceful existence of believers in the Chinese environment.
In 1902 according to the nomination by Holy Synod, the Chief of the 18th Spiritual Mission in Beijing Archimandrite Innokenty (Figurovsky) received a dignitary of bishop with the assignment of the name "Pereslavsky".
Creation of the Chinese Orthodox Church was strengthened by 222 Chinese Martyrs who died for their faith in 1900 and who were glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate on April 22, 1902 (decree №2874). And this creation proceeded in 1922 with the establishment of Beijing eparchy, including Shanghai and Tianjin (later Hankou) vicariates, and Harbin eparchy, that included Qiqihar and Hailar vicariates. In 1934 within Beijing eparchy was created the Xinjiang vicariate.
According to the resolution of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, passed on December 27, 1945, the integrated metropolitan district within the bounds of China and Korea was formed. It was lead by the Metropolitan of Harbin and East Asia.
By decree №664 of June 11, 1946 of His Holiness Alexy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the metropolitan district was transformed into the East Asian Exarchate (a district uniting Beijing, Harbin, Shanghai, Tianjin and Xinjiang eparchies). In 1954 the Holy Synod transferred the churches earlier belonging to the Russian Spiritual Mission to the Exarchate.
On November 23, 1956 the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church transferred all the Orthodox churches in China to the Chinese Orthodox Church, granting it autonomy with Moscow Patriarch's approval of Bishop Vasily as head. Implementation of the resolution was reflected on May 30, 1957 in Moscow, where consecration of Archimandrite Vasily as Bishop of Beijing took place.
But after the death of Bishop Vasily in 1962 and then of Bishop Simeon in 1965, the Chinese Orthodox Church lost pastoral care. Religious persecution during the Cultural Revolution made normal church life impossible.
The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in a statement made on February 17, 1997 noted, that as long as the Chinese Autonomous Church did not have its own head and pending the ability of the local council of the Chinese Orthodox Church in choosing its own head, the pastoral care, according to canon law, should be exercised by the chief of the Mother Church Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia.
The Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations was put in charge of solving practical questions regulating Orthodox life in China.
Today there are thousands of Orthodox believers in China. Most of them live in Beijing, Shanghai, Heilongjiang province, the Autonomous Regions of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. After a period of desolation we can now see the revival of the Orthodox Faith in China, the restoration of churches and some Chinese students studying in Orthodox seminaries in Russia.
The Russian Orthodox Church has for many years consistently sustained dialogues with government and religious groups of the Chinese People's Republic on the questions concerning normalization of the status of Orthodox believers.
For the good of the church, our God-bearing fathers also declared that the customs of each church should be preserved (Canons 39 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council). Contrary to this rule and the Acts of the Holy Apostles and other Holy Canons of the Church, and also contrary to historical evidence, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople decided to build upon another man's foundation (the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans), declaring mainland China to be within the jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Hong Kong.
The Russian Orthodox Church made great efforts to build dozens of Orthodox churches in China, to translate holy and liturgical books into Chinese, to bring up followers in Orthodox piety, faithful even to their death as witnesses of Jesus Christ. The longstanding spiritual connections between the Russian Orthodox Church and China now obliged the Holy Synod to protect the rights of believers in the Chinese Orthodox Church, that was weakened during the period of heavy persecution, and to declare that the decision of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to be unfair and canonically illegitimate, causing damage to the peace and stability of the Holy Churches of God.
April 15, 2008