Русский| October 13, 2009
English translation by Igor Radev

The Rebuilt Church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God has been Consecrated on the Premises of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the People's Republic of China

The Rite of the Grand Consecration of a church had been performed on October 13, 2009, on the eve of the Feast of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God by His Eminence, Bishop Mark (Golovkov) of Egorov and with the blessing of His Holiness, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia.

The building of the Holy Dormition church situated on the territory of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Beijing (which is in Beiguan — the Northern Premises) was erected with the blessing of the Head of the Eighteenth Mission, Bishop Innokenty (Figurovsky) of Beijing in 1903. Previously, a church dedicated to the Holy Dormition of the Mother of God used to exist at the northern portions of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Beijing on the spot where the first Orthodox church of St Nicholas built by the Albazinians (a group of Russians who made their home in Beiguan area at the north-eastern corner of Beijing in 1685) which later got destroyed during the earthquake of August 19, 1730.

The church that has been rebuilt was originally consecrated on August 15, 1732. Since the consecration coincided with the Feast Day of the Holy Wisdom (Sofia) of God, the church was consecrated in the name of the Dormition of the Mother of God (the Feast Day is celebrated on August 15, according to the Old Calendar, or August 28 according to the New). This church existed for 168 years and was destroyed together with the other buildings of the Russian Spiritual Mission in June of 1900, during the Yihetuan [Boxer] Uprising. In 1904, on the same location the Church of the Holy Martyrs was built, which in turn got razed in 1957. At the present time, on this historic location within the park of the Russian Embassy in the People's Republic of China, stands a marble Memorial Cross (erected on April 3, 2007).

The now reconstructed Holy Dormition Church was temporarily used to serve as a refectory church, since alongside it the church of the All Holy Martyrs was built, as well as other ecclesiastic facilities: the Saint Seraphim of Sarov Church at the Russian Cemetery in Andingmen area (nowadays Qingnianhu Park), the gate belfry of the Mission, the Red Fangzi was being adapted to serve as a Hierarchical Church dedicated to Saint Innokenty of Irkutsk. The Cathedral Church was planned to be built on the 300-year Jubilee of the House of Romanovs in 1913 at Mission's southern park (nowadays the city park of Nanguan), but this plan did not come to fruition.

The Dormition Church was characterized by a laconic construction, simplicity of assembly, unfussiness of forms and details, the absence of imposing decorations. All of this fitted well with the temporary character of the edifice, although as history has shown, it outlived the other architecturally more impressive church buildings of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Beijing. The use of unimposing artistic means testified to the need to create, above all, a stone house of prayer suited for the current needs, not awaiting the construction of churches in classical Orthodox architecture.

How the church actually looked, we can judge by the report of the Journal of the Brotherhood of the Orthodox Church in China (08. 08. 1904): "The church is comfortably big, it is marked by internal splendor, abundance of light, the beauty of the iconostasis with the fine-looking local icons of a size of a human, the favorable conditions for resounding reading and singing, and the most important — it has additional gates directly from the street, which opens the possibility to enter freely for anyone wanting to see its interior and to hear more closely the spiritual chanting, which in harmonious notes is spread all around the church thanks to the sonorous voices of the Chinese singers and the large choir."

In the church, such a holy object as the icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker was kept, which had been brought from Russia by the Albazinians in 1685, and there were also the icons of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki and Saint Panteleimon the Healer. The subsequent fate of these icons after 1956 isn't known.

During the period of half a century the Dormition Church and the other churches of the Mission served as places of spiritual nourishment for the Orthodox faithful, including both Chinese and Russians living permanently in Beijing or being on a temporary stay. In 1954, a decision was taken to close the Russian Spiritual Mission, and in May 1956, the entire Russian clergy, headed by the Archbishop Victor (Svyatin) of Beijing, returned to Russia. On the territory of China, subsequently the Autonomous Chinese Orthodox Church was established, which was headed by Bishop Vasily (Shuang) of Beijing, and the land of the Mission in Beijing got handed over by the Chinese government to the USSR to serve as place of its embassy. Soon, on the territory of the Mission, construction works were started to build the facilities of the Soviet Embassy. During the construction process, many ecclesiastical objects were destroyed, including a number of churches. Thus, the Church of All the Martyrs was barbarically razed. In 1957, the edifice of the Dormition Church was turned into a garage for the Embassy. For that purpose, they removed the onion dome from the roof, and on the eastern side of the former church, in the altar area, two large openings were made to serve as entries into the garage. Furthermore, a second floor was constructed onto the church building to be used for staff lodgings, and on its southern side a large annex was constructed to park buses. The Saint Innokenty of Irkutsk Church started to be used as a reception hall for official meetings.

After 40 years of discontinuity, finally, due to the efforts of Fr. Dionisy Pozdnyaev and the support of the Ambassador I. A. Ragachev, on the territory of the Russian Embassy in the People's Republic of China the practice of celebrating regular Orthodox Services in Beijing was renewed. The Divine Services were held in the Saint Innokenty Church which has enough space to welcome around 300 faithful (as usually happens on the Nativity of Christ and Pascha). In 2002, the Orthodox faithful living in the Chinese capital formed an initiative group for the reconstruction of the Dormition Church. Their appeal to the External Church Department of the Moscow Patriarchate received support. Thanks to the joint efforts of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, a decision was made to rebuild the Dormition Church. Special attention to the reconstruction of the Dormition Church was given by the president of Russia V. V. Putin, who on the request of His Holiness, Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and all of Russia, on many occasions raised this question during talks with his Chinese colleagues. After an agreement was reached with the Chinese side, the work started on the reconstruction of the Church of the Holy Dormition of Mother of God situated on the premises of the Russian Embassy.

The preliminary project for the rebuilding of the Dormition Church on the territory of the Russian Embassy in China was completed in 2005 in the bureau of the architect A. R. Voroncov. The authors of the project for the reconstruction of the church-museum in Beijing took as a base the structure of the original Dormition Church building. In addition, they've taken into account the fact that the church was built as a temporary edifice according to a simplified blueprint. For example, there wasn't an apse — the altar conch, and other elements of church architecture were also lacking. Therefore, the architects were faced not only with the problem of restoring the form of the original church, but to rebuild it in light of the contemporary needs of church architecture.

The basic works containing the engineering, reconstruction and the building of the church were done by the creative architectural workshop "DABOR", headed by D. A. Borunov. The workshop made the design, prepared and erected the dome, the cross, the iconostasis, as well as the other elements important for an Orthodox church. The designers in the course of their work didn't attempt to repeat the historical shape, but tried on the basis of it to create a new church edifice, while still keeping the symbolism, tradition and the canons of church-building.

The elementary construction work was done by the Chinese contractors of the technical group OAO "V/O Stroymaterialintorg", which has a huge experience in reconstructing architectural monuments, including among them Orthodox church edifices in New York, Vienna, Belgrade and other cities all around the world.

The immediate reconstruction work on the object was started in June 2008 (under the guidance of A. A. Lyutin). The production process, which also included some pauses, continued until June, 2009. A new altar conch was built, the tambour for the dome, the flat ceiling was replaced by rounded vaulting and the span-roof was plated with copper. Certain works were done by employing granite tiles, ceramogranite and ceramic tiles. The most important stage of the building process was the erection of the gilded dome upon the roof and the montage of the cross on the top. The restored edifice is 36.4 meters long and 10 meters wide. The height of the church together with the cross is 18.5 meters. According to the plan, the church itself contains a surface of around 90 square meters and the narthex — 26.5 square meters. On the second floor accommodation was made for the museum of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Beijing and the library of the Orthodox community belonging to the Dormition church.

On the eve of Pascha, April 19, 2009, the iconostasis which has been built in Russia was assembled. On the wings of the Royal Doors, there are the icons of the Most Holy Mother of God and Archangel Gabriel depicting the Annunciation surrounded by the Evangelists. On the right side from the Royal doors stands the Image of the Savior - "Not Made by Hands", and on the left side — the Image of the Most Holy Mother of God — the Abbess of Mount Athos. On the Deacons' Doors Sts Stephen and Laurence are represented. On the right side from the south Deacons' Doors there is the patron icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God. On the right side of this icon stand the icons of Sts Innokenty of Irkutsk and John of Shanghai, whose fate was closely linked with China. Left of the north Deacons' Doors on the iconostasis stands the icon of All the Saints of the Russian Lands. Alongside it there is an icon of the Holy Martyrs Elisabeth and Barbara, whose remains together with the other Alapaevsk Martyrs were brought from Russia to Beijing in April, 1920. Later, the relics of the Martyrs Elisabeth and Barbara were transferred to Jerusalem, while the bodies of the remaining Martyrs still lie in China.

Above the Royal Doors, there is an icon of the Last Supper. At the center of the Deisis composition stands the Image of the Savior among the Powers. On the left and right side of it, there are the icons of the impending Most Holy Mother of God and Saint John the Forerunner supplicating Christ. The iconostasis is crowned with a Crucifix. This iconostasis fits very well within the structure of the church's interior together with all the other icons. The splendid three-level chandelier, which was brought from Russia, and the gilded lamps on the walls are also in harmony with the interior of the church, creating an appropriate atmosphere for celebrating the Divine Services.

The funds needed to construct and install the church's Holy Table were raised by the Orthodox faithful in Russia, China, Ukraine, USA, Grand Britain, France and Estonia. At the foundation of the Holy Table, which was made by Chinese artisans using the best sorts of marble from Sichuan province, the relics of the Holy Martyr John (Pommer) of Riga were laid. The belfry of the Dormition Church contains six bells weighing from 14 to 210 kilograms. They were made in 2008, by the specialists of the "Society of Old Russian Musical Culture — the Plant of I. A. Lihachev — Moscow Bell Enterprise". The adjoining area of the Dormition Church has been beautifully laid out: a pavement was spread, fountain was also built, benches were put, flowers and trees got planted. What previously was unimposing corner of the Embassy used for different everyday necessities, now it turned into a well kept place for rest in the middle of which stands an Orthodox church-museum dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God, a visible monument to the struggle of many generations of laborers in the Russian Spiritual Mission in China.

The reconstructed church dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God creates new favorable conditions for the activities of the Orthodox community in Beijing, which includes not only Russian citizens but also Orthodox faithful from many other countries.

The Dormition Church is the only working Orthodox church in the Chinese capital. In the second Orthodox church situated on the premises of the Russian Embassy (the church of Saint Innokenty of Irkutsk, the "Red Fangzi"), following the opening of the Dormition Church, a renovation will begin. The Holy Relics belonging to the Orthodox community in Beijing — icons with particles from the Relics of Saint John of Shanghai, Saint Innokenty of Irkutsk, Saint Gury of Tauris and the Holy Martyr Lyudmila were transferred to the Dormition Church and will be available for veneration during the Divine Services.