On June 24, 2012, the day when Orthodox Christians in China celebrate the memory of two hundred twenty-two Chinese martyrs who suffered for Christ in 1900, Metropolitan Hilarion, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of Moscow Patriarchate, celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Holy Protection Church in Harbin City. Archbishop Hilarion was in China on an official visit with the blessing of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and at the invitation of China's State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA).
This is the first Hierarchical Liturgy in Holy Protection Church in the last half century. Since 2001, when the priest Gregory Zhu, rector of the church, died, Divine Liturgy was celebrated only once in this historic Russian church - on Pascha of 2010.
Metropolitan Hilarion concelebrated with Archpriest Alexy Kiselevich, the rector of the Orthodox community in Shanghai. Also helping at the service, Vasily Wu and Alexander Yu, members of the Chinese Orthodox community in Harbin, who, pursuant to the memorandum signed between the Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations under the President of the Russian Federation and China's State Administration for Religious Affairs in September will begin attending classes at the theological schools of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The service gathered about sixty Orthodox compatriots, permanently or temporarily residing in Harbin, many of whom partook of Holy Communion.
The church was also attended by Ms Xiao Hong, Deputy Director of International Relations of SARA, Mr. Hao Zhuyan, deputy head of the first division of the Fourth Department of SARA, M. Kushnarenko, Chairman of the Russian Club in Harbin, and Russian diplomats - A.P. Povalyaev, first secretary of the Russian Embassy in China and D. Ganzhurov, vice-consul of the Consulate General of Russia in Shenyang.
After the service, Metropolitan Hilarion addressed the audience with a short sermon:
"With great inner excitement and trepidation, I stepped over the threshold of this holy temple. In 2009 I visited the Church of the Holy Protection in Harbin, and back then it was not possible to hold a worship service. On Pascha of 2010, I sent you a priest, and for the first time in ten years since the death of the last clergyman Father Gregory Zhu, who served here, Pascha service was celebrated in the church. The current service - is the second in 12 years.
On this day the Orthodox Church in China commemorates the 222 Chinese martyrs who suffered in 1900 and are now glorified as locally venerated saints of the Orthodox Church of China. We know that the early Christian church was built on the graves of the martyrs, and the ancient Christian writer said that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity. Perhaps it is no coincidence that after the holy Chinese martyrs suffered, the Orthodox Church in China began to grow and multiply.
Of course, the increase in the number of Orthodox Christians in China and the growth of the Chinese Orthodox Church helped the Russian emigration after World War I and after the 1917 revolution. Harbin became the main center of this emigration. And today in Harbin there are temples - including the St. Sophia Cathedral and this Holy Protection church - that remind us of the glorious history of Orthodoxy in China, at the time when more than one hundred Orthodox churches stood across the country, and hundreds of thousands of people prayed in them.
History has developed in such a way that in the second half of the twentieth century, most of the Orthodox faithful had left China. Many temples were destroyed, but some did survive. And most importantly - a "small flock" was left that in spite of different historical circumstances, in spite of all difficulties and obstacles, has retained the Orthodox Faith carrying it through these difficult years.
Today Orthodoxy is reviving in China, albeit not as rapidly as we would like. Several tens of thousands of people of different nationalities, professing the Orthodox Faith, temporarily or permanently reside in different cities in China. Several churches, including St. Sophia Cathedral in Harbin, are restored, and in some churches they are already celebrating divine services, even if not regularly.
You are the "little flock" to whom the Lord Himself addressed with the words: "Fear not, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Thanks to your strong faith, your patience, Orthodoxy is established on Chinese soil. With your diligence, this historic Holy Protection temple is maintained in Harbin. For many years there is no priest here, and you come here on Sundays in small groups, to offer prayers to the Lord. We are working to bring a priest here; so that once again the Divine services would reverberate in this temple and church sacraments would be administered. I firmly believe that this day will come.
Until then, until it comes, I beg you, continue as before, to come to this holy temple, whenever possible, uphold its wall by your prayers, and in a difficult moment in your life it will support you. Pray for the intercession of all the saints in the lands of Russia and China, to help us work together to revive the Orthodox Church in China. I promise you that from our side we will do our utmost to ensure that the Orthodox Faith in China would grow and strengthened.
As you know, the first Orthodox Church in Harbin was dedicated to the memory of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. Although the original temple was destroyed, there is a copy near Harbin, a layout of this temple out of earth and flowers can be seen today on the city streets. Orthodox believers always especially venerated Saint Nicholas, because this saint, who answers in special ways our prayers and helps us in our affairs. As a memorabilia of the first, but hopefully not my last, service in the Church of the Holy Protection, I would like to present the image of St. Nicholas for the temple, as well as to give a set of books to the church library with the wish that all of you would study the Orthodox Faith and deepen your knowledge in Orthodox theology.
Diligently keep the Faith! Pray that wherever there are Orthodox Christians in China, to have regular worship, and administer church sacraments. Help maintain this holy temple, and let the blessing of God be on all of you, over your families and your loved ones. May the Lord God protect you all! "
All the worshipers during the service each received an icon of the Savior as a blessing.
On behalf of the Orthodox community in Harbin the warden of the Holy Protection Church presented a commemorative gift to Metropolitan Hilarion. Representatives of the Russian Club in Harbin gave the DECR Chairman an artistic rendering of St. Sophia Cathedral of Harbin and a welcoming address.
Imparting his Archpastoral blessing to all the assembled, Metropolitan Hilarion and members of the Russian delegation left for the airport in Harbin, where in their honor has been arranged a farewell dinner. The dinner was attended by Mr. Zhang Kaifeng, Deputy Chief of the Office of Religious and Ethnic Affairs of Heilongjiang Province, Mr. Yang Haixin, head of the Office of Religious and Ethnic Affairs of city of Harbin, Ms Xiao Hong , Deputy Director of International Relations of SARA, Mr Hao Zhuyan, deputy head of the first division of the Fourth Department of SARA and Russian diplomats.
After the event, Metropolitan Hilarion and his delegation flew to Moscow.
On the trip to China, which was held with the support of the Foundation of St. Gregory the Theologian, the DECR chairman was accompanied by D.I. Petrovsky, member of Department for External Church Relations of Moscow Patriarchate, L.M. Sevastyanov, executive director of St. Gregory the Theologian Foundation and Subdeacon A.A. Yershov.