St Innokenty of Irkutsk
Church in Three-Rivers
The beginning of this history can be attributed to September, 2000. For destinies of Orthodoxy in China this time had, apparently, special value - on September 21 the priest-in-charge of Holy Pokrov temple of city of Harbin Father Gregory Zhu, the only Orthodox priest officially serving at that time in China, reposed in Harbin. The Orthodox Church in the Middle Kingdom was orphaned. Unfortunately, I did not manage to be present during burial of Father Gregory - on September 18, three days prior to his death; I have left Harbin for Beijing. Concerning the repose of Father Gregory I was informed only on September 25, already after his burial. Local authorities for not quite clear reasons were not inclined to grant my participation at the burial of Father Gregory.
At times, because of human frailty, we feel that in this world death reigns, but, according to the Canon of Great Saturday, she is "not eternal for human ". Especially she has no authority above the Church. And here, all subsequent succession of events has once again forced me to believe that Lord's Wisdom and His Judgment are unknown to us - they always assert a celebration of life beyond death and keep the Church in our world even then when she, apparently, is ready to disappear.
On September 18, one of our parishioners of Harbin's only Orthodox temple, Valentina Han, has told to me, that the last summer a certain Russian professor from California has found in China one more Orthodox community - in Hailar region. Till that time Orthodox communities as it was known, existed only in Beijing, Harbin and Urumqi. I have recollected, that one of my acquaintances about three years ago from Jerusalem wrote to me about the Russian professor from California, born in China, who was the founder of medical "Eye Mission". On affairs of this mission he quite often was in China and knew all Beijing Orthodox Albazins. I already then wanted to get acquainted with this professor, but, evidently, time has not come yet.
I have returned to Moscow and was upset in spirit owing to death of Father Gregory and an ambiguity of the further destinies of Orthodoxy in China. And once, in the grey November day, there was a phone call, which I now would call destiny. Nikolas Ivanovich Derzhavin called, the referent of the most holy Patriarch Alexy: "I have a guest, relative, staying with me from California, Paul Andreevich Suslov. He comes from China, and would very much like to meet you". Certainly, I was ready for a meeting with any person, desiring to speak about Orthodoxy in China. However some imperceptible feeling told me, that this meeting should become special. Having agreed about time of a meeting, we have said goodbye.
Some days later in a house of Nikolas Ivanovich Derzhavin we got acquainted with Paul Andreevich Suslov - that same Californian professor-physician about whom they wrote to me from Jerusalem and about whom Valentina Han told me in Harbin. Paul Andreevich has made unique discovery - in steppes of the Inner Mongolia, in area which Russian traditionally named the Three Rivers settlement, he has found an Orthodox community about which nobody knew anything. As he said, about 8,000 Orthodox Christians lived in Three Rivers without any priestly supervision for about 40 years - and they had kept their faith.
Moreover, they did achieve the sanction of the Chinese authorities to build an Orthodox temple. Paul Andreevich was, perhaps, the first witness of this miracle of our time.
Certainly, to the Orthodox world, and especially to those interested in history of Orthodoxy in China, it was known, that the Three Rivers settlement — was traditionally Russian area in China. Russian began to settle in this area more than hundred years ago. The first settlers were priargunskie cossacks, after civil war the rests of broken armies of Kolchak, Semenov and Ungern found refuge here. During collectivization from Transbaikal in Three Rivers transbaikalian peasants came. The center of settlements was Dragotsenka, around were villages of Karavannaja, High-Kuli, settlement of Popiraj... There is a known Soviet-Chinese confrontation in Three Rivers settlement in 1929 when the Soviet armies have invaded this area because of the conflict with KVZhD. In those days many Russian were lost, - including from hands of their compatriots. It was known about destruction of temples in 1966-1967, about departure of Russian refugees to Australia and the USSR. But there were no data that the Orthodox faith in Three Rivers settlement was kept and today - nobody spoke about it and, perhaps, did not know neither in Russian Embassy in Beijing, nor in General Consulate in Shenyang.
After a meeting with Paul Andreevich I have asked Metropolitan Kirill for a blessing to connect my earlier planned trip for December to Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude and Chita to the trip in Three Rivers settlement. Despite his business, the metropolitan has very quickly read through my official report and with his blessing I have gone to Three Rivers settlement.
And there I was on a way to this far and still unknown to me region. There are advantages in travelling by train. When you reach a destination by plane, you have no time to get used to change of time and climatic belts, - it is necessary, having passed all borders and, losing all transitions, suddenly to appear in the center of the country.
Travel by train allows one to get used to the country, to look narrowly at how she changes from borders to the center. I reached up Three Rivers by train from Chita (the airport nearest to Three Rivers is in Hailar, which is possible to reach daily from Beijing, or two-three times a week from Hohhot).
December Chita has met me with the dark blue Transbaikalian dawn which has been exposed to frost by station platform, restored for the 100-anniversary of the Transbaikalian Railway, and straight columns of smoke from chimneys of neighboring to station homes. By Transbaikalian measures it was not too cold - a minus 30. " Nowadays is not like before ", - local residents complained about the global warming of the climate which has touched also Transbaikalian winters. " Earlier, it was all under 40 degrees in the winter! "
Not to waste time, I have immediately bought the ticket at the station for an evening daily train to the border station Zabaikalsk. In Chita between trains I have had time to meet with priest Serge Taratuhin who has specially arrived from Krasnokamensk-; the nearest to Three Rivers Russian city. Father Serge has told, that many of inhabitants of Three Rivers have relatives in Transbaikalsk, including in Krasnokamensk. Sometimes they visit a local temple. "You will see authentic Russian people, like they should be - hardworking and affable, open and God fearing. They have not been spoiled by decades of the Soviet authority; have not been disaccustomed from peasants work. And the "Cultural Revolution" has not disaccustomed them from belief in God ". In Zabaikalsk, collapsing (as it seems to the traveler at first sight) the east-Asian fortress of Russia, these words sounded in a special way. Later they were recollected to me many times in China when I compared a life of Russian on both sides of the border.
Evening. The train # 650 with romantic name "Dauriya" takes me away from Chita to Zabaikalsk, to the Russian-Chinese border. Measured and slow knock of wheels, behind the window - the hills covered with forest. The first impression from a train is unexpected - I can not understand, among passengers are there more, Russian or Chinese. The woman escort tells us, that there are approximately fifty-fifty, however Chinese travel in compartment cars, and Russian - in reserved seats. My neighbor in compartment is Chinese 23 years, from the frontier city of Manzhouli. He tells, that in China there are a lot of unemployed, they do not pay the salary for a long time. In last months factory workers many times have blocked train tracks and demanded to give out the detained salary. Who can tries to earn in trade with Russia. Unexpectedly we learn that we have mutual acquaintances among the Moscow Chinese. My fellow traveler hospitably treats me and during a meal tries to find out, where is it possible to get a jasper, a palladium and a jet kabargi(?) and how much it will cost. Unfortunately, I can not help him... He complains that trade in the Chinese clothes in the Chita market goes badly - people grow poor, and the militia takes more and more large bribes.
Slowly our conversation turns to religious themes. My fellow traveler scolds "Falungong" and Americans, and also tells what he likes in Orthodox temples (especially church singing and beauty of divine service). According to his impressions, in China quickly grows influence of Protestant confessions - however, it is no news anymore.
On the morning of December 13th, we approach Zabaikalsk. At one and a half hour driving to Zabaikalsk—there is long wait at station Borzja (from here the railway has a branch to Mongolia, to the city of Choybalsan). The landscape behind windows has changed; there is almost snowless steppe, surrounded by hills. The deep dark blue sky, dry grass, chestnut colored in beams of a rising sun and boundless open spaces - and not even one tree.
One recollects the ancient Russian song "On wild steppes of Transbaikalia" and also Chingishan's cavalry - steppes cast different historical associations, and also subconscious readiness for long resettlements with high speed. At Zabaikalsk station I was met by the representative of a travel company "Satellite" - I was not familiar with order of border crossing in this city, and my friends from Chita have promised to help. Near to automobile check point of Zabaikalsk there are unsightly offices of local travel companies, where small groups are forming (basically of shuttles-dealers), and sending them on minibuses to the neighboring Manzhouli.
Distance between Transbaikalia and Manzhouli - about 10 kilometers, so on foot, especially in the winter, with winds and intensely cold weather you will not reach the destination, and it is not accepted to walk across the border — one is expected to cross by motor transport. I join a group of six women — we go to Manzhouli for Chinese goods. With sounds of a waltz ?On hills of Manzhouli " we approach the border. The first impression is unexpected - all border complexes have the Chinese appearance. We find out that they were constructed by Chinese workers - even signboards "enter" and "exit" on doors of customs house were executed by that characteristic font which is used by Chinese for Russian-speaking inscriptions. So a traveler leaving Russia to China already on Russian check point feels breath of China, and the traveler driving to Russia from China, is under impression from this great country even behind its limits. Customs and border formalities do not take a lot of time, and in 15 minutes on our small minibus-mercedes on fine road (in difference, alas, from bad Transbaikalian) we cross a neutral strip and we find ourselves on the Chinese side of border.
The Chinese frontier guard studies long my service passport. For some reason his greatest interest is the Israeli visa in the passport. "What is that country?" — He asks in Chinese. I answer him in English, that it is the Israeli visa. "The purpose of your visit?" - "Service", - I answer it in English on his Chinese question. "What is your profession?" - "A priest". My answer, apparently, is not clear to him. As all documents are in the order, he puts in the passport a stamp allowing the entrance to People's Republic of China.
The Chinese customs house. I go through a green corridor because there is nothing to declare. However the attentive customs officer stops me and suggests that I show contents of my luggage. Well, it is understandable, that when one sees a priest on this border — it is quite an unusual fact.
Our conversation was in Russian: "Basically here are books and my personal things ", - "Show your books". I tell the customs officer: "They all are in Russian ", - "That is all right, I understand. I studied in the Moscow State University ". He looks through the Gospel, Canons, Horologion, the collection of V. Lossky articles, "History of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Korea", "Orthodoxy in China", "Lives and legend of the Chinese Holy Martyrs ", two issues of "Chinese Good News" magazine. The customs officer suggests to proceed to a special office - he wants to familiarize himself with the content of my books in more detail. To me his desire is clear - China is concerned with illegal religious activity of "Falungong" sect, Vatican activity and the Korean Protestants, authorities at all levels actively trying to understand, what is a cult, and what — false religious teaching. Three customs officers are thumbing closely through my books (only one of them speaks Russian). "You know Chinese history well?", - " No, only a little ". The chief of customs house through the translator asks: "Do you have among your books some in which there are opinions which do not coincide with a policy of the Government of People's Republic of China?" - "Definitely, not. I respect and observe the Chinese laws".
It takes half an hour to study of my books. They talk about sect "Falungong". "What does the word 'martyr' means?" - "The same, as saint". Customs officers, having conferred, give me a verdict: "you can take away all your books, except 'Chinese Good News' magazine "in which it is written about martyrs of 'Yihetuan' revolt." To my question "why?" the customs officer answers severely, that "in this magazine it is written positively about people who too couragely acted against anti-imperialist movement in China". "But in fact these people did not struggle against the Chinese communism!" — "In China the communism was always present". So was my knowledge of the Chinese history shamed.
I do not try to argue, I suggest only to read closely the magazine which I leave at Manzhouli customs house. Saying goodbye, I advise, that if they do not consider us enemies, in cases when they detain for the whole hour at customs house to offer tea. Russian in fact consider Chinese hospitable and friendly (not speaking about "a rate on development of strategic partnership", proclaimed by our governments). The chief of customs house "loses face" — but the management still will praise the vigilant worker for prevention of ideological diversion, moreover with presentation of material evidences.
Analyzing what happened (this entire story), I came to a conclusion that the customs officer, first of all, has paid attention to a color icon of Chinese Holy Martyrs in magazine. Not so long ago Beijing "has exchanged courtesies" with Vatican on the occasion of canonization of 120 Chinese Catholic saints. Someone from officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China declared on that occasion, that even today if such revolt would be repeated, actions of "Yihetuan" (killing of martyrs) would be recognized as the worthy civil action of true sons of the Native land.
Difficulties in the customs house are behind us. We come to the territory of the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia. After several kilometers - the city of Manzhouli, on the entrance we see an inscription in Russian: "Do not ring in the city!". It, apparently, is an interdiction to signals (rings) of car transport - recently in China the increasing attention is given to questions of safety and about orderly movement on roads. The big amazement is caused by the view of bicyclists dexterously sliding on winter roads.
Manzhouli—is a small city, and soon we approach the bus station, where I say goodbye to my fellow travelers and where I wish them successful shopping - they have very sympathetically considered my adventures at customs house and patiently waited for me for the whole hour.
In Manzhouli once on the Metochion of the Beijing Mission which were settled down in a beautiful stone cathedral, Bishop Jonah of Hankou known for his highly spiritual life, his gift of insight and his great charitable work. Many believe he is a saint. In the mid 1990s in a place of the blown up cathedral, in fenced yard of which Bishop Jonah was buried— they were conducting excavation - trying to find the relics of the prelate, however unsuccessfully. And today in Manzhouli there live some Orthodox families, descendants of Russian refugees.
Small bus station - a lunch break (as everywhere and always in China - at 11:30). People wait peacefully for opening of cashier and departure of buses - nobody pays any special attention to me. I buy the ticket to Hailar, and at 12:30 our bus is departing to Hailar. From Manzhouli to Hailar it is possible to go also by train, 186 kilometers on KVZhD- It is, perhaps, more romantical. However all convenient trains leave before 12 o'clock, so in this case the bus appears to be more comprehensible way of movement.
China - the country ordered and organized, therefore in the bus everyone settle down strictly according to numbering of the sitting places specified in the ticket (its cost, by the way is 25 yuans - about 80 roubles). The road from Manzhouli up to Hailar takes approximately three and a half hours in the winter, the bus goes with average speed of 65 kilometers in one hour. Each kilometer of asphalted road is accurately marked by columns with the sign of distance (it seems, up to Harbin). During this trip I have time to phone to all my acquaintances in Beijing and Harbin, and also to doze a little. Landscapes differ little from Transbaikal. Only one difference - on steppes wander shaggy cows and efficiently chew a red dry grass (blissfully there is almost no snow). Mongols for the winter do not put cattle in stalls and do not reserve hay. From time to time we pass by Mongolian nomad tents. The population in small towns on the road is basically Chinese, in steppe - Mongolian (as it was found out, one distinguish Mongols as "long robbed" and "short robbed". Some of them are settled, others - nomadic).
We approach Hailar, administrative centre of Hulunbuir ajmaka Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia. Today Hailar - small, by Chinese measures, the city, population of which is about 200 thousand persons. Once this city has given safe haven and protection to thousand refugees from Russia, enveloped by revolution and civil war. Here lived traditionally many Tatars so in city there were both mosques, and Orthodox temples. The parishes in Hailar were part of Harbin diocese, in Harbin even lived ruling bishop with a title of "Bishop of Hailar" (the last bishop with the same title was Archbishop Dimitry (Voznesensky) who left soon after revolution in 1949 to Russia and has reposed in retirement in Petersburg). Today Hailar does not remind by almost anything that it is beholden for its appearance to construction KVZhD and Russian influence in Manzhouli. In city center it is possible to see small public garden in which there is a monument to the Soviet soldiers who liberated Hailar from Japanese during the Second World War. Pay attention that almost all signboards are bilingual — written in - Mongolian, with Uyghur letters and in - Chinese. In general authorities, try to emphasize their special care of preservation of culture, language and Mongolian life, living in China.
In Hailar in bus station I meet Alexander - the student from Jinan, always coming to Beijing be an altar boy during services in the Russian Embassy. And now Alexander who is interested in history of Orthodoxy in China, has found time to visit Three Rivers settlement.
We meet with Vera - Orthodox Mongolian, living in Hailar. For Alexander arrival from warm Shandong to Hailar — is real ordeal. In Hailar it is cold. We slide on a skating rink of sidewalks in the direction of local hotel ?Friendship ?(by the way, amazing with very high level of service, cleanliness and absolutely ridiculous prices - about 15 dollars for a day). In the evening Vera acquaints us with several Orthodox families from Hailar. In Hailar now live about such 30 families - descendants of mixed marriages between Russian, Mongols and Daurami. The senior generation still speaks Russian, though they recollect, that in the years of "a great cultural revolution" it was necessary to forget about Russian language. Complain that there is no temple, there is no place to pray, and there is nobody to baptize the children. We shall hope that if Orthodox from Hailar will turn to local authorities, they will help them to solve problems of the organization of their spiritual life, especially in view of that yet not so a long ago in Hailar there was two Orthodox temples, one of them even out of stone.
We have supper in hotel. To the features distinguishing Hailar from other Chinese cities, it is possible to attribute that local residents willingly fry potatoes and do it more likely in Russian style, than in - Chinese. Once Russian population of Three Rivers defined development of this area, especially in the field of agriculture. Here they have learned to raise potatoes, wheat, raps and other cultures.
By morning of the next day we are going to Three Rivers settlement. Vera decided to accompany us and has agreed with the familiar driver, who promised to take us to city of Labdarin - administrative centre of Pravoargunskogo somona (it also is Three Rivers settlement) Hulunbuir ajmaka - for 200 yuan (about 650 rubles). It would be possible to reach it by bus, it departs several times a day, - but we are in a hurry 127 kilometers between Hailar and Labdarin we make in 2 hours. On road I recollect everything that I read about Three Rivers settlement.
"Area of three rivers, or Three Rivers settlement (so is named territory of pools inflows of rivers Argun - Ghana, Derbula and Haula), has an area of approximately of 11,500 sq. km. These places were for long time visited by people from Zzabajkalts which brought here the herds and horses to graze, they stockpiled hay, hunted, and sometimes plowed fertile virgin lands. Separate Russian farm in Three Rivers settlement have appeared quite long time ago. Till now one can find here log huts of settlers of years 1895-1900. To this time approximately one can relate the appearance of Russian village Top Tuluntuj" (Anuchin V.A.-Geographical sketches of Manzhouli. Moscow. 1948. page 178) the Same author informs, that in 1944 in Three Rivers settlement lived about 8,000 person that made about 80% from the general number of local population.
"The Population of each of villages is usually not large, in medium-sized village - there are no more than 40-50 court yards, and the largest settlement, center of Three Rivers - Dragotsenka - has about 100 court yards with the general number of inhabitants of approximately 600-700 persons " (Ibid. page 179). Up until the "Great Cultural Revolution" in Three Rivers settlement there were operating 18 temples and one monastery, Orthodox Christian population reached 28,000 persons (by the maximum estimations), there had nine Russian working schools. What remained now? Who and how now lives here?
We approach to Labdarin. At entrance to this tiny small town (in it live about 30,000 persons), on one of the main streets of city, in a prominent place there is a new big temple. Its unexpected occurrence in the Mongolian steppe creates impression of deserted mirages, but as I approach the temple I understand, that it is a reality. The dark blue sky, red walls of a temple, a green dome - the sated paints force to believe, that it is a temple - not a mirage. But inside the temple is absolutely empty - walls blind eyes with fresh whitewashing, in one corner woods are not removed yet. On a bell tower there are no bells.
We are met by the parish treasurer Michael - one of those under which initiative the temple has been constructed. Michael confirms Paul Andreevich Suslov's data according to which now in Three Rivers settlement there live 8,000 descendants of Russian out of total number of the population of 90,000 persons. All of them consider themselves Orthodox by faith, but only the senior generation was baptized - about 2,500 persons.
The older speak Russian, but their children and grandchildren - basically - Chinese though many understand Russian. There are settlements of Orthodox Tungus and Yakuts. In general the local Russian population is dispersed on 7-8 villages. There exists in Three Rivers settlement a Russian national district with an administrative centre in village Karavannaja (settlement. Enhe).
Michael tells us that in the early 1990s one of local Russian inhabitants, the present head of the Gennady, worked in National Government of Labdarin as the chief of a department of nationalities and cults and then, holding this post, could achieve the sanction to construction of a temple.
Authorities have made also the decision to finance this construction. Build this construction long - from 1991 to 1999 year it has been connected to the tightened financing. Authorities have spent for construction of a temple of 300 000 yuan (now construction of 1 sq. meter in this area of China on the average costs 1300-2000 yuan).
We settle down in local hotel. It is certainly, not such magnificent as in Hailar, but the prices here are lower. That is very important (and that is far from happening in all Chinese hotels) - hot water is round the clock. The attitude to lodgers is less official-ceremonious, but more sincere — one feels rural way in all of it.
In Three Rivers settlement all occurs slowly and sedately. In that time that it was possible to stay there, we understood that to conduct more than 2-3 businesses in a day would be rather difficult. Already in the first day it became clear - after settling in hotel they were waiting for us with a long dinner with parishioners at hotel small restaurant. After a dinner — we took a walk in Labdarin. Prior to the early 1970s years here there were only pastures, only after the termination of the "Great Cultural Revolution" there was a settlement, that grew today to the small town that become administrative centre of Three Rivers. In the city there is, perhaps, nothing remarkable, unless the covered market with inscriptions in Russian and in Chinese: "the Center of Chinese-Russian trade". There are in truth, little Russian products on the market — only down scarves from Orenburg. Other goods are quite typical, and only in abundance and a variety of meat rows you understand, that you are finding yourself in the Inner Mongolia.
It darkens early, at five o'clock p.m. already deep twilight is present. On road to hotel we come into local Internet-cafe, - unfortunately, to look at e-mail is not possible, as access is only open for the Chinese resources, foreign sites are blocked.
Chinese Authorities recently gave special attention to the control over the Internet: recently transfer on a network of messages of anticommunist character has been forbidden, opening of sites that "propagandized false religious cults? were penalized.
On December 14 in one of the houses there was a "parish assembly". People not only from Labdarin, but also from other settlements, including from settlement Enhe (village Karavannaya) - an administrative centre of Russian national district has gathered. "Parish assembly" has chosen the steward and the treasurer. They have talked about problems of the parish — that there is no place to take an iconostasis and church utensils, that the senior generation has lost experience of a church life, and younger did not have it.. Thousand people, of Orthodox faith, not baptized, many are not married - last priest has died here in the early 1960s. A great necessity of this parish is a choice of the candidate for training in Spiritual schools. Local authorities, in truth, are intently concerned to training the Chinese citizens in religious educational institutions abroad. It was told, that the Church Abroad (ROCOR) suggested sending the student from Three Rivers to Jordanville, however the local National Government was against training the student in the USA. One hopes only that the attitude to Russia will be different and authorities can solve the problem of the organization of Orthodox spiritual life from Three River.
After the parish assembly was adjourned, everyone has been invited to a meal. The mistress of a house has prepared a remarkable Russian -Chinese dinner. During the meal we discuss our visit to the local National government - knowing how strict the Chinese laws are, I already asked for a long time to arrange this visit, so that none of my actions appeared illegal.
The newly elected steward, Gennady, has called the chief of the Department of cultural affairs of the local National Government. "Well, we shall visit you after a dinner?" Conversation appeared very short, so my fears were in vain, they were brought about by memoirs of prudish and unfriendly Beijing officials.
followed by warm conversation. It was pleasant to talk - sharp mind and inquisitiveness of the official was conductive to open and warm conversation. Having thanked them for care about Orthodox settlers from Three Rivers, I have passed to discussion of problems of parish - questions about consecration of a temple, its internal arrangement. Not without pride to they have shown me the document in which Orthodoxy was acknowledged as one of historical faiths in territory of the Inner Mongolia. They have told us that the decision for construction of a temple in Labdarin was accepted at a level of the State Council of the People's Republic of China. My request to allow christening of local settlers of Three Rivers has not caused any objections. It is early, certainly, to speak about results, but the first impression from a meeting with authorities was very favorable.
We have talked as well about problems of church schisms, questions of Orthodox Diaspora, on history of declaration of the Autonomous status of the Chinese Orthodox Church. The conversation has so interested our Chinese interlocutors, that they have invited us upon termination of conversation to have supper. We were provided with a three-hour feast for which the National Government was prepared rather thoroughly. They even have taken into account, that there was Nativity Fast. In the beginning of a meal it was suggested to us to pray how it is accepted "in our custom". Set of mutual toasts, I think, has promoted fastening of the understanding achieved before a supper during official talk.
We said goodbye with obvious understanding that we should meet more often whenever possible. For morning of the next day we did not have special plans so we were planning for high-grade rest. In the middle of night, however, quite unceremoniously in our number came local police. From their conversation I have understood, that they are looking for some fugitives from justice. Having seen us, the police has calmed down: "Hey, they are Russian! Let us go, guys…" The rest of night and the next morning have not brought us any anxiety.
The third day of stay in Labdarin has been devoted, basically, to services. As all in Three Rivers settlement is made slowly, this day 15 person (among them there were many children) was possible to baptize, and also to make prayer with water /vodosvjatnyj moleben/ in one of houses.
Even later 40 years after destruction of temples and death of last priest the faith in Three Rivers settlement was tremblingly kept! I was told that during the "Great Cultural Revolution" they have closed all temples, having left only a temple in settlement Trample (Popiraj). But in 1967 this temple in which icons from all closed 18 churches and a monastery were stored, has been burnt. People, rescuing icons, secretly buried them in the ground - and only in the early 1980s have dared to dig them out. In Labdarin there are some miraculously updated icons from among those that have been rescued during that terrible time. Really, the Lord Himself guards his Church - no circumstances of time can destroy her. It was especially sharply felt in Three Rivers settlement.
In the evening again in one of the houses, on the occasion of the first christening for some decades and in connection with our departure, a meal was waiting for us. During the meal we were singing "many years" to the most holy Patriarch Alex, congratulated newly baptized, discussed plans for the future.
In the morning of the next day it was necessary to collect things and to leave to border (from Labdarin up to boundary point Heishantou about 90 kilometers). At the request of the steward of the parish for me came by car the representative arrived from Russia from the National Government of. Labdarin in city of Priargunsk, he has promised to transport me through border and to deliver me to station Priargunsk (it is about 27 kilometers from check point Starotsuruhajtuj on Russian side of the river Argun).
And here, last meeting in Labdarin - with priest Vladimir Boikov, the clergyman of the ROCOR Church who has arrived from Australia for visiting tombs of his kin, buried in Three Rivers settlement. Because of shortage of time our conversation proceeded only 15 minutes. Father Vladimir has told us, that many natives live in Australia from Three Rivers, and he was born in family from Three Rivers. He resembled them: something Chinese was in features of his person.
We had a talk about destinies of Orthodox Church in China, having recollected about independence and self-governance of the Chinese Church, about the Chinese laws protecting her from foreign intervention. Fraternally having said goodbye to all I asked Alexander to stay late for some days and to help Father Vladimir with the Chinese language, I have left on my journey.
We have reached the border in an hour. On road we have seen several little Mongolian yurts and two Russian villages. Here is a boundary point Heishantou - an unsightly building on coast of Argun. We did not have to leave the carat all, the frontier guard has taken our passports to a building of a check point and has returned in five minutes.
Carelessly having glanced in a luggage carrier of our car (with Russian numbers), he had wished us happy journey. Bridge across Argun. The Chinese soldier salutes and opens the lock on a gate - before us on opposite coast is Russia. In some minutes we drive to check point Starotsuruhajtuj, and in some hours passenger train Priargunsk - Chita takes me away from the Chinese border.
Under measured rumble of wheels I think about Three Rivers settlement - once lost, and now again found ground on which there live our compatriots, who managed to keep their fervent belief.
Priest Dionisy Pozdnjaev
"Chinese Good News" Magazine