RTE: Speaking of these moral problems, what do Chinese Orthodox and Catholics do about the very difficult policy of the government that limits each family to one child?

IOANNIS: The people who live near the border and have some Russian or Mongolian blood claim an exemption based on their nationality, and the government allows this because they have relatives in a bordering country. The local government cannot control them so strictly, and also the Chinese government doesn't want to have problems with the Russians. They want to appear liberal and generous, and even to assist people in those areas. Those who live in villages near the border have a better situation, in general, and often the local administrators are not pure Chinese themselves. In the interior of China and among pure Chinese it is more difficult.

RTE: Do they somehow hide the births, or do families have to resort to birth control?

IOANNIS: Faithful Orthodox families now are few. Most of those born after the Communist and Cultural Revolutions have married non-Orthodox and even non-Christians, so this is very difficult. Even if the non-Orthodox partner was willing to become Orthodox, there weren't priests in many areas to baptize or marry them. Rarely now are a husband and wife both Orthodox. I've heard, though, that some Orthodox women who have a second baby will go to another city or to a village in the country to give birth. When they return they will usually only have to pay a fine, although some areas are more strict. China is so large that it is very difficult for the government to govern every region uniformly.

The underground Roman Catholics who remained loyal to the Vatican and refused to join the legal autonomous Catholic Church strictly obey the rule of no contraceptives and no abortions. If you use birth control you have to confess and stop using it before you can have Holy Communion. If you have an abortion you are excommunicated until you repent, and the right to give absolution for this is reserved for the bishop. The clergy in the national Catholic Church cannot speak out publicly against government policy, but morally, of course, they do not want to say that it is good to use contraceptives. So, their episcopal synod has something like an unwritten policy, and the priests have to give advice in secret. Often they allow birth control as a way to keep people from having abortions.

RTE: On this same subject, in the West when we see pictures of China, there are often huge crowds of people in the streets. Do you feel crowded in China in comparison with other places, or is this just our imagination from the media?

IOANNIS: It is true and not true. More and more people are leaving their villages and going to the big cities, of course.

RTE: Like Athens or New York.

IOANNIS: Yes, all big cities can be very overcrowded, but also there are many beautiful areas of virgin land, very good fertile land untouched by man. No one wants to live there as there are no towns nearby.

RTE: Do you think that the time is ripe for the Chinese to come to Christianity and particularly to Orthodoxy?

IOANNIS: Now many young and middle-aged people are looking for faith because traditional Chinese philosophy and religion have been completely destroyed. The old culture and customs are gone; they are behind us. In cities like Shanghai and Beijing, you can find many things that look traditional, but they are not authentic. After the Cultural Revolution, the government artificially revived them and planted them here and there. Old buildings, folk costumes and traditional dances are only for the foreign tourists; they are no longer in the souls of the people.

This is a good time for Orthodoxy, just as on a piece of blank paper you can write anything you want, but at the same time, people have lost their traditional fear and awe of the divine. Many have become materialists, only believing in money and physical comfort.

RTE: Like everywhere.

IOANNIS: Yes, and there is much to be done even on very simple levels. In the big cities, among well-educated people, everyone knows the name of Jesus Christ and they know a little about Christianity, but in many country regions people have never even heard of Jesus Christ.

Still, there are many Chinese people interested in Christianity, and you can see the result of that. After the Cultural Revolution, Protestant and Catholic churches grew very quickly. For example, in Harbin the number of Catholics doubled and the Protestants tripled, but for the Orthodox it actually decreased because of the lack of clergy.

Orthodoxy is a new idea and a new solution for the problems of Christianity in China, but, of course, one must be sensitive. I would never say to other Chinese Christians, "You are a heretic, you are not truly Christian," Never. I only think that Orthodoxy may be a solution for those who are searching for a meaning in life, or who, like me, have become interested in the history of the early church, and for Protestants especially, who find that there is something they have lost along the way.