RTE: Will you tell us now about your own city of Shanghai?
Ilia Wen from Shanghai,
serving at Joy of All Who
Sorrow Cathedral in
IOANNIS: Yes. The Orthodox mission in Shanghai began in the 19th century,
long after the mission to Beijing. The first ruling bishop was a vicar-bishop
Simeon, who worked under Archbishop Innocent of Beijing after the Boxer
Rebellion. The first actual bishop of Shanghai was St. John Maximovitch, the
famous wonderworker. St. John also ordained Chinese deacons and priests, but
most of them left China with him. One of them, Fr. Ilia, is still alive. He is now
107 and serves at the Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral in San Francisco.
Fr. Ilia with St. John
Maximovitch in Shanghai
At the end of World War II, there was a disagreement between Archbishop Victor, who oversaw the
Chinese mission, and St. John Maximovitch.
Archbishop Victor wanted to return to the Moscow
Patriarchate, but St. John didn't agree; he felt it was
too soon. Unfortunately, this created turmoil among
the Orthodox in China and some of the Chinese
priests went to the government. At that time, the
Chinese government under Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) was very
careful about Communism and these priests told the
authorities that Archbishop Victor was part of the
KGB. The government imprisoned him for six or
seven months. This was before our own communist
revolution in 1949, and Archbishop Victor suspended the clergymen who had denounced him. Later,
several of them repented and returned to the
Moscow Patriarchate, while others left China and
joined the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of
Russia. At the time of the arrest, St. John had
already left Shanghai with his flock and gone to
America, but after his release Archbishop Victor
stayed in China until the 1950's, when he returned to
Russia to serve as a bishop in Siberia.
The Orthodox Church in Shanghai was then in a very difficult situation
because it had no spiritual leader, so the Orthodox elected Fr. Theodore Du
Run Chen as bishop. He had previously served in Beijing as a married priest.
After his matushka died and he was nominated, he went to Moscow to be
tonsured and consecrated, where he took the name Simeon. He returned to
Shanghai in the early 1950's and was later made archbishop.
A few years after Bishop Simeon's consecration, the Chinese and Russians
came to an agreement about recognizing Orthodoxy in China. The Moscow
Patriarchate under Patriarch Alexis I granted autonomy to the Chinese
Church in 1956 and withdrew its material support.
RTE: Do you think this was part of Khrushchev's plan to destroy the Church
by isolating and dividing it?
IOANNIS: I'm not sure. It could have been, but at that time the Russian
Church inside of Russia was in a very difficult position, and since the
Chinese Church had been given its autonomy, there was no reason for it to
continue receiving everything from the mother Church. Also, the Chinese
government may have been insisting that the ties be broken.
Bishop Simeon was at first strongly against the idea of autonomy, but after
several meetings he felt that he had to obey the other hierarchs. The church
situation in Shanghai at that time was very tense, and our political situation
was oppressive. Social pressure drove young people out of the church and
public schools were openly teaching atheism. The final years of Bishop
Simeon's life were very sad, and he died in poverty. Only about twenty people attended the last Paschal service he celebrated in the early 1960's.
RTE: Religion in general was illegal at this point?
IOANNIS: No, not in the early 60's, only between 1966 and 1976, but certainly, Bishop Simeon's last days were not comfortable. After that last
Pascha, he was bedridden for two years. When he reposed, the church in
Shanghai fell into confusion. There was no new bishop and the clergymen
didn't know how to support themselves or their families, or even whom to
answer to. The Chinese government stepped in and said, "We will arrange
jobs for you, but you may not serve as priests any longer." Several of them
worked as Russian language teachers.
Two or three years after the death of Archbishop Simeon the "Cultural
Revolution" began. From 1966 on, every tradition, every religion in China
was destroyed … not only Orthodox, but also Buddhist, Daoist, Muslim,
Catholic, and Protestant places of worship. 
The communists had begun this destruction earlier, so, by the time of the
Cultural Revolution there were only two open Orthodox churches in
Shanghai: the cathedral built by Archbishop John and dedicated to the
Mother of God, Surety of Sinners, and the Church of St. Nicholas the
Wonderworker. The cathedral was very beautiful; the
walls were white and covered with five blue domes, and
each dome had a tall golden cross. St. Nicholas the
Wonderworker was small, but also beautiful, and covered
with nine golden domes. The government eventually confiscated the buildings and used them for other things. It
was very sad.
RTE: And at this time churches and temples were closed
all across China?
IOANNIS: Yes, and most were destroyed. Shanghai fared
better than Beijing and Harbin because our churches had
already been taken for other uses. The buildings themselves weren't
destroyed. Fortunately, over the past twenty years there has been a revival.
It has become easier to practice religion and many of the temples, churches
and mosques have been rebuilt, but the Orthodox churches have not recovered like the others.
IOANNIS: In Shanghai, after the Cultural Revolution, only three clergymen
remained alive, two priests, both named Fr. Michael, and a protodeacon, Fr.
Evangelos. There was also a subdeacon, Papi. According to Chinese law,
only native Chinese clergymen can legally serve on Chinese soil, but we had
no bishops to ordain them, even if there had been candidates among the
remaining believers. Beginning in the 1980's, the last clergymen, headed by
Fr. Michael Li, asked the government to give us back two of the churches,
but each time the authorities had a different excuse why they could not.
At that time, as a result of the Cultural Revolution,the pinko mode of thoughts or leftism was still existent in our government and society. So,the Ministry of Religion did not deal with Fr Michael (and other clergies in Shanghai) very well. Another reason is that the number of the faithful in Shanghai is quite small. Fr. Michael only got permission to serve in the parish of Harbin. Whereas in Shanghai, where his family lived in, he was not permitted to serve as a priest. And he was continuously disappointed; his many requests were fruitless. 
Finally in 2000, Fr. Michael Li decided to leave China. He went to
Australia where he now serves in a Chinese-Russian parish belonging to
ROCOR, under Archbishop Hilarion. We heard from someone visiting
Harbin that the first time he vested himself in Australia, he looked down at
his vestments and began to cry, saying, "For so many years, I have not
touched these or even seen them." His Australian parishioners have a great
love for Fr. Michael and his matushka. He's over 75 now, and I've been told
that people hear them singing and chanting together when they are alone in
Now in Shanghai, there are only two clergymen: Fr. Michael Wang (Wong), one
of the priests from before the revolution who is now 85 and can no longer
serve because of his health, and Fr. Evangelos, the protodeacon, who is 70.
Without a priest he can do nothing except reader's services.
RTE: How long has it been since the people of Shanghai have had a liturgy?
IOANNIS: The last one was before the death of Archbishop Simeon, thirty five years ago.
RTE: The remaining priests couldn't serve secretly?
IOANNIS: Everything had been taken from them. They didn't have antimens,
chalices, service books, anything.
RTE: Does the autonomous Chinese Orthodox Church still exist?
Fr Alexander with
Fr Dionisy in Beijing
IOANNIS: For the government, it still exists on paper, but not in reality
because we don't have even one priest who can officially serve in China.
There are only two priests still living. Fr. Michael Wang, whom I mentioned, and Fr. Alexander in Beijing. He is an archpriest, also very old,
about 84, and very ill. This Pascha I heard that he is dying. Except for Fr.
Evangelos, the protodeacon, there aren't any other Orthodox clergymen in
China. We cannot bring in foreign clergy because of the Chinese law I mentioned, which allows only native Chinese clergy to serve.
RTE: It's amazing that the Orthodox remnant in Shanghai were able to stay
faithful all those years without the sacraments.
IOANNIS: They are mostly old people. Not many young people remain loyal
to Orthodoxy. They don't understand it, no one teaches them, no one tells
them about it. This is the first problem.
The second problem is that the older men and women still hide their faith
because of the years of persecution. And what can the faithful do without a
priest? They don't know many prayers because there are no books or translations. Everything was destroyed. Every morning and evening they cross
themselves and read some short prayers like the "Our Father" and the
Trisagion. They know to pray to God, to the Holy Trinity, to the Mother of
God, to St. Nicholas … They also remember the date of Pascha — they ask
relatives overseas to find out the date every year, and they make the traditional cake for Pascha, kulichi and red eggs. They celebrate by themselves,
they bless and sanctify the feast with their prayers.
RTE: They were very young when things became difficult.
IOANNIS: Yes, they were young and they are also very simple people. The
generation after the Cultural Revolution forgot everything. In Labudalin (Labdarin, modern day E'erguna), in
Harbin, in Manchuria, and in the Xinjiang province, there are still pockets
of Orthodoxy. Close to the Russian border there are several mixed Russian-Chinese villages where people keep more of the traditions. They are a little
RTE: Do these remaining Orthodox Christians use the old Julian calendar?
IOANNIS: Yes. In Xinjiang, in Beijing, in Harbin, all the old Russian mission
descendants use the old calendar, but the Greeks in Hong Kong who belong to
the Ecumenical Patriarchate use the new calendar. The Greek Metropolitan,
Nikitas, is new calendar, but he also serves old calendar for Russians and
Serbs in Hong Kong on the major feasts. Many of the Asian Orthodox parishes are under the Greek Archdiocese of Hong Kong and they all use the new calendar. In Japan they use the old calendar, and in Korea, the new calendar.
Japan uses the old calendar, but celebrates Christmas on the new calendar. This is a problem liturgically because they are celebrating Christmas in
the middle of the fast. After Christmas they put in extra Sundays before
Theophany to come back into line with the old calendar, but these Sundays
are artificial. They have no place in the liturgical cycle. On the practical side,
I can't say anything because Christmas is a very popular feast in Japan.
 The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was launched by Mao Zedong, who had risen to power with the
Communists in 1949, in a move to "purify" the Communist party. The revolution saw the growth of the Red
Guard Movement among Chinese youth, and the government worked through schools, widespread propaganda, and compulsory reeducation to inculcate Mao's philosophy. Chinese cultural traditions were uprooted and all temples, churches, synagogues and mosques that had not been destroyed in the earlier
Communist period were closed. According to some historical analysts, between 1966 and 1968 alone, over
400,000 politically or philosophically dissident Chinese were killed. Among them were Christians of all
 Since this interview was done a few years ago, the situation has since changed, and the interviewee has submitted a revision to this paragraph on November 12, 2005.