Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving Day turned out to be gray and murky, There was a light and cold drizzle. In no way did the weather incline one to family outings. My thoughts were of a fireplace, a plaid, an interesting book, and a glass of hot tea. Nonetheless, some rather unexpected visitors appeared at the Museum of Russian Culture in San Francisco—a young Chinese family with two small children. This visit was not merely for knowledge's sake, for they brought along fascinating material dealing with the Orthodox Church, and themselves turned out to be Orthodox. We started up a conversation. Mitrophan Chin, as the family head introduced himself, is the President of the Orthodox Fellowship of All Saints of China, whose main purpose is the translation into contemporary Chinese of liturgical and theological literature. Mitrophan, who had formerly belonged to an evangelical church and even took part in missionary trips to Taiwan, Macao, and Paraguay, discovered the Orthodox Church on the internet. What impressed him was that the Church proclaimed itself to be the one true inheritor of the apostolic Church. Mitrophan started reading the Holy Fathers and contemplating the liturgical and pastoral nature of the early Church. He found in the Holy Fathers that which was absent in the teaching of the Evangelical Church—humility and repentance. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land simply firmed up his belief that the Church of the apostolic times and the contemporary Orthodox Church were one and the same. Mitrophan was received into Holy Orthodoxy in the Antiochian Church on Pascha of 2001, and he and Michelle were married in 2002. They have two small sons, Tobias Nikolai and Joachim Ivan, and are parishioners of St. Mary Antiochian Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to working as systems administrator for Boston Scientific, Mitrophan have sung in his church choir and has already studied for three years in a theological extension program, which includes ministerial projects as part of its curriculum. It is in this context that the Chinese Translation Project came into being. Its goal is no less than the rebirth, or, as we say in English, the "resurrection," of Orthodoxy in China. In order to appreciate the dimensions of this task properly, we need to touch upon the history of Orthodoxy in China.
Christianity of a Nestorian variety has been in China since the sixth century, as discovered texts by Nestorian monks about churches and monasteries have shown. Rome started missionary activity in China starting with the thirteenth century. In 1684 troops of the Emperor Kangxi (Qing Dynasty) took Albazin, a Russian outpost on the Amur River. The Chinese took captives to the emperor in Beijing. He was gracious to them and freed them. Most of them returned to Russia, but some remained in Beijing and Manchuria. Those who stayed in Beijing intermarried with the Chinese, started serving as imperial bodyguards, and were called "the Russian hundred," A vacant Buddhist temple was set aside for prayer and 14 years later the Priest Maxim Leontiev received an official document from Metropolitan Ignatius of Tobolsk, allowing him to consecrate a church, and in 1698 St. Sophia Church was consecrated. In order to serve this flock the Russian Spiritual Mission was established. There are today over 200 Orthodox Christians in Beijing, most of whom are descendants of the Albazinians.
On April 4, 1719 Metropolitan Theodore (Philotheos) wrote the following letter to Governor Gagarin of Siberia:
There is hope for glorifying God's name among the Chinese. If Your Excellency acquires zeal for God, having discussed this with His Beatitude Stephen (Yavorsky), inform His Royal Highness, and, upon choosing a good and wise person, send him to the Chinese Kingdom without delay. Such a person should be at least granted the episcopal rank, and about fifteen clergy should be sent with him…"
The letters' contents was made known to Emperor Peter I and the Senate supported this idea. Hieromonk Innocent (Kulchitsky) of the St. Alexander Nevksy Lavra, the future St. Innocent of Irkutsk, was appointed as candidate for Bishop of Beijing. But, unfortunately, all of the bishop's efforts to reach Beijing proved unsuccessful, and in 1727 the decision was made in St. Petersburg to leave Bishop Innocent in Irkutsk.
These hopes were not to be realized, for Orthodoxy didn't make much headway in China. On the contrary, Chinese history is full of instances of persecution of Christians, for which there are many reasons, which S. A. Arkhangelov has characterized in his essay Problems of Early Christianity in China. There was also the poor facility in the Chinese language among the missionaries, as well as insufficient support from Russia and an unwillingness of the part of Russian Imperial Embassy personnel to irritate the Chinese government as it was following Kangxi's "Sacred Edicts," which contain the following: "Denounce strong beliefs in order to elevate true doctrine." Thus, even when a very active individual, Bishop Innocent (Figurovsky), took charge of the mission, his efforts were invariably stymied by the diplomats.
Nevertheless, the groundwork for the Orthodox Church in China was laid down. and rests on the blood of the first Orthodox saints. As many as 222 Orthodox Chinese were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. An Orthodox Christian from Shanghai has this to say about that event:
The first Chinese Orthodox priest, the New Martyr Mitrofan, was ordained after 1880 by St. Nicholas of Japan. When the rebellion began some people tried to convince Fr. Mitrofan to go to the Russian Embassy to save himself, but he refused, saying, "Yes, as an Orthodox priest I could go to the Russian Embassy, but who will defend my people? If the priest goes off, the flock might scatter. I don't know if they'll be capable of maintaining their faith." So that night he stayed in the church, serving Vigil with his parishioners. They knew that anti-foreign mobs were wreaking havoc in the city streets, and although some did hide in fear, most of the Orthodox gathered in the church. They were waiting and praying. The mob rushed in and grabbed Fr. Mitrofan. They told him, "You're Chinese, you need to offer sacrifice to Chinese gods." Fr. Mitrofan responded, "My God is Jesus Christ, a God not only of the Russians, but of the Chinese all of the world's people." They cried, "If you don't do as we say, you'll be sorry!" And they killed his wife and children in front of him. "Now you can see that your God Jesus Christ didn't save them." Fr. Mitrofan answered, "No, he did save them. I'll meet them in the Heavenly Kingdom." Then they poked out his eyes and said, "Do you see now?" "Now I see the Heavenly Kingdom better, not with my bodily eyes, but with my heart and soul." Then they killed him and hacked his body into small bits, since they were afraid that people would take his body as relics. In this way they killed all of the Christians in the church, 222 in all, including women and children. Later on, a few Orthodox survivors gathered some relics, but since they had been cut up into small bits, they couldn't tell who was who. They collected the remains in boxes and buried them in the small cemetery chapel on the Orthodox Mission property in Beijing. A year later they built another chapel dedicated to the Beijing martyrs. This chapel existed until the 1960's and was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. I heard that the relics were taken from there, and some Orthodox reburied them at the Orthodox cemetery. Of course, they couldn't tell anyone that these were relics, so they pretended that they were reburying the remains of relatives. The Russian cemetery was itself leveled during the period of tension between the Soviet and Chinese Communist governments. Now the cemetery is shut down and has been made into a golf course. Sometimes we walk around it and pray, but we can't do a service officially. But we believe that we will find them just as St. Helen found the Cross. We will be praying, and the holy martyrs will help us.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 China became a second homeland for hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants. Over one hundred churches were built by Russians. China has contributed two saints "of the latter days" to the Orthodox world—St. John of Shanghai and St. Jonah of Hankou. But the Russian immigrants weren't about to undertake missionary tasks. Their main purpose was to preserve their cultural space and not assimilate. Once the Russians left China after the 1949 Revolution just a few thousand Orthodox remained in the country and most of the churches had been destroyed. Almost all of the clergy, ordained by St. John, left with him. Probably, many can recall the ever-memorable Fr. Elias Wen, the oldest clergyman of our diocese, who reposed at the age of 110 and who would read the Gospel in Chinese at the Paschal service almost to the end of his days. .
The Beijing Mission was shut down in 1956, while the Chinese Autonomous Church was established in 1957. Two bishops were consecrated in Moscow—Bishop Vasily (Shuang) of Beijing and Bishop Simeon (Du) of Shanghai. Bishop Simeon died before the Cultural Revolution which began in 1966. His final years were rather sad, and around twenty people showed up for his last Pascha service. After this he lived on another two years in poverty, bedridden because of severe illness. With his repose the Chinese Orthodox Church ceased to exist. The so-called "Cultural Revolution" destroyed it physically, since churches were shut down and destroyed, and the Chinese clergy were sent into exile and tortured to death. Thus, in Harbin a group of teenagers (revolutionaries of all periods and nations have used teenagers for their purposes) broke into the church and beat the priest, Fr. Stephen, with sticks for several hours until he reposed.
Today there are 10,000 Christians in the Chinese Autonomous Church. Chinese law mandates that only Chinese clergy may serve legally on Chinese territory. But the Chinese Orthodox do not have a bishop who could ordain priests. Neither are there any service books. Older people conceal their faith for fear of persecution, but at least they remember the prayers. According to witnesses they ask their relatives outside of China to tell them the date of Pascha (Orthodox Easter) each year, and each year they set a traditional Paschal table with kulichi and dyed eggs.
Mitrophan Chin came to San Francisco not only to visit friends, but primarily to venerate the relics of St. John. Who else other than this Wonderworker of Shanghai, who would take in Chinese orphans off the streets of Shanghai and save their souls unto eternal life, and for whom there was "neither Greek nor Jew," is able to entreat Our Lord Jesus Christ to resurrect the Chinese Church? And, on our part, we can provide help for our brothers and sisters in Christ by supporting the publication of books that will bring the Word of God to the suffering Church of China.
Those wishing to support the Chinese Translation Project can make out their checks to "Chinese Translation Project/ St. Mary's Church" and send it to:
For more information contact Mitrophan Chin (email@example.com; tel. 857-829-1569; fax: 763-431-0511).