courtesy of Holy Trinity Monastery | Orthodox Life, Vol.29 №1 Jan-Feb 1979 pp 14-18
The First Chinese Orthodox Martyrs

THE DEVELOPING CONCEPTS of humanism and the lofty achievements of Culture, it would seem, ought to have completely done away with all the perfidious horrors of the Middle Ages and rendered a repetition of St. Bartholemew's Eve [1] impossible. Yet just such a massacre did take place in China at the turn of this century. Its victims were the Chinese Orthodox, who showed themselves to be radiant confessors of Jesus Christ and martyrs for Him. This took place during the "Boxer Rebellion"[a] of 1900. Two who were eyewitnesses to these atrocities were Archimandrite (later Metropolitan) Innokenty, head of the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Mission at Peking, and Archimandrite Avraamy, who wrote a moving account of and panegyric on the repose of several of the martyrs. Archimandrite Innokenty described this horrible atrocity as follows: "The day on which most of the Orthodox Chinese in Peking were martyred was June 11/24, 1900. The evening before, proclamations were posted along the streets, calling upon the pagans to slaughter the Christians and threatening anyone who dared harbor them. On the night of June 11/24-12/25, the Boxers[2] attacked Christian homes with blazing torches in all quarters of Peking, laid hold of the unfortunate Christians and tortured them, forcing them to renounce Christ. Terrified of torture and death, many did renounce Orthodoxy to save their lives and burned incense before idols. But others courageously confessed Christ, not fearing the torments. Their fate was terrible. The pagans ripped open their stomachs, chopped off their heads, burned them alive in their homes. Searches for and the slaughtering of Christians continued throughout all the subsequent days of the uprising. After the destruction of the Christians' homes, they themselves were led out of the city gates to the Boxers' pagan temples, where they were subjected to interrogation and immolated in fires. According to the testimony of pagan eyewitnesses, several of the Orthodox Christians met death with amazing self-denial. Pavel Wan, an Orthodox catechist, died with prayer on his lips. Ia Wen, a teacher at the mission school, was tortured twice. The first time, the Boxers hacked at her unmercifully and cast her to the ground half dead. When she regained consciousness, one of the pagan guards heard her groans and took her to his hut But shortly thereafter the Boxers again laid hold of her, and this time tortured her to death. Both times Ia Wen confessed Christ joyfulIy before her tormenters. After the horrible events of the first night, the Chinese Christians found an eight-year old boy, Ivan Tzi, the son of a martyred priest, who had been brutally maimed by the Boxers. His arms had been cut off and deep gashes were cut into his chest. When these Chinese asked him if he was in pain, the boy replied with a smile that it was not hard to suffer for Christ. Later, the Boxers again took this child-martyr and chopped off his head, burning his remains in a bonfire..."

Among the Chinese martyrs and confessors of Christ, the priest Mitrophan Tsi-chung and his family are especially renowned.

The priest Mitrophan, whose Chinese name was Tsi-Chung[b], was born on December 10/23, 1855[c], lost his father early in his childhood and was raised under the care of his grandmother, Ekaterina, and his mother, Marina, a teacher in a school for girls. Now at that time he experienced much grief. When Archimandrite Pallady was head of the Mission for a second time, he instructed his teacher, Lung Yuan, to teach Mitrophan with special attention, to prepare him to receive the priesthood in due course. Before he had reached the age of twenty he was appointed to the position of catechist. Mitrophan was peace-loving and tranquil; even when he was grievously offended, he never sought to justify himself. Archimandrite Pallady's successor was Archimandrite Flavian, who was later Metropolitan of Kiev. From his very arrival in Peking, Archimandrite Pallady charged him, as he had the teacher Lung Yuan, to aid Mitrophan in achieving his destiny (i.e. the priesthood). Mitrophan did not wish to take upon himself the rank of priest, and continually refused, saying: "How can a man with little aptitude and virtue dare take upon himself this great rank?" But, compelled by Archimandrite Flavian and persuaded by his instructor, he assented, although he knew that after accepting the priesthood his end would not be pleasant. And so, at the age of twenty-five he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Nikolai (Kasatkin) of Japan.[3] Under Archimandrite Flavian's tenure, Fr. Mitrophan served as his aide in translating and proofreading the service books. In the course of fifteen years he served God tirelessly, enduring much injury and abuse from his own people and from outsiders, and eventually went slightly daft. Thereafter, he lived for more than three years outside the Mission, receiving half his previous salary. Throughout his life as a priest, Fr. Mitrophan was not avaricious, and many took advantage of him on this account.

On the evening of June 1/14, 1900, the Boxers burned down the Mission buildings and many Christians, hiding themselves from the perils that confronted them, gathered at Fr. Mitrophan's home. Now among these were several who had formerly been ill-disposed towards the priest and yet he did not turn them away. Perceiving that some were faint-hearted, he encouraged them, saying that the time of misfortune had arrived and that it would be difficult to escape. Several times each day he went out to look at the burned-out church. At 10 o'clock in the evening, on June 10/23, soldiers and Boxers surrounded Fr. Mitrophan's residence. At that time there were more than seventy Christians there; the stronger fled, while Fr. Mitrophan and many others; primarily women and children, remained and were slaughtered. Fr. Mitrophan sat in the yard before his home, and the Boxers stabbed his chest repeatedly, until it was like a honeycomb; he fell beneath a date tree. His neighbors dragged his body away to the place where the Mission's alrnshouse had been. Later, Hieromonk Avraamy took up the body, and, in 1903, when a feast was first celebrated in honor of the martyrs, it was interred beneath the altar of the church of the martyrs along with the remains of others. Fr. Mitrophan's wife, Tatiana, and three sons were at the site of his murder. The second son, Sergei, later became an archpriest; the other two, Isaiah and Ioann, were murdered.

A view of the church constructed at
Peking in 1903 on the site at the
martyrdom of the Chinese Orthodox,
in which the relics of many of the
martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion
were enshrined

Tatiana was forty-four years of age. On the evening of June 10/23, she escaped the Boxers with the help of her son Isaiah's fiancee, but the next morning she was seized with eighteen other people, taken outside the Andinrnin gates to the Boxer camp at Hsiao-in-Fang, and then beheaded.

Isaiah was twenty-three and served in the artillery. The Boxers executed him by beheading on June 7/20, as it was known beforehand that he was a Christian.

Ioann was only seven years old. On the evening of June 10/23, when they murdered Fr. Mitrophan, the Boxers severed his arms at the shoulder and cut off his toes, nose and ears. His brother Isaiah's fiancee succeeded in saving Ioann's life. The next morning he sat naked and unshod at the doorway, and when people asked him if he were in pain, he replied that he was not. Street urchins mocked him, calling him a "follower of the devils,"[4] but he retorted: "I am a believer in God, and not a follower of the devils." Ioann asked his neighbors for some water, but they not only refused him, but even drove him away. Protasy Chan and Rodion Hsiu, who had not yet been baptized, bore witness that they saw this boy wounded in shoulder and foot; his wounds were inches deep, yet he felt no pain and, again taken by the Boxers, displayed no fear, going quietly with them. One elderly man expressed sympathy for the boy, saying: "Of what is the child guilty? It is his parents' fault that he became a follower of the devils." Others made a laughingstock of him and abused him, or simply cast jibes in his direction. Thus was he led like a lamb to the slaughter.

Maria, Isaiah's fiancee, was nineteen years old. Two days before the Boxers' pogrom she came to Fr. Mitrophan's house, wishing to die with the family of her betrothed. When the Boxers surrounded the house on June 10/23, she courageously helped to save others, supporting them as they climbed over the wall. When, having broken down the gate, the soldiers and Boxers entered the yard, Maria boldly accused them of murdering people illegally, without trial; they dared not kill her, but only wounded her arms and pierced her feet. In general, she exhibited extraordinary courage and understanding. Sergei, Fr. Mitrophan's son, tried three times to persuade her to leave and hide herself, but she replied: "I was born near the church of the most holy Theotokos, and here I shall die." The soldiers and Boxers returned shortly, and the valiant woman ended her life in martyrdom, considering death to be but the passage to a place of blessed repose.

Describing their death, Archimandrite Avraamy adds: "Grant rest, O Lord, to the souls of Thy servants, the priest Mitrofan and those with him, and make their memory to be eternal." And let us join in this prayer, that they find rest "where the righteous repose," for by their confession and martyrdom they have been like unto the righteous and have been added to their number.

Among those who suffered for Jesus Christ were Albazinians, descendants of the famous residents of Albazin who carried the light of Christ's Orthodox faith to Peking, the capital of China, in 1685, and remained faithful to it. Because of their fidelity to Holy Orthodoxy, the Lord rewarded their descendants with the glory of confession and martyrdom. The Albazinians Kliment Kui Kin, Matfei Hai Tsuan, his brother Vit, Anna Chui, and many others, not fearing those "who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul" (Mt. 10:28), met torture and death for the Savior of the world unafraid, entreating God to enlighten their persecutors and to forgive them their sins.

All together, of the one thousand souls that comprised its flock, the Mission lost three hundred. Some of them apostatized, but others, two hundred twenty-two in number, were radiant confessors and martyrs for the Christian faith.

The outbreak of this new, Chinese "Bartholemew's Eve" elicited comment in the foreign press. Church Truth, the official mouthpiece of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, dedicated a special article to them, at the conclusion of which appeared the following words: "The blood of martyrs has always been the seed from which Churches of Christ have sprung up in pagan lands and through which Christian life has developed. Let us beseech God that this bloody persection, to which the little branch of Orthodoxy in China has been subjected, has served, first of all, as a source of indefatigable faith and courage for those who earnestly carry out the preaching of the Gospel; and secondly, as a basis for further successes of the faith and the Kingdom of God in China, to the glory and honor of Him Who said: 'Let the Gospel be preached throughut the whole world.'"

Original Source: Chinese Herald (June, 1935, pp 79-85).
Translated from the Russian by Michael Amelchenya.


[1] St Bartholemew's Day Massacre a massacre of Protestants which began on the eve of St. Bartholemew's Day, August 24,1572. It was ordered by King Charles IX of France at the instigation of the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medicis. Estimates as to the number of victims for the Whole of France vary according to confessionai allegiance—one Roman Catholic scholar, Jean Novi de Caveirac, estimated only 2,000 were slain, whereas the Huguenot Duc de Sully, a contemporary, placed the number of dead as high as 70,000.

[2] Boxers—In 1898 and 1899 the Chinese government, led by the Dowager Empress Tz'u-hsi, in an attempt to protect the realm from foreign agressions, ordered the revival of the village militia. The members of several secret societies entered these bands of militia. These secret societies practised arcane rites which, they believed, would make them invulnerable to bullets. There is every indication that the rites practised by these "Boxers," as the Europeans called them, were connected with Jiu Jitzu. Mouthing such slogans as, "Protect the country, destroy the foreigners," the Boxers began to persecute native Chinese Christians by autumn of 1899. In early June of 1900 an unsuccessful attempt by the major European powers to bolster existing troops in Peking aggravated the situation, and when, on June 17, they seized the Taku forts to open the way to Peking and Tientsin, the empress ordered all foreigners slain. The carnage, which encompassed scores of Western diplomats and missionaries, continued until late 1900.

[3] Bishop Nikolai of Japan - Ivan Kasatkin was born in 1836 in the village of Beresovo, in the Smolensk district, the son of the local deacon. On completion of his studies at the Smolensk Seminary he entered the St. Petersburg Theologiosi Academy, completing its course of study in 1860. At the age of twenty-four he received the monastic tonsure with the name Nikolai. Shortly thereafter he was ordained hierodeacon and hieromonk. During a tour of duty in Siberia, the young missionary was personally blessed by Bishop innokenty (Veniaminov) of Kamchatka (later Metropolitan of Moscow, recently canonized by the Moscow Patriarchate). In June of 1861, Hieromonk Nikolai was assigned to the Russian diplomatic mission to Japan. The young cleric set himself the formidable task of learning the complicated Japanese language, and within a few years was able to make several converts to Holy Orthodoxy. By 1870, Father Nikolai was raised to the rank of archimandrite and appointed head of the newly-formed Japanese Mission. More baptisms followed as Fr. Nikolai's converts began to spread the HoIy Faith, despite the persecution raised against them. Thus, by 1678, several native Orthodox Christians were found worthy of ordination. In 1879, the Japanese Mission was elevated to the rank of diocese, Fr. Nikolai being consecrated as its first bishop. From this time on the number of baptisms increased to an average of one thousand per year, so that by 1910, there were nearly 32,000 native Orthodox Christians in Japan, twenty-eight priests, seven deacons, and one hundred fifty-one catechetical instructors. Despite the pressures of the Russo-Japanese War, Bishop Nikolai remained at his post, striving by his conduct to demonstrate that the Church is non-political. The efforts made to translate the Sacred Scriptures and the divine services into Japanese during his tenure form the basis of the worship of the present-day Church of Japan (granted "autonomy" by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1970). In 1911, the fiftieth anniversary of Archbishop Nikolai's arrival in Japan was celebrated with festivity, though his strength had been declining for some time. On January 7, 1912, he officiated at the divine liturgy for the last time; and nearly one month later, on February 16, 1912, he reposed in the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, with the word "Resurrection" on his lips. The funeral liturgy was conducted in Japanese in the presence of an enormous number of native believers. By special permission of the Japanese government, the remains of the "Apostle to Japan" were permitted to be buried whole, rather than cremated.

[4]"devils"—an epithet commonly leveled at all non-Chinese, especially at Europeans.

N.B.: Soon after their martyrdom, the Chinese Orthodox slain by the Boxers were accorded the veneration due to saints who have given their lives for Holy Orthodoxy. Their veneration wee approved by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, which decreed that the commemoration of the Chinese martyrs be performed as follows: On June 10/23 (the day of their martyrdom), a liturgy for the departed is to be served, and on the evening before, a full panikhida for "all tortured and slain for the Holy Orthodox Faith"; on the following day, 11/24 June, a solemn liturgy is to be celebrated, and on the evening preceding it, an all-night vigil, the texts of which are to be taken from the General Menaion's service for several martyrs.—Ed. note.

End Notes by Mitrophan Chin

[a] What the West called the "Boxer Rebellion" is known in China as the Yihetuan uprising or movement. Yihetuan literally means the "Righteous Harmony Society".

[b] St Mitrophan's Chinese name in pinyin is Cháng Yángjí, which is derived from 常楊吉, the actual characters of his Chinese name. His given name in Chinese was found in the records of the All Japan Council of 1882.

[c] In 1855, the Julian and Gregorian calendars were only 12 instead of 13 days apart. December 10/22, 1855 would be a more accurate rendering of the date according to that time period. In the original Russian it literally state on the 10th day of the 12th month. This may be indicative of the date according to the Chinese calendar.