At the invitation of His Holiness, and to mark the 320th anniversary of the arrival in Beijing, the ‘capital of all beneath the heavens’ as it was called, of Cossacks from Fort Albazin, a group of 17 Chinese Orthodox Christian descendants of those Albazin Cossacks came to visit the Blagoveshchensk Diocese as pilgrims.
The visitors to the Amur region took in the sights in Blagoveshchensk. They visited the cathedral which houses the wonderworking Albazin Icon of the Mother of God “The Word Made Flesh” and took communion there during the Divine Liturgy of Christ’s Holy Sacraments.
While they were in Amur Oblast the pilgrims from China visited the Gavrilo-Arkhangelsk Monastery, St. Alexander Nevskiy Parish Church in the village of Ignatevo, and the village of Albazino. It was from this village that their ancestors were taken to China 250 years ago.
The pilgrims arrived in Albazino at 10:30. They started off with a guided museum tour. Naturally, the pilgrims were most interested to hear how Fort Albazin was established and how the fortress was defended. Several of them could not hold back tears when hearing the account. After the tour, the entire group went to the chapel which has been erected on the spot where the fortress stood and where the Cossack defenders are buried. There Hieromonk Ignatiy (Chigvintsev) served a Panikhida memorial service. The pilgrims prayed reverently, crossing themselves and bowing. Before the panikhida the Chinese guests put photographs of their loved ones on the chapel. Some of the photos were of Orthodox clergy in their vestments. One of the visitors showed a pectoral cross that belonged to his great-grandfather. After this the pilgrims made their way to the Chapel of the Albazin Icon of the Mother of God. Fr. Roman Kravtsov served a moleben prayer service to Jesus Christ for the guests before a copy of the icon, which he had brought with him. At the end of the moleben each of the guests was presented with a copy of the Albazin Icon of the Mother of God which they gratefully received, in turn presenting the priest with a souvenir of an Easter egg. They took a photograph together to mark the occasion.
Activities concluded in Albazino at 1 PM, and everyone was invited to lunch. Lunch was served on a common table at the Cossack izba (cottage) at the territorial museum. Prayers were said together before eating according to Orthodox tradition, including the “Our Father..”. The guests were served traditional Russian fare—borsch, boiled potatoes, sour cream, pancakes, salad and tea. During the meal, the senior member of the visiting group again thanked all present for the warm, joyful and brotherly reception they had received. The meal ended with the prayer “We give thanks to Thee, Christ our God…”, and the group left for the city of Skovorodino.
The Chinese guests sang Russian songs along the way and stopped at several meadows to enjoy the beauty of the Amur River region and take photos.
From Skovorodino they rode by train to Blagoveshchensk, arriving at 5:30 PM. Before leaving the station, the guests were presented icons of the Venerable Monastic Martyrs Elizabeth and Barbara. The visit to Albazino made a great impression on them and was a spiritual joy.
Upon their return from Albazino the guests were received by His Eminence Gabriel, Archbishop of Blagoveshchensk and Tynda. During the meeting Vladyka Gabriel read them an Epistle from His Holiness Aleksiy, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia which said in part: “…Sharing with all the joy of the present celebration, I ask for God’s blessing upon all of you gathered beneath the arches of the cathedral church.” The Epistle’s conclusion reads: “I hope that this first pilgrimage of Orthodox Christian Chinese to Blagoveshchensk will have a worthy continuation, strengthening neighborly relations between our two countries and peoples.”
In the amiable discussion that followed the pilgrims shared their impressions of their time in the Amur region and spoke of the feelings they experienced from coming into contact with their history. They gave tearful thanks to God for permitting them to bow down in prayer in the place their ancestors had worked and fought.
At the end of the meeting Archbishop Gabriel wished them good health and God’s help in all their work for the blossoming of Orthodoxy in China and its prayerful union with the Mother Church. Each of the group was presented a copy of the Albazin Mother of God icon and the book “Sacred Albazin”, which tells the history of the first Cossack pioneers who came to the Amur region, the defense of Fort Albazin and the Albazins’ removal to Beijing.
After a final farewell and blessing the guests from the Middle Kingdom left for the border and their trip back to the PRC.