courtesy of Abp HILARION of Sydney & Australia | July 14-27, 1997
A Chinese Pilgrimage

Shanghai Cathedral

On the evening of July 14th, Archbishop Hilarion along with eleven others departed from Sydney on a pilgrimage to China. The purpose of the pilgrimage was to visit Orthodox holy places in Shanghai, Beijing, Harbin and Manzhouli, (Manchzhuria) and, if possible, to make contact with Orthodox Christians in China. We arrived in Shanghai on July 15th just before noon; on the way to our hotel, we passed by the old cathedral dedicated to the Mother of God, Surety of Sinners. It turned out that the Cathedral was in walking distance of our hotel, so in the afternoon we walked over to have a better look. The cathedral building is in good repair but is bereft of any Orthodox symbol and is currently being used as a securities bank. Earlier reports in the press that the dome had been turned into a disco are apparently untrue. A building immediately adjacent to the church proper, however, is now a restaurant. Behind the cathedral is the building that formerly housed the bishop's residence and the diocesan offices. This is where St John of Shanghai and San Francisco spent the first ten years of his episcopal ministry. On the following day we visited the former St Nicholas church; It is also in good repair and now the site of a rather upscale restaurant. Its dome has been converted into a fancy banquet room decorated with renaissance style depictions of the Mother of God along with several pagan portrayals of women. On the front of the church where the icon of St Nicholas once was there is now a portrait of Chairman Mao.

Fr Michael Li in China

While in Shanghai we were able to meet with Fr Michael Li who in the 1950s and 1960s served at the Cathedral. Since 1965, except for a short period of service in Harbin in the 1980s, he has not been able to serve as a priest. He lacks vestments, books, church utensils and a church in which to serve. Nonetheless he retains his love for the Church and would very much like to resume his priestly service. We also met one former psalm-reader from the cathedral. According to Fr Michael there are probably no more than fifteen or twenty Orthodox left in Shanghai.

Fr Alexander Du

On July 17 we flew to Beijing where we were met by our very congenial Guide, Ian Wang. In Beijing we were able to contact a number of Orthodox Laypeople. Some of these were Albazintsy, direct descendants of the Russian soldiers captured in 1685 and subsequently brought to Beijing. It seems next to miraculous that these people have maintained their identity and Orthodox faith for so long. They are outwardly indistinguishable from other Chinese in Beijing and of course speak Chinese like other natives of Beijing. Although they normally use Chinese surnames, these surnames actually have Russian origins: Yao, for example, is originally from Yakovlev, Luo from Romanov and Du from Dubinin. Not all the Orthodox in Beijing are Albazintsy; others are descended from Chinese and Manchu converts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are presently two elderly Orthodox priests in Beijing, Fr James Tang and Fr Alexander Du. Fr James is paralyzed from a stroke and Fr Alexander suffers from cancer. They and all the Orthodox in Beijing need our prayers. Fr Alexander told us weeping that he only hoped God will allow him to live until he sees the Church reestablished in Beijing. We were told that there are now fewer than two hundred Orthodox in the city. On July 18 Vlakyka Hilarion and most of the group visited the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs, two of the most famous sites in the Beijing area. On the nineteenth we all toured the Forbidden City where as we were about to leave, we got drenched in a downpour. All of our activities were interspersed with avid periods of shopping.

Fr Gregory Zhu with parishioners
of Pokrov Church, Harbin

On the evening of the nineteenth we flew to Harbin. On our way to the airport it was raining heavily and this caused a horrendous traffic jam. At one point we thought that we would be late for our flight. Our guide Ian was very worried and finally left our bus and ran to airport in the rain and mud. As it turned out, he needn't have been concerned. All flights were delayed because of the weather and we eventually left Beijing two hours late. On arriving in Harbin, we were met by Fr Gregory Zhu, rector of the Church of the Protection of the Mother of God, and by Mr Michael Miatov, starosta of the parish. By the time we got to the Holiday Inn in downtown Harbin, it was already eleven o'clock. Despite the late hour, Vladyka and several members of our group were undaunted; they set out to explore Kitaiskaya Ulitsa (now called Zhongyang Jie --Central Avenue), walking all the way down to the banks of the Sunggari River. These valiant souls did not get back to the hotel until the wee hours of the morning.

The following day was Sunday and we attended liturgy at the Protection church, which is the only operating Orthodox church in all of China. There were about 15 or 20 local people in attendance; several of them were elderly Russian and others were of mixed Chinese and Russian ancestry. The third and sixth hours were read clearly in Slavonic by a young Chinese man. The entire liturgy was in Slavonic and there was no sermon. Vladyka and several of our group helped out with the singing. The church building itself, while not in danger of collapse, is in need of repair. I noticed on the wall aside the altar an icon of St John of Shanghai. The Patriarch of Moscow was commemorated at liturgy. On the following day Archbishop Hilarion was allowed to serve a moleben in the church; the attendance was about the same as that of the preceding day. Vladyka of course commemorated Metropolitan Vitaly in his service.

grave of Fr Stefan Wu

During our stay we visited several other places of Orthodox interest. We went to both the old cemetery which is now a city park and to the new cemetery several kilometers outside the city. In the old cemetery there is nothing left that identifies it as a cemetery; in one source which I have consulted it says that there are over ten thousand graves there. At the new cemetery there are several hundred graves, some which were moved there from their former location in the city. There are several hundred graves there, mostly marked with engraved headstones. A new chapel, finished in 1995, stands prominently in the center of the cemetery. We were told that no services have been held there so far. One of the graves we saw was that of Protopresbyter Stefan Wu who died after being tortured during the Cultural Revolution. In Harbin we saw several other former churches. The St Sophia church is being renovated. The local authorities have come to realize that Harbin's Russian past is one of the city's major attractions and are now engaged in preserving as much as they can. St Alexis church has been given the Roman Catholics and is now a functioning church which is attended by four to five hundred people on an average Sunday. The old church of the Annunciation (Blagoveshchenskaya Tserkov) was largely destroyed, but we discovered that some of the old pillars and arches have been retained inside the new building that stands on the site. Serious consideration is even being given to rebuilding it.

On July 24, Vladyka and four other members of our group took a night train to Manzhouli (Manchzhuria) which is only a few miles from the Russian border. It is also where St Jonah of Hankou spent his last years and where he reposed. Fifty years ago Manzhouli was mostly a Russian town. Many old Russian houses survive, some of them more than a hundred years old. At the present time Manzhouli is filled with Russian visitors who come from places like Chita and Blagoveshchensk to buy goods which they can take back to Russia to sell. As a result there are numerous stores and restaurants which cater to Russians. In several of the restaurants we met women of mixed ancestry who speak fluent Russian as well as Chinese; they seemed mostly to be from the Tryokhrechie (Sanhe) area. They were all Orthodox but had not been able to practice their religion for more than thirty years. The food in these restaurants was not bad and was a welcome change from a steady diet of Chinese food.

Vladyka Hilarion wanted to find where St Jonah was buried, so on the afternoon that we arrived there, we went looking for the primary school where the Russian cathedral and cemetery used to be. One of the members of our group, Tatiana Chapman, had a rough map showing where it was located. By asking around we found it without too much trouble. Only parts of the old outer wall still remain from the Russian period. In a conversation with the school's principal, we learned very little about the location of the relics or previous excavations made there. Later, across the street from where Tatiana Chapman had lived as a child, we met an elderly man who not only remembered Tatiana's father and grandfather, but claimed to remember where the St Jonah's grave was located; this turned out to be a place different from where earlier excavations were made. Vladyka made a rough sketch of the place for future reference. At the old Russian cemetery outside the city we found that most of the headstones had been taken away for use as building material: only a very few tombstones were still there, lying flat on the ground. Amazingly one of the stones turned out to be the headstone of Tatiana Chapman's grandmother, and her father's grave lay adjacent to that of her grandmother. Near the end of our stay in Manzhouli Archbishop Hilarion visited the local head of the Bureau of Nationality and Religious affairs. He knew of the earlier attempts to find St Jonah's relics and indicated that in principle further excavations might be permitted if we had new information. On the 25th we again took the overnight train back to Harbin where we arrived at six o'clock in the morning. We went directly to the airport for our flight back to Beijing.

In our brief sojourn in Beijing this time, with the help of local friends, several of us visited the old Andingmen cemetery which has now been converted into a park called Youth Lake (Qingnian Hu). Our contacts in Beijing told us that the relics of the Chinese Martyrs had been moved here from the grounds of the Spiritual Mission in 1956; although some graves had been dug up during the Cultural Revolution, it is believed that the relics are still at this spot. The graves of several bishops are also found here, including those of Metropolitan Innokenty (Figurovsky), Bishop Simeon Du and Basil Yao. After visiting the cemetery, we went to the Russian Embassy where we were admitted after Vladyka showed them a letter he had from the Russian Embassy in Australia. The present embassy compound is on the site of the former Russian Orthodox Spiritual Mission (Dukhovnaya Missiya). Sadly very little remains of the old buildings; we were shown some walls of what had once been a church, now located behind an auto repair shop. A large stone cross has been erected behind the main embassy building and we heard that services had recently been served there by a priest from the Moscow Patriarchate. On the 27th we left China for Korea.

A few final words on the state of Orthodoxy in China. On this trip we met Orthodox believers in every place that we visited. We know that there are still other believers in the far western region of Xinjiang. We also met three of the four surviving Orthodox priests. At various places we were told that there are numerous people who would like to be baptized if it were it possible. We of course should rejoice that Orthodoxy has summed almost forty years of persecution; however, we must also realize that the it is in a very precarious state. Unfortunately any formal contact with religious organizations out side of China is currently illegal; this means that any aid we might give to the Orthodox people in China must be very circumspect. We came away with the hope that Orthodoxy, through the grace of God can flourish once again in China. Plans are now underway to form a society for the study and propagation of Chinese Orthodoxy which will be under the direction of Archbishop Hilarion. It is our hope that this society can lay some of the groundwork for a renewed mission to the Chinese. We pray that through the prayers of the Holy Chinese Martyrs, St Jonah of Hankou and St John of Shanghai, our efforts will bear fruit.