Русский | 'DECR Communication Service of the Russian Orthodox Church' | April 30, 2007

Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations Communication Service Statement concerning Orthodox Church in KDPR

News that an Orthodox parish of the Patriarchate of Constantinople appeared in Pyongyang filled different Web-sites in March 2007. The source was a publication in the missionary edition 'Panta ta Ethni (All Nations)’ then the material was borrowed by 'To Vima’ and RNN.GR portal and shortly afterwards it hit the headlines of electronic mass-media.

In connection with that the Communication Service of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate officially states that this information is inconsistent with the truth. At present time there is only one Orthodox Church of Life-Giving Trinity in Chonbek district of Pyongyang under canonical authority of His Holiness Alexy, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

To clarify this question we would rather turn to the history of relations between Russian and Korea and one of Orthodoxy in Korea. Historical fortunes of Orthodoxy in Korea were connected with Russia. And now the Russian Orthodox Church does everything possible to restore the spiritual closeness of our nations, to renew the spiritual ties that united them in the past.

The history of Russian-Korean ties dates back to the Ancient Russia. The prominent European traveller Plano Karpini who visited the Mongolian state in the XIII century noted that he had seen a lot of ambassadors in the Great Khan’s headquarters, among them Russian and Korean ones: there were 'a noble man Yaroslav, Grand Prince of Russia and also the Prince of Koreans.’

The first Russians to set foot upon the Korean land were seamen from the frigate 'Pallada’, who explored the coastal waters of Korean peninsula in 1854. Among them was a vessel priest Archimandrite Awakum (Chestnoi) who had earlier been to Korea as a member of the XI Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in 1830s — 1840s.

As relations between Russia and Korea developed a necessity emerged to found a Church representation by the Russian diplomatic mission in Seoul. On 24 July 1897 the Holy Synod issued a resolution to establish the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Korea (REMK) with responsibility to take care of Russian Orthodox Christians residing in Korea and to preach Orthodoxy among local non-Christian population.

The first mission arrived in Korea in February 1900. Since its foundation until 1908 the Korean Mission was under the authority of the Saint-Petersburg diocese, from 1908 till 1921 — under one of the Vladivostok diocese, from 1921 till 1944 — under one of Tokyo diocese and since 1944 — under one of the diocese of Harbin and East Asia.

Despite all the difficulties the Church in the Motherland had to overcome, REMK canonically remained under authority of the Russian Orthodox Church and continued as far as it could to take care of Orthodox refugees from Russia and implement missionary activities among its faithful.

The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission continued its activity until 1949 when Archimandrite Polikarp (Priimak) was expelled and all the property and lands arrested. After Archimandrite Polikarp’s expulsion all activities of the Mission on Korean Peninsula practically came to an end, although Korea itself remained under authority of Harbin and East Asia Diocese which was transformed into East Asia Exarchate by the Patriarchal Edict 664 of 11 June 1946. The exarchate existed till 1954.

In 2002 during his visit to Russia Kim Jong-Il, the Chairman of the National Defense Commission of KPDR expressed his wish to build an Orthodox church in Pyongyang. This news received great positive response in South Korean society.

In February 2003 the delegation of North Korean Believers Society Council, headed by its chairman Chan Zhe On visited Moscow. Within the Society an Orthodox Committee was established and George Ho Ir Zin became its chairman. In April 2003 four students from KPDR began to study at Moscow Theological Seminary — candidates for further pastoral ministry in North Korea.

On 24 June 2003 Archbishop Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk (now Metropolitan, Chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate) blessed the foundation stone of the Life-Giving Trinity church in Pyongyang.

On 21 and 22 May 2005 with the blessing from His Holiness Alexy, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Bishop Mark of Yegorievsk ordained deacons Feodor Kim and John Ra - students of Moscow Theological Seminary.

In June 2006 His Holiness Patriarch Alexy received a petition from George Ho Ir Zin, Chairman of the KPDR Orthodox Committee, asking him to accept the Life-Giving Trinity church in Pyongyang under the pallium of the Russian Orthodox Church. In response to this petition the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on 17 July 2006 issued a decree to establish an Orthodox parish of the Life-Giving Trinity in Pyongyang under canonical authority of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

On 13 August 2006 Metropolitan Kirill, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, Archbishop Veniamin of Vladivostok and Primorski Krai, Bishop Ioanafan of Abakan and Kyzyl, Bishop Mark of Yegorievsk who were in North Korea on invitation from the KPDR Orthodox Committee, concelebrated by Russian and Korean clergymen consecrated the church in honour of Life-Giving Trinity in Pyongyang. During the visit Metropolitan Kirill ordained priests Feodor Kim and John Ra — graduates of Moscow Theological Seminary.

The Russian Orthodox Church presented the Pyongyang church with bells, an iconostasis and necessary church plates. The KPDR Orthodox committee received techniques it needed. The Korean nation which had recently suffered from disastrous floods also received a set of medical supplies as a gift from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nowadays Bishops and priests of the Russian Orthodox Church regularly come to North Korea to concelebrate with North Korean clergymen who continue to improve their liturgical skills during seminars in Vladivostok with the last one being held in February 2007.

The KPDR Orthodox Committee makes necessary efforts to strengthen inter-Orthodox unity in coordination with the Russian Orthodox Church. Contacts of the KPDR Orthodox Committee with representatives of the Constantinople Patriarchate diocese in Seoul appear absolutely natural as well as the brotherly assistance of Orthodox believers from Seoul provided for the church of Life-Giving Trinity in Pyongyang. Exactly the description of this assistance in a Greek magazine caused such a broad resonance in mass-media.

In October 2006 Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad received a petition from Metropolitan Sotirios who expressed his wish to celebrate at the Life-Giving Trinity church in Pyongyang on the Feast of Protection of Our Lady. The petition received positive response. During his stay in Pyongyang Metropolitan Sotirios received was warmly welcomed by George Ho — Chairman of the KPDR Orthodox Committee. During the Liturgy Metropolitan Sotirios in correspondence with canonical order prayed for His Holiness Alexy, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

Laying and consecration of the Orthodox church in Pyongyang as well as numerous mutual visits and providing aid from the Russian Orthodox Church for the people of Korea received broad coverage in worldwide media. It appears that the authors of a publication in 'Panta ta Ethni’ were not able to fully describe the history how an Orthodox church appeared in KPDR because of the small format of the article. This is why shortly afterwards ungrounded conclusions were drawn by secular journalists, who noticeably shortened the initial material in their articles and entitled it in a way which distorts reality.

The DECR Communication Service is ready to provide necessary reference materials on the subject for all researchers and journalists taking keen interest in the history and contemporaneity of Orthodoxy in Korea.