Русский | DECR Communication Service| November 26, 2010
English translation by Katherine Ilachinski

Metropolitan Hilarion: Despite the difficulties, the Russian Orthodox Church has always exercised the care of the Orthodox faithful of China

During a press conference held on 25 of November 2010 in the Department for External Church Relations, the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion raised, in particular, questions of life of the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church.

As noted by Bishop Hilarion, this year marks 325 years of existence of Orthodoxy in China. The story starts from the moment when, the Russian priest Maxim Leontiev arrived in Beijing along with the captured Cossack Albazins. Since 1713 the Russian spiritual mission in China, which for a long time acted also as the Russian diplomatic mission. In 1957, the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church was established on the basis of the Mission, which existed in the XX century. However, over the years of the "Cultural Revolution", almost nothing was left from her. Many Orthodox churches, which were built in ancient times, were either demolished, or rebuilt for different purposes. After the start of economic reform and opening up of the People’s Republic of China, the authorities opened the Pokrov church in Harbin, and then the churches in several other cities in China. "The Russian Orthodox Church" - the chairman of the DECR noted, - “all these years, was taking care of the Orthodox faithful of China, although it was not always easy."

At present, the Chinese Orthodox Church has only two Chinese clergymen, both of them are quite old: one turned 87 years old, the other - 83.

"The Department of External Church Relations for many years worked on the establishment of regular contacts with the authorities of the People's Republic - said Metropolitan Hilarion. - Special contribution to this was made by my predecessor as chairman of the DECR, now Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Kirill. It was during his leadership of the Department for External Church Relations, was established a strong partnership between the DECR and the PRC State Administration for Religious Affairs. "

Bishop Hilarion told reporters of his visit to China last year, meetings with officials of the PRC. As a result of intense dialogue they worked out the texts of two memoranda, which not so long ago have been signed by both parties. The first memorandum is, in essence, a framework agreement on cooperation between the PRC State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations under the Russian President. The second memorandum allows Chinese students to study in the theological schools of the Russian Orthodox Church. DECR chairman described the signing of these documents as very important evidence about the positive changes in the dialogue with China on the life of the Chinese Orthodox Church.

Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations under the Russian President, which includes representatives of all traditional religions of Russia, is now a partner of the State Administration for Religious Affairs of China in a dialogue with Church and state authorities of China, including the care of the Orthodox believers in this country. Under the framework of this Council there is a working group on cooperation with China. Metropolitan Hilarion, expressed satisfaction with the cooperation that exists today in this area.

Asked about the prospects for the Orthodox Church in China, where there is a very large interest in Christianity but in spite of the rich history of Orthodoxy in this country, it is not very well known to modern Chinese, the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion, said: "In accordance with the laws of China, there are five officially recognized religions, and Orthodoxy is not included in their number because of the relative few number of those who currently belong to the Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, the Orthodox believers live across the country – some are the descendants of the Russian people and the Chinese, who are members of the Orthodox Church for many decades, since the days leading up to the "Cultural Revolution". Today we face the task of pastoral care of these parishioners. "

"For us it is very important - he underlined - that in those parishes that are officially open, would have priests to serve; that these clerics previously could receive an education in the theological schools of our Church."

Continuing the theme the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations shared memories of visiting the temple in Harbin: "Of course, it was joyful to see an opened Orthodox church, to see the parishioners, but on the other hand, it is sad that it has been 10 years that there were no divine services in it. On Sundays grandmothers open the temple, people come to place candles, but the service is not there. “Metropolitan Hilarion expressed hope that through interaction with the PRC State Administration for Religious Affairs, this and other similar situations will be normalized, that in Orthodox parishes in China will serve priests, and the normal liturgical life will be restored.

There is a special position at the church on the territory of the Russian Embassy in Beijing. It was there with the permission of the Chinese authorities and has the status of the museum. In this temple they serve divine services, to which embassy officials may go, as well as invited members of other diplomatic missions, but it is not publicly available, it can not be attended by any Chinese. "We are very positively perceiving the possibility of the existence of this temple, an opportunity to revive and restore it, which was provided to us by the Chinese authorities, and we believe it is in some sense a breakthrough in our relations", - said chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of Moscow Patriarchate.

He also noted with gratitude that, in agreement with the Shanghai Administration for Religious Affairs at the time of the World Exhibition EXPO 2010 in Shanghai, the resumption of services in the Russian immigrant-built St. Nicholas Memorial Church took place.

Metropolitan Hilarion presented to the press conference attendees, book-album "Orthodoxy in China", published in Russian and Chinese languages to mark the 325 anniversary of Orthodoxy in China. Foreword to the book was written by His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. The publication was prepared by the Department for External Church Relations, in cooperation with the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, and with the support of the Russian-Chinese Business Council and the "Gruppa-SINTEZ" company. Vladika thanked everyone who worked on the preparation of publication and contributed to the book's publication.

Book-album- tells the history of Orthodoxy in China, contains photocopies of valuable archival documents and rare photographs. It is divided into eight chapters and covers the entire period of the presence of the Orthodox Church in China since 1685. This edition will be interesting to anyone who cares about the fate of Orthodoxy in China; the chairman of the DECR is sure about this.