Provided by Union of Catholic Asian News,
CH3129.0631 October 9, 1991 36 EM-lines (346 words)

Harbin Orthodox Church has Regular Prayer Service and Russian Visitors

courtesy of
Old China
Hand Gazette

HARBIN, China (UCAN) -- Harbin, once an archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in China, has only one church open for worship, said an Orthodox priest here.

Restored in 1984, the Virgin Mary Patron Church (Ukraine Church) is located in the city center.

About 30 to 40 followers join the regular Sunday morning Mass that lasts for two hours, the priest recently told Hong Kong Catholics.

He said about 200 Orthodox Church believers reside here. They are mostly Russians who have come to China since the 1920s.

Harbin, provincial capital of Heilongjiang in northeastern China, is close to the China-Soviet border.

There are seven or eight priests of the Orthodox Church living in Beijing and Shanghai, said the Slav-speaking priest.

In August a Russian Orthodox Church priest from Russia revisited the church, where he served 40 years ago. "It's our history. I hope to have chance to pray in this church again," he said.

According to "The Art of Architecture of Harbin" published here, the church was built in 1930 by the architect Tidanov, who was influenced by Byzantine architecture with its arches and vaults.

The book notes there were five Orthodox churches in Harbin in 1936.

At least one other Orthodox church still exists at the entrance of the Cultural Park, formerly a cemetery for Soviet emigrants.

The small, unconventional Usbinkaya cemetery church is well preserved, but the inside has become an outlet for entertainment tickets.

The Eastern Orthodox Church was introduced to China by the Russians as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1277-1355), according to "China Encyclopedia -- Religion," published in Beijing in 1988.

After the 1917 Russian Revolution, financial support from Moscow to the Orthodox Church in China was stopped. Chinese monasteries had to be dissolved, and priests were forced to leave the religious communities.

In 1922, the Orthodox believers in China set up the Chinese Orthodox Church (COC) in Beijing, cutting ties with their Russian counterpart.

In 1956 a COC meeting established an "autonomous Church" -- not subject to a patriarch but responsible to a provincial synod. Orthodox bishops from Russia were also present.

The COC maintained five dioceses in Beijing, Harbin, Shanghai, Tianjin and Xinjiang, before Russian priests left China.