Alexander (Du) Lifu

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Archpriest Alexander (Du) Lifu was the last priest of a small group of Chinese Orthodox Albasians in Beijing. Up until his death he had repeatedly petitioned the authorities for permission to re-establish a parish for the small Orthodox community in Beijing, which is three hundred years old.

Fr. Alexander was born in Beijing on January 17 1923, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1950 by the head of the Russian Orthodox Mission in China Archbishop Victor (Svyatin) of Beijing and China. He died in Beijing on December 16, 2003.

According to tradition, the Albasians are Chinese Orthodox descendants of about fifty Russian soldiers who survived a border war between Russia and China in the 1680s. The Emperor Kangxi was said to be so impressed by their height and good looks that he allowed them to marry ladies-in-waiting from the Forbidden City. One of the soldiers was named Dubinin, and Du is the Chinese version of the surname.


Du was born on the territory of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Beijing, and his entire life was bound up with the Russian Orthodox Church, and later with the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church (the Chinese authorities forced it to gain independence from the Mother Church in 1957).

In his youth he attended the mission's school and in 1950 was ordained priest by the head of the mission, Archbishop Victor (Svyatin), being later raised to archpriest. Du served in churches in Beijing before they were either closed or destroyed in 1966 as the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was unleashed. After the break between Moscow and Beijing, many Chinese Orthodox were accused of being Russian spies, among them Du's cousin, who was arrested and killed in prison.

As late as 1966, the community still lived by the city's north-eastern gate and had its own dairy business. But then their land was handed over to the Soviet Union for its embassy, and the church was turned into the embassy garage. Du took the icons and continued to pray in secret at home, while assigned to work until his retirement in a plastics factory.

As conditions eased in the 1980s, though deprived of an opportunity for serving because of the absence of churches, Du gave spiritual guidance to the Albasian faithful privately. Since 1997, he had participated on a regular basis in divine services conducted by visiting priests in the Russian Embassy in Beijing, although Chinese citizens are normally barred from attending.

In 1998 and again in 2001, Russian Patriarch Alexy II decorated Du in acknowledgement of his faithfulness to his vocation. Father Du always longed for the day when the Orthodox Church could exist once more in China and repeatedly petitioned the authorities for permission to re-establish a parish in Beijing. But to the last, according to those who knew him, he lived in terror of the authorities.


The funeral service for Archpriest Alexander Du Lifu took place on December 18, 2003, at the Catholic cathedral at Nantang in the southern part of Beijing. It was conducted by Rev. Dionisy Pozdnyaev of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations. Father Alexander was buried at the city cemetery Babaosang. Many Orthodox Chinese, Albasians and Russians residing in Beijing came to accompany Father Alexander on this last journey.

Among those who came to pay their last respect to Father Alexander were representatives of the Embassies of Russia and Cyprus, the Russian Club in Beijing, the City Department for Cults, and correspondents of several foreign news agencies. The Catholic Archbishop of Beijing, the Most Rev. Michael Tesang, sent a wreath to be laid on the late pastor's grave.

The Orthodox community in Beijing, which is three hundred years old, has to live today in a difficult situation, without a pastor and a church.

See also