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Maxim Leontiev

The priest Maxim Leontiev of the Russian Orthodox Church was the first Orthodox clergyman to lead a group of Orthodox Christians in Beijing, China. He arrived in Beijing in 1685 with a group of Russian Cossacks and deserters, referred to as Albazenes, who came into the service of the Chinese emperor after Fort Albazin, on the Amur River, was conquered by the Chinese.

As the Russian cossacks advanced east through Siberia in the seventeenth century a number of forts and settlements were formed near the Chinese border. One of these was the fort/town of Albazin near the confluence of the River Albazina with the Amur River. The town included stores and a church, to which Fr. Maxim was assigned. Albazin proved to be a point of friction between the Cossacks and the Manchu government of China due to adventuresome cossacks. During the summer of 1685, the Chinese besieged Albazin and offered the Albazin inhabitants the option of surrender, which was refused. The subsequent Chinese attack made a shambles of the town. In surrender talks that followed, a group of some 25 to 45 cossacks with some women and children accepted the Chinese offer to serve the Chinese emperor. Fr. Maxim Leontiev was among this group that then traveled to, and settled in Beijing.


Nothing is known of Fr. Maxim’s early life. He was a priest serving the Russians at the fort/town of Albazin. After the fall of Albazin, Fr. Maxin and the group of Albazenes were settled in an area northeast of Beijing that is now known as the district of Dongzhimen (Eastern Straight Gate) of Beijing. The Chinese emperor Kang Hsi gave Fr. Maxim the use of an old Chinese temple for use as a church for his Orthodox Christian community. He modified the building into a church. The church was dedicated by Fr Maxim to the Holy Wisdom of God with the blessing of, and antimins and books and vessels, from Metropolitan Ignatius of Tobolsk.

Fr. Maxim reposed in Beijing in either 1711 or 1712. The presence of Fr. Maxim and the Albazanes in Beijing provided the foundation for the agreement in the early eighteenth century between the Russian and Chinese emperors for the establishment of the Russian Orthodox Mission in China, that led to the establishment of a Church of China.