Orthodoxy in the Philippines

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Orthodoxy in the Philippines

The beginnings of Christianity in the Philippines

Christianity was first introduced to the Philippines in the 16th century by Spain when the Philippines became a colony. Until the Philippine Revolution of 1896, it was illegal for any non-Roman Catholic Church to establish in the Philippines and punishable by death for Filipinos to convert from the Roman Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Manila served as both representative of the Spanish Inquisition and, during the absence of the Governor-General, the Spanish Crown.

The first recorded Orthodox Christians came during the 18th and 19th century due to trade and were mostly Antiochians who later married Filipino women and was forced to convert to Roman Catholicism due to the Inquisition.

After fighting a bloody revolution against Spain, the Philippines then fought another war for its independence against the United States. However the Philippines was annexed by the United States in 1898 and remained a colony until 1946. Religious tolerence was then instituted and the Spanish Inquisition was abolished in 1898. The new American governor-generals then encouraged the spread of the Episcopal Church through government donations of land.

Orthodoxy arrived in the Philippines due to the influx of Russian emigrees fleeing the Soviet regime during the American colonial regime. In 1935, a large Russian parish was established in Manila and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia appointed Father Mikhail Yerokhin as vicar. The Episcopal Church then permitted Fr. Mikhail to use the north transept of their cathedral for worship. In 1937, the first Orthodox cathedral was built and was named after the Iberian Icon of the Mother of God. This also became the first Orthodox altar in the Philippines. Later, both the Episcopal and Russian Orthodox cathedrals were destoryed during the Second World War.

In 1949, 5,500 Russian Orthodox from China, including then Archbishop John Maximovitch, was relocated to Tubabao in south-central Philippines by the International Refugee Organization and with the permission of the newly independent Republic of the Philippines. Archbishop John Maximovitch then established a wooden church, orphanage, and other buildings in Tubabao for the refugees. Until the present time, older Filipinos still remember the "Holy Man".

Tubabao, however, was (and still is) an underdeveloped island which is humid, prone to typhoons, and at times inaccessible due to the ocean conditions. Through the persistent lobbying of Archbishop John Maximovitch to the US Congress, the refugees were allowed to settle in the United States and Australia.

In 1997, Greek expatriate businessmen in the Philippines opened a Greek parish under the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Manila. A female monastery was also established. The total population of Greek Orthodox Christians in the Philippines is estimated to be around 200-600 headed by a Greek vicar.

In 2006, preliminary steps were discussed to establish an Antiochian presence in the Philippines. Plans have not yet been announced.

In 2007, very preliminary discussions were also being held to re-establish the Russian Orthodox Church in the Philippines. Plans are still being formulated.