Orthodoxy in the Philippines

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This article seeks to be a clearinghouse of information and links regarding the history and state of Orthodox Christianity in the Philippines.

The current Orthodox presence in the Philippines is minimal, though a Russian cathedral existed there earlier in the twentieth century. Another cathedral under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was founded in the 1990s.

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 itself in the Philippines and punishable by death for Filipinos to convert away 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.

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 tolerance 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 in the Philippines

Orthodoxy arrived in the Philippines during the American colonial regime due to the influx of Russian emigrees fleeing the Soviet regime. In 1935, a 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 church 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 Cathedral and Russian Orthodox church were destroyed during the Second World War.
Abp. John Maximovitch in Tubabao

St. John of Shanghai and San Franciso

In 1949, 5,500 Russian Orthodox from China, including then-Archbishop John Maximovitch, was relocated to Tubabao in the south central Philippines by the International Refugee Organization and with the permission of the newly independent Republic of the Philippines. Abp. 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, and he is revered even by non-Orthodox in the south central Philippines. Unfortunately, Arbp. Maximovitch did not receive any Filipino convert in the Orthodox Church.

Tubabao, however, was (and still is) an underdeveloped island which is humid, prone to typhoons, and at times inaccessible due to the ocean conditions. When a Russian commented on their fear that a typhoon would destroy their camp to local Filipinos, they replied that there was nothing to worry about because “your holy man blesses your camp from four directions every night.” There were no typhoons or floods while Abp. John was there.

Through the persistent lobbying of Abp. John to the U.S. Congress, the refugees were allowed to settle in the United States and Australia beginning in 1951.

Orthodoxy in the Philippines Today

There are many groups today in the Philippines that claim to be Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox churches; however, they all lack apostolic succession and do not adhere to the traditions and canons of either church.

In 1997, Greek ship owners established a parish under the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia which is headed by a priest from Greece.

There are currently plans to re-establish a Russian Orthodox presence in the Philippines and to begin missions for Filipinos due to the strong need to teach Eastern Orthodoxy in the Philippines to Filipinos in the vernacular. The members of the Russian Orthodox Church hope to build on the half century of trust and respect gained by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco to help the Philippines discover the richness of Orthodoxy.