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 small Russian parish, exclusively for Russian nationals, once existed in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, earlier in the twentieth century. The presence of this Russian parish ceased to exist after the World War II. Another Orthodox parish under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was founded in Manila during the early 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. 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. 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 when Greek sailors settled in Legaspi city on the island of Luzon about a century ago. Descendants of these Greek Orthodox Christian sailors now numbers no more than 10 families who kept their Greek surnames and have become distinguished public figures and intellectuals in the Philippines. They do not however speak Greek.

An influx of Russian emigrees fleeing the Soviet regime occured during the American colonial 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.

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.

Arbp. John Maximovitch did not preach the Orthodoxy faith to the native inhabitants of the Philippines. No Filipino was converted into to the Orthodox Christian faith during his stay in the Philippines.

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.

One of the first Greek Orthodox to arrive in the Philippines was Alexandros Athos Adamopoulos who came to Legaspi city in 1928. Together with his brother and cousin he co-founded Adamson University in 1932. The university was and is noted for its curriculum directed towards the needs of the Philippines in the areas of science, chemical and industrial engineering. Today Adamson University has attained recognition as on of the leading institutions for Graduate Education, Law, Arts, Sciences, Chemistry, Computer Education, Engineering, Commerce and Architechture. The university has a student population of over 22,000.

During World War II Alexandros Adamopoulos (Alexander A. Adamson) was appointed in 1942 by the Greek government to take charge of Greek interests in the Philippines. He was later promoted to the rank Consul General of Greece.

In 1989 Alexander Adamson saw the need to establish the first true Greek Orthodox church in the Philippines and thus established the Hellenic Orthodox Foundation Inc.. Although he died in 1993 before the church was completed, the Orthodox Cathedral was finished in 1996 and is constructed in the true byzantium style with all the interior furnishings imported from Greece and is home to approximately 200 orthodox in the Philippines. This Cathedral was consecrated by the Ecumenical Patriarch on March 5, 2000. At present there are three canonically ordained Filipino Orthodox priests in the Philippines. The only true Orthodox parish in Manila is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople which is spiritually administered by a priest from Greece.