Timeline of Orthodoxy in China

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The History of Orthodoxy in China is recent when compared to that of the Orthodox Church as a whole. While there is archaeological evidence of Christianity reaching western China in the seventh and eighth centuries in the form of the heretical Nestorian form, and even earlier speculative evidence to as early as the first to third centuries, historically the beginnings of Orthodox Christianity in China is traced from the seventeenth century.

From Albazin to Beijing (1651-1715)

  • 1644-1912 Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, the last ruling dynasty of China.
  • 1651 - Russian Cossack Erofey (Geoffery) Khabarov founded the fort/town of Albazin on the Amur River.
  • 1665 - Church of the Resurrection and monastery founded in Albazin (Russian fort/town).
  • 1685 - Chinese capture Albazin, razing Church of the Resurrection; Group of Albazin Russians, including Priest Maxim Leontiev, are re-settled to Beijing by Chinese; Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722) ordered the Buddhist temple of Guangi Miao (Temple of the War God) in the northeast corner of the imperial city to be cleared for the Russian inhabitants, becoming the Church of Hagia Sophia[1], the first Orthodox Church in China.
  • 1689 - Treaty of Nerchinsk established Amur River as boundary between Russia and China, recognzing Russia's sovereignty over eastern Siberia.
  • 1698 - Consecration of the first Orthodox church, in the name of Hagia Sophia, or Divine Wisdom, in Beijing, recognized by Ignatius, Metropolitan of Tobolsk; on this auspicious occasion many Chinese received Holy Baptism, and thus the consecration of the first Orthodox Church coincided with the introduction of Orthodoxy among the Chinese.
  • 1712 Death of Fr. Maxim Leontiev; Emperor Kangxi gives permission for a new priest to come.

Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in China (1715-1956)

  • 1715 Archimandrite Ilarion (Lezhaisky), with staff, icons, sacred vessels, and service books arrives in Beijing as head of the first Russian Orthodox Mission; Emperor Kangxi had initiated the practice of receiving missions of Orthodox clergy and students of about ten-years each.
  • 1717 Archimandrite Ilarion (Lezhaisky) reposed in Beijing.
  • 1724 Emperor Yongcheng issues edict promoting Confucianism as the proper way of life, and declaring Roman Catholicism, and to some degree Buddhism and Taoism as heterodox.
  • 1727 The first mission is recorded in the Russo-Chinese treaty of 1727, in Article V[2] allowing for the legal establishment of a Russian religious institution in Beijing, as well as defining official trade ties and demarcating the border.

  • 1729 Archimandrite Antony (Platkovsky) arrives as head of the second Mission.
  • 1730 The mission reported that there were more than 50 baptized persons among the Chinese and Manchus, excluding women; construction of the Tea Road (Siberian Route) begun, starting in Moscow and terminating at Kyakhta, a trading point on the border between the Russian and Qing Empires.

  • 1736 Archimandrite Ilarion (Trusov) arrives in Beijing as head of the third Mission.
  • 1741 Archimandrite Ilarion (Trusov) reposed in Beijing.

  • 1745 Archimandrite Gervasy (Lintsevsky) arrives in Beijing as head of the fourth Mission.

  • 1755 Archimandrite Amvrosy (Yumatov) arrives in Beijing as head of the fifth Mission.
  • 1771 Archimandrite Amvrosy (Yumatov) reposed in Beijing.

  • 1771 Archimandrite Nikolai (Tsvet) arrives in Beijing as head of the sixth Mission.

  • 1781 Archimandrite Ioakim (Shishkovsky) arrives in Beijing as head of the seventh Mission.

  • 1794 Archimandrite Sofrony (Gribovsky) arrives in Beijing as head of the eighth Mission.
  • 1796-1805 Rebellion of the White Lotus Society, a secret Taoist society that forecast the advent of Maitreya.
  • 1806 By 1806 eight separate missions had been sent to live in the Manchu capital and the Russian establishment included buildings that housed the mission proper (Uspeniya Presvyatoi Bogoroditsu) or "Conception of the Holiest Mother of God", the Nikolskii church, a school of Chinese and Manchu studies, and a Manchu school of Russian studies.

  • 1807 Archimandrite Iiakinf (Bichurin) arrives in Beijing as head of the ninth Mission, became an imminent sinologist.
  • 1812 Following Napoleon's invasion of Russia, all contact between the mission and the homeland was lost, and for a time the mission members had to survive by their own efforts and small allowances from the Chinese govemment.
  • 1813 Rebellion of the Eight Trigrams Society (Baguajiao), a secret Taoist society closely related to the millennarian White Lotus tradition, galvanized into revolt by their belief that the millennium had arrived.

  • 1821 Archimandrite Peter (Kamensky) arrives in Beijing as head of the tenth Mission.

  • 1830 Hieromonk Veniamin (Morachevich) arrives in Beijing as head of the eleventh Mission.
  • 1839-42 First Opium War; Hong Kong was ceded to Great Britain from China as part of the concessions from the Opium War.

  • 1840 Archimandrite Policarp (Tugarinov) arrives in Beijing as head of the twelfth Mission.

  • 1850 Archimandrite Pallady (Kafarov) arrives in Beijing as head of the thirteenth Mission.
  • 1850-65 Taiping Rebellion, a Christian-inspired Chinese millenarian movement, described as the most destructive civil war in the history of the world.
  • 1856-60 Second Opium War.

  • 1858 Archimandrite Gury (Karpov) arrives in Beijing as head of the fourteenth Mission; after the Treaty of Tianjin the status of the mission changed in that its diplomatic activities on behalf of Russia became obsolete.
  • 1860 About 150 priests worked in the mission; although it is estimated that there were not more than 200 Orthodox in Beijing, including the descendants of naturalized Russians; after the Treaty of Peking other countries as well as Russia were allowed to open diplomatic embassies; the old Russian presence in Beijing became known as the Northern Yard (Beiguan - reserved for the Russian Orthodox priests), and a Southern Yard (Nannguan) was established for the Ambassador, both remaining important.
  • 1864 Archimandrite Gury (Karpov) completes translation of the New Testament and church services into Chinese.

  • 1865 Archimandrite Pallady (Kafarov) returns in Beijing as head of the fifteenth Mission (1865-78), translating more works into Chinese including the Book of Psalms and Book of Services.

  • 1879 Archimandrite Flavian (Gorodetsky) arrives in Beijing as head of the sixteenth Mission (1879-84); he conducts services in Chinese.
  • 1882 Fr. Mitrophan Ji ordained, in Tokyo, Japan, as first Chinese Orthodox priest by St Nicholas of Japan.

  • 1884 Archimandrite Amfilohil (Lutovinov) arrives in Beijing as head of the seventeenth Mission (1894-1896), making little progress for lack of funds and training.
  • 1894-95 First Sino-Japanese War.

  • 1896 Archimandrite Innocent (Figurovsky) arrives in Beijing as head of the eighteenth Mission (1896-1931), spearheading many modern Chinese translations of Orthodox liturgical and catechetical books, and setting a more missionary spirit, revitalizing the mission.
  • 1898 The modern city of Harbin is founded, with the start of the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway by Russia, an extension of the Trans-Siberian Railway, eventually becoming a major centre of White Russian émigrés; 200th anniversary of the consecration of the first Orthodox church in China.
  • 1900 Yihetuan (Boxer) revolt, an anti-Western and anti-missionary uprising in China, results in destruction of Orthodox Mission and death of 222 Chinese Orthodox martyrs; the Guan Miao area where the Albazine community lived was laid to rubble, including destruction of its famous library.
  • 1902 Archimandrite Innocent (Figurovsky) consecrated Bishop in Russia and returned as first bishop in China.
  • 1903 Orthodox communities in Manchuria (Harbin) placed under Bp. Innocent, Bishop of Beijing; church of the All Holy Martyrs of the Yihetuan Uprising is built on the grounds of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Beijing where many of the 222 martyrs were slain (later destroyed in 1957 by the Soviets).
  • 1907 St. Sophia Cathedral is built in Harbin City.
  • 1912 The Republic of China was established on January 1, 1912, after over two thousand years of imperial rule.
  • 1910 Chinese Prayer book is compiled by Bishop Innokenty (Figurovsky) of Beiguan, Beijing.
  • 1916 There were 32 Orthodox mission churches in various provinces with 5,587 Orthodox Chinese adherents, with a thriving and expanding mission; within twenty years that number was estimated at 10,000[3]; the church also ran schools and orphanages.
  • 1917 The Russian Revolution separated the Orthodox Church of China from its traditional support base in Russia, and the Chinese church had to fend for itself; the numbers of Orthodox faithful in China swelled in the wake of the Russian revolution, when anti-Bolshevik Russian emigres (White émigrés) poured across the border into China, forming colonies in Harbin, Shanghai and Beijing; Harbin held the largest Russian population outside of the state of Russia.
  • 1922 Orthodox bishops in China came under the jurisdiction of the Synod of Russian Bishops Outside Russia ROCOR (1922-1945); Diocese of Harbin, under ROCOR, formed; St. Jonah of Manchuria, Bishop of Hankou (1922-1925); Protection (Pokrov) of the Theotokos Church is founded in Harbin City.
  • 1927-1950 Chinese Civil War (Nationalist-Communist Civil War).
  • ca.1930 There were more than 50,000 Orthodox in China, mostly Russians; Dioceses were established in Shanghai and Tianjin, in addition to Harbin and Beijing.
  • 1930 Protection (Pokrov) of the Theotokos Church in Harbin City is rebuilt of brick.
  • 1931-45 Japanese-dominated state of Manchukuo ("State of Manchuria") is formed by former Qing Dynasty officials with help from Imperial Japan.

  • 1931 Archbishop Simon (Vinogradov) arrives in Beijing as head of the nineteenth Mission (1931-1933).

  • 1933 Bishop Victor (Svyatin) arrives in Beijing as head of the twentieth and last Mission (1933-1956).
  • 1934 Shanghai cathedral (Cathedral of the "Surety of Sinners", or "Intercessions of Sinners") is completed, as the newly consecrated Bishop John (Maximovitch) arrives from Serbia.
  • 1934-46 St. John (Maximovitch), Bishop of Shanghai.
  • 1937-41 Second Sino-Japanese War.
  • 1945 Diocese of Harbin subordinated under Moscow Patriarchate after arrival of Soviet Army; short occupation of Harbin by the Soviet Army from August 1945 to April 1946, resulting in thousands of Russian emigres being forcibly removed to the Soviet Union; the Moscow Patriarchate resumed jurisdiction over the episcopate in China from ROCOR.
  • 1946 ROCOR elevated John (Maximovitch) to Archbishop; since ROCOR and the MP were not in communion at this time, Abp. John (Maximovitch) was Archbishop not only of Shanghai, but of all China for the White Russian immigrants; Harbin and East Asia Diocese is transformed into the East Asia Exarchate, by Patriarchal Edict 664 of 11 June 1946.
  • 1946-49 St. John (Maximovitch), Archbishop of Shanghai and over all the Russian faithful in China.
  • 1948 St. John (Maximovitch) blessed a revised edition of the 1910 Chinese prayer book of Bishop Innokenty (Figurovsky), with more catechetical material.
  • 1949 Establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in mainland China, by the victorious Communists, who end all Chrisitan missionary work; by this time 106 Orthodox churches had been opened in China, with the parishioners generally being Russian refugees, and the native Chinese element constituting at least 10,000 faithful; until 1949 there were more than 15 Russian Orthodox churches and two cemeteries in Harbin alone; treaties were signed between the Soviet and Chinese governments that provided for the turning over of Russian churches to Chinese control; most of the Russians left for Australia, the United States and other places.
  • 1950 Symeon (Du) consecrated Bishop of Tianjin in July, becoming the first Chinese Orthodox bishop. Later, in September, he was transferred to be Bishop of Shanghai (1950-1965).
  • 1954 East Asia Exarchate (Diocese of Harbin) abolished.
  • 1956 Archbishop Victor (Svyatin), the last Russian bishop and leader of the 20th Spiritual Mission, returned to the Soviet Union, following agreements reached between Nikita Khruschev and Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung), drawing to a close a variegated chapter in the history of Orthodoxy in China.

Autonomy and Decline (1956-1984)

  • 1956 - Church of China under Chinese administration is established under pressure from the Chinese authorities; all non-Chinese clergy leave China; on the orders of then-Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev, the Soviet Embassy took over the territory of the Russian Orthodox mission and tore down the church.
  • 1957 - Holy Synod of the Church of Russia granted autonomy to the Church of China; Vasily (Shuan) consecrated Bishop of Beijing.
  • 1962 - Bp. Vasily reposed. No successor seated as Bishop of Beijing due to Chinese government constraints.
  • 1965 - Bp. Symeon (Du) reposed, leaving the Chinese Church without any bishops.
  • 1966 The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) almost totally destroyed the young Chinese Orthodox Church, with some clergymen being persecuted and exiled, others tortured, churches being closed, their property confiscated, and religious activity forbidden or driven underground.
  • 1978 The Constitution of the People's Republic of China guaranteed "freedom of religion" with a number of restrictions; the five recognized religions by the state include Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism[4][5] and Protestantism;[6] (Orthodoxy not registered as of yet[7]).

Revival of the Church (1984-Present)

  • 1984 Protection (Pokrov) of the Theotokos Church of Harbin is reopened, with a few Russian refugees and the Orthodox Chinese being allowed to pray there in 1986; at this time it is the only Orthodox church in the territory of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) where services have been going on; the resident priest Fr. Grigori Zhu (+2000) attended to the parish consisting of 144 souls ranging in age from 68 to 92.
  • 1986 About 3,000 Orthodox Christians living in the predominantly Muslim autonomous area of Xinjiang were allowed to reconstruct their church in Urumqi, but with no priest present the community could only meet to pray.
  • 1989 Tiananmen Square protests occurred in a year that saw the collapse of a number of communist governments around the world, culminating in the Tiananmen Square Massacre (June Fourth Incident).
  • 1993 A delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church including Kirill the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad visited China.
  • 1996 Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia (OMHKSEA) founded, with its status recognised by the city's parliament, and the church operating freely in Hong Kong and Taiwan; Metr. Nikitas (Lulias) of Dardanellia becomes first Metropolitan of Diocese of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia (1996-2007).
  • 1997 On the occasion of 40th year anniversary of the autonomy of the Orthodox Church in China, the Holy Synod of the ROC met on February 17 1997, deciding to take care of the Orthodox faithfull in China under the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, until a Head of the OCC can be elected; in Harbin, the beautiful St. Sophia Cathedral was renovated and opened as a museum; Hong Kong returned to Chinese control by the British in July.
  • 1998 300th anniversary of the consecration of the first Orthodox church in China.
  • 1999 The Russian-Chinese Orthodox Missionary Society is founded in Sydney, Australia, under ROCOR, with the aim of spiritual enlightenment of the Chinese speaking population of the country.
  • 2000 Death of Fr. Grigory Zhu in September, leaving the Protection (Pokrov) of the Theotokos Church in Harbin without a priest; Archimandrite Fr. Jonah (Mourtos) arrived in Taiwan in September to lead the mission of the church there, having spent seventeen years as a monk on Mount Athos; according to the 2000 census, 30,505 Evenks were counted in China, a nominally Orthodox Christian ethnic group (self-identified Orthodox minority in China), living in the Hulunbuir region in the north.
  • 2003 Death of Fr. Alexander Du Lifu in December, the last remaining Orthodox priest in Beijing, who died without realising his dream of reopening a church in Beijing.
  • 2004 Attempts are made to grow the church through cyberspace, as Mitrophan Chin, a young Chinese-American who converted to the Orthodox religion, volunteers as the webmaster for www.orthodox.cn; the Chinese government allowed a hieromonk from Russia to visit the Pokrov Church in Harbin to hear confessions in both Russian and Chinese in July; in August a Russian Orthodox Church delegation led by Bishop Mark of Egorevsk met with Chinese officials and representatives of the country's various religious organizations; Brotherhood of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul parish is established in Hong Kong under Fr Dionisy Pozdnyaev, dedicated to assist the revival of the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church.
  • 2005 As of 2005 there were only five priests, a number expected to grow because several Chinese nationals are currently studying in Orthodox seminaries with the intention of returning to China to serve as priests (depending on the blessing of the Chinese government).
  • 2006 Currently there are around 13,000 Orthodox Christians in China (according to the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate), with an estimated 400 residing in the capital Beijing, but they are not recognized as an official religious community;[8] 13 Chinese Orthodox students are undergoing studies at the Sretenskaya Theological Academy in Moscow and the Academy of St Petersburg, to pave the way for a minimal presence of clergy in China; the Russian Orthodox Church did its utmost through president Vladimir Putin, to gain recognition of Orthodoxy in China before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing; Publication of first Orthodox prayer book in both Chinese and Russian, following the editions of 1948 and 1910; the Orthodox Fellowship of All Saints of China (OFASC) is launched in the US, with the strategic vision of producing easy-to-read and accurate modern Chinese translations of important Orthodox texts.
  • 2007 50th anniversary of the autonomy of the Orthodox Church in China; the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church decided to open a department concerned with the Chinese Orthodox Autonomous Church (COAC), stressing the need to continue efforts taken by its Department for External Church Relations in the dialogue with the Chinese authorities to normalize the situation of the Orthodox Church in China; Easter liturgies were offered in Russia’s diplomatic missions in China, with over 300 walking in an Easter procession in the Russian Embassy in Beijing, and 120 more attending the Easter liturgy in the Russian Consulate General in Shanghai; the Municipal Housing Bureau of Shanghai mandated the restoration of the Shanghai Cathedral to prepare it as a historical museum; death of Protopresbyter Elias Wen.
  • 2008 Metr. Nektarios (Tsilis) becomes new Orthodox Bishop of Diocese of Hong Kong; Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church glorifies Archimandrite Gury (Karpov).
  • 2009 Archpriest Georges Florovsky's book "Christianity and Culture" is published in the Chinese language.


  • Some of these dates are necessarily a bit vague, as records for some periods are particularly difficult to piece together accurately.
  • The division of Church History into separate eras as done here will always be to some extent arbitrary, though it was attempted to group periods according to major watershed events.
  • This timeline is necessarily biased toward the history of the Orthodox Church, though a number of non-Orthodox or purely political events are mentioned for their importance in history related to Orthodoxy or for reference.

Presence of Orthodox Communities in China


  • Its first communities were made up of Russian immigrants concentrated in the north of the country in Albazin (near the town of Skovorodino, in Russia's Amur Oblast region.
  • A group of Albazin Russians were re-settled in Beijing by Chinese, setting up the Russian Mission (1715-1956).
  • Dioceses were later established in Shanghai and Tianjin, in addition to those in Harbin and Beijing.


  • In addition to Beijing, where there are about 400 faithful, most believers live in four main locations, still mainly of Russian origin:
  1. Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, where there is a parish dedicated to the Protective Mantle of the Mother of God.
  2. Ergun (Labdarin) in Hulunbuir Province, (Outer Mongolia).
  3. Kulj (Kulj-i), in Xinjiang Province, of north west China (in the Tacheng Prefecture).
  4. Urumqi, in Xinjiang Province, of north west China.[9]

Qing Dynasty Emperors (1644-1912)

See also

External Links


Origins in Albazin (Post-1685)
Russian Emigration to China (Post-1897)
Russian Emigrees from Communism (Post-1917)
Roman Catholic Missions
Protestant Missions

Further Reading



  1. The chapel was originally named the Nikolsky Church because of a wonderworking icon Fr. Maximus brought with him. However the church was consecrated in 1698 in the name of Hagia Sophia, or Divine Wisdom.
  2. The fifth article of the treaty provided for four priests and six students to live in Peking until they felt like returning to Russia, at which time they would be replaced by a new contingent. The mission was to be supported in various ways by both countries. In return, it answered a mutual need for continuous contact between the capitals of St. Petersburg and Peking. (Eric Widmer. The Russian ecclesiastical mission in Peking during the eighteenth century. Harvard Univ Asia Center, 1976. p.4).
  3. Stephen Uhalley and Xiaoxin Wu. China and Christianity: Burdened Past, Hopeful Future. M.E. Sharpe, 2001. p.22
  4. While the Roman Catholic Church is officially banned in the country, the Chinese government demands that all Chinese "Catholics" must be loyal to the State, and that worship must legally be conducted through State-approved churches belonging to the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association", established in 1957 by the People's Republic of China's Religious Affairs Bureau to exercise state supervision over mainland China's Catholics.
  5. According to 2003 estimated statistics of the Chinese Catholic Church by China Bridge: Observations on China from the Holy Spirit Study Centre, the Church in China has 12 million Roman Catholics, 138 dioceses, 74 bishops in the official (state) Church, and 46 bishops in the unofficial (Papal) Church. The same report also says that there are 1,740 priests in the official Church and 1,000 in the unofficial Church, as well as 3,500 sisters in the official Church and 1,700 sisters in the unofficial Church.
  6. In "Onward, Christian Soldiers," an article appearing in the May 10, 2004 issue of Newsweek magazine, Chinese academics say China now has at least 45 million Christians, most of whom are Protestants. However, Western researchers put the number closer to 90 million. The article notes that there are about 6 million members of the official, government-recognized Roman Catholic Church. China's overall population is about 1.3 billion.(Newsweek)
  7. The officially declared reason for the government's non-recognition of The Orthodox Church is the government's fear that external political forces from outside nations — in this case, primarily Russia — could achieve influence within China. This places the Church to the legal status of religia-illicitata. (Encyclopedia - Chinese Orthodox Church, at Global Oneness).
  8. AsiaNews.it Russian Orthodox church to be set up in Beijing shortly. AsiaNews.it, July 06, 2006.
  9. AsiaNews.it Aleksej II criticises China, Taiwan accepts to open a church. AsiaNews.it, April 12, 2007.