Timeline of Orthodoxy in China

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Orthodoxy in China
Church of China
Russian Orthodox Mission in China
Timeline of Orthodoxy in China
Mitrophan Ji
Martyrs of China
Jonah of Manchuria
John Maximovitch
Gury (Karpov)
Major Figures
Iakinf (Bichurin) of Beijing
Pallady (Kafarov) of Beijing
Innocent (Figurovsky) of Beijing
Chinese Bishops
Vasily (Shuan) of Beijing
Symeon (Du) of Shanghai
Maxim Leontiev
Alexander (Du) Lifu
Elias Wen
Michael (Wang) Quansheng
Evangelos (Lu) Yaofu
Jonah (Mourtos)
Dionisy (Pozdnyaev)
Diocese of Beijing (Historical)
Diocese of Harbin (Historical)
Diocese of Shanghai (Historical)
Diocese of Tianjin (Historical)
Historic Churches
All Holy Martyrs of Beijing
St. Sophia Cathedral
Holy Annunciation Church of Harbin
Cathedral of the Surety of Sinners
Existing Churches with no Priest
Protection of the Theotokos Church
St. Nicholas Church
St. Sergius of Radonezh Parish
Mother of God 'Joy of All Who Sorrow'
Active Churches
St. Luke Cathedral
Holy Trinity Church
Brotherhood of the Apostles Peter & Paul
Orthodox Fellowship of All Saints of China
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Orthodoxy in East Asia
Japan timeline
China timeline
The Philippines
Daniel of Japan
Seraphim of Sendai
Nektarios of Hong Kong
Sotirios of Korea
Theotokos, Masbate
Transfiguration, Korea
St. Nicholas Seminary
Presbyteres Fellowship
Charitable Organisation
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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.

The Beijing Mission, the earliest of all the foreign missions of the Russian Orthodox Church, was founded at a time when the Qing dynasty in China was conducting an isolationist policy of “closed doors.” Up to 1864, the Mission actually served as Russia’s unofficial diplomatic mission in China and was subordinated to the Holy Synod and to the Collegium of Foreign Affairs. Emperor Kangxi conferred high court ranks on all the Mission’s members and allotted state living quarters next to the Albazinian church, near the east gate of Beijing. Except for Russia, no state had representatives of its own in China under the Qing dynasty until the 1860s.[1]

The activities and achievements of the Orthodox Church, especially since the 17th century, have been understated in many historical studies of Christianity in China. By 1955, on the eve of its establishment as an independent entity, the Orthodox Church in China reached its greatest numbers. There were more than 100,000 communicants in former Russian territory in Manchuria, with 200 priests and 60 parishes, as well as monasteries and a seminary. Elsewhere, in China, there were another 200,000 Orthodox Christians and 150 parishes. These conservative figures mean that at that time, around 6% of Chinese Christians were adherents of the Orthodox Church.[2]

The First Orthodox Christians in China (1242-1651)

  • 1242 Greek Orthodox Russians in the Western Army of the Mongols entered China; they are said to have established a small church in the far western region, site now unknown.
  • 1270 The Mongol Emperor of China imported a group of Russian goldsmiths.
  • 1406-20 The Temple of Heaven (literally the "Altar of Heaven"), also known as the "Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests", was constructed during the reign of the Yongle Emperor,[note 1] regarded as a Taoist temple, although Chinese Heaven worship, pre-dates Taoism; it contains the inscription "Heavenly Sovereign Shangdi" in the Imperial Vault, Shangdi being a term used from the second millennium BC to the present day, referring to the "Above Emperor" or "Above Sovereign", which is taken to mean "Lord On High", "Highest Lord", "the God above", "the Supreme God", "Above ", or "Celestial Lord".
  • 1584 Russian army defeats the Khanate of Siberia, opening up the overland way to the east; initial development of Russian settlements in the area to the south and east of Lake Baikal (Transbaikal) begins, with Cossacks and others under service contract to the state (sluzhilye liudi) exploring new trading routes to China.[3]
  • 1587 Russians found Tobolsk, the historic capital of Siberia.
  • 1608 Matteo Ricci reports finding a small remnant of Nestorians in China.
  • 1613 Romanov Dynasty is founded in Russia (1613-1917).
  • 1625 The Nestorian Stele (China monument) is rediscovered, having been erected in 781 AD, documenting 150 years of history of early Christianity in China.
  • 1632 Russians establish Yakutsk; from this settlement they explored the more fertile lands to the southeast, along the Amur River.
  • 1644 Qing conquest of Beijing; Qing (Manchu) Dynasty is establised (1644-1912), the last ruling dynasty of China.

From Albazin to Beijing (1651-1715)

  • 1651 Russian Cossack Erofey (Geoffery) Khabarov founded the fort-town of Albazin on the Amur River.
  • 1652 Irkutsk is founded by Lake Baikal.
  • 1665 The earliest known Orthodox Church, the Church of the Resurrection, and a monastery is founded in the Russian fort-town of Albazin (Yakela) in Northeast China.
  • 1670 Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722) issued the Sacred Edict, consisting of 16 moral maxims based on Confucian teachings.
  • 1685 Chinese capture Albazin, razing Church of the Resurrection; Group of 45 Albazin Russians, including Priest Maxim Leontiev, are re-settled to Beijing by Chinese; Emperor Kangxi 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 known as the Nikolsky Chapel ("Sheng Ni Gula"; later consecrated as the Church of Hagia Sophia)[note 2], 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.
  • 1691 Qing control of Inner Mongolia.
  • 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.
  • 1700 Peter the Great published an Ukase (edict) on June 18th that made a resounding appeal for the propagation of the faith in Siberia and China.
  • 1702 In response to the Ukase of 1700, Philothei (Leschinsky) of Kiev is chosen as Metropolitan of Tobolsk and All Siberia (1702-1711), long since a center of missionary operations, in order to "lead the natives in China and Siberia to the service of the true and living God"; he built 37 churches and personally accounted for the baptism of 40,000 Siberian tribesmen by 1721 .
  • 1712 Death of Fr. Maxim Leontiev; Emperor Kangxi gives permission through the Lifan yuan (Office of Border Affairs) for several new priests to come in China.

Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in China (1715-1956)

Era of Diplomatic Representatives (1715-1858)

  • 1715 Archimandrite Ilarion (Lezhaisky) arrived in Beijing with staff, icons, sacred vessels, and service books as head of the first Russian Orthodox Mission (1715-28); staff included Hieromonk Lavrenty, Hierodeacon Filipp, and seven junior monks; 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.
  • 1721 Emperor Kangxi issued a decree indicating he wished to proscribe Western Christian missions in China.
  • 1724 Emperor Yongcheng issues imperial edict promoting Confucianism as the proper way of life, and proscribing Roman Catholicism, and to some degree Buddhism and Taoism as heterodox cults; foreign missionaries were deported to Canton, and later to Macao, and urban churches were gradually closed; during this time the Orthodox were certainly treated more favourably, as persecution of the Western Christian missionaries was never extended to the Orthodox.
  • 1727 The first mission is recorded in the Russo-Chinese treaty of 1727 (Treaty of Kyakhta), in Article V,[note 3] 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 (1729-35), along with Fr. Ioann Filimonov, Hierodeacon Ioasaf Ivanovsky, and nine junior monks.
  • 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.
  • 1733-43 The Second Kamchatka expedition achieves the geographical mapping of the north east part of Asia.
  • 1733 The first local persection of (Western) Christians, in Fujian, in late 1733.
  • 1734 The newly establised Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg completed a Chinese-Latin dictionary, including ten-thousand characters, ultimately remaining as a single copy in the Academy library, due to difficulties in creating the 10,000 wood blocks needed for mass publishing.
  • 1736 Archimandrite Ilarion (Trusov) arrives in Beijing as head of the third Mission (1736-45), along with Hieromonk Lavrenty Uvarov, Hieromonk Antony L'khovsky, Hieromonk Lavrenty Bobrovnikov (after 1741), and three junior monks in 1742.
  • 1741 Archimandrite Ilarion (Trusov) reposed in Beijing; Empress Elizabeth issued a decree offically recognizing the Tibetan branch of Buddhism in Russia, authorizing the establishment of 11 Buddhist monasteries (datsans), with 150 lamas on the staff.
  • 1745 Archimandrite Gervasy (Lintsevsky) arrives in Beijing as head of the fourth Mission (1745-55), along with Hieromonk Loil' Vrublevsky, Hieromonk Feodosy Smorzhensky, and one junior monk.
  • 1747 Under Emperor Qianlong persecution recommenced in 1747, extending over all the provinces, with no more (Western) missionaries being permitted to enter the country.
  • 1755 Archimandrite Amvrosy (Yumatov) arrives in Beijing as head of the fifth Mission (1755-71), along with Hieromonk Silvestr Spitsyn, Hieromonk Sophrony Argievsky, and Hierodeacon Sergei.
  • 1768 Emperor Qianlong issued a very stern decree, prohibiting all Manchurians, Chinese, Mongolians and Koreans to convert into a foreign faith under pain of terrible punishment;[note 4] Sino-Russian protocol of October 18, 1768 amended Article X of the Treaty of 1727, dealing with border traffic between the two states.
  • 1771 Archimandrite Amvrosy (Yumatov) reposed in Beijing.
  • 1771 Archimandrite Nikolai (Tsvet) arrives in Beijing as head of the sixth Mission (1771-81), along with Hieromonk Iust, Hieromonk Ioanniki Protopopov, Hierodeacon Nikifor, and four junior monks.
  • 1781 Archimandrite Ioakim (Shishkovsky) arrives in Beijing as head of the seventh Mission (1781-94), along with Hieromonk Antony Sedel'nikov, Hieromonk Alexei Bogolepov, Hierodeacon Israil, and three junior monks.
    Iakinf (Bichurin), 9th leader of the Russian Orthodox Mission.
    Pallady (Kafarov), leader of the Russian Orthodox Mission for the 13th and 15th missions.
  • 1790 Classes in Mongolian, Chinese, and Manchu were successively opened in the provincial academy in Irkutsk, but after four years these were abandoned due in large part to their difficulty.
  • 1794 Archimandrite Sofrony (Gribovsky) arrives in Beijing as head of the eighth Mission (1794-1807).
  • 1796-1804 Rebellion of the White Lotus Society, a secret Taoist society that forecast the advent of Maitreya (the future Buddha), restoration of the native Chinese Ming dynasty, and promised personal salvation to its followers.
  • 1806 By this time 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 Church of Hagia Sophia (the Nikolsky 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 (1807-21), 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 (1821-30).
  • 1820-50 During the reign of the Daoguang Emperor most anti-Christian edicts were rescinded, and a subsequent imperial edict pardoned those Christians who practiced the faith for moral perfection.
  • 1830 Hieromonk Veniamin (Morachevich) arrives in Beijing as head of the eleventh Mission (1830-40).
  • 1835 The Manchu New Testament was published, translated by Stepan Vaciliyevich Lipovtsov (1770-1841) who learned Manchu after journeying to Beijing in 1794 as a member of the eighth Russian Ecclesiastical Mission.
  • 1839 In September, persecutions against Christians broke out in Hou-Pé.
  • 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 (1840-49).
  • 1850 Archimandrite Pallady (Kafarov) arrives in Beijing as head of the thirteenth Mission (1850-58).
  • 1850-65 Taiping Rebellion, a heretical Christian-inspired Chinese millenarian movement, described as the most destructive civil war in the history of the world (estimated death toll of between 20 and 30 million).
  • 1856-60 Second Opium War.

Era of Limited Missionary Activities (1858-1896)

Northeast China (Inner Manchuria), and Outer Manchuria (Russian Manchuria).
Hieromartyr Fr. Mitrophan Yang, the first Chinese ordained a priest in the Church of China.
  • 1858 Archimandrite Gury (Karpov) arrives in Beijing as head of the fourteenth Mission (1858-64); the status of the mission changed after the Treaty of Tianjin in that its diplomatic activities on behalf of Russia became obsolete; the treaty also allowed missionaries to leave Beijing for other provinces of the country, having a positive impact on the activity of the Beijing mission; the Russian-Chinese Treaty of Aigun established much of the modern border between the Russian Far East and Northeastern China (Manchuria), its provisions being confirmed by the Treath of Peking in 1860, reversing the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689) by ceding parts of Outer Manchuria to the Russian Empire.
  • 1858-71 Hieromonk Isaiah (Polikin) arrives in Beijing, becoming a tireless preacher and gifted administrator (1858-71), organizing parishes south of Beijing and leaving behind an array of Chinese language texts.[note 5]
  • 1860 About 150 missionaries 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; the proper foundation of the mission was completed when it was separated from Russian politics, and in 1864 answered directly to the Holy Synod only.
  • 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.
  • 1866 Allowance is granted to conduct religious services in Chinese.
  • 1868 Hieromonk Isaiah (Polikin) baptized several Chinese families in the village of Dunding'an.
  • 1879 Archimandrite Flavian (Gorodetsky) arrives in Beijing as head of the sixteenth Mission (1879-84); he conducts services in Chinese; this mission was mainly occupied by scholastic and publishing activity.
  • 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 (1884-96), making little progress for lack of funds and training; during his tenure the Liturgy was performed at sites in Hankou, Tianjin, Kalgan, and Urga, in addtion to Beijing and the Dunding'an village.
  • 1889 Chinese-Russian dictionary is published, being the chief work of Fr. Pallady (Kafarov), containing the explanations of 11,868 characters and published after his death in 1889.
  • 1893 St. Alexander Cathedral of Wǔhàn , Hànkǒu , China is built.
  • 1894-95 First Sino-Japanese War.

Era of Active Mission (1896-1956)

The Holy Martyrs of China, martyred in the Boxer Rebellion.
St. Sophia Cathedral (Harbin, China), largest Orthodox church in the far east.
St. Jonah of Manchuria, Bishop of Hankou (1922-1925).
  • 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; he established a monastery, instituted daily services in Chinese, and dispatched preachers to the lands outside Beijing to spread the Gospel.
  • 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, and Imperial Russia’s only colony; 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 and printing press, where nearly 30,000 engraved Chinese signs were lost, together with service books and the mission archive; the Church of China lost about 1,000 followers either through martyrdom or due to abandonement of the faith.
  • 1902 Archimandrite Innocent (Figurovsky) consecrated Bishop in Russia, and returned as first bishop in China.[note 6] Patriarchate of Moscow glorifiies the 222 Chinese Orthodox martyrs on April 22, 1902 (decree №2874).
  • 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.
  • 1907 St. Sophia Cathedral is built in Harbin City, expanded and renovated from 1923-32, becoming the largest Orthodox church in the far east.
  • 1912 The Republic of China was established by Sun Yat-sen 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.
  • 1915-21 New Culture Movement springs from disillusionment with traditional Chinese culture, and a call for the creation of a new Chinese culture based on global and western standards, especially democracy and science.
  • 1916 There were 19 churches in China (including four in Beijing), 3 monasteries in Beijing, and 32 missions (including 14 in Zhili province, 12 in Hebei, 4 in Henan, 1 in Xi’anfu, and 1 in Mongolia), with 5,587 Orthodox Chinese adherents (including 583 who were baptized in 1915), and a thriving and expanding mission; within twenty years that number was estimated at 10,000[4]; the church also ran schools and orphanages including 17 schools for boys and 3 for girls.
  • 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.
  • 1919 May Fourth Movement; anti-foreign demonstrations.
  • 1920 His Eminence Methodius (Gerasimov) becomes Metropolitan of Harbin, 1920-30, (ROCOR).
  • 1921 Harbin had a population of 300,000, including 100,000 Russians.[5]
  • 1922 Orthodox bishops in China came under the jurisdiction of the Synod of Russian Bishops Outside Russia ROCOR (from 1922-1945 in Harbin, 1922-49 in Shanghai); formation of Diocese of Beijing (including the vicariates of Shanghai and Tianjin, and later Hankou), and of the Diocese of Harbin (including Qiqihar and Hailar vicariates), under ROCOR; Protection (Pokrov) of the Theotokos Church is founded in Harbin City.
    St. John (Maximovitch), Bishop of Shanghai, 1934-46.
    Symeon (Du), first Chinese Orthodox Bishop, Bp. of Shanghai 1950-65.
  • 1925 Death of St. Jonah of Manchuria, Bishop of Hankou (1922-1925).
  • 1927-50 Chinese Civil War (Nationalist-Communist Civil War).
  • 1929-49 The Jesuit-operated Lyceum of St. Nicholas, in Harbin City, open to both Russian Catholic and Orthodox students, trained many leaders of the Russian Catholic (Uniate) community of Australia and the United States between the World Wars.
  • ca.1930 There were more than 50,000 Orthodox in China, mostly Russians; Dioceses were established in Shanghai and Tianjin, in addition to those in Harbin and Beijing.
  • 1930 Protection (Pokrov) of the Theotokos Church in Harbin City is rebuilt of brick.
  • 1931 Archbishop Simon (Vinogradov) arrives in Beijing as head of the nineteenth Mission (1931-33); His Eminence Meletius (Zaborosky) becomes Metropolitan of Harbin, 1931-46, (ROCOR).
  • 1931-45 Japanese-dominated state of Manchukuo ("State of Manchuria") is formed by former Qing Dynasty officials with help from Imperial Japan.
  • 1933 Bishop Victor (Svyatin) arrives in Beijing as head of the twentieth and last Mission (1933-56).
  • 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.
  • 1935 Chinese Orthodox Association of Shanghai is established, sponsored in part by Archpriest Nikolai Li Xunyi.
  • 1937-41 Second Sino-Japanese War.
  • 1941 Holy Annunciation Church of Harbin is completed in the Neo-Byzantine style, striking in its grandness and rare decorative effects; later destroyed in 1970; Nazi Germany invades Russia (Operation Barbarossa).
  • 1945 Diocese of Harbin is subordinated under the Moscow Patriarchate after arrival of the 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 (i.e. - the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, passed a resolution on December 27, 1945, whereby an integrated metropolitan district within the bounds of China and Korea was formed, led by the Metropolitan of Harbin and East Asia); Abp. Nestor (Anisimov) of Kamchatka, who had established a representation in Harbin for his Diocese of Kamchatka in the early 1920s, reestablished relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, was named Metropolitan of Harbin and Manchuria and Exarch of East Asia (1946-56) by Patriarch Alexei I.
  • 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, a district uniting the eparcies of Beijing, Harbin, Shanghai, Tianjin and Xinjiang.
  • 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, compiled by Archpriest Nikolai Li Xunyi; Metr. Nestor (Anisimov) of Kamchatka was arrested by Chinese authorities and turned over to Soviet authorities who imprisoned him in the Gulag (until 1956), making the see vacant.
  • 1949 Establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in mainland China, by the victorious Communists, who end all Christian 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 and East Asia) abolished by the Moscow Patriarchate.
  • 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; On April 24, He Chenxiang, head of the religious affairs department of the State Council of China approved the appointment of Archimandrite Vasily (Shuan) as bishop of Beijing.
  • 1957 Holy Synod of the Church of Russia granted autonomy to the Church of China; Vasily (Shuan) consecrated Bishop of Beijing; Church of the All Holy Martyrs of the Yihetuan Uprising is destroyed by the Soviets.
  • 1958-61 Great Leap Forward.
  • 1960-85 Sino-Soviet split, relations between China and Russia break down.
  • 1962 Bp. Vasily reposed; no successor is seated as Bishop of Beijing due to Chinese government constraints.
  • 1965 Bp. Symeon (Du) reposed, leaving the Chinese Church without any bishops.
  • 1966-76 The Cultural Revolution 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.
  • 1969 Clashes between China and Russia on the northern border.
  • 1970 Death of Archpriest Stefan Wu Zhiquan, the new martyr.
  • 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[note 7][note 8] and Protestantism;[note 9] (Orthodoxy not registered as of yet[note 10]).

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.
  • 1985 According to the Harbin municipal religious archive, at the end of 1985, Hieromonk Fr. Simon (Bai Zenglin) and Fr. Gregory Zhu were the two remaining priests in Harbin.
  • 1986 About 3,000 Orthodox Christians living in the predominantly Muslim autonomous area of Xinjiang were allowed to reconstruct their church of St Nicholas in Urumqi, but with no priest present the community could only meet to pray.
  • 1991 Soviet Union collapses, ending Cold War.
  • 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 is returned to Chinese control by the British in July; Abp. Hilarion of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand along with eleven others went on a pilgrimage to China to visit Orthodox holy places in Shanghai, Beijing, Harbin and Manzhouli (Manchzhuria).
  • 1998 300th anniversary of the consecration of the first Orthodox church in China; the Daqin Pagoda is "rediscovered", the remnant of the earliest surviving Christian church in China, the church and the monastery being built in 640 by early Nestorian missionaries.
  • 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; St Nicholas Church is rebuilt by the local government in Ghulja (Yining), Xinjiang; 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; in December, Abp. Hilarion of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand visited China on a missionary and spiritual trip.
  • 2001 Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship is signed by Jiang Zemin and Vladimir Putin.
  • 2002 A notable improvement in the situation for China's Orthodox may be traced to the installation of Hu Jintao as the country's leader in 2002, according to a Chinese Orthodox source from Shanghai.[6]
  • 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; Kazakhstan-based Russian Orthodox priest Fr. Vianor Ivanov visited the Xinjiang region to serve the local Orthodox who have no priests, but was detained by Chinese customs, was interrogated for a week, had his religious literature and baptismal crosses confiscated and was deported.
  • 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 hieromonk Fr. Moisei (Pilats) of the Monastery of the New Russian Martyrs in Alapayevsk, 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 (MP) is established in Hong Kong under Fr Dionisy (Pozdnyaev), dedicated to assist the revival of the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church; the first Sunday school in China began in the fall on the grounds of the Russian Embassy, for the Orthodox community in Beijing.
  • 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[7], 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; world's first Russian-Chinese dictionary of Orthodox vocabulary is printed in Moscow; Patr. Alexei II criticized the People's Republic of China for the fate of China’s Orthodox Church, which is denied freedom of religion and deprived of clergy[9]; Metr. Nikitas (Lulias) of Dardanellia called on the government of Beijing to recognise Orthodoxy among the country’s official religions and expressed concern about the plight of Christians in Asia.
  • 2008 Fr. Mikhail Wang Quansheng and Protodeacon Evangelos Lu Yaofu, the only indigenous Orthodox clergy left in China, took part in Divine Services for the first time in 46 years, at the Russian consulate in Shanghai, and were awarded medals of the Venerable Sergius of Radonezh (I Degree) by Patr. Alexei of Moscow; Metr. Nektarios (Tsilis) becomes new Orthodox Bishop of Diocese of Hong Kong; Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church glorifies Archimandrite Gury (Karpov); an Orthodox Liturgy was Celebrated at the Olympic Village in Beijing; a Memorial Service in memory of those killed during WWII was served at the Cross Shrine on the grounds of the Embassy of the Russian Embassy, on Victory Day.
"Orthodoxy in China", presented by Prime Minister V. Putin to Premier Wen Jiabao on the 325th anniversary of Orthodoxy in China.
  • 2009 Archpriest Georges Florovsky's book "Christianity and Culture" is published in the Chinese language; solemn Paschal night Divine Services took place in several Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong; in Beijing, Divine Services of Passion Week and Holy Pascha were performed by Archpriest Dionisy (Pozdnyaev) (MP) and Fr. Alexis Dyuka (ROCOR) in the house church of St. Innocent of Irkutsk (Red Fangzi) on the territory of the Russian Embassy; Patr. Kirill met with Ye Xiaowen, China’s Religious Affairs minister, in trying to breathe new life into China’s Orthodox Church.[10]; the Church of St. Innokenty of Irkutsk was consecrated on Sunday August 30 in Labdarin (Inner Mongolia), being the first Orthodox Church consecrated in mainland China in over 50 years, mainly for Russian descendants;[11] Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the newly consecrated church of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin, on the territory of Russian Federation Embassy in Beijing; [12] Abp. Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's DECR, visited Beijing to hold talks with officials of the State Administration for Religious Affairs aimed at developing Russian-Chinese exchanges and cooperation in the religious sphere.
  • 2010 On 11 April, St. Thomas Sunday, Fr. Michael Wang Quansheng, who lives in retirement in Shanghai, celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Protecting Veil in Harbin for the Orthodox community, with the permission of the state authorities; during the XI session of the intergovernmental Russian-Chinese committee on humanitarian cooperation in St. Petersburg, Russian Prime Minister V. Putin gave Premier Wen Jiabao of the People's Republic of China the gift album "Orthodoxy in China", dedicated to 325th anniversary of the Orthodox presence in China.[note 11]
  • 2011 Abp. Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, head of the DECR, stated that China has up to 15,000 Orthodox believers who live in Beijing, Shanghai, Heilongjiang Province, and the autonomous districts Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, however the Chinese Orthodox Church has only two Chinese priests aged over 80.[13]
  • 2013 Patr. Kirill of Moscow and All Russia conducted an official visit to China from May 10 to 15, 2013, the first visit in history of a Primate of the Russian Church to China, by invitation of the country’s secular leadership;[14] in Moscow, Patr. Kirill of Moscow and All Russia met with a delegation of monks from the Shaolin Monastery in China, headed by the vice president of the Chinese Buddhist Association Shi Yongxin, after first meeting Shi Yongxin on a visit to China in May.[15]
  • 2014 Metropolitan Ignaty of Khabarovsk and Amur ordained Anatoly Kung (Kung Cheung Ming, 龔長明) to the priesthood for Hong Kong's Orthodox church, being the first Chinese priest ordained in 60 years.[16]

Presence of Orthodox Communities in China

People's Republic of China (PRC): Administrative Divisions, and Territorial Disputes.


  • 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 then 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;
  • The regions of Inner Mongolia, Hankou, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong also had Orthodox churches.


  • In addition to Beijing, where there are about 400 faithful, and Hong Kong and Taiwan, 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, (Inner Mongolia).
  3. Ghulja (Yining, 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


  1. This emperor was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
  2. The chapel was originally named the Nikolsky Church because of a wonderworking icon Fr. Maximus brought with him (thaumaturgical image of St. Nicolas, Bishop of Mirlikysk). However the church was consecrated in 1698 in the name of Hagia Sophia, or Divine Wisdom.
  3. 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).
  4. During the periods of persecutions, Chinese converts would sometimes mask themselves as Albazinians: "...With God's help and protection, the measures of the Chinese government have not affected our Orthodox Christians of Albazinian origin: it is well known that they are Russian descendants. Thus, other Chinese and Manchurian Christians could safely go to the Church, pretending they were also Albazinians." (V.P. Petrov. Rossijskaja Duhovnaja Missija v Kitae. Victor Kamkin, 1968, p.14.)
  5. The Book of Hours (almost complete), Short Notebook of Paschal Services, the basic chants of the Twelve Feasts and the first week of Lent as well as the Bright Week and Pascha, the Psalter (translated from the Greek into the vernacular), the Paraclesis Service, the Akathist to the Mother of God, the beginning of the Service Book, the Panachida Service, the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete (both in classical language and vernacular), Russian-Chinese Dictionary of Theological and Ecclesiastical Terms. The enormous amount of work undertaken took its toll in the quality of some of the translations, which (as was discovered later) were abundant with imprecision. (Ν. Α. [Hieromonk Nikolai (Adoratsky)]. The present state and the contemporary activity of the Orthodox Spiritual Mission in China // The Orthodox Collocutor. Kazan, 1884. August. Pg. 378).
  6. According to Fr. Dionisy Pozdnyaev, the first Orthodox Bishop of China Metropolitan Innokenty (Figurovsky) was ordained to the rank of Bishop on Holy Spirit Day and count that Day also as the day the Chinese Church was established;
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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)
  10. 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).
  11. This publication was prepared by the Department for External Church Relations (DECR), in cooperation with the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, and with the support of the Russian-Chinese Business Council. "Orthodoxy in China" is a scientific publication in the Russian and Chinese languages, with rich illustrative material, published on a high polygraph level. The book discusses the development of cultural, economic and political ties between the two brotherly peoples, the long history of Orthodoxy in China, and the contribution that the Russian Orthodox Church has made in establishing and developing good-neighborly relations between Russia and China. (The book "Orthodoxy in China" awarded to senior officials of China. Orthodox.cn. November 25, 2010.)


  1. A.S. Ipatova (Lead researcher, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences). The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Beijing: 150 Years at the Service of the Church and Diplomacy. DIPLOMAT Monthly: Column - Diplomacy And Religion. Issue 9/2008.
  2. Dr. Kevin Baker. A History of the Orthodox Church in China, Korea and Japan. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. (Description)
  3. William C. Brumfield. Photographic Documentation of Architectural Monuments in the Siberian Republic of Buriatiia. Visual Resources. Vol. XX, No. 4, December 2004, pp. 315-364.
  4. Stephen Uhalley and Xiaoxin Wu. China and Christianity: Burdened Past, Hopeful Future. M.E. Sharpe, 2001. p.22
  5. "Memories of Dr. Wu Lien-teh, plague fighter". Yu-lin Wu (1995). World Scientific. p.68. ISBN 9810222874
  6. Geraldine Fagan. CHINA: Will Orthodox Christians soon be allowed priests?. Forum 18 News, Oslo, Norway. September 22, 2004.
  7. According to the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate.
  8. AsiaNews.it Russian Orthodox church to be set up in Beijing shortly. AsiaNews.it, July 06, 2006.
  9. 9.0 9.1 AsiaNews.it Aleksej II criticises China, Taiwan accepts to open a church. AsiaNews.it, April 12, 2007.
  10. AsiaNews.it Patriarch Kirill meets Ye Xiaowen, China’s Religious Affairs minister. AsiaNewst.it, February 12. 2009.
  11. Interfax-Religion. Orthodox Church consecrated in China for first time in 50 years. 31 August, 2009.
  12. The Voice of Russia. First Russian Orthodox church opens in Beijing. Oct 13, 2009 15:20 Moscow Time.
  13. Interfax-Religion. Up to 15 thsd Orthodox believers live in China. 16 March 2011, 15:51.
  14. Maria Senchukova. The Patriarchal Visit to China: An Interview with Fr. Dionisy Pozdnyaev. Pravmir.com. May 16th, 2013.
  15. Maxim Blinov. Russians Can Learn From Chinese Warrior Monks – Church Leader. RIA Novosti. September 5, 2013.
  16. For the first time in 60 years a Chinese priest is ordained for Hong Kong's Orthodox church. Transl. Nina Tkachuk Dimas. Orthodoxy in China. December 8, 2014.

External Links



Origins in Albazin (Post-1685)
Russian Emigration to China (Post-1897)
Russian Emigrees from Communism (Post-1917)
Roman Catholic
Currently there is no modern Chinese translation of the Orthodox Bible or Septuagint in use. The Chinese Union Version with traditional punctuation is a Protestant translation from the English Revised Version by C.W. Mateer, C. Goodrich, F.W. Baller, G. Owen, S. Lewis, et al, first published in 1919. 94 scholars participated in the translation (1890-1919), taking an average of 11 hours per verse; it was published in two slightly different editions -- the Shen Edition (神版) and the Shangdi Edition (上帝版) -- differing in how “God” is translated. According to Nelson Mitrophan Chin's website, when quoting from the Protestant Bible, use the Shangdi edition of the Chinese Union Version (CUV), instead of the Shen edition, as Shangdi is the preferred modern Chinese Orthodox term for God since the turn of the 20th century.



Further Reading


In Chinese
Shanghai: Xuelin Publishing House (上海 : 學林出版社 : 新華書店上海发行所发行), 1986. 345 pp.
(Available through the National Library of Australia, here.)
  • Prof. YUE, Feng (岳峰). History of Orthodoxy ("Dongzhengjiao shi").
(Reviewed by A.V.Lomanov).
In Russian
  • Archpriest Pyotr Ivanov (D.Sc. (History)). From the History of Christianity in China. Russia Academy of Sciences: Institute of Oriental Studies (RAS IOS), Moscow, 2005. 224 pp.
(Book review: S. Bakonina. P. Ivanov, priest. From the History of Christianity in China. Far Eastern Affairs, No.004 Vol.35, 2007, pages: 145-149. (English).


Scholarly Historical Surveys