HARBIN, CHINA: June 25, 2012
On June 24, 2012, the feast day of the Two Hundred Twenty-Two Chinese Martyrs, who were martyred for Christ in 1900, His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion of Volokolamsk, President of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, celebrated Divine Liturgy in Protection Church in Harbin, China. Vladyka Ilarion is in China on an official visit with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and by invitation of the Office of Religious Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, as reported by the Press Service of the DECR.
This is the first hierarchal Liturgy at Protection Church in the last half century. Since 2001, when Priest Grigory Chzhou, the Parish Rector, died, Divine Liturgy was only celebrated here once, on Pascha, 2010.
Metropolitan Hilarion was joined in the service by the rector of the Orthodox Christian community in Shanghai, Protopriest Alexi Kiselevich. Assisting during the service were Vasili Ou and Alexander Yui, members of the Chinese Orthodox community of Harbin, who will begin a study of religious schools of the Russian Orthodox Church in September, in accordance with a memorandum signed between the Council on Religious Relations of the President of the Russian Federation and the State Administration on Religious Affairs of the PRC.
Some 600 people were in attendance at the service, including residents of and visitors to Harbin, many of whom partook of the Holy Gifts of Christ.
Also in attendance was Mrs Siao Hun, Deputy Director of International Relations of the PRC; Mr Hao Zhouyan, Deputy Chief of the First Bureau of the Fourth Department of the PRC; Mr M. Kushnarenko, President of the Russian Club of Harbin, and also Russian diplomats including Mr AP Povlalyaev, First Secretary of the Russian Embassy to the PRC, and Mr D Ganzhurov, Vice-Consul of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation to Shenyang.
After Liturgy, Metropolitan Ilarion delivered a sermon, in which he said:
“It was with great anxiety and trepidation that I crossed the threshold of this holy temple today. In 2009, I visited Protection Church in Harbin, but it was not possible to conduct religious services here at the time. During Pascha in 2010, I sent you a priest, who for the first time in ten years, since the death of Fr Grigory Chzhou, performed Paschal services. Today’s service is only the second in 12 years.
“On this day, the Orthodox Church in China celebrates the memory of the 222 Chinese Martyrs who died in 1900 and are glorified now locally by the Chinese Orthodox Church. We know that the early Christian church was established on the tombs of the martyrs, and an ancient Christian writer said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity. It is likely meaningful that when the Chinese martyrs died, the Orthodox Church in China began to grow and multiply.
“Of course, the growth in the number of Orthodox Christians in China, and the growth of the Chinese Orthodox Church was greatly boosted by the Russian emigration following World War I and the Revolution of 1917. It was Harbin, in fact, that became the center of this wave of émigrés. The churches of Harbin have survived to this day, including St Sophia Cathedral and this temple, Protection Church, which remind us of the glory of Orthodoxy in China, of the time when over a hundred Orthodox churches stood on the territory of this country and hundreds of thousands of worshipers filled them.
“History has thus unfolded that in the second half of the 20th century, the majority of Orthodox Christians have left China. Many churches were destroyed, but some managed to survive. The main thing is that the ‘little flock,’ which despite historical circumstances, despite all the difficulties and obstacles, preserved the Orthodox faith, and brought it through these difficult times.
“Today, Orthodoxy is being reborn in China, though not at a tempo one would like. Several tens of thousands of people of various nationalities, confessing the Orthodox faith, reside temporarily or permanently in various cities of China. A group of churches, including St Sophia Cathedral in Harbin, have been restored, some churches are already having divine services, through not yet on a regular basis.
“You are the ‘little flock’ to whom the Lord Himself addressed the words ‘Fear not, for My power is manifested in weakness.’ Thanks to your staunch faith and your patience, Orthodoxy is maintained in the Chinese land. Through your zeal, this historic Protection Church is maintained in Harbin. There has not been a priest here for many years, and you come here on Sundays in small groups to lift your prayers to the Lord. We are working on providing you with a priest here, so that once again, Divine services would resound in this church, and the Holy Mysteries of the Church be celebrated here. I deeply believe that this day will come.
“Until that day comes, I implore you: continue as you have to this day, to come to this holy church at every opportunity, support its walls with your prayers, and in difficult moments it will support you. Pray to all the Russian saints, and all the saints of the land of China, that they help you to reestablish the Orthodox Faith in China. I promise you that on our part we will do all we can to ensure that the Orthodox faith grows and strengthens in China.
“As you know, the first Orthodox church in Harbin was dedicated to St Nicholas the Wonder-worker. Although that first church was destroyed, a copy of it exists not far from Harbin, and models of this church made of earth and flowers can be seen on the streets of the city. Orthodox believers always held a special veneration for St Nicholas, because this saint is particularly responsive to our prayers, and helps us in our deeds. As a memento of my first, and I hope not my last, divine service in Protection Church, I would like to give you an icon of St Nicholas, and also a selection of books for your church library, with the wish that you study the Orthodox Faith and deepen your understanding of Orthodox theology.
“Remain firm in your faith! Pray that everywhere that Orthodox Christians live in China, regular divine services are held, that the Mysteries of the Church are performed. Maintain this holy temple, and may God’s blessings be upon you all, upon your families and your friends. May the Lord preserve you!”
All the worshipers then received a blessing with an icon of the Savior.
On behalf of the parishioners, the Warden of Protection Church then gave Metropolitan Ilarion a gift. Representatives of the Russian Club in Harbin welcomed the President of the DECR and gave him a gift of a painting of St Sophia Cathedral of Harbin.
Blessing the worshipers, Metropolitan Ilarion and members of the Russian delegation then headed for Harbin Airport, where a farewell reception was thrown in their honor. The event was attended by the Mr John Kaifen, Deputy Chief of the Administration of Religious Affairs and Nationalities of Heilongjian Province; Mr Yan Haisim, Chief of the Administration of Religious Affairs and Nationalities of the City of Harbin; Mrs Siao Hun, Deputy Director of the Department of International Affairs of the PRC; Mr Hao Zhuyan, Deputy Chief of the First Bureau of the Fourth Department of the PRC and representatives of the Russian diplomatic corps. At the end of the celebration, Metropolitan Ilarion and his delegates returned to Moscow.