Harbin Orthodox church reopens

By Shan Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/11 22:33:40

About 100 worshippers attend sacred ceremony

An Eastern Orthodox Church reopened for worship on Saturday in Harbin, the icy city in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province about 600 kilometers from the Russian border.

For Orthodox Christmas in January, worshippers had borrowed a nearby Catholic church.

But on Saturday, a congregation of about 100 flocked to the Protection (Pokrov) of the Theotokos Church to worship for the first time since it was closed for repair in 2014, the provincial bureau of religious affairs reported on Tuesday.

"There are now about 100 Orthodox believers in Harbin, with one priest and one church," a bureau official, who refused to be named, told the Global Times on Wednesday. "We helped fund the repairs."

Priest Yu Shi led more than four hours of ceremonies including scripture reading, psalms, confession, prayer and Holy Communion.

Yu is China's first Orthodox priest in 60 years. He was ordained in 2015 after he finished theological study at St. Petersburg, Russia, the AFP news agency reported.

"Yu was permitted by the  State Administration for Religious Affairs and recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church," Zhang Baichun, a Beijing Normal University professor who specializes in the Orthodox religion, told the Global Times.

Russian Orthodox Christianity is not included in China's five major religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Taoism, Islam and Protestantism.

"On the Orthodox Church issue, China and Russia do not have problems of principles," Zhang said, "but some small questions remain to be resolved such as the ordination of priests, whether to send more clergy to Russia and Orthodox gatherings in some cities."

Religion is not that obvious an issue among the massive scope of Sino-Russian relations, he noted, but Russia pays significant attention to it and China needs to be prepared to face it.

According to Zhang, the biggest Orthodox group is a community of 3,000 to 4,000 people in the city of Ergun in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where some Russians settled and married.

A theology student from Ergun, Sun Ming, is now studying in Russia and expected to follow in Yu's footsteps, said Zhang.

There are 15,000 Orthodox Christians in China today, according to a Russian Orthodox Church report. Chinese scholars believe there are probably a few thousand.

There are fewer than 100 Orthodox believers in each of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Beijing and Shanghai, Zhang said.

Chinese guides who work in Russia are also receiving training on the Orthodox Church to increase visitors' understanding. About 1.5 million Chinese tourists visited Russia last year, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"We invited some Orthodox priests or teachers to train our Chinese guides in Russia about Orthodox conventions, and the correct Chinese expression for words related to the Orthodox Church," said Zheng Qiaotian, a chief representative of ATC Shenzhen Representative Office, a company that works with hotels, malls and airlines in Russia.

"Regulated companies will do this," she said, "but it is not by order of the Russian government. We also teach guides about Russian history and culture," Zheng told the Global Times.

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