CNEWA

The Orthodox Church of China

The origins of Chinese Orthodoxy can be traced back to 1686, when the Chinese Emperor hired a group of Russian Cossacks as his personal bodyguard. Their descendants were eventually completely absorbed into Chinese culture but remained Orthodox in faith and formed the nucleus of an Orthodox community in China.

The Russian Orthodox Church began missionary activity in China at the end of the 19th century. By 1914 there were about 5,000 Chinese Orthodox, including Chinese priests and a seminary in Beijing.

After the 1917 Russian revolution, Russian émigrés swelled the Orthodox population in China. In 1939 there were five bishops in the country and an Orthodox University at Harbin. By 1949 there were 100,000 faithful, 60 parishes, 200 priests, and two monasteries in Manchuria, as well as 150 parishes and 200,000 faithful in the rest of China.

After the communist revolution in China, most of the Russian clergy and faithful were either repatriated to the Soviet Union or fled to the West. By 1955, there were only 30 Russian priests left.

The Moscow Patriarchate granted autonomous status to the Chinese Orthodox Church in 1956 and recalled its Russian hierarchy. At that time there were about 20,000 faithful with one bishop in Shanghai and one in Beijing. The last bishop died in 2002.

In 1996 the Ecumenical Patriarchate established a metropolitanate in Hong Kong with jurisdiction over all of China as well as India, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia. In February 1997 the Russian Orthodox Holy Synod reaffirmed its links to the Chinese Orthodox Church and stated that, pending the election of a primate, the maintenance of Orthodoxy in the country remained the responsibility of the Moscow Patriarchate.

By 2007 there were signs of a modest revival of the Orthodox community in China linked to the Russian Orthodox Church. A semi-official website (http://www.orthodox.cn) reported that Easter services were celebrated in Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong. In the same year, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church created an office in Moscow to support the Orthodox faithful in China.

In 2015, amidst an improvement in relations between Russia and China, a Chinese Orthodox priest ordained by the Moscow Patriarchate was sent to work with the Orthodox in the country. He was the first Orthodox priest to be officially recognized by the Chinese government in 60 years. In 2018 it was announced that two more Chinese men would be sent to Russia for theological training for the priesthood. Today there are no more than 15,000 Orthodox faithful in China served by three fully functioning parishes.

Last Modified: 29 June 2007

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