11/10/2004, 00.00
RUSSIA - CHINA
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A Russian Orthodox Book of Prayers published in Chinese

The Russian Orthodox Church is slowly re-emerging in China. In Shanghai a church used as a night club could be put to more proper use.

Moscow (AsiaNews/AFP) – China's Orthodox Christians can finally pray in their own language. Moscow's Cathedral of the Annunciation published a thousand Chinese copies of a book containing the basic principles of the Christian doctrine and the main prayers. This is the second time that it is done, but it is the first time that the book is distributed to the public.

Last summer, the book was released for consultation to a group set up by the Moscow Patriarchate to the study the place of the Orthodox Church in China.

With the new book in hand, local Orthodox believers hope that new life can be breathed into their community.

At the same time, Beijing is showing increasing signs of taking a less hard-line position against the Orthodox Church operating in its territory. Chinese authorities have allowed 18 Chinese students to attend Russian seminars in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Dmitry Napara, a Beijing Orthodox, said in an enthusiastic tone that "if these seminarians can perform their duties as priests in China, it might mean the return of Orthodoxy to the country".

The last Orthodox priest in China died last year. In June Beijing allowed an orthodox monk from Alapayevsk (Urals) to celebrate mass in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province.

In an another sign of greater tolerance, the Chinese government decided that two former Orthodox churches in Shanghai—one was being used as a night club—could be put to "more proper use". One of them could become an arts centre devoted to the history of the Russian presence in China.

Sources in Moscow said that the relationship between China and the Orthodox Church was discussed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's last visit to Beijing.

There are about 12,000 Russian Orthodox in China. They are mostly descendants of Russian immigrants or Chinese converts. The Orthodox Church in China reached its high point in the mid 1950s when it had two bishops and about 20,000 faithful. However, following China's Cultural Revolution and the death of the two prelates, it went into decline. Some even feared that it might disappear altogether. (MA)

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