Moscow (AsiaNews) – In a “prolonged and constructive” meeting, the Secretary for Inter-Orthodox Relations, Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, and the head of the Representative Office in Moscow for the Taipei-Moscow Economic and Cultural Coordination Commission, adviser Angela Siu, discussed issues relating to the pastoral care of Orthodox Christians in Taiwan and the “development of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and Taiwan’s social organisations and research institutes.”
During the meeting, which the Chinese Orthodox Church bulletin described as “constructive”, the two talked about the best way to develop relations between Taiwanese organisations and Orthodox Christians living on the island, which mainland China considers a breakaway province.
They also discussed the possibility that a Russian Orthodox delegation might travel to Taipei on a visit but no decision has been made yet to that effect.
For some analysts, the meeting constitutes a signal to mainland China, which does not recognise Christian Orthodoxy as an official religion like Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.
The Moscow Patriarchate, which is in charge of China’s tiny Orthodox community, hopes that an official recognition might come in 2008.
The Orthodox Church in China gained full autonomy from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1957, but with the Culture Revolution of 1966-67, the life of the local Orthodox community came to a virtual abrupt end.
Currently, according to the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate there are an estimated 13,000 Orthodox Christians in the whole of China, 400 in the capital.
The Russian Orthodox Church arrived in China some 300 years ago, but its history remains largely unknown.
Its first communities were made up of Russian immigrants concentrated in the north of the country. Currently most believers are of Russian origin, living in four main locations: Harbin in Heilongjiang (where there is a parish dedicated to the protective mantle of the Mother of God), in Labdarin (Outer Mongolia), and in Kulj and Urumqi (Xinjiang).
China’s Cultural Revolution had devastating effects on Orthodox bishops and priests. Even today there are no local priests and believers have to meet on and off on Sundays to pray.
There are however 13 Chinese Orthodox seminarians studying at the Sretenskaya Theological Academy in Moscow and the Academy of St Petersburg.
The last local Orthodox priest, Alexander Du Lifu, 80, passed away in 2003 in Beijing.
According to information from the Patriarchate of Moscow, Father Du “gave spiritual direction privately” because he did not have a church. Sometimes he was allowed to celebrate the liturgy in the Russian embassy in Beijing. For his funeral, the Patriarchate of Moscow obtained permission to use the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (the Nantang).