Shanghai (AsiaNews) - The small Chinese Orthodox community have celebrated St. John of Shanghai with a "moleben," a solemn liturgy. The ceremony was chaired by Archpriest Alexei Kiselevich, rector of the Orthodox community of the metropolis, in the church of St. Nicholas.
Many foreign faithful in town to visit the Expo also took part in the moleben, as well as local government representatives. In fact the authorities allowed the Orthodox to hold regular prayer services during the universal exhibition. During the year, however, the Orthodox Church is normally under strict control: regular celebrations take place only within the Russian embassy. The Orthodox Church is not among the five religions recognized by the government.
The Russian Orthodox Church arrived in China about 300 years ago. The first communities were made up of Russian emigrants and resided mainly in the north. Even now the majority of believers are of Russian descent. They are located in four parts of the country: in Heilongjiang, Harbin, where there is a parish dedicated to the Protective Cloak of the Mother of God in Inner Mongolia (Labdarin) in Xinjiang (in Kulj and Urumqi).
The Cultural Revolution wiped out the presence of bishops and priests. Even today, the faithful have no priest, and they gather to pray only occasionally on Sundays. However, there are 13 Chinese students studying at the Orthodox Sretenskaya Theological Academy of Moscow and the Academy of St. Petersburg. For large celebrations at Christmas and Easter there are Russian priests who celebrate the liturgies, but within the territory of the embassy or consulates.
The Chinese Orthodox Church has a separate jurisdiction, but the Patriarchate of Moscow and Constantinople are trying to entice it into their orbit. Metropolitan Nektarios, based in Hong Kong depends on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Here many publications for the faithful in China are printed and he has often stressed the need for greater religious freedom.
In fact St. John of Shanghai was a champion of religious freedom. Born in Ukraine in 1896, he arrived in China in 1934 after being consecrated bishop. Here he met the Orthodox community, divided on ethnic grounds, and completed the construction of the great cathedral. After the takeover by the Maoists, he was forced to immigrate to San Francisco, where he died.