05/31/2006, 00.00
RUSSIA - CHINA
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Orthodox Church for Chinese built in Russia

The church was supposed to be built within the Russian embassy. But bureaucratic delays led to a decision to change the site.

Vladivostok (AsiaNews) – A Church for Chinese Orthodox Christians, which Moscow originally wanted to build in its embassy in China, has been constructed in Russia instead, near the border, in Primorye, facing the Sea of Japan. Timber that had been sent to Beijing to build the church was used to complete the building in Russia, blessed on 30 May.

The bid to build the church within the Russian embassy grew out of a lack of recognition by the government of Beijing of the Orthodox faith, not held to be one of the "recognized" religions in China, which are Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. The Patriarchate of Moscow had hoped to have it by 2008.

The dedication rite of the Church, dedicated to St George the Conqueror, was celebrated by Archbishop Venyamin of Vladivostok and Primorye. The press office of Vladivostok diocese said Venyamin was accompanied by priests and singers from the Cathedral of St Nicholas.

The Church of St George the Conqueror was built on the initiative of a businessman in the region, Gennady Lysak, near a border post with China called

Sosnovyi Pad and situated within a large international trade complex. The walls of the wooden church were built without using a single nail: the building, measuring 19 by nine metres, is 17 metres high and can hold up to 200 people. The bell tower has five bells. The church was built on a high hill to be visible from afar, from both Russian and Chinese sides of the border. During the ceremony, Venyamin said: "We built God's temple on the border with other peoples, with a different culture. We want to show our face", which is that of the "Heavenly Father, who is absolute love, good, truth and grace."

The original project was for a church to be built on the territory of the Russian embassy in Beijing. However delays in construction led to the decision to change location.

The Russian Orthodox Church has been in China for around 300 years. But little is known about it. The first communities were Russian emigrants who lived mostly in the north. Currently there are around 13,000 believers in China, mostly of Russian descent. They are found in four parts of the country: in Heilongjiang, in Harbin, where there is a parish dedicated to the protective mantle of the Mother of God, in Mongolia Interior (in Labdarin) and in Xinjiang (in Kulj and Urumqi).

However the Cultural Revolution slashed the presence of bishops and priests. To this day, believers do not have any priests and on Sunday they gather together only periodically to pray. There are 13 Chinese Orthodox students at the Sretenskaya Theological Academy in Moscow and at the Academy of St Petersburg.

The last Orthodox priest, Alexander Du Lifu, 80 years, died in 2003 in Beijing. According to information from the Patriarchate of Moscow, Fr 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).

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