Sermon among the “dragon”
English translation by Katherine Ilachinski
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Sermon among the “dragon”
In Asia, the foreign priests of ROC more than anywhere else feel like missionaries
The Russian Orthodox Church plans to revive the Orthodox mission and church-parish organization in China. On March 15 the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion (Alphaeus) said about this: “Today the Orthodox Christians of China suffer from a lack of priests and regular worship. The Russian Orthodox Church as the Mother Church is interested in the restoration of the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church (CAOC). At this stage, our church is ready to provide comprehensive assistance to the Chinese faithful, and especially in the emergence of Chinese priests.” It is known that in China there are about 15 thousand Orthodox Christians, mostly descendants of Russian immigrants, or those Chinese baptized in the pre-revolutionary days, a country with a billion inhabitants there are only four officially registered CAOC parishes.
To the questions about the organization and the parish life of the Russian Orthodox Church, not only in China but throughout East Asia, the rector of the Orthodox Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Hong Kong and chairman of the eponymous Orthodox Brotherhood Archpriest Dionisy Pozdnyaev responds to the journalist of “NGR” Vladislav Maltsev.
— Currently where and how in East Asia are the Russian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox Churches represented?
— The parishes of Russian Orthodox Church today are in major East Asian cities: Tokyo, Pyongyang, Ulan Bator, Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Pattaya. Also there are regular worship conducted in the temples on the territory of Russian diplomatic missions in Beijing and Shanghai. Recently they opened an Orthodox monastery in Ratchaburi (Thailand). Unfortunately, the ROC does not yet have their educational institutions in East Asia.
It is worth noting that the ROC does not have separate dioceses in the region. All parishes are administered by the Foreign Parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate, although, of course, there are regular contacts between parishes in East Asia and the dioceses of the ROC in Siberia and the Far East. For comparison: the Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose congregations are in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, East Asia, established three major canonical diocese – Hong Kong metropolis, Singapore diocese and the Korean metropolis.
In addition to the parishes of the ROC, in East Asia there are two autonomous Orthodox Churches under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate – Japanese and Chinese, some ROCOR parishes (recognizing the union with the Moscow Patriarchate) in South Korea and Indonesia.
Of the other local Orthodox Churches there is the parish of the Romanian Patriarchate in Japan, for the Romanians living in that country. Contrary to what is sometimes claimed in Russia, there are no Antiochian Orthodox parishes in the Philippines yet, although there are plans to create them.
— How is interaction possible – competition with parishes of other Orthodox Patriarchates in the region?
— I would not talk about the competition – after all the Church in various jurisdictions are divided only administratively. In dogmatic, ecclesiological sense, we are a single body of the Orthodox Church. In many countries there are different forms of cooperation – Romanian hierodeacon serves the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Thailand, and a Russian priest serves in the parish of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Seoul. Orthodoxy is not a property of the Greek or Russian – so in Asia, where Christians are a minority, we are relying on the historical tradition of presence in the region closest to the countries of East Asia, the Russian Orthodox Church, and try together to bear witness of Orthodoxy.
— What represents the Orthodox congregation in Hong Kong and — more broadly – in East Asia at the nationality level?
— The congregation of the Orthodox Church in this region is multinational, and its social composition is non-uniform. This allows considering the Orthodox Church in various countries of East Asia, as the Church, open to all – without national, linguistic or social barriers. In Constantinople, and the Moscow Patriarchate there is an understanding that in East Asia, Orthodoxy has primarily missionary character. In my opinion, the task of pastoral care for the compatriots in East Asia is temporary in nature – there are not formed stable Diaspora of traditionally Orthodox nations. Most often, foreigners do not live in Asia constantly, so the main effort should be directed to the local population. Although, of course, the question of language plays a role: the Russian love to come where the services are in Russian, while the Greeks go where they can pray in Greek.
For example, in my parish in Hong Kong on a nationality basis parishioners are divided like this: 70% – Russian and Ukrainian – 15% Chinese, 15% – Americans, French and other nationals. In general, Russians in parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in East Asia constitute the majority (except for Indonesia – where parishioners are mostly Indonesians). In China, there is a special situation – there are CAOC parishes and parishioners in general – very strongly assimilated with the Chinese descendants of Russian settlers. In parishes located in diplomatic missions in China- parishioners are Russian and some foreigners (mostly Americans). In South Korea, where in the parish of the Patriarchate of Constantinople serves our priest, our parishioners – mostly Koreans, however, there are presents a number of all other foreigners. In Singapore – Russian language parish of the Moscow Patriarchate and quite colorful in the composition is the parish of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In general, everywhere there is variety of situations.
— Does the Russian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox Churches in East Asia use elements of the traditions of local peoples (decoration of churches, the closeness to local mores)? How is the translation of ecclesiastical and liturgical literature into local languages progressing? When entering into the life and experiences of the Church do they bring in some elements which are closer to local residents of words and concepts (it is known that the Western missionaries often translate for the Chinese, New Testament, “I am the bread of life” as more understandable to them, “I am the rice of life”)?
— A common practice of Orthodox parishes in Asia is the use of local languages and cultural elements (such as in China, Thailand and Indonesia, local craftsmen are busy carving iconostasis and candlesticks, are making their appearance with the local elements). In China, there is a custom to consecrate the tea of the new harvest. In Thailand, before entering the temple there is a custom to take off your shoes. Everywhere there are some local features, which give a special flavor to the parishes. However, the most important work – translation of liturgical and doctrinal books to local languages which is necessary as a mechanism for the life of the Orthodox tradition in the context of Asian cultures. Example of using the word “rice” – a private, in general in China is widely distributed bread, so in the basic translation of the Gospel the word “bread” is used in the above quote. Although there are different experiences, for example: “In the beginning was the Dao – one of the options for translating the first words of the Gospel of John.
— Do they send students from the local community to Russia for training in seminaries and theological academies and what is their fate in the dioceses of the ROC? As a whole how are in East Asia represented among the Orthodox clergy, on one hand, Russian and Greek as the representatives of the countries – centers of Orthodoxy, on the other hand – the representatives of indigenous peoples?
— At present in Moscow and Belgorod Theological Seminaries and the Moscow Theological Academy, students from China and Mongolia are studying, students from Thailand, Indonesia and Korea have already completed the training, students from China and Lao are preparing to enroll. Ordained to the sacred dignity are Korean, Thai and Indonesian graduates of our theological schools. In all East Asian countries they have both Greek and Russian priests – but one requires the presence of clergy from the local people, much of the work of preaching the word of God to their countrymen lies precisely on them. Rectors of some parishes in East Asia are the representatives of indigenous peoples: in Pyongyang (Korean graduates of MDS), Thailand (Fr Daniel Vanna – a graduate of St. Petersburg Theological Seminary). In Japan and Korea, almost all the clergy is made up of priests, of indigenous nationalities; the same can be said about Indonesia (where the clergy are the graduates of the Moscow and Belgorod Theological Seminaries). In China, the question of ordination of Chinese clerics still awaiting the solution until it is resolved, the status of the Orthodox Church in China can not be considered normal.
— You are also chairman of the NGO Council of Compatriots in Hong Kong. What is the Russian Diaspora in this city and elsewhere in East Asia?
— In Hong Kong, the Russian Diaspora is few in number – about 600 people, although its growth is observed, eight years ago, there was two times less Russians. In Singapore, there are about two thousand of our compatriots, a few thousand live permanently in Thailand. In different countries there are different trends of migration from country to country, the situation is very different. Almost anywhere (except Japan) it is already impossible to find the descendants of white emigration – in 60-70 years of the twentieth century, almost all of them have left Asia, so we are talking here about a new migration, and not of constant character.
— How are the relations with local representatives of non-Orthodox Christian Churches? Do they differ in composition of their parishioners from the Orthodox community? As a whole how the Christians of various denominations feel in the surrounding of non-Christian peoples of East Asia?
— In different countries the situation is different. In general everywhere we are developing good relationships – to this contributes a different believers environment in which all Christians are naturally closer to each other. I can say that for many Protestants and Catholics in Asia, Orthodoxy has become in recent years, a real discovery – and a lot of people are turning to the Orthodox faith from among the followers of these faiths. Their faith serves as a catechesis, a bridge from paganism to Orthodox Christianity. But the Protestants and Catholics have a long and proud history of service in Asia – in particular, in some countries they have created systems of education, have done a lot for the development of health systems. For example, in Hong Kong Catholics have managed to consolidate its status as a carrier of social justice. And have a great success – from 1950 to 2010, 480,000 people from the local residents embraced Catholicism. Orthodox Church should invest significant financial and human resources so Asian Orthodoxy would not be a marginal minority religion or for foreigners, and would be able to carry word of the gospel to local people in full force. Without the awareness of the missionary nature of the Church nor the Greeks, nor Russian in Asia will not be able to advance in the preaching of Orthodoxy.