The Orthodox Church promotes one of the oldest religions in the world’s history. Its origins are traceable in Rome; through the religion, people are capable of understanding that it is very difficult to separate the church from the state. When the Roman Empire collapsed, it became the Byzantine Empire established under the principles of the Christian Empire.
By 537 CE, Hagia Sophia had to work alongside the Empire in order to make the world know that Rome collapsed, but the Roman Empire remained very relevant throughout history (Chidester 27). Christianity was very important to the Roman Empire because it was a mode of communication. Additionally, Christianity was a strong force that assisted the Empire in acquiring new territories. Therefore, it is a relevant argument that China is the new Rome because the country adheres to conservative principles of governance.
Based on the principles of Eastern religions with particular emphasis on Buddhism, the Chinese religious structure is the most difficult to penetrate. The Orthodox Church found its way to China through the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1950s (Placher 47). It follows the principles of Eastern religions in China, and this explains the acceptance it received in the conservative community.
When the Orthodox Church entered China, it faced opposition, but later managed to attract a huge number of Buddhist believers who associated closely with monks; they endured suffering as an element of getting close to God. The intention of the paper is to give a background of the Orthodox Church in China, and its future even in the midst of opposition from the Eastern religions.
History of Orthodox Christianity
During the prehistoric times, most political leaders used Christianity to achieve their political ends. Orthodoxy and Christianity in general played a significant role for empires during a period in which countries wanted to acquire new territories. People know little about the history of Christianity in China. Notably, a few people understand that the religion found its way into China in 68 AD.
During the Eastern Han Dynasty that began in 22 AD and ended in 220 AD, Christianity faced division into the Chinese Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church (Chidester 16). To date, Christianity struggles to survive in China, but Orthodoxy finds comfort because the religion enables monks to adhere faithfully to the traditions of the East. The Orthodox did not begin in East Asia; its history in Rome is evident following the collapse of Rome.
Religion played a significant role for emperor Justinian who wanted to gain control of Germany and Constantinople. Christianity assisted the Roman Empire in achieving such ends without duress; it was very important for the empire to reacquire the strongest territories of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. Notably, Emperor Justinian could not use Christianity to achieve the same, but he was capable of dignifying the Roman Empire by 533 CE.
The Nature of the Orthodox Religion
In religion, people have unique practices that create a distinction between one religion and another. The Orthodox religion, unlike Roman Catholicism, made believers understand that likeness to God was the only way of experiencing spirituality. Since the 1930s, the movement of monks remains relevant to date. The religion supports the ideologies of veneration, and there is an obvious obsession to imitate God (Chidester 12).
Hesychastic is an element of prayer recognized by the religion, which supports prayer in silence and medication. The Buddhist religion supports suffering for God. It recognizes fasting in order to give to the poor and suffering physically for the sake of gaining spiritual strength. Islam equally has such a prayer session, which means that different religions have elements that they share; however, people cannot ignore particular factors that distinguish such religions.
In addition, the Roman Catholic Church has recital prayers, but the element of suffering is not very explicit except in commemoration of the pass over and the death of Christ. Contrary to Muslims, Orthodox believers do not have to go to the Hajj or secluded areas of the mosque in order to chant prayers.
Orthodoxy supports the belief in God’s essence and energy something that people from different beliefs cannot comprehend unless they practice orthodoxy. Debates are still ongoing in relation to the matter since elements of separating God’s essence from his energy confuse many people.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey was the source of Orthodox bishops across the world. The Council of Chalcedon empowered the Patriarchate in 51 CE to carry out such activities, explaining why the Orthodox religion had western origins. Besides its association with Rome, the religion shared close links with Russia. Contrary to the Council of Caledonian’s beliefs, the Russians went to Hong Kong with an intention to convert the Chinese.
Russians did not wait for the Council of Chalcedon to appoint a priest from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The move caused a major disintegration in the church. After the Orthodox Church lost relevance following the collapse of Rome, the Russian Empire took advantage of its influence in Shanghai and Harbin in China. In the 1930s, the Russian Orthodoxy had the determination to face-off the Chinese conservative religions (Rozin par. 3).
By 1949, Mitrophan Chin managed to convince the US to accept a particular number of monks to get amnesty in the country. It provided an opportunity to spread Orthodoxy to the US whose influence across the world was obvious. The intention was to create a socio-cultural revolution in the world through the church. During the Atlantic world, most European countries used the Atlantic Ocean to reach the East, the US, the Middle East, and Africa.
Colonialists used the allegations of spreading Christianity in order to access markets and acquire natural resources from the target countries. It became an excellent opportunity for the Westerners to spread Orthodoxy, enabling the religion to reach East Asia. Though it remains very salient among leading religions in the world, Orthodoxy attracts people who believe in silent prayer sessions.
The number of Orthodox faithful began to increase one the religion found its way into China. Most people wanted to learn the religion that transformed the way the Chinese treated Christianity. China has the largest population in the world with about 15, 000 Orthodox believers (Kalkandzhieva 94).
The Orthodox Church in China
The Russian Orthodox Church first reached China in 1685. During this period, only Russians were ardent believers of the religion. Beijing, Shanghai, and Harbin were the first countries to experience the religious revolution in China. The Chinese resisted the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church, and only 200 people worshiped in the Orthodox Church in China. Following Russia’s involvement with the Eastern religions in the past, the Russian community incorporated traditional concepts of the Chinese culture in Orthodoxy.
By 1806, the Chinese Buddhists among believers of other Eastern religions organized strikes to rebel against the Orthodox Church. According to the Chinese government, western religions only acted as a platform for the west to colonize the East. The main area of contention was that most Chinese began converting to Orthodoxy. The Russian Orthodox Church like the Buddhist religion promoted the likeness to God. Buddhists support likeness to God through human suffering (Moody 403).
Contrarily, the Orthodox Church supports likeness to God by imitating the works of God, denial of life pleasures, and dressing like monks. Historically, monks give all their lives to the service of God. South Korea, China, and Japan still support religions that accommodate monks. The reason why Buddhism and the Orthodox religion complement each other is the fact that monks separated from nuns and priests in the Roman Catholic Church since the separation brought them close to God.
The Orthodox Church in Shanghai
In 1900, about 250 Chinese converts died because they joined the Orthodox Church. The Chinese remember them as martyrs who died for the sake of religion. Known as the Boxer rebellion, the death of the innocent Chinese nationals attracted people to the Russian Orthodoxy. The church participated in many philanthropic activities including school building and provision of various social amenities. Shanghai, China was a target for the Russian Orthodox Church because its founders wanted to pitch tents in one of China’s metropolises.
By 1956, the Orthodox Church began gaining acceptance of its bishops and over 20, 000 believers. After overcoming resistance in Harbin, the Orthodox Church began showing interest in Shanghai in the 1980s.
Today, the Orthodox Church has a history of over 300 years in Shanghai, China. People still refer to the Orthodox Church as the Church of immigrants. The Chinese associate the Church with the Russian and Moscow community that settled in the China in the late 17th century (Russian-Chinese cultural center could open around oldest Orthodox Church in China par. 9).
Markedly, penetrating Shanghai was not very difficult since the Orthodox Church acquired skills of dealing with the socio-cultural rebellion it faced in Harbin. One of the most upsetting facts about the Orthodox Church in China was because it tried to face-off the Eastern religions while it belonged to foreigners. By 1996, the Orthodox Church began gaining prominence in China, and Hong-Kong wanted the recognition for bringing the church to East Asia.
Saint John, the Shanghai Bishop, became an exceptionally influential leader in the region. People remembered him for the Theotokos, an emblem to the Surety of Sinners. After the priests left for California and San Franssisco respectively, it became very difficult to keep the church together. The Theotokos no longer made relevance to the people of Shanghai as a place used for the dedication of sinners, and forgiveness of sins.
By 1966, fresh socio-cultural rebellions began causing the immigration of a third priest to Australia. It was very difficult to convince the people of Shanghai that the Orthodox Church had good intentions for the people through missionary activities. Today, the people from Shanghai, China know English, and they still have the greatest population of Orthodox followers. The result was from the prolonged efforts by the Russian missionaries to cause a major religious revolution in China.
The Future of the Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church Today
After years of establishment in China, the Orthodox Church still experiences challenges in the mainland. With a population of over 1 billion people, most Chinese citizens belong to the Eastern religions including Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Russian and Albanian immigrants who live in the countries they initially assimilated are practicing the Orthodox religion. They include residents of Shanghai, Harbin, Hong Kong, and Beijing.
The Chinese population is very big, but after 300 years of establishment the number of Orthodox followers in parts of China do not exceed 15, 000. In comparison to the Eastern religion, the Orthodox Church followers remain very insignificant (Chidester 21). However, in comparison to other Christian religions in the world, the Orthodox Church made an achievement that other religions are yet to attempt.
China remains very conservative, and the Easter religions play a significant role in decision-making at the national level. The Eastern religions remain irreplaceable, but the Orthodox Church made history in China. It explains why the religion struggles to survive and remain relevant even though its future remains difficult to determine.
With two bishops-services in China, and the same number of churches actively supporting the Orthodox religion in the country, it is very difficult to know the direction the religion will take in the next 5 years (Moody 404). Possibly, the foreign relations between the Chinese government, Russia, and Turkey led to the conservation of the few remaining Orthodox Churches. When the bishop passed away in 2004, only one remained to serve the remaining Russian immigrant population in China.
One of the hardest things to predict about China is the survival of the Orthodox Church. Over the past years, the church displayed a series of downfalls and rise in the history of the Chinese people. Three active parishes exist in Shanghai and two other cities, but only one bishop serves the Shanghai branch. Initially, the conservative nature of the Chinese economy deterred the country from accommodating different investors (Russian-Chinese cultural center could open around oldest Orthodox Church in China par. 6).
Most Orthodox Churches only house recreational and missionary activities with little attention paid towards worship. The three active churches only aim at building investor relations with the west since the western immigrants who believe in the Orthodox Churches need a place of worship (Suslov 68).
For the first time in the history of China, activists and college students fight for the survival of a western religion. Struggles and resistance for the survival of the Orthodox Church are still evident with the Chinese taking less interest in the effects of language barrier in causing the downfall of the Orthodox Church.
When that parish Priest of Beijing, Father Alexander, Du Lifu died in 2004, the Orthodox Church lost hope in survival. The reason is that the Russian church never believed in the selection of priests by the Council of Chalcedon (Rozin par. 7).
In sum, a few western religions would choose the path taken by the Orthodox Church in China. The battle of religion’s survival is very difficult when faced by an indifferent political landscape. The Orthodox Church survived even after the fall of Rome and collapse of the USSR. However, lack of political support from the Chinese government led to a complete collapse of Orthodoxy in China, but efforts are underway to ensure its revival.
Chidester, D. Christianity A Global History. New York: Harper Collins, 2000. Print.
Kalkandzhieva, D. The Russian Orthodox Church, 1917-1948: From Decline to Resurrection. London: Routledge, 2015. Print.
Moody, P. “The Catholic Church in China Today: The Limitations of Autonomy and Enculturation.” Journal of Church & State 55.3 (2013): 403-431. Academic Search Premier. Web.
Placher, W. A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction.The Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1983. Print.
Rozin, I. Russian Orthodox Church and authorities welcome new pope Francis. 2013. Web.
Russian-Chinese cultural center could open around oldest Orthodox Church in China. 2014. Web.
Suslov, M. “Holy Rus: The Geopolitical Imagination in the Contemporary Russian Orthodox Church.” Russian Politics & Law 52.3 (2014): 67-86. Academic Search Premier. Web.