Twenty five years ago the largest country in the world, the Soviet Union, began to throw off official atheism, allowing the Russian Orthodox Church to celebrate publicly the 1,000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. Is it possible that today, a generation later, the most populous country in the world, China, will also throw off official atheism, at last giving freedom to the Chinese Orthodox Church to operate there?
Today, 10 May 2013, Patriarch Kyrill has arrived in China and been in talks with the Chinese President. During his visit he will celebrate the liturgy in Orthodox churches and meet senior Chinese officials. The Patriarch’s press service told the RIA-Novosti news agency, ‘Our First Hierarch will meet government leaders in China, leaders of religious groups, and also Chinese officials responsible for religious affairs”. During his five-day visit, the Patriarch will serve at the Cathedral of the Protecting Veil in Harbin and meet Orthodox from China at the Russian Embassy in Beijing’.
The Russian Mission in China stretches back to the seventeenth century; by 1949 over 100 Orthodox Churches existed in China. However, after Communist China was established, the USSR signed agreements with the new government that it would transfer jurisdiction over those churches to the Communists and effectively they were closed. The Chinese Orthodox Church became autonomous in 1956, ending the Russian Mission. Today, although there are thirteen active parishes in the country, their activities are strictly limited. However, China, part of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, may now at last be opening itself to take part in the worldwide mission of Russian Orthodoxy.