Continuing on the theme of Orthodox Christianity in Asia, here is an account of the humble beginning of the Church in China during the end of the Qing Dynasty. From the earliest days, the faithful Chinese were subject to persecution for their faith, and the blood of the martyrs became the very seed of the Church in China. Most of the information below comes from www.orthodox.cn. 

Orthodox missions in China were cautious from the beginning. Emperor Peter the Great observed: “This is a very important enterprise. But, for God’s sake, let us be cautious and circumspect, not to provoke either the Chinese authorities or the Jesuits whose den is there since long ago. To this end, the clergymen are needed not so much as scholarly, but rather reasonable and amicable, lest this holy effort suffers a painful defeat because of a certain kind of arrogance.”

While the growth of the Orthodox Chinese mission was modest, its faithful were solid witnesses for their faith in Christ. Just as pagan Rome saw Christian devotion to Christ as a rival to imperial loyalty, so too did the Imperial Chinese of the late nineteenth century see Christians as enemies of the Emperor. While some in China were embracing Western modernist ideas, others including the Dowager Empress, nationalists, and those who practiced martial arts’sought to eliminate any challenges to tradition, including foreign influences. This conservative movement was dubbed by foreigners the “Boxer movement.”

By June 1900, placards calling for the death of foreigners and Christians covered the walls around Beijing. Armed bands combed the streets of the city, setting fire to homes and “with imperial blessing” killing Chinese Christians and foreigners. Faced with torture or death, some of the Chinese Christians did deny Christ, while others, emboldened by the faith of the martyrs and the prayers of the saints, declared boldly the Name of the Lord. Among these were Priest Mitrophan Tsi-Chung, his Matushka Tatiana, and their children, Isaiah, Serge, and John.

St. Mitrophan (楊吉)    

Baptized by Saint Nicholai of Japan, Saint Mitrophan was a shy and retiring priest, who avoided honors and labored continually for the building of new churches, for the translation of spiritual books, and for the care of his flock. Yet in Christ, who gives more than we can ask or imagine, Saint Mitrophan and his flock became lions in the face of marauding wolves.

It was with this reassurance that Saint Mitrophan met his martyrdom on June 10, 1900. About seventy faithful had gathered in his home for consolation when the Boxers surrounded the house. While some of the faithful managed to escape, most—including Saint Mitrophan—were stabbed or burned to death. Like the priests of old slaughtered in the sight of Elijah, Saint Mitrophan’s holy body fell beneath the date tree in the yard of his home, his family witnesses to his suffering.

His youngest son, Saint John, an eight-year-old child, was disfigured by the Boxers the same day. Although the mob cut off his ears, nose, and toes, Saint John did not seem to feel any pain, and walked steadily. Crowds mocked the young confessor, as they mocked his Lord before him, calling him a demon for his unwillingness to bend to make sacrifice to the idols. To the amazement of onlookers, although he was mutilated, mocked, and alone, young Saint John declared that it did not hurt to suffer for Christ.

Saint Isaiah, 23, the elder brother of Saint John, had been martyred several days earlier. Despite repeated urging, his nineteen-year-old bride, Saint Mary, refused to leave and hide, declaring that she had been born near the church of the Mother of God, and would die there as well.

Saint Ia (Wang), a mission school teacher also among the martyrs, was slashed repeatedly by the Boxers and buried, half-dead. In an attempt to save her, a sympathetic non-Christian bystander unearthed her, carrying her to his home in the hope of safety. There, however, the Boxers seized her again, torturing her at length until she died, a bold confession of Christ on her lips. Thereby did Saint Ia the teacher gain the crown of martyrdom not once, but twice.

Among those who died for Christ were Albazinians whose ancestors had first carried the light of Holy Orthodoxy to Beijing in 1685. The faith of these pioneers has now been crowned with the glory of martyrdom conferred upon their descendants. Albazinians Clement Kui Lin, Matthew Chai Tsuang, his brother Witt, Anna Chui, and many more, fearless of those who kill the body but cannot harm the soul (Matthew 10:28), met agony and death with courage, praying to the Savior for their tormentors.The martyrs of the Yihetuan (Boxer) Rebellion, are commemorated in the Orthodox Church on June 11.

Holy Chinese Martyrs, pray unto God for us!

 

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