– Vladyka Theophanes, in your opinion, what were the reasons that prompted the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to establish a diocese in Korea?
– The Holy Synod rightly decided that the Russian Orthodox Church is called today to resume its pastoral and missionary work in Southeast Asia, a work that they began here a few centuries ago.
The beginning of Orthodoxy in Korea is closely linked to the development of Russian-Korean relations in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the second half of the 19th century, Koreans massively emigrated to the Far East of imperial Russia.
The missionary activity of the Russian Orthodox Church among Koreans began in 1856, when Saint Innocent (Veniaminov), the Archbishop of Kamchatka, the Kuril and Aleutian Islands, began sending preachers of Orthodoxy to South-Ussuri, where the flow of Korean immigrants were headed. Whole villages adopted the Orthodox faith. Many of them then returned to Korea, and formed there the first group of the Russian ecclesiastical mission in Korea, which was established in 1897, and began its work on the Korean peninsula in February 1900.
Only the tragic events in the history of Russia and Korea prevented its normal functioning. I am talking about the 1917 revolution in Russia, that brought about the formation of the Soviet State, with its hostile policy towards the Church, and the division of Korea after the WWII between North and South, and the civil war in the years 1950-1953. In 1949, South Korean authorities expelled out the country the head of the mission, Archimandrite Polycarp (Priimak). Due to political circumstances, the mission’s activity was interrupted, and its property confiscated.
Today, as the factors obstructing missionary and pastoral work in Korea have disappeared, we can talk about pursuing the work that was begun a long time ago. Under current circumstances, a large number of members of the Russian Orthodox Church come to settle permanently or on a mission in Asian countries, and not only people from the Russian Federation, but also citizens from other nations within the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church. These circumstances incite the hierarchy of our Church to manifest its pastoral care for those people who do not want to break their spiritual bonds with their Church. Thus, in the sole Republic of Korea, the number of registered Russians is about 20,000 people, and in 2018, 300,000 Russian tourists visited South Korea. Obviously, a significant part of these people want to participate actively in ecclesial life and attend the services as celebrated according to the Russian traditions and calendar.
With regard to the creation of the patriarchal Exarchate of Southeast Asia, it is not some kind of innovation in the history of our Church either, but rather the rebirth of existing ecclesial structures. In December 1945, the parishes of China and Korea were united in the Metropolitan District of East Asia. Through an ukase by Patriarch Alexy I, it was converted in 1946 into the East Asia Exarchate, with Harbin as its center. The Exarchate was abolished by decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1954, due to the circumstances. It is now recreated because of the new conditions. I would say it might have been a good thing to revive the structures of the Russian Church in Korea earlier.
However, when diplomatic relations were established between Russia and South Korea, the Russian Church was going through a difficult period of renewal, after decades of atheistic subjugation. Russian-speaking parishioners who visited the Republic of Korea found spiritual support in the parishes of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Now, the Church in Russia is actively developing her missionary work, striving to accompany her children in all the circumstances of their lives. The flow of the Russian-speaking population in Korea has increased by dozens of times, even a hundredfold, so the need to open parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Korea was clearly felt.
Moreover, because of the breaking of Eucharistic communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate, which occurred not through our fault or our wish, our faithful found themselves in a situation where they had no other place to go. Therefore, the opening of parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in Korea and other countries of Southeast Asia is fully answers a pressing need.
– Vladyka, after the measures taken by the Synod of our Church [i.e. the break with Constantinople], an interview was published with Metropolitan Ambrosios of the Constantinople Patriarchate, who is ministering in Seoul. In it, he criticized the actions of the Moscow Patriarchate in Korea. How could you comment on that?
– I would like to express my respect and my love for Metropolitan Ambrosios and all the priests who work under his omophorion in Korea. For me personally, it was a powerful experience during the ten years of my ministry in Korea, and I would like to keep warm relationships with them all.
However now, with pain in my heart, I read unjustified reproaches against the Russian Church, published on the internet and signed by Bishop Ambrosios. I don’t think they help to bring peace to the minds and hearts of the readers.
I would also like to fraternally remind Bishop Ambrosios that in spite of the problems that currently exist between our Churches, it is useless for any of us to allow ourselves to speak with an aggressive tone or to insult the hierarchs of the other local Churches. All this does not promote a constructive dialogue.
I believe that instead of trying to figure out who has the most right to take on missions in Korea, it would be much better to work peacefully and calmly, with love and keeping our mutual contacts. It would be a more authentic testimony of the unity of the Church before the heterodox and the secularized world. The field to work in is great, and there’s enough room for everyone.
– Can we think of any “premeditated plan,” that Metropolitan Ambrosios mentioned in his interview?
– It would be more accurate to speak of setting up ecclesial life for our compatriots abroad, of taking care of people who live far from their homeland. In any case, for many of our compatriots, Orthodox parishes are not only places where the faithful gather for prayer services, but they are also places of meeting, of mutual help, of preservation of national traditions, and of celebrations. In many countries, it is precisely the churches that become the place through which people preserve their cultural identity.
Of course, the impossibility of Eucharistic communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate has to a certain extent stimulated the creation of new parishes, but anyway, parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate would have appeared sooner or later in the Republic of Korea, because the necessity has been felt.
The absence of canonical communion between the Churches of Russia and Constantinople is a painful situation for any Orthodox. We continue to hope that this question will be resolved over time, and that the faithful will be able to participate in the sacraments in any Orthodox church, regardless of its jurisdiction. At each Divine Liturgy, we pray for the restoration of ecclesial unity.
– Vladyka, at this point, how do you see the ecclesial work in Korea. Has the property of the Russian ecclesiastical mission been preserved there? What is there and what must be done?
– Currently, unfortunately, we have neither land nor buildings. The former land of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission is located in the center of Seoul, in Jongno District, which was acquired back then by funds from the Russian Empire and donations collected in Russia. Currently, it does not belong to us. By decision of the Holy Patriarch Tykhon, dated November 4, 1921, the mission to Korea was submitted to Archbishop Sergii (Tikhomirov) of Tokyo, and the land and buildings were registered in the name of the company owning the Orthodox Church of Japan.
Subsequently, the local Orthodox community, which at that time was transferred to the Constantinople Patriarchate, received through the court, the rights to all the property of the Russian ecclesiastical mission in Korea. After their sale, they acquired a new land in Seoul, in Mapo District, where St. Nicholas Church was later built.
Now, our new Resurrection Parish has taken out a lease for a building, which is not very large, in Yongsan District, where the services are held. For Pascha, it was cramped, as more than 100 people were present at the service.
The parish of Seoul consists of citizens from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and the United States. Despite the fact that the services are celebrated in Slavonic, Koreans also come to attend. Some Koreans, expressing their disagreement with the actions of the Constantinople Patriarchate in Ukraine, or for other reasons, come to our parish in Seoul.
There is a fairly large number of Russian-speaking parishioners living in Pusan. For them also services have been organized a number of times, including Pascha. In addition to Seoul and Pusan, there are other cities in which a fairly large Russian-speaking population lives, and it will be necessary to organize a complete ecclesial life there as well.
– And who celebrates the services in the new parish of the Resurrection?
– From the beginning, in the process of organizing the parish in Seoul, priests from the parishes of the Patriarchal Exarchate of Southeast Asia were promptly sent to Korea. Now we need to find permanent priests. In Seoul, Archpriest Paul Kang also ministers, he is Korean and member of ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
There is another priest from South Korea, Hieromonk Paul (Choi) who is now completing his studies at St. Petersburg Theological Academy. I hope that when he finishes his studies, he will come back here and help us.
– We know that in North Korea, Holy Trinity Church in Pyongyang is active. Tell us a few words about it.
– The decision to build the first Orthodox church in North Korea was taken by Kim Il-Sung in 2002 after he visited St. Innocent of Irkutsk Church in Khabarovsk. Shortly afterwards the church was built and in 2006, the community of the Lifegiving Trinity Church was received in the Russian Orthodox Church.
In August 2006, the Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (the current Patriarch of Moscow) consecrated the church. The priests of this church studied in ecclesiastical seminaries of Russia and were ordained by Russian hierarchs. Currently, this church is mainly attended by employees of diplomatic missions stationed in Pyongyang.
– Vladyka, what would you like to say to our readers?
– Through your website, I would like to address all the faithful children of the Russian Orthodox Church living in Korea, and call them to gather around their Church and their Primate.
I would also like to express my support to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and to the whole canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who is going today through difficult times. Now, as parishes in Korea have come to life, your active help is needed to create new communities. I ask the divine blessing on you all!
Source in Russian