Orthodoxy in Beijing

January 5, 2010

With a flowing brown beard and black robes, the Orthodox churchman cuts a curious shape striding past strip-lit convenience stores and real estate sales rooms in noisy Dongzhimen.

It makes sense, however, that Father Denis Pozdnyaev would be walking this way, given that the Russian embassy is around the corner. On the grounds of the sprawling diplomatic compound — Beijing’s largest — Pozdnyaev preaches to his flock in the newly reappointed and re-consecrated Church of the Repose of Holy Virgin.

Set amid the spacious greenery of the embassy, the church, which dates back more than a century, has recently been restored to its former glory. Cleaned and repainted, the church was being used as a garage during much of the Soviet period. Given its compact size and onion dome, its grounds resemble a village church in Crimea or Volgograd. But this is Beijing and the church hopes to give China’s small Orthodox community a place to continue growing.

Pozdnyaev estimated that his Beijing flock is nearly 400 strong, and that at least 50 regularly attend Sunday service, which are usually conducted by laymen. The figure swells by several hundred more when a festival like Pashca (Orthodox Easter) occurs, even though local law forbids locals from attending services on foreign diplomatic properties.

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