There is a pressing need for priests to provide services to Orthodox Chinese faithful, said Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate (Interfax, March 16).
There are up to 15,000 Chinese Orthodox, but the only two Chinese priests are more than 80 years old. In some cases, the Chinese authorities have allowed a Russian priest to serve at special occasions such as Easter in the Russian church in Harbin: the Metropolitan would like this practice to be extended to other cities. The Russian Church would like to help restore a Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church.In order to put the information into context, it should be made clear that an issue in China is the refusal of Chinese authorities to see groups of believers submitted to any foreign hierarchy, something that is especially sensitive regarding Roman Catholics.
Obviously, allowing the Orthodox Church in China to function under a foreign religious authority would create a precedent and thus cannot be acceptable to China. But without local clergy, it is impossible to find suitable candidates for the office of bishops and to start the process of establishing an autonomous church. Orthodox priests sometimes travel to China and visit faithful in an unofficial way, for instance, to celebrate baptisms. There have also been growing efforts in recent years to make Orthodox material available in Chinese (including both republications of older texts and new translations), with the help of the Internet.
(The best resource on Orthodoxy in China is the website http://www.orthodox.cn. It has sections in Chinese, Russian and English. It includes an extensive news archive for the past few years.)