An Orphan’s Pascha in Old Beijing

From the diary of a Chinese Orthodox Christian

It so happened that as a small child I lost my parents and there was nobody to take care of me and support me. Although I had an aunt, my father’s sister, her family was very poor. There were three of us orphans: myself (then a five-year-old boy), my younger brother and younger sister. We were entrusted to the care of different people: my little brother was adopted by another family, my little sister (then a year-old child) was given to an Orthodox convent, and I was sent to a missionary school where I had to work and study. I would have lessons in the morning and in the afternoon, have dinner in the evening and spend the night at the school. I also did some work at church and sometimes was given an allowance. There were around 500 pupils at the school, who had close relatives. I felt lonely all the time. My life was dull and monotonous. But every evening I listened to the church bells ring and the church choir sing, so it became the sole consolation in my life.

Years passed. As I grew up, I came to know the order of the Sunday Liturgy very well under the influence of those around me. My Russian language proficiency level kept increasing as well. Apparently I was destined to become Orthodox.

When I was seven or eight years old, I was entrusted with some small jobs at church. The priest and the bishop were very kind to me, treated me to sweets and candies. I was given not only an Orthodox name but also a Russian nickname. I was nicknamed “tomato” [“pomidor” in Russian] at the church because as a child I had a round red face. The bishop continued to affectionately call me “tomato” even when I grew up. In his free time the bishop taught me to read and write, Church Slavonic and Russian, and various religious subjects. Over that time I acquired good knowledge, and the depression and melancholy left me. Several years later I could easily communicate in Russian without my native accent. Sometimes the priest and the bishop asked me to be their interpreter when they spoke with Chinese believers at church.

One of the most vivid recollections of my childhood was Pascha, the celebration of which always gave me ineffable joy and unforgettable moments. I can remember very clearly how I was excited and was waiting for the coming of Pascha several days before the feast. In the evening it took me long to fall asleep and in the morning I counted how many days were left until Pascha. It seemed that time dragged terribly. At last the long expected day would come.

At midnight bells on the bell-tower would begin to ring, with their toll piercing the dark of the night and gliding across the sky far away. On hearing the bells the local parishioners would move one after another towards the church for the festal Liturgy. Then the bishop, the priest, all the clergy and congregation embraced and kissed each other, exclaiming: “Christ Is Risen!” – “He Is Risen Indeed!” All the people around were happy and radiated gladness; even the priest and the bishop who usually were strict gave the parishioners friendly bows, greeted them on the feast of feasts, wished them all the very best for the season, and gave them painted Paschal eggs. After the prayer service at three in the morning there were fireworks that lit up the night sky with their magnificent, vibrant colors. Both adults and children all to a man welcomed them with excitement. The church was filled with the atmosphere of the festival. The priest and other clergy distributed treats among the children that had been prepared beforehand, namely sweets, chocolates and Paschal eggs. Meanwhile the children who went to the missionary school would joyfully run to the school canteen where the tables were already decked with kulichi (traditional Easter cakes: a sweet bread that is usually baked in a tall cylindrical shape) along with multicolored decorated eggs and other sweets.

Those who did some jobs at the church were given red envelopes with a monetary gift in them. I would always receive such envelope on Pascha. Thus, with my pockets full of treats I would hurry to my room and go to bed. Our holidays would commence on the following day and we had a whole week of rest.

The North Church (the Church of the Savior). Photo: beijingtoday.com.cn The North Church (the Church of the Savior). Photo: beijingtoday.com.cn
    

A festive atmosphere was reigning in the North Church (the Church of the Savior). The church doors were open for all visitors. Some curious Chinese would enter the church territory with their children for a walk. The magnificent buildings were buried in verdure there, namely lilac bushes and peach trees. The area adjacent to the North Church was huge and could be compared with that of Zhongshan Park in Shanghai in size. It is very beautiful there in spring—the trees are budding and the air is filled with the intoxicating fragrance of blossoming trees. At times I got acquainted with my peers who would come to walk there. We would play together till the evening, and when it was time to leave we would agree to meet again on Pascha the following year.

Thus the years of my childhood flew by. When I reached the age of fifteen I left Beijing. By that time some changes had occurred in the religious community. I moved from Beijing to Shanghai where I worked at one Orthodox church for a short time until it was closed. After that I had to look for a new employment.

Now I am not young any more. Every time I recall my childhood I have mixed feelings: a bitter feeling because of my orphanhood, and the joy of knowing Orthodoxy. At the same time, I realize that my life is quite interesting. As a child I was bred in the Russian Orthodox tradition and was influenced by the Orthodox culture.

Not long ago I visited Moscow and devoted some time to studying at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. The Lavra is a very famous place in Russia. Whenever I would read prayers in Church Slavonic, I would see surprise and respect in the parishioners’ eyes. “Unbelievable! A Chinese man is reading a prayer in Church Slavonic!” In many cases someone approached and asked me if I had Russian relations. I would answer clearly that I was one hundred per cent Chinese. I believe that my “advantageous position” may help me in studying the Oriental religious cultures and perhaps one day I will be able to make a contribution to the development of cultural ties between Russia and China.

Papias Fu
Translation by Dmitry Lapa
Russian Club in Shanghai

Pravoslavie.ru

4/13/2018

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