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Prologue to a Brief History of the Spiritual Mission in China (1916)

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  • Nelson Mitrophan Chin
    http://orthodox.cn/localchurch/kratkaja/prologue_en.htm Kratkaja Istorija Duxonvyx Missij v Kitae, (c. 1915-16) A Brief History of the Spiritual Mission in
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      Kratkaja Istorija Duxonvyx Missij v Kitae, (c. 1915-16)
      "A Brief History of the Spiritual Mission in China"
      by Archim. Avraamy (Chasovnikov)

      English translation by Rev. Michael A. van Opstall

      Prologue

      The majority of academics, writing about Christianity in China, arrive at the conclusion that the first preacher of the word of God in China was the holy apostle Thomas. They support their opinion with the following facts.

      1. The testimony of ancient church service books, written in the Chaldean language and belonging to the church of Malabar. In the service to the apostle Thomas found in this book there are several references about the apostle Thomas preaching the Gospel in Ethiopia, Persia, the Indian lands, and China.

      2. The records of the life and labors of the apostle Thomas, compiled on the basis of ancient Christian authors (Origen and Eusebius), which state that the apostle Thomas preached in China.

      3. Oral tradition, kept up until today in India, which states that St. Thomas preached in India and China, and after his long apostolic labors, received a martyr's crown in Mylapore on the Coromandel Coast to the south[1] of the Ganges, and finally,

      4. The delegation sent by the emperor to the west to seek the Holy One. This delegation, in 64 AD met entire communities of Chinese Christians in southwestern China. Called to the emperor, they informed him of a man born in the west, died and resurrected; the name of this Holy One had been given to them by a foreigner, the righteous and learned Thomas.

      Who exactly preached the gospel after the apostle Thomas until the seventh century, and how it was preached in China — this history is not able to answer to this day. All that is known without doubt is that after the apostles, Christianity easily continued to grow and be established in China. In the time tables of the Arab author Amru, cited by Asseman (Biblioth. orient. 1, 11 chapter XLII, 438), the metropolitan see of China was established after the metropolitan see of India, the antiquity of which was proved beyond the shadow of a doubt by Lacrosse. Based on a number of historical records, scholars reach the conclusion that there were many Christians and churches in China, especially in the 5th and 6th centuries. Further evidence of Christian preaching in China from the 7th to 9th centuries is taken from a Chinese monument (Spassky, "Description of an ancient Christian monument, uncovered in China in 1625").

      The monument indicates that persecution rose up against Christians in 782. Those who confessed Christianity were put to death; churches were destroyed. Further testimony about Christianity from the end of the 8th until the 13th century is taken from the sayings of Nestorian and Arab historians, who testify to the fading of Nestorianism in this period. No detailed historical records about the condition of the Christian faith in China from the end of the 8th to the middle of the 13th century have come down to us. However, not without basis it is said that there were many Christians in China at this time, but were subject to the Nestorian Catholicos. In defense of this view there is a Syrian manuscript from later than 1279 about the death of the Chinese metropolitan and assignment in his place of another, namely Mar-Sergius, who together with his bishops and monks spread the teaching of Nestorius in China with great success. And possibly, he could have succeeded in his goal — to establish this teaching in all regions of far-swept China, if the unexpected arrival in 1291 of dangerous opponents, Catholic missionaries, had not limited the attainment of this desire.

      Catholic missionaries, appearing in 1291 as if to replace the Nestorians, were mostly Dominicans and Franciscans, and quickly attained freedom to preach. However, the bright success of the Catholic propaganda was short-lived. In 1368, the dynasty of Tatar emperors was overturned, and the Chinese emperor Zhu began a vicious persecution of Christians. The emperor and his successors saw Christian preaching and its followers as an element of society inclined towards plots and uprisings, and thus very dangerous to the government; Christians were eliminated by the hundreds of thousands, their property was burned and the ashes scattered by the wind. Everything that could be destroyed was destroyed. There were not even traces of Christianity left. From this historical moment, distrust of anything unearthly sprang up in China, then suspicion of foreigners and their religion, morals, and customs, which in the end led to the nationalistic and introverted character of the Chinese. All of this was reflected in civil laws, and was one of the most serious impediments to the success of Christian preaching.

      From 1368 until 1591, Christianity in China did not exist: everything, even oblique references to it, was destroyed as something dangerous that threatened the guilty with unavoidable death. The Jesuits who made it into China in 1581 were convinced that the soul of the Chinese nation had become a desert. To turn it even into slightly fertile soul would take three hundred years of hard missionary labor, which was accompanied by difficult sufferings and martyric deaths for many of the preachers. Subsequently, the activity of heterodox mission, especially Protestant ones, worked towards the goals of enlightenment, and in this way paid a great historical service to the Chinese nation.

      Now, when the Chinese nation is given over to its own leadership, it is difficult to say by which current Christian preaching will flow. Will the Chinese nation flock primarily to one confession, or will it enter into the company of those who honor the One Christ, which is united by the link of faith and love. The task of the present composition is to reveal the fate of Orthodoxy in China from the beginning of its preaching to our days.


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      [1] The word "south" is not in the original. The original says, "on this side of the river Ganges".
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