Before daybreak: Conversation between Raghimov & Drozdov, Sept. 2004, Shanghai
English Translation by Kiril Mirakovsk
Conversation between the painter Kerim Raghimov and the Chairman of
RCS (Russian Club in Shanghai) Michael Drozdov, September 2004, Shanghai
K.R.: Michael, You just pointed out the Orthodox churches on the map
of Shanghai - I understand that all these churches are "dead" now,
i.e. services are not celebrated in them at all
M.D.: Well, first of all, the situation has moved from a dead point.
We'll talk about this later on. It's been my ninth year here in
Shanghai - I got here in 1996 - and at that time in the Cathedral of
the "Surety of Sinners" Icon of the Theotokos, there was a stock
exchange. Afterwards it was left deserted for a while, then got
renewed because one Taiwan company rented it and transformed it into a
night club. It was the same church where Bishop John (Maksimovich) was
Before daybreak - as the Chinese speak, in my opinion, it is the
darkest period in the day
By the way, in that very church Mr. Vertinsky got married. He lived
here in the thirties before going back to the Soviet Union in 1943.
And the second church, St Nicholas temple-monument, rather a small
one, is located in the silent green corner, where all these years one
French restaurant was settled. The name of the restaurant was
"Ashanti-house". The Frenchman who rented the place was from the
republic of South Africa. There Ashanti meant something like an
ancient state in South Africa where wine was also produced by that
name - which was one more reason to call the restaurant "Ashanti".
Given my knowledge of the history of that building, it was built owing
to the significant efforts of general Glebov, but at that time they
signed very unsuccessful contract so that, at the time when the
Russian emigrants set out to build the church, the estate wasn't
bought but just rented for 10 or 15 years at least. According to the
lease contract, everything that shall be built on this ground, after
the expiry of the rent period, goes in the hands of the land owner.
Probably, the people who were engaged in this construction were not so
A short time ago, in 2002, the Russian club - public organization
uniting the Russians who permanently live in Shanghai, has collected
signatures to address the mayor of the city of Shanghai to intervene
and to remove the night clubs from there. In the case he doesn't allow
to celebrate liturgies there, to transform the places into cultural
centers such as galleries, concert halls and so on. The situation was
in such suspended condition long enough, but this very summer, the
Chinese ambassador to Russia, Liu Guchang has given a supper in honour
of Metropolitan Kyrill in Moscow where he announced that the night
clubs will be moved out from the premises of the two Orthodox
churches, which is already happening. I recently passed by one of them
and I saw it myself that one of the clubs was closed down and there
was a notification hanged above the door to notify where to address in
need to buy the place. As to the second one, I haven't got any chance
to visit it yet. But I have a curious photograph, one can not see such
anymore. All these years in the niche at the entrance, instead of the
Savior, there was a picture of Mao Zedong. And after all this time,
the very picture was removed this June. I was told that just because
of the portrait the building wasn't destroyed during the years of the
Cultural Revolution. There is an assumption that it was placed there
by a wise man in order to protect the building from the Hongweibing's
( Red Guards) raids.
When I talked to the director of the St Petersburg's branch of the
Oriental Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Science,
I.F.Popova, she told me that the progressing loyalty of the Chinese
authorities can be related to the Olympiad which is due to take place
in China in 2008. I wish to quote here one father who once wrote that
the high oil prices (due to which the Russian economy keeps itself
alive) - are a handwork of God. We can probably regard the Olympiad
that way too Nevertheless, let's get back to the liturgical life in
Shanghai? Does Fr. Dionisy (Pozdnyaev) visit you sometimes? I was told
that the Pascha of 2004 was celebrated there
Father Dionisy visits Beijing rather often - roughly twice a month. He
visits Shenzhen too, a city close to Hong Kong, he goes by train and
spends his days off there, they found a place and customized it for
services. There's no such place in Shanghai. As I can recall, in
Shanghai they celebrated just two or three liturgies - the first one
took place in December 2003, Fr. Dionisy served a sanctification of
waters in the consulate in a room adapted just for that purpose. And
the second one was in the end of January (2004), they served a Vespers
and a Liturgy in the same room. Then there was one more service (Fr.
Dionisy attended but he didn't serve) in a private apartment of one
But the circumstances with Orthodoxy in Shanghai can be changed in the
near future. There aren't many Russians in Shanghai yet, nor many
Russian companies, though they emerge pretty fast. This spring a lady
from Moscow opened a brand new company in Shanghai. Her husband is Fr.
Alexis, an Orthodox priest. The point is, she has a residence permit
and all the civil rights, and it won't be any problem for him, as a
member of the family, to go there. We raised some money and bought in
Moscow everything we thought will be necessary for the services, the
church utensils, the vestments and all are already in Shanghai.
And the priest is ready to move there
Before doing this, he need to get a blessing from the bishop, in this
case - Metropolitan Kyrill, otherwise he could not have the right to
celebrate services. At this moment, they are discussing over whether
to send him there or not. We already sent a letter to Metropolitan
Kyrill signed by 40 Russians who live here, with a request to give us
a positive answer.
And though everything moves a bit slowly than we supposed, we realize
that the given situation has also its political side and it is
necessary to coordinate it with the Chinese authorities, anyway, the
most important is not to mess the whole thing up.
And as a whole, one can sense something - the quantity of believers,
their activity - is growing rapidly?
Who do you have in mind - the Chinese?
No, rather Russians
You see, the Russians are such people
Yes, and then, as always, just 2-3 persons set the vector, and the
others are just joining up. Therefore, if it is possible to send Fr.
Alexis there and if he can keep the services going on, more or less on
constant basis, a community can be generated and thus the people can
attend the services and revive the Orthodox life in Shanghai. By the
way, these days I had a conversation in the consulate and they are
ready to give accordance for the services: every Sunday, or every
second Sunday, whatever
I wanted to ask you about the Chinese. How do they cope with all this?
You know, there is no such word - "religion" in the Chinese language,
the meaning is replaced with the word "jiao" , which means "doctrine".
That's why they call every religion by the name of "the doctrine of
the Buddha" - Fo jiao, and "the doctrine of the Christ" - Jidu jiao,
the doctrine of Confucius etc. Therefore, the followers are referred
to as pupils. On the other hand, in China, as well as in the Soviet
Union, the religion was persecuted, which made the people, especially
the older ones, more afraid and cautious when it comes to this. Let
alone the youngsters, the religion for them is embodied in the dollar
or the yuan. When Metropolitan Kyrill came to visit us, we discussed
these very questions over and over for four days. And when I told him
this about the youngsters, his reaction was like: a man who by nature
is yearning for the Heavens, for God, cannot pray only to the Yuan and
the dollar, which is to say - the emptiness is fathomless, and it is
about to be inhabited by something, inevitably
Are there some elderly Chinese who still can recall the Russian
emigration in its better times
The dome inside of
St Nicholas Church.
Unfortunately, those years the Russian emigration, like any
emigration, was pretty secretive and antisocial. The emigrants
survived through without leaving any adherents behind among the local
population. They lived in groups as the Chinese live now abroad. And
if there are any Orthodox Chinese, they must have a blood relation
with Russians. I've heard of such cossack, let's call him Z., after
the Civil war he and his wife were retreating through Mongolia, and
got to Xinjiang, wherefrom the family moved to Shanghai, their
daughter got married to a Chinese but, all the same, the family
remained Orthodox. The point is, every Chinese who would become a
member of a Russian family will be converted into Orthodox. And the
son of this woman - grandson of that couple - studies now in the
seminary in Moscow. He is quarter Russian by birth - but looks more
like a Chinese.
That's funny, I suppose so: when you mix the blood - you get Chinese,
and when Orthodox spirit takes root - you get Russian. But everything
happens by exception whatsoever.
Yes, you can surely say that. But who knows anyway? - Kim Jong-il
traveled a little across Russia, he was shown an Orthodox church and
he really liked it, "so let's make one at home" - he said. There is
one in Pyongyang erected already. Perhaps, afterwards they will give
Kim Jong-il the name: the Korean Vladimir the Red Little Sun.
Yes, everything is in God's hands. Thank you very much for the