Orthodoxy in the Philippines

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This article seeks to be a clearinghouse of information and links regarding the history and state of Orthodox Christianity in the Philippines.

The current Orthodox presence in the Philippines is minimal. However, early in the 20th century a small Russian parish, exclusively for Russian nationals, once existed in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. The presence of this Russian parish ceased to exist after the Second World War. Another Orthodox parish under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was founded in Manila during the early 1990s.

Contents

The beginnings of Christianity in the Philippines

Replica of Magellan's cross planted in Cebu in 1521
Christianity was first introduced to the Philippines in the 16th century by Spain, when the Philippines became its colony. Until the Philippine Revolution of 1896, it was illegal for any non-Roman Catholic church to establish itself in the Philippines. The Archbishop of Manila served as both representative of the Spanish Inquisition and, during the absence of the governor-general, the Spanish Crown.

After fighting a bloody revolution against Spain, the Philippines then fought another war for its independence against the United States. However, the Philippines was annexed by the United States in 1898 and remained a colony until 1946. Religious tolerance was then instituted. The new American governor-generals then encouraged the spread of the Episcopal Church through government donations of land.

Orthodoxy in the Philippines

There are a number of accounts about the history of Orthodoxy in the Philippines.

It appears that the first Orthodox Christians on the islands were Syrian and Lebanese merchants and sailors, who arrived in Manila after Manila was opened to outside trade. The first recorded Orthodox Christians in the Philippines were a Lebanese family, referenced (who arrived?) in 1802 (citation?). Many of the Lebanese families still reside in the Philippines and have become Filipino citizens.

Around the beginning of the twentieth century, Greek sailors settled in Legaspi city on the island of Luzon about a century ago. Descendants of these Greek Orthodox Christian sailors now number no more than 10 families, who have kept their Greek surnames and many of whom have become distinguished public figures and intellectuals in the Philippines. They do not, however, speak Greek.

An influx of Russian emigrees fleeing the Soviet regime occured during the American colonial regime. In 1935, a Russian parish was established in Manila, and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia appointed Father Mikhail Yerokhin as vicar. The Episcopal Church then permitted Fr. Mikhail to use the north transept of their cathedral for worship. In 1937, the first Orthodox church was built and was named after the Iberian Icon of the Mother of God. This also became the first Orthodox altar in the Philippines. Later, both the Episcopal Cathedral and the Russian Orthodox church in Manila were destroyed during the Second World War.
Abp. John Maximovitch in Tubabao

St. John of Shanghai and San Franciso

In 1949, 5,500 Russian Orthodox from China, including then-Archbishop John Maximovitch, were relocated to Tubabao in the south central Philippines by the International Refugee Organization and with the permission of the newly independent Republic of the Philippines. Abp. John Maximovitch then established a wooden church, orphanage, and other buildings in Tubabao exclusively for the Russian refugees.

Tubabao, however, was (and still is) an underdeveloped island which is humid, prone to typhoons, and at times inaccessible due to the ocean conditions. When a Russian commented on their fear that a typhoon would destroy their camp to local Filipinos, they replied that there was nothing to worry about because “your holy man blesses your camp from four directions every night.” There were no typhoons or floods while Abp. John was there.

Arbp. John Maximovitch did not preach the Orthodox faith to the native inhabitants of the Philippine islands. No Filipino was baptized, chrismated, ordained and consecrated during his stay in the Philippines.

Through the persistent lobbying of Abp. John to the U.S. Congress, the refugees were allowed to settle in the United States and Australia beginning in 1951.

Reception of the first Filipino converts to Orthodoxy

In 1992, a Filipino hieromonk, Fr. Vincentius Escarcha (a former Benedictine Abbot and a Roman Catholic priest for more than 20 years in Bajada, Cataingan, Masbate island), together with four nuns and faithful members of his community, were received into the Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Dionysios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Zealand and assisted by Bishop Sotirios of Zelon.

On January 19, 1994, Metropolitan Dionysius, assisted by Bishop Sotirios, received by Holy Chrismation several Filipino Christians in Manila.

In 2004, the Theotokos Orthodox Church in Bajada, Masbate was consecrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas of Hong Kong and South East Asia. At present, the nuns of the Theotokos Orthodox Monastery in Bajada run a kindergarten.


Other Jurisdiction

In December 2006, Fr. Chris Gain, a deacon from the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand, came to Manila, and, without informing the local hierarchy of the Orthodox Church in the Philippines, registered a church bearing the name "Iglesia Orthodoxa ng Pilipinas" (Orthodox Church of the Philippines). Their webpage describes their church as the Orthodox Church in the Philippines. This church is seeking to receive Filipino clergymen through incardination. They do not provide information regarding the actual number of members. This jurisdiction, represented by one Abbot Cristofor and based in New Castle, Australia, has no clergy, churches, nor parishes anywhere in the Philippines and is not in communion with the canonical Orthodox Church in the Philippines, which is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

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