Diocese of Harbin

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The Diocese of Harbin was a diocese within the Russian Orthodox Church that was established in Manchuria to support the large numbers of Russian believers who had established domicile in Manchuria. These believers came, first, to support the Russian built and run China-Eastern Railway and, second, to escape the Bolshevik regime in Russia after the Russian Civil War in 1920. A diocese was formally formed in the early 1920s by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and later was governed by the Church of Russia when Soviet forces occupied Manchuria in the latter half of 1945. The diocese was disbanded in accordance with the Sino-Soviet treaty of 1956 that required departure of all non-Chinese clergy.


With the start of construction of the China-Eastern Railway through Manchuria on August 16, 1897, the number of Orthodox Christians in Manchuria increased steadily. In Manchuria, the city of Harbin that was in the center of the railway network grew steadily, becoming quickly a city with a large Russian population. By 1899, over 14,000 Russian citizens lived in Harbin, in addition to those in the countryside. Among the Russians who arrived in Manchuria were security details of cossacks who were responsible for security of the railway. These cossacks came with their own clergy, who began celebration of religious services on October 5, 1987 in temporary facilities, using antimins provided by the Archbishop of Kherson and Odessa.

Construction of a temple in Harbin, that later became the Cathedral of St Nicholas, began on October 1, 1899. The church was consecrated by the Bishop of Vladivostok. In 1900, the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia proposed attaching the northern territories of Manchuria to the Diocese of Transbaikal under Bishop Methodius. Church consecrations in the early years of the twentieth century were also conducted by Bishop Innocent, head of the Russian Mission in Beijing. On May 29, 1903, the Holy Synod subordinated the clergy in northern Manchuria to the head of the Mission in Beijing, Bishop Innocent. By 1904, there were twelve priests in Manchuria.

On August 8, 1907, by decree of the Holy Synod the churches and clergy of northern Manchuria were transferred from the oversight of the Mission in Beijing to the ruling bishop of the Diocese of Vladivostok, Archbishop Evsevy. After this transfer church life in Manchuria developed more favorably with availability of more favorable transportation and communications capabilities between Vladivostok and Harbin.

By 1917, the life of the church in Manchuria had stabilized and the use of the principle of elected clergy was re-instituted. At the 1917 Vladivostok council the clergy approved a petition to the Holy Synod requesting the assignment of a bishop for the Manchurian churches. During the 1917-1918 period programs to provide for social and charitable needs of the Orthodox faithful in Manchuria were established and became integral part of the church life.

The 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia greatly accelerated the presence of Orthodox Christians in the Manchuria, as well as into China to the south. During the years around 1920, among the refuges from the Russian Civil War were many Orthodox bishops and lesser clergy. The arrival of the new clergy into Manchuria was welcomed and they became initially assistants to the regular clergy. In 1918 communications with the Holy Synod and Patriarch were lost. On March 29, 1922, an independent episcopate and diocese was formed in Manchuria as a temporary measure by enactment of the Synod of the newly formed Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Abp. Methodius of Orenburg and Turgaysk was appointed head of the diocese with the title Archbishop of Harbin. In 1931, upon the repose of Metropolitan Methodius, Archbishop Meletius was named to the see of Harbin by the Holy Synod of ROCOR. Subsequently he was elevated to metropolitan, Metr. Meletius reposed on April 6, 1946.

In late summer 1945, the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan and occupied Manchuria with their Communist Chinese allies. With this action the diocese of Harbin was "reunited" to the Moscow Patriarchate. Archbishop Nestor (Anisimov) of Kamchatka, who had established a representation in Harbin for his Diocese of Kamchatka in the early 1920s, reestablished relations with the Moscow Patriarchate. With reestablishment of relations, in 1946, Abp. Nestor was named Metropolitan of Harbin and Manchuria and Exarch of East Asia by Patriarch Alexei I. In 1948, Metr. Nestor was arrested by Chinese authorities and turned over to Soviet authorities who imprisoned him in the Gulag, making the see vacant.

In 1954, the exarchate was abolished by the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1956, in accordance with a treaty between the Soviet Union and Communist China, all non-Chinese clergy were required to leave China. This formally closed the Diocese of Harbin


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