Friday, June 10, 2011

The Holy Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion

Compound of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Beijing, China
The Russian Orthodox Mission in China had its beginnings with the capture of forty-five Russians when the Chinese Emperor Kangxi (Kang Hsi), of the Qing dynasty, captured Albasin, a Russian fortress on the Amur River. Among those captured was Fr. Maxim Leontev, an Orthodox priest. He was brought with the prisoners to Beijing late in the year 1685. There he settled in the ambassadorial quarters in the north eastern section of the city and served his small community for twenty years, using a converted Chinese temple as his chapel. The chapel was consecrated to the Holy Wisdom of God. In 1695, Fr. Maxim received documentation from the Metropolitan of Tobolsk recognizing the consecration of the church and directed Fr. Maxim to commemorate the Chinese emperor and to begin preaching to the Chinese.


While the literary and translation efforts continued through most of the later part of the nineteenth century, the missionary work in the later part of the century lagged due to inadequate funding for preaching outside of Beijing, as well as the arrival of new missionaries whose Chinese language skills were inadequate. The era of an all-Russian clergy ended when a Chinese priest, Fr. Mitrophan Ji, was ordained in Japan by Bp. Nicholas of Tokyo on June 29, 1882. Fr. Mitrophan died a martyr in the June 11, 1900 Boxer uprising in China.

Icon courtesy of Holy Transfiguration Monastery
By June 1900, placards calling for the death of foreigners and Christians covered the walls around Beijing. Armed bands combed the streets of the city, setting fire to homes and "with imperial blessing" killing Chinese Christians and foreigners. Faced with torture or death, some of the Chinese Christians did deny Christ, while others, emboldened by the faith of the martyrs and the prayers of the saints, declared boldly the Name of the Lord. Among these were Priest Mitrophan Tsi-Chung, his Matushka Tatiana, and their children, Isaiah, Serge, and John.

Baptized by Saint Nicholas of Japan, Saint Mitrophan was a shy and retiring priest, who avoided honors and labored continually for the building of new churches, for the translation of spiritual books, and for the care of his flock. Yet in Christ, who gives more than we can ask or imagine, Saint Mitrophan and his flock became lions in the face of marauding wolves.

It was with this reassurance that Saint Mitrophan met his martyrdom on June 10, 1900. About seventy faithful had gathered in his home for consolation when the Boxers surrounded the house. While some of the faithful managed to escape, most—including Saint Mitrophan—were stabbed or burned to death. Like the priests of old slaughtered in the sight of Elijah, Saint Mitrophan's holy body fell beneath the date tree in the yard of his home, his family witnesses to his suffering.

His youngest son, Saint John, an eight-year-old child, was disfigured by the Boxers the same day. Although the mob cut off his ears, nose, and toes, Saint John did not seem to feel any pain, and walked steadily. Crowds mocked the young confessor, as they mocked his Lord before him, calling him a demon for his unwillingness to bend to make sacrifice to the idols. To the amazement of onlookers, although he was mutilated, mocked, and alone, young Saint John declared that it did not hurt to suffer for Christ.

Saint Isaiah, 23, the elder brother of Saint John, had been martyred several days earlier. Despite repeated urging, his nineteen-year-old bride, Saint Mary, refused to leave and hide, declaring that she had been born near the church of the Mother of God, and would die there as well.

Saint Ia (Wang), a mission school teacher also among the martyrs, was slashed repeatedly by the Boxers and buried, half-dead. In an attempt to save her, a sympathetic non-Christian bystander unearthed her, carrying her to his home in the hope of safety. There, however, the Boxers seized her again, torturing her at length until she died, a bold confession of Christ on her lips. Thereby did Saint Ia the teacher gain the crown of martyrdom not once, but twice.

Among those who died for Christ were Albazinians whose ancestors had first carried the light of Holy Orthodoxy to Beijing in 1685. The faith of these pioneers has now been crowned with the glory of martyrdom conferred upon their descendants. Albazinians Clement Kui Lin, Matthew Chai Tsuang, his brother Witt, Anna Chui, and many more, fearless of those who kill the body but cannot harm the soul (Matthew 10:28), met agony and death with courage, praying to the Savior for their tormentors.

ETA: Ancient Faith Podcast


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