By Priest Dionysy Pozdnayev
On June 11/24, the Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion are commemorated by the Orthodox Church. Below are eye-witness descriptions of that terrible night, and of their glorification by the Russian Orthodox Church in Peking.
One little known page in the history of the Russian ecclesiastical mission in China is that of the Boxer Rebellion. The year 1900, a fatal year in China’s history, became a breaking point for the Russian mission as well. This year went down in history as the time of the cruellest acts of the Yмhйtuбn, or “Righteous Fists of Harmony,” an essentially religious movement, which is known in Europe according to unfortunate English translation as the ”Boxer Rebellion.” It was directed against foreigners, whose influence in the Chinese Empire was greatly enhanced through the infiltration of missionaries from the West. The ideology of this revolution was anti-Christian.
The son of the first Chinese hieromartyr, Metrophanes Tsi Chun, killed by the Yмhйtuбn, Archpriest Sergei Chan, who was miraculously saved, later wrote of the Yмhйtuбn, ”This was an association having a communal framework (communal table), and seduced the people with their teaching on supernatural powers with the goal of exulting China and destroying the foreigners […]. Foreigners were called devils, baptized Chinese were called their minions, and the non-baptized who associated with them were called secondary minions; the boxers were viewed as a heavenly army.”
The Yмhйtuбn set up their heathen shrines everywhere, and performed sacrifices. Until Spring of 1900, the official government of China was protected by the foreign missions, but by summer, the Empress Dowager Cixi ordered the army to support those rebelling in the capital. Statesmen suspected of connections with foreigners were punished. All the foreigners in the provinces fled to Peking, seeking refuge in the embassy region in city’s southern part. When the rebellion overtook the capital, the Head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, Archimandrite Innocent (Figurovsky) and his colleagues left Beiguan and moved into the Russian Embassy. They took with them only the ancient icon of St. Nicholas of Mozhaisk, brought from Albazin by Fr. Maxim Leontev in 1685, and valuable church vessels.
The Chinese authorities placed ten spear-bearing guards outside the Mission, but by June 11, the Mission was burned to the ground; its library, archives, and vestry were destroyed. The boxers tortured 222 Orthodox Chinese, who became the first Chinese martyr-saints. Amongst them were Priest Metrophanes, the first Chinese priest, ordained in Japan by St. Nicholas, the enlightener of Japan. At the intercession of the Mission head, the commemoration of the Chinese new martyrs was instituted by order No. 2874 of the Holy Synod, April 22, 1902. Their relics were buried in the church sepulcher dedicated to their memory—the Church of the Holy Martyrs. Many of these relics were incorrupt.
The description provided below of the destruction of Beiguan is taken from the article, ”Material for the acts of the martyrs in China,” and comprises a part of the notes made by Archpriest Sergei Chan, who witnessed those terrible days. In mid May, the boxers burned down the Orthodox church and school in Dundinan before the eyes of Fr. Sergei, who was able to flee to Peking. Upon his arrival in Beiguan on May 26, Fr. Sergei told of the incident to the head of the Mission.
“After listening to us attentively, Fr. Archimandrite immediately sent a letter about it to the southern podvorye, to the Russian ambassador. The next day, the ambassador himself came to Beiguan (to the northern podvorye), in order to convince all the Russian missionaries to come to the embassy quarter under protection by the military. The ambassador considered it his duty to insist upon this, so that the lives of the missionaries would not be at risk. As for property, the Chinese government said it would answer for its safety, and therefore, when they prepared to leave, the missionaries only checked everything by description, but did not take anything with them other than the ancient icon of St. Nicholas. Just before six o’clock in the evening, the head of the Mission, Archimandrite Innocent, Hieromonk Avraamy, and Deacon Vasily Skrizhalin left for the Church of the Meeting in the embassy quarter. After this, our Christians who lived around the Mission began to depart gradually: some to their relatives in the south of town, some to other apartments. Rumor began to circulate that the Mission would be burned downed if not today, then tomorrow.
“During those days, from May 13 to 27, rumors of the boxers came closer and closer. The streets became noticeably more animated; masses of poor, unknown, transient people appeared. The boxers with red bands on their arms and legs started appearing boldly on the streets, passing along in crowds and in military order. A few tried to break into the embassy quarter on a cart. One was held in the German Embassy. On the evening of May 17, May 31 according to the Russian reckoning, at 8:00 in the evening, the burning of the Mission began. Beginning with the southern town, throughout the entire city of Peking and its suburbs, the insurgents burned not only the houses of Europeans, but also neighborhoods where Chinese Christians lived. The entire area in the valley where the city of Peking is located was illuminated by the glow of fires. Horror reigned everywhere, and everywhere were heard shouts and moaning.
“During that night hundreds of boxers accompanied by village crowds and beggars approached Beiguan. The leaders, that is, the actual boxers, where divided into three classes according to the rank of their training, or to be more precise, their ability to get into an exalted state. According to a folk belief, which is shared by everyone from the government and grand princes to the simple folk, these boxers of the highest three ranks are completely invincible by sword or gun. They do not need to use fire in order to burn down buildings—it is enough for one of them to point to a house and it will burn down by itself. They called to everyone to shout “sha,” meaning, “kill,” (that is, the Christians), and it seems that there was not a single person at that time who did not shout “sha.”
“At 9:00 in the morning, news came from the south of town that the boxers would soon come here. I sent word of this to the homes of Christians. When they heard this, many Christians returned to their homes, while others, to the contrary, left their homes. Fear forced them to group together. Over thirty people followed after me, and we walked past the north-east corner of the city walls toward the south. Soon we saw a large crowd of people moving towards the podvorye from the south, carrying torches. Before the boxers arrived, the Chinese guards walked around the Mission firing their rifles, but then, together with the people who came, they started looting the podvorye, after which was seen the flames and smoke of the fire. Neighbors say that when the church was burned there were no more than twenty people. We walked to Dunch zhi men street where the post soldier comforted us, saying that they regret the destruction of the Christians, that the Christians had come to Peking not of their own will, but were taken captive at the beginning of the Manchurian dynasty. From 8:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night, shouts could be heard calling for the massacre of Christians. By 12:00 all was quiet, and we returned to our homes near the podvorye. Flames from the fires were still rising high, and a particularly high pillar of flame was above the church, as if the glow was surrounding the whole church. We were horrified when we saw it, and prayed, thinking that the Lord allowed the Church to burn because of our sins. We stayed together until morning, and only when it turned light did we begin to separate, each to his own home.”
Just the same, the main day of the martyric death of Orthodox Chinese was June 11, 1900. Here is the testimony of the head of the Mission as to their podvig:
“On the eve, there were already proclamations pasted along the streets calling the pagans to kill the Christians, and threatening with death anyone who dared to hide them. During the night, the boxers appeared with burning torches in all parts of Peking, attacking Christian homes, grabbing the misfortunate Christians and torturing them, trying the force them to renounce Christ. Many who were terrified at the tortures and death renounced Orthodoxy in order to save their own lives, and burned incense before the idols. Others, however, were unafraid of torment, and courageously witnessed Christ. Terrifying was their fate. Their stomachs were sliced apart, their heads cut off, they were burned in their homes. Christians were searched out and destroyed during all the rest of the days of the rebellion. After destroying their homes, the Christians were taken outside the city gates to the boxers’ pagan shrines, where they were interrogated and burned in bonfires. According to the testimony of pagan eye-witnesses themselves, some of the Orthodox Chinese met death with amazing self-denial. The Orthodox catechist Pavel Van died as a martyr with prayer on his lips. The schoolteacher of the Mission, Eya Ven, was tortured twice. The first time, the boxers cut her apart and threw her half alive on the ground. When she revived, the guard (a pagan) heard her moans, and brought her into his guardhouse. But after a while the boxers seized her again, and this time they tortured her to death. Both times, Eya Ven joyfully witnessed Christ before her tormentors.
“Amongst those who suffered for Jesus Christ were the Albazin, descendants of those glorious Albazins who brought the light of Orthodox Christian faith to the capital of China, Peking, in 1685 […] Many Christians, hiding from danger, gathered in the home of Fr. Metrophanes. Amongst them also were his former detractors, but he did not refuse them refuge. Seeing that some were fainthearted, he encouraged them, saying that times of troubles had come, and it is hard to avoid them. He went several times that day to look at the burned church. On June 10, at about 10:00 in the evening, soldiers and boxers surrounded the home of Fr. Metrophanes. There were up to seventy Christians there at the time; the stronger ones ran away, while Fr. Metrophanes and many others, mainly women and children, remained, and were tortured. Fr. Metrophanes sat in the yard outside his home; the boxers pierced his chest, and he fell before the date tree. Neighbors dragged his body to the place where the Mission almshouse was. Later Hieromonk Avraamy took the body of Fr. Metrophanes, and in 1903, when the feast of the martyrs was celebrated, it was placed with the others in the church of the martyrs, under the altar […] In Fr. Metrophanes’ family were his wife Tatiana, from the Li family three sons: the eldest, Isaiah, the second, Sergei—now an Archpriest—and the third, Ivan. On June 10, Tatiana escaped the boxers with the aid of her son’s, Isaiah’s, fiancй, but the next day, June 11, nineteen people […] were executed in the morning by decapitation. Isaiah, age twenty-three, served in the artillery division. On June 7, the boxers executed him by decapitation on the large street near the Pin chi men gates, because he was already known to be a Christian. Maria, age nineteen, Isaiah’s fiance, came to Fr. Metrophanes’ house two days before the boxer progrom, wishing to die with the family of her bridegroom. […] Sergei, Fr. Metrophanes’ son, tried three times to persuade her to hide, but she answered, “I was born near the Church of the Most Holy Mother of God, and I will die here,” and she remained at the place where the church once was. Soon soldiers and boxers arrived there, and she died a martyric death, considering death to be a departure into eternal rest. Ivan was only eight years old. On June 10, in the evening, when they killed his father, the boxers hacked his shoulders and cut off his toes; his nose and ears were also severed. His brother Isaiah’s fiancй was able to save him from death by hiding him in the outhouse. When people asked him if he was in pain, he answered that it is not painful to suffer for Christ. Other boys made fun of him […] Ivan asked the neighbors for water, but not only did they refuse him, they drove him away.
“Protasius Chan and Irodion Siu, not yet baptized at the time, witnessed that they saw that boy with his wounded shoulders and feet; the wounds were very deep, but he felt no pain, and when he was again taken by the boxers, he showed no fear and went calmly. One old man expressed his sympathy, saying, “For what is the boy to blame? It is his parents’ fault that he became the a follower of the devil.” Others lifted him up for mockery, or simply cast contemptuous laughter at him. Thus was he led like a sheep to the slaughter.”
In the eighth issue of News of the Brotherhood of the Orthodox Church in China, June 1, 1905, we find the deeply touching and inspiring lines dedicated to Orthodox victims of the evil boxers’ movement in China, entitled, “Praise of the slain.”
“Shining with the beginning of eternal joy, accept from us unworthy ones this wreath of praise, woven from the remembrances of your good life and glorious end!
1)You, priest of God Metrophanes Tsi, the first Chinese called to pastoral service, who labored much to translate the service books, and by your exemplary life earned the respect of your flock; you likewise labored much over its spiritual growth, sorrowed over it, your soul pained over the others’ illnesses, wherefore you yourself where not subject to chronic illness to the end of your life. The difficult conditions of community life, the absence of moral support, and finally, your neighbors’ envy were the causes of your psychological breakdown. But your end was glorious: your chest, wounded by the spears of the enemies of Christ, like a honeycomb dropped to us the sweet assurance that you will ever be the fervent intercessor for the salvation of your flock, as you were in your lifetime. Your spouse, Tatiana, the former deaconess of the church, enlightened Chinese women with light of the Gospels, preparing them for the Holy Baptismal font, showed them an example of how they must suffer for confession of the faith. She was tortured several times, dragged through the streets and beheaded. Your son, the child Ioann, young in years but adult in mind, brought the beauty of his face as a sacrifice to God: his nose and ears were severed, but he felt no pain, confessing to all Christ Who strengthened him!
2) Pavel Van, you were a catechist, a preacher of the Word, and you taught by word and deed. Knowing that the truth is not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Cor. 2:4); nevertheless, you took care to acquire all the necessary dogmatic knowledge, in order to answer those asking about the faith: you contended with teachers of heterodox confessions, acquiring the mastery and expertise in verbal battle. A few days before your death you were confirmed by the Russian Holy Synod to receive the rank of the priesthood, and you brought your sacrifice before the Lord—having been beheaded as you knelt in prayer, which began here, and ended in the future life. Your spouse, Sara, followed you to a better life!
3) Innocent Fan, you were the Church steward, and cared for its material needs, fed and clothed the students of the Mission school. The entire charitable sector of the Mission was entrusted to you; and how lovingly and carefully did you write your reports! There are still people living now who received alms from your hands. You comforted their bodies while caring for their souls as well, for which you yourself were preserved incorrupt: three years after your death we saw your tall figure almost entirely untouched by decay. You were chosen as a deacon, and although you were not yet ordained, you directed the choir who sang glory to God, and fulfilled the same work of stewardship that was entrusted to deacons of ancient times! Your spouse, Elena, a pious mistress of her own home, raised children true to God—Eumeny, Sophia, and Nadezhda. These young sprouts of Christ’s vineyard received martyrdom together with their mother: their arms, accustomed from an early age to fold themselves in prayer, were severed by the savages who threw their bodies into the well!
4) Eya Ven, you were the leader of the school of Albazin maidens and an instructor of those who came to the Christian Faith; in your martyric death you confirmed that the duty of Christian women is not only to believe in Christ, but to suffer for His Holy Name.
5) Miron Zhui and Maria, in your constant struggle with poverty your were able to raise your large family in the fear of God; your children—Martha, Anastasia, Eudocia, Innocent, Savva, Nilus, Maria, and Elena were the best students in the school, and were fit for the Kingdom of God, wherefore they did follow after you to the place where there is neither captivity nor woe. Your ancestors were Albazins, once captives, and you are now worthy to receive “the freedom of God’s children!”
6) Andrei Chu, you were already advanced in years when you accepted Christianity, but as one who arrived late to work in the Christ’s vineyard, you worked without rest to print the Horologion and Psalter; and when word of the Boxer persecutions reached your ears, you decided to remain at your work and did not cease it until you were killed at that same work!
7) Ekaterina Chun, the respected mother of a large family, as a widow you were able to direct your household so that your children were shown to be useful sowers in God’s field: Vitus, Matthew, Nikifor, Kirill, Vassa, and Elena—known as co-workers of the clergy, aiders in the sermons!
8) Athanasius A, you were a poor cripple, hunchbacked and crawling on all fours. You were low in body but tall in spirit, and this height was especially apparent during the final minutes of your life. A bookbinder by profession, you loved also to sing in the choir in a pleasant octave. During the time of calamity you gave no place in your heart to faintheartedness or fear, and encouraged your family to do the same: your wife, Barbara and three children, that they should remain in the Mission yard, abandoned by all. And when the pagans dragged you to your death, your turned to them with words of instruction; you were indignant with their insanity, and said to the ignorant ones that they do not know what they should believe in or how; you were proud that your adoptive father was the famous missionary, Isaiah Polikin; you categorically announced to your tormentors that if they wish to kill you, let them do so in no other place than in the court of the Mission, because you wish to die in the place where you were spiritually born!
9) Captain Li, who came from a family of noble Manchurians, now the reigning dynasty, with exemplary humility you worked as printer at the Mission printing press, as a writer of notes, and as a singer. Your love of labor in this life assures royal rest in the future!
10) Peter Li, you were a watcher of atmospheric changes and natural phenomenon, and through them you came to know your Creator to Whom you wished to return, not leaving your post in times of persecution!
11) Symeon Si, an Albazin, for a half a century you lived in the Mission yard performing various obediences; the chuch was lighted by the candles you made, the prosphora you baked served in the daily Liturgy, and your bell-ringing called the people to prayer!
12) Clement Kui, you were an aid on the cliros in the Church services!
13) Leo Hai, the humble son of an obstinate father, who suffered much from him during this life; your timidity became an old saying for us, but theirs is the kingdom of Heaven!
14) Anna Zhui, you were killed in your home, but you educated your servants for the house of God: now your son is a deacon and serves the Church and the needs of his poor brothers, and your daughter directs the school of your sisters—Albazins!
15) Athanasius Shuan, a young man who fed his parents and numerous brothers, you achieved great skill in the reading of the Epistles in Slavonic!
16) Alexei Chzhan fu Zhun, the church guard in the village; the simplicity and directness of your faith, your warmth of heart and amicability toward the missionary fathers who came to you is famous to all. You and your family taught the same, and baptized all the people of your household, wherefore did they follow you to a better life.
17) Kyr Chzhan, Anna Chzhan, Jonah Gui, Olga A, Elena Ho, Anna Lin, Joseph Fu, and other venerable elders—who needed your death, or who was bothered by your life, leaning as it was upon a staff? But you fell under the knives of the murderers, hastening your transport into a better life, and freeing yourselves from the infirmity of aged bodies.
18) Sergei Phillipov Chzhan, you were a singer in the Dormition Church for nearly a half century; may the Lord vouchsafe you to sing the praises of His magnificence in the choir of the saints. In truth, “Many are your names and great is your reward; pray for our souls!”
This list is but a small portion of those Orthodox Chinese who suffered in 1900. The head of the Peking Theological Mission presented the Synod with a list of 222 names of Orthodox Chinese who were killed for their faith, and at the same time interceded for permission, in remembrance of these first Chinese martyrs for the faith:
1) To build a church on the site of the destroyed Mission church in Peking dedicated to All the Holy Martyrs of the Orthodox Church, with a tomb under the altar for the burial of the bones of the slain Orthodox Chinese; and
2) To institute for the Orthodox community in China the celebration of the tenth and eleventh of June in the following manner: On June 10, to observe a strict fast, transferring it to the following Friday should the date fall on a Sunday or Saturday, and to serve a requiem Liturgy with a Pannikhida for the slain Orthodox Chinese, and on June 11, to conduct a solemn service in the name of the Holy Martyrs of the Orthodox Church, with a cross procession to the place where Orthodox Chinese people were slain, or around the church, with the singing of the irmos “On the waves of the Sea,” and after the usual singing of “many years,” to pronounce memory eternal for all those Chinese who died honorably for the Orthodox Faith.
Having reviewed the Archimandrite Innocent’s request, and having no objections, the Holy Synod granted it as written on April 22, 1902 (ukaz No. 2874)…
Archimandrite Avraamy describes this event in his brochure, “Orthodox Chinese Mission,” printed in Moscow in 1903:
“On the eve, June 10, beginning at noon, the remains of the martyred Christians were carried in a small procession from the place of their temporary rest to the tomb under the church of All the Holy Martyrs, with the singing of the funeral canon. This was preceded by several days of exhumation of the precious remains from the earth and wells. Blessed were the hands vouchsafed to touch them… Four bodies were so well preserved that they could be recognized as the choir director Innocent and his family. By 6:00 in the evening, all the remains were carried to the tomb and placed on a long table. When Vladyka Innocent arrived, the singing of the Parastas (requiem Vigil service) began, alternating in Chinese and Slavonic…
“The tomb could not fit all those who had come to pray, and many of them stood outside in the yard. Each one could recognize the names of their fathers, mothers, and brothers amongst those commemorated… Many had tears in their eyes…
“During the Vigil service, the whole exterior of the trapeza church, the Archbishop’s house, the tomb, and the entire garden lane and lake shore blossomed with the flames of Paschal illumination. Anyone who was able to enter the Mission yard and see it will long remember those moments. Three years ago, a thousand-strong crowd rumbled on this very site, and the region was illuminated by the flames of burning buildings. The hearts of all were constricted with the horror of death; it was a St. Bartholomew’s day massacre. It is significant that the killing of Christians in 1900 began on the night of June 11, when the Church honors the memory of the Apostles Bartholomew and Barnabas. Now the crowd is striving to join in our triumph! And who are the causes? How close they are to us; their souls rejoice together with us from the heavens, their bodies lay at rest, adorned with flower, and the tomb is now festooned with greenery and lamps; the reading of the Psalter continues all night, but the atmosphere reminds us of a Paschal service: the dead shall resurrect, and those in the tombs shall arise…
“In the morning a moleben with a blessing of the waters was served in the tomb, and sixteen Chinese were being prepared for baptism, receiving the names of the more well-known Chinese martyrs: Pavel, Innocent, Peter, Barbara, Matrona, Ioann, Anna, Antonina, and others. All the newly-baptized received the Holy Mysteries at the Liturgy, at which the seventy-year-old elder catechist, Innocent, a Manchurian, gave a sermon in Chinese on the text, fear not, little flock! At the end of the Liturgy, with the singing of “The waves of the sea … the procession moved towards the tomb of All the Holy Martyrs. Banners and icons went before them, the Cross, Holy Gospels, and a piece of the relics of St. Innocent of Irkutsk where carried! The procession stopped at the entrance of the tomb; the bell ringing ceased, and His Eminence entered the tomb […] At the singing of “Weep not for me O Mother, the bodies of the martyrs were lowered into the marble grave with the pronouncement of “Memory Eternal” to all who have died for the Faith! The procession moved from the tomb to the places where the Christians were tormented; there a Litia was served. Then the procession moved towards the Mission podvorye, along the streets of Peking, toward the Andingmen gates, from which about 200 sazhens (1,400 feet) away, was the place where several Christian families were tortured, encompassed by a triangular brick wall, at the intercession of two large roads. A Litia was sung at the graves, and the procession moved further along the Kalgan road of missionaries, by which the cemetery that was barbarously defiled by the boxers was restored to its former dignity and honor. At 2:00 in the afternoon, the procession returned to the trapeza Dormition Church, not far from the tomb, where a tabernacle made of Chinese mats with three compartments was erected on the site of the former apartment of the head of the Mission, and a commemorative meal was offered. There “Memory Eternal” was sung to the new martyrs, worthy of the honor of the first centuries of Christianity!”
From the book (in Russian) by Fr. Dionysy Pozdnayev, Orthodoxy in China, (Moscow, 1999).