HONG KONG (UCAN) -- While the canonization of 120 Catholic martyrs in China has aroused strong condemnation from China, an Orthodox canonization of 222 Chinese martyrs has been spared such criticism.
The martyrs canonized in Moscow in August, all killed in Beijing in 1900 during the anti-foreign, anti-imperialist Boxers Uprising, are the first Chinese to be canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Hong Kong-based Metropolitan Nikitas Lulias, Orthodox metropolitan (archbishop) for Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, told UCA News Nov. 7 that he does not know of any criticism from China over the Orthodox move.
On the contrary, Beijing strongly condemned the Vatican canonization Oct. 1 of Chinese and foreign martyrs, including 86 killed by the Boxers. It alleged that some of the martyrs were collaborators in Western imperialism in China.
The reactions may differ, Metropolitan Lulias surmised, because the Vatican and China have been in conflict over certain issues and because the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church have different structures.
The Vatican's status as a political state may lead to tension with China's government, he said, whereas "this is not a problem with the Orthodox Church."
The Orthodox canonization "received less attention because the world tends to look for tension," he added.
"Besides," the metropolitan said, "the number of Catholics in China as well as in the world far outnumbers the Orthodox."
Although the Orthodox Church arrived in China more than 300 years ago, it is little known there and thus receives less attention, he continued.
It is difficult to estimate the number of Orthodox adherents in mainland China, he noted, because there are Orthodox groups that practice their faith secretly for security, greater freedom or other reasons.
Orthodox in China are concentrated in the north. Currently, the only openly functioning Orthodox church in the whole of mainland China is in Harbin, capital of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.
The Chinese who was the only Orthodox priest working openly in the country died recently, and the local Church is still trying to train its own clergy, Metropolitan Lulias said.
A firsthand account of the violence that produced the Orthodox martyrs was provided by Archimandrite (later Metropolitan) Innokenty, head of the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Mission at Peking (Beijing) during the 1900 Boxers Uprising.
The Church official reported that most Orthodox Chinese martyred there were killed June 11 that year, which was June 24 on the Orthodox Church calendar. The incident, he said, was preceded by proclamations posted on streets the evening before calling for the slaughter of all Christians and threatening anyone who dared harbor them.
According to his account, Boxers attacked Christian homes all around Beijing on those nights, torturing the residents and killing those who refused to renounce Christ. The searching and slaughtering went on for days, he said.
Among the Orthodox martyr saints are priests, lay men and women, and children, including the 7-year-old son of a priest who was also martyred.
Soon after their martyrdom, the Chinese Orthodox were accorded the veneration due to saints who have given their lives for their faith. Their veneration was approved by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.
For the Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Lulias explained, canonization is only a formality. Local witnesses' attestation or God's revelation can be sufficient proof as opposed to the thorough investigation of a candidate required by the Catholic Church, he said.
By the end of this year, the first Orthodox Chinese prayer book dedicated to the Chinese martyrs will be printed and a large icon of them will be ready to placed in the only Orthodox chapel in Hong Kong.
There are about 200 Chinese and expatriates in the local Orthodox community.