The Holy Martyr Metrophanes Chi Sung has an unusual name, part of which is Russian and part Chinese. Father Metrophanes is a Chinese Orthodox ascetic.
According to the Church calendar, on his feast day on 23 June, we commemorate along with him multiple other martyrs. Most shockingly, that these multiple others include his wife Tatyana Li and his two sons, Isaiah and John. His whole family have been glorified before God as His martyrs. Incidentally, the Synaxis of Chinese saints is large, and very few of its members were glorified as individuals; typically, the Chinese Orthodox accepted martyrdom for Christ as whole families. It would be difficult for us even to imagine the hardships of being a Christian in a non-Christian country in which hostility to Christian has been common in some periods of its history. How onerous it must have been to be a Chinese and a Christian and face disdain from the other countrymen who saw conversion to Christianity as a betrayal of the local society, culture and shared ancestry. How strong one’s faith in Christ must be to overcome one’s worldly attachments and put it in first place among one’s life priorities. We were born and grew up in a country that is presently and historically Christian. Although an overwhelming majority of its people are distant from the Church, there is still a significant proportion with a friendly or at least a neutral attitude to the Church, as opposed to China. But let us go back to the martyrs at the centre of the story.
The future father Metrophanes grew up in an orthodox family. He lost his father at an early age and was raised by his grandmother Ekaterina and mother Maria, a teacher at the woman’s school established by the Russian religious mission in China. Like Metrophanes, they bore names that sound familiar to us and unusual for the Chinese. Let us stop for a moment and imagine the inner transformation in someone who had changed his name for a name that was foreign to his culture. What did this name mean to him? The name by which everyone addressed him at Church and by which his brothers and sisters in Christ knew him?
Like many other Christian saints of old, Metrophanes was a humble and gentle person who bore sorrows and pains with great patience. He was noticed by the leaders of the spiritual mission, Archimandrites Palladius (Kafarov) and Flavian (Gorodetsky), who undertook to give him guidance towards his future priesthood. When Mitrofan approached his twentieth birthday, he took the position of catechist. He turned down multiple times the offers to become a priest, considering himself unworthy. By all signs, Metrophanes knew or at least had the intuition that he had few chances of living a peaceful life if he accepted priesthood.
In 1882, at 27, he departed to Japan, where he accepted ordination from Saint Nicholas of Japan, first as a deacon, and subsequently a priest. After his return to China, Father Metrophanes served for fifteen years for the benefit of the Church assisting Archimandrite Flavian with the translation of liturgical books into Chinese. He was a man of exceptional humility and gentleness, and many abused these strengths of his character. Father Metrophanes suffered many sorrows and humiliations eventually causing him a mild breakdown. To ease the pressure, he lived for the next three years outside the Russian mission, up until the uprising of the Boxers in 1898 – 1901. The uprising of the Boxers was directed against foreign intervention in China’s domestic economy, politics and religious life. It was clear that the European states had played a role in causing it by seeking control over the domestic markets of imperial China. This is not the place to go deep into the history and causes of the uprising. Let me just mention that that policy had brought into poverty large numbers of peasants and artisans. Discontent was building quickly, and one can easily sympathise from a secular perspective with the plight of the desperate people. The Yihetuan movement was building gradually and sporadically. As is usual in human history, a search for scapegoats began. The Yihetuan were followers of the local religious-mystical teachings hostile towards missionaries and Chinese Christians whom they selected as targets for their attacks.
In 1900, all buildings of the Russian religious mission were burned down. Many Christians went into hiding in the house of Father Metrophanes. He gave shelter to many of his former enemies. He gave the fugitive reassurance and told them to brace themselves for inevitable sorrows. Several times each day, he went to mourn over the ashes of the religious mission’s ashes. Initially, the Chinese Empress Cixi supported the rebels. On the evening of 23 June, the Yihetuan surrounded the compound of Father Metrophanes together with members of the regular Chinese army. The strongest and most able-bodied fugitives escaped, while the rest – mostly women and children – stayed and died as martyrs. Father Mitrophan was sitting outside when the enraged rebels stabbed him to death. His wife and two of his children were martyred next to him. His middle son Sergius survived by a miracle and followed in the footsteps of his father by becoming a priest. The bodies of Father Metrophanes and the other Christians martyred with him were buried under the altar of the Beijing church in honour of the Chinese martyrs. It is possible to celebrate the Eucharist on the graves of the saints, without an antimins, as in the old times.
Eventually, Empress Cixi withdrew her support for the rebellion and sided with the alliance of eight states – the Russian Empire, the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Japan, Austro-Hungary and Italy. All eight brought their troops into China in response to the mass killings of Christians. The Yihetuan uprising was suppressed, and many of the rebels were executed. Most Chinese Christian martyrs died during the Yihetuan uprising.
At the time of his death, Father Mitrophan was 45, his wife Tatiana 44, his son Isaiah 24, and John 7. Many were martyred as infants and many at a very old age. Let us recognise and admire their great exploits and do credit to the safety and comfort of our lives.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
Archpriest Vladimir Dolgikh