Port Arthur Icon in China

Chinese Orthodox Church – February 2014
English translation by Katherine Ilachinski

Port Arthur Icon in China, October 2013 (Harbin, to Manzhouli, Shenyang, then Dalian and Lushun [Port Arthur])

On October 12, 2013 Orthodox believers were waiting in Dalian for the arrival of the Icon of Triumph of the Holy Theotokos (from Port Arthur).

Specifically Fr Dionisy Pozdnyaev flew in from Hong Kong to meet the icon and to provide a moleben service before it.

“Accidentally” (but in fact by the Providence of God) on the same days in Dalian on short-term treatment was a 80-year-old clergyman from the Partisansk city, that is near Vladivostok, Father Basil (Kabanov). He, too, was willing to stay longer to meet the icon. He even changed the tickets for the day later.

People were going to come from Shenyang (old Russian name for the city – Mukden), the capital of Liaoning Province, where the city of Dalian is located.

Actually, the plan was as follows. The icon was to be greeted at the train station by Orthodox believers from Dalian (Peter and Andrew) and the staff of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Shenyang. Consul General, Sergey Jurjevich Paltov, especially for the delivery of the icon to Port Arthur, ordered the microbus so everyone could join.

The icon was planned to be installed in the chapel in the name of Prince Vladimir, on the Russian cemetery in Port Arthur. Port Arthur is now part of Dalian, removed from the city center by about 20-25 km.

From Dalian people were also going to go to Port Arthur, some in their cars, some were grouped together in order to book a bus. In short, everyone was expecting a call from Shenyang with the news that the microbus left with the icon.

***

But things did not go as planned by people.

On October 11 Andrew Buhteev-warden of the Orthodox community in Dalian (narrated by him) from Manzhouli custom received a call from Elena Alexandrovna Nicholskaya, who accompanied the icon from Moscow, and reported that the icon is detained by Chinese customs because the permits for the import were not all there.

It was found that under the Customs laws of the PRC not properly executed documents to export icons were available. The icon, according to the cover letter was intended as a gift, to be installed in the chapel, which is owned by China, they required an import permit from the Ministry of Culture of China. Telephone conversations of custom officers with our diplomats, employees of the Consulate General of Shenyang failed.

Everyone was very kind and tried to find an option to address the issue, but just could not. It was decided to leave the icon at the custom office for safekeeping till the missing documents would be obtained.

Strictly speaking, one should contact the Ministry in the place of crossing the border, that is, in the province of Inner Mongolia. And this area is directly under jurisdiction of the Embassy of the Russian Federation to Beijing. And to get to the offices of the Ministry of Culture of China’s big province would be difficult.

Later, when we came to pick up the icon, an employee of customs Rose (who is very fluent in Russian), told us that she was prepared for the scandal, for the perturbation because the gift was delayed. But when she heard Elena Alexandrovna’s quietly spoken words that it means that God and the Mother of God willed that her icon would stay some time here in Manzhouli, Rose thought “I have never met such people! What a big heart!” And somehow imbued with respect she tried to help as much as she could.

We agreed that the customs will take the import permit from the Department of the Ministry of Culture of China in Shenyang, where our native Consulate is located. This greatly simplified the task.

We were all upset to learn that the icon would not arrive as planned, but resigned. Father Basil returned to his old tickets to Partisansk, so he had a chance to rest before the evening service on the feast of the Protection. He, however, said that the prayer and the ministry is the best medicine for him and he does not need rest.

Father Dionisy in this visit married Peter and Mary Yatskov (recently moved from Vladivostok to live in Dalian).

***

But one had to get the documents. Period of free storage at customs – 3 months. There was hope that it was time to resolve the issue. Great assistance was provided by the staff of the Consulate General. In order to enable them to write a note to the Ministry of Culture of China, it was necessary to get an appeal to them, but from whom. After considering the situation, they offered several options to address the Consulate General:

  • From Christian organization registered in China (Catholic or Protestant, as there was no Orthodox registered organization), for which the icon could be intended;
  • From a private person, for whom, allegedly for personal use, the icon was brought.

It could be so. But still something is not right. Why the Russian Consulate General fussing about foreign communities of Catholics or Protestants? And it’s hard to believe that this icon is intended for personal use.

***

Consul General Sergey Jurevich Paltov came to the meeting with the newly formed Russian club during the week to Dalian. Elena Alexandrovna Nicholskaya briefly told the story of Port Arthur icon. All listened with genuine interest.

Later Sergey Jurjevich personally came up and asked to be told more about the icon, and then they all photographed together.

The decision came as a revelation – it was necessary to point out that the icon was intended for General Consulate, which actually is Russian territory. So they pointed that fact. In the following week, permission for the import was granted, the power of attorney to receive the icon was done to Andrew.

So on October 19, 2013, Seeing off Elena Alexandrovna in Shenyang, where she boarded the Moscow train, they were able to pick up the ready documents. Thanks again to all the staff of the Consulate General for assistance not only organizational, but also physical. They helped bring heavy bags right up to the car.

Special thanks to the Vice-Consul Alexander Smirnov for his active help in solving this issue.

On October 22, 2013, Andrei Bukhteev warden of Orthodox community in the city of Dalian with his wife Elena started to travel (all narrated by them):

First by train to Harbin, then by plane to Manzhouli. No direct flights. We took 1st class ticket on the fast train, who looked more like a plane, and came to Harbin in 4 hours, and it’s more than a thousand kilometers away! We arrived at the airport. This is where all of our plans were again fouled.

Well, one does not go for the icon with all the amenities.

Weather for two days was the non-flying. A lot of people were waiting. The noise was, as in the poultry market. For those who could not wait, free buses were organized to the railroad station. I must say that there was no disorder. There were a lot of officers on duty. As soon as we stopped in confusion – where to go, what to do, we were at once approached by someone from the staff and helped. We went back to the railroad station. There, too, was a crowd, the tickets left to Manchuria were only for sitting. And one had to travel 12-13 hours a night! Well, we thought, now we’re doing everything right, since difficulties began.

The train was nearly like a milk train, at every station — stop, light was not shut off, the door to the cold vestibule always remained open. We had an exercise in patience – all the time we had to get up and close it, so that there was no cold air and tobacco smell. Passengers mostly peasants, accustomed to roughing it, one can say, did not even notice any difficulties, settled for the night as best they could. But never mind, somehow outlasted the night, in the morning we were drinking tea out of plastic soup bowls, and imagined that they were oriental bowls.

OUR REFERENCE: city of Manzhouli (Chinese characters.满洲里, Pinyin: Mǎnzhōulǐ) – City County Urban County Hulun Buir, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It is located 4 km from the border with Russia, and 6 km from Zabaikalsk, is the largest land border crossing on the Sino-Russian border, and the starting point of China’s national motorway of national meaning Guodao 301.

By two o’clock we came to Manzhouli city. From the paper, given by Elena Alexandrovna custom worker, we found the customs space, but it was locked. No one there! It turned out that they had a day off today – international trains pass only 2 times a week. It was good, that we had a mobile phone of custom worker Rose. We phoned and got connected. Then the miracles began. Rose told us to wait half an hour, employees will come. In their day off!

Indeed, three men dressed in all the customs uniform, greeted us, took the documents, all was found in order. The man very closely watched, as we passed the packaged goods — so that we would not touch, not break anything. I had only to lift the packaging from the icon to estimate the weight, he snapped, worrying about the safety of glass. Apparently, Elena Alexandrovna strongly recommended to carefully handle the packaging. Everything was intact and safe.

We have agreed in advance with the transport company about delivery of kiot ( icon case) to Shenyang. But how to travel with the icon itself? In the cabin of the aircraft we will not be allowed, sitting on a train and keeping the icon in our hands, of course, is possible, but it is not the best option. There we are tightly surrounded by people, and we could not even put the icon anywhere. Compartments or sleeping-places were not available.

And then Rose suddenly remembered that the next day the Moscow train should pass. She said, that although she did as instructed by not releasing the icon, but in her heart she feels she had to help us. She promised that when they will carry out train inspection, she will ask the boss to take the oversized cargo. But there was another issue – how will we get to the train without a ticket. The fact is that in China it is not allowed to have on the platform even people who are accompanying the ticket holding travelers.

It turned out that to buy a ticket for this international train is almost impossible. One could not buy it in the box office or in travel agencies or through friends. We decided that tomorrow is another day and postponed the matter until tomorrow. The main thing that heavy kiot (icon case) was taken on the train to Shenyang.

We were offered such hospitality, which we could not expect, especially from customs officials. In their car we were driven to the hotel, and were offered a choice of room. We found it awkward to take up so much of their time. We invited them to dine together. But they politely declined, saying that it is not allowed with customers. While waiting for the elevator we continued to discuss the topic of buying tickets. Rose called all her influential acquaintances. Then a local boy joined the conversation; he exchanged currency, sells sim cards and provides other services to Russian tourists in Manzhouli.

He told us in Russian that he will be able to get these tickets, immediately called someone, assured us that the tickets will be available and he will bring them in the morning to the hotel. He asked for copies of passports and 500 Yuan (2500 rubles) as a deposit. We in our thoughts said goodbye to him, and our money. But we had no choice.

In the morning suddenly Rose came to our hotel, not to leave us alone and show us the city. Then the little fellow came running, bringing the tickets for the same train 20, took another 300 Yuan for his trouble. It turned out that our Rose called him again in the evening and said, “Do not dare to deceive them!” Maybe he would have done everything honestly…

Rose took us around the city, showed the place where our soldiers are buried who died in August 1945. Then we saw old Russian house built during 1900-1901 years.

In Manzhouli, almost everyone speaks Russian, the stores are full of Russian signs. Sometimes they are funny. Here are a few photos:

The city, though small, has only 6 streets, but in recent years was built up with modern houses, brightly illuminated in the evenings. Beautiful to see. If you tell someone who has been here 5 years ago or more that this is Manzhouli, China in photos — they would not believe it.

In general, the Chinese are smart fellows. They realized that a lot of Russian come through border crossing of Zabaikalsk, they learned the language, hung Russian signs on restaurants, shops. All are welcoming. Business is going well. But our tourists do not take the time to learn Chinese, too bad.

In the evening, before the departure of the train, we were supposed to meet with Rose in the custom office. There is the motto on the wall of the office: “While there is a line between Countries. Our service has no limits.”

Moscow train stands quite a long time in Manzhouli – inspection, change of wheel sets. Rose, as promised, has agreed with the chief of the train, to take the load. She led us to the platform through the customs exit, introduced to Valery, the chief of the train.

He did not just happily agree, but said that he would be honored to take the icon and deliver it to the destination. He provided people to bring the icon case. The icon was carried by Andrew, then icon case was carried and I completed the procession with packed crown in hand, and next to me was a Chinese custom worker Rose. This procession went around the platform.

Valery asked for permission to come the next day with the whole team, look at the icon, listen to a story about her. We were touched! Not paying attention to our tickets, he ordered for us two compartments. One — for the icon case, the second – for the icon itself and for us who accompanied the icon. We did not need the tickets. We have guessed so in our hearts, but we hoped to get through, and there we could solve the problem. But an order is an order. Chinese could not imagine that one can somehow get around the ticket inspection and be on the platform. So we had to buy these tickets.

Before saying goodbye to us, Rose asked permission to take another look at the icon. She specifically had stayed behind for this, although all employees after their shift were taken home by car. We anxiously opened the package. Port Arthur icon appeared in all its glory.

Our feelings were shared with Rose the Chinese woman. Seeing how we crossed, she stood before the icon, and did the same. She said that during the meeting with the icon, meeting with Orthodox people, something happened in her heart that she will now think of it and maybe something will grow from it. And we have seen that it is not just words, in her eyes there were tears! We parted friends.

***

The next day we were constantly visited in our compartment, we happily and repeatedly told the story of the Port Arthur icon. We also listened to stories about lives of visitors. People asked to be allowed to be alone for a short while in the compartment to pray. Some left little notes and donations, someone asked for permission to touch the icon with baby socks, bought for a grandson.

Trainmaster Valery said that our border guards handed them photographs of icons. Everyone already knew the story of her detention by customs. He wanted to make a frame and carry it with him, but he did not even dream that he will take in his train the Port Arthur icon herself!

Before the arrival of the train in Shenyang, the guy who was supposed to help us to disembark in deference changed into the special festive uniform.

The conductors of other railroad cars, who could, too, came to say goodbye. We were so excited that we did not even have thought to take photos. But we’ve made the list of everyone who helped along the way in our home prayer book.

***

Our diplomats came directly to the railroad car. Icon and icon case were put in microbus and were taken to the Consulate. We agreed to meet the next morning. The next day, Saturday, at 9 o’clock in the morning in a room for reception of citizens gathered quite a lot of people.

I thought that people would just come to venerate the icon, and leave. I was worried. But people themselves were asking to offer prayers, sing Akathist. What happiness. The icon was newly unpacked. When that was happening, someone shouted, “Look, look, everybody! The icon is unpacked! ”

All left their classes — some packed the wrapping, some put roses in vases, some ironed the table cloth – and all reverently paused.

Freshly cut autumn roses grown by an employee of the consulate had such flagrance that one remembers, as a child, in the country.

They brought candles, distributed booklets with the text and all sang together the Akathist.

Here, the Port Arthur Icon took her place in the Consulate. As almost 110 years ago, the road of Her to Port Arthur was interrupted just in Shenyang (Mukden). We hope that this time She will travel to Port Arthur. But how much the Lord will provide.

November 7, 2013. Helen and Andrew Buhteev

FROM THE EDITOR: We hope that the Port Arthur Icon, warmly greeted by the Chinese will take its rightful place in the chapel of St. Vladimir at the memorial cemetery for soldiers in Port Arthur so abundantly watered by Russian blood.

In turn, we will adequately cover the upcoming events, “Do what you must, come what may”

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