Friday, May 07, 2004
The Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), Seoul, Korea – The week of
April 19th turned out to be an especially momentous one for the
Orthodox Church in Korea as two major events took place. The bishop and
a senior priest went to North Korea to have a dialogue with leaders of
the recently formed Orthodox community for the capital city of
Pyung-Yang(Pyongyang). At the same time, the Holy Synod of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople elevated the Church in Korea
to a separate Metropolis and the bishop to a Metropolitan.
From April 20 to 22, His Grace Bishop Sotirios (Trambas), who has served in Korea as a missionary priest from Greece since 1975, and Protopresbyter Daniel Na, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Incheon, journeyed into the normally closed country of North Korea. They met with the Chairman Mr. Il Jin Huh (George) and Vice Chairman Mr. Chul Kim (Peter) of the organization which is building the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Dong-Baik Dong, Pyung-Yang City to discuss mutual cooperation. The church is scheduled to open in April 2005.
Mr. Huh and Mr. Kim are likely the first native Orthodox Christians in North Korea in many years. They were baptized in January in Moscow where four other North Koreans are now studying to become Orthodox priests next year. Orthodoxy was welcomed into the North following a visit some months ago by the country’s leader to the Russian Far East where he toured Orthodox churches.
A member of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Seoul reported that on his way in to North Korea, Bishop Sotirios had his cell phone confiscated at the border. They returned it only when he left to go back to South Korea. As a result, the hierarch was out of contact and did not know that half way around the world, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople had created the new Metropolis of Korea, formerly under the Metropolis of New Zealand, and elevated His Grace to be its first Metropolitan.
“Word had reached the church here in Seoul,” wrote the cathedral member, “and an impromptu celebration was held on his return Thursday night. His Grace was informed of the news on his way back to the cathedral.”
The enthronement of His Eminence Metropolitan Sotirios will be held on June 20 in the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Seoul. For more information, see the Church website at www.orthodox.or.kr
Founded by Russian missionaries in 1900, the Orthodox Church in Korea maintained the faith despite very difficult times throughout its history. The long Japanese occupation of Korea after the Russo-Japanese War, World War II, and especially the Korean War caused great hardships for the Church. Buildings were destroyed and clergy and laity were scattered and in some cases captured and taken to prison camps, never to return.
The Church was reborn thanks to the efforts of Orthodox chaplains serving with elements of the Greek Army stationed in Korea at the end of the Korean War. The Ecumenical Patriarchate took the Korean Orthodox Church under its protection in 1956 after the petition by the members of the Orthodox Church in Korea during their General Assembly. More specifically the Holy Synod put the Church under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. The Archdiocese provided some support, visits by clergy and hierarchs, and assignment of a missionary priest.
In 1970, the Orthodox Church in Korea was placed under the Archdiocese of New Zealand, and its hierarch Metropolitan Dionysios where it has remained until the elevation. America continued to assist through the Greek Archdiocese Missions Office which became the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). Among the significant support provided was assistance in the education of clergy such as Fr. Daniel Na at Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline.
Following the arrival of then Father Sotirios in 1975, who was consecrated a bishop in 1993, the Church in Korea has grown from a single small parish in Seoul to six communities throughout the country, each with its own building. Today there are seven local Korean clergymen, one priest from Greece, one priest from Russia, a monastery with one nun and a novice, and over 2500 faithful. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has visited Korea twice in recent years (1995 and 2000), and much help has come from Greece with volunteers and donations.
There is a great opportunity for Orthodox in America to help the Church in Korea. For the first time this year, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center is sending a short-term Mission Team to Korea. This OCMC Mission Team will assist in the construction of an Orthodox community center in Chuncheon, as well as witness in several church areas in Korea from August 20 to September 13. The community center is located in a rural village with many elderly residents without families. It is also located near a large city and will serve as outreach to both areas. Volunteers with building skills and/or theological education as well as others are needed for this team. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (904) 829-5132 or 1-877-GO FORTH (463-6784).