In the footsteps of St. John of Shanghai in the Philippines

Google translation: Original in Russian at www.serapion.org

As is known, in 1949, five and a half thousand Russian refugees left Shanghai to escape the onset of the Chinese Communists. Of all the countries in the world, only the Philippines agreed to accept Russian refugees. They were placed on a small island called Tubabao, on a former U.S. military base.

Tubabao, 1950In a large tent city a significant part of Russian refugees lived from 1949 to 1951, and the last Russian left the island in 1953. These events, as well as details of life on the “Russian Island” are described in many sources, notably an article by T. Tabolina and the book book Tubabao Island by NV Moravskii .

In the camp were arranged two tent churches – one in honor of the Archangel Michael, and the second in honor of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Apart from them stood the Holy Mother of God Cathedral, converted, with the permission of the Philippine government, from the former U.S. military camp outside the church. According to eyewitnesses, a wooden cathedral was “at the highest point, offering beautiful views of the sea and the nearby forest.”

The Convent of the Vladimir Mother of God was moved from Harbin, China, to Tubabao, where the nuns lived in tents, and orphans were transported from Shanghai to an orphanage of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk created by St. John of Shanghai.

St. John came to Tubabao in April 1949 and lived here for three months. He led the first Pascha service on the island, in the cathedral which is dedicated to the Holy Mother of God. Afterward he went to the USA where he succeeded in obtaining permission for Russians from Tubabao to enter the country.

Saint John on Tubabao Saint John and clergy on Tubabao
Photos of the saint on Tubabao

A few days ago, our missionary in the Philippines, the monk Philip (Balingit) visited these places. It turned out that many of the buildings made by Russians are still preserved. The Russian camp flagpole is now used at the elementary school.

Father Philip talked to the locals and met an old man who remembers those days, and remembered at the age of 13 seeing St. John. The old man said that the Russians treated them (local Filipinos) well, and remembered St. John as a very pious man. The very old man living in the room, which in those days was a hospital.

Locals heard for the first time from Fr Philip that Bishop John had been glorified among the saints, and were very happy to know that he lived in the edge of their saint. Father Philip told them about Orthodoxy and gave them the icon of the Blessed Virgin. He was taken to the jungle, where they showed him the preserved foundation of the church where St. John once served.

Father Philip teaching at Tubabao


Father Philip teaching at TubabaoFather Philip teaching at Tubabao

The foundation of the church where Saint John served

The foundation of the church where Saint John served.

It seems that this place is promising for the mission, and it would be good to continue to pay attention to it. Maybe in the future it will be possible to revive the Holy Mother of God Cathedral, it would have mattered to the Orthodox Filipinos and other places as St. John of Shanghai – the only Orthodox saint to have visited this country.

Each mission trip by Father Philip to the island of Tobabao costs about $350. If someone has the ability and desire to financially support the mission – the Yandex purse of our society: 41001409981867

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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2 Comments

  1. This is most touching and unusual. I was in the refugee camp on Tubabao. I think I know the church on the hill. My recollection is that this building was an American military chapel. It was adapted by the Russian refugees to be an Orthodox church. My niece was baptized there, I stood in as her godfather. The godmother, bless her soul, was a few years older than me. She is residing in an old folks home in Vancouver Washington. I’m 78 now. And I’m living in Texas with my niece/goddaughter and her American husband.

    When Bishop John came to the Tubabao camp, it was a MAJOR event.
    I think he must have stopped at the church on the way to camp.

    Tradition calls for meeting a Bishop with ringing or the church bells.
    Never mind we didn’t have bells on the island, welding-gas tanks work almost as well. To make sure that the bells would be ringing when the Bishop arrived in camp for the greeting ceremony, a few boys were assigned to stand on the road and signal that the Bishop left the hilltop church, so that the bell ringing would start. When the kid uphill from me signaled, and started racing to camp. Well. I passed the signal to the next guy and started running to camp also.
    The Bishop was in some kind of vehicle, a jeep I think, so he got to camp a little before the guys got there, and the ceremony had already started. Too bad for the signal-kids.

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    • Paul, thank you for sharing your memories!

      As you probably know, last November a freak “super-typhoon” devastated the central Philippines; in the storm our chapel was destroyed along with the homes of our parish at Palo, Leyte. In the past year, through the generosity of donors in the US and Russia, we have been able to provide support and help a number of families rebuild their homes. God willing, I will soon being raising funds to rebuild the chapel of St Nikolai Velimirovich at Palo, and a new chapel at Tubabao. I hope to be able to rebuild them this time in brick rather than thatch, so they will outlast the next storm!

      If you’re interested in news from the Philippines, please visit the Philippine Mission website at https://philippine-mission.org. I have been here serving a ROCOR parish in the south, on the island of Mindanao; next weekend I will travel to Palo, and God willing, soon I will reconnect with the people on Tubabao. There are still a few old-timers there who remember you all. They are happy to know that a saint visited their home and still prays for them. I pray we will be able to make converts there and plant a parish community.

      In Christ,
      Fr Silouan

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