Established in December 2018, Patriarchal Exarchate in South-East Asia unites four dioceses located in 13 countries of the region. Metropolitan and Exarch Sergy of Singapore and South-East Asia tells in his interview with Interfax-Religion about peculiarities of ministry among people who consider Orthodoxy exotic, celebrations of Easter with epidemic restrictions, etc.
- How did you celebrate Easter in South-East Asia? Epidemic situation in the region leaves much to be desired. Were the churches opened for visitors?
- Easter services in the countries of Patriarchal Exarchate of the South-East Asia were celebrated the same as in all Russia Orthodox churches according to the canons in compliance with prescribed measures, considering epidemiological situation in each region.
Certain countries were partially locked down. So in Cambodia it is prohibited to move between the districts, traditional festival dinner was canceled in Thàiland. Many parishes made preliminary lists of believers who could attend the service, so that their number would not exceed the recommended.
-The exarchate includes territories of several states. What is the total number of Orthodox Christians in exarchate?
- Almost a billion of people live in South-East Asia, but we should understand that absolute majority of then are followers of religions traditional for each country. We respect many-centuries cultural, historical and religious traditions of the countries under pastoral responsibility of the Patriarchal Exarchate. Our ministry was organized first of all for Orthodox believers from the countries located on the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, who work far from home and were deprived of a possibility to visit the church and partake the sacraments of the Church.
The exarchate is not a new establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church in Asia. Appearance and spreading of Orthodoxy in Asian and Pacific Region was in many aspects connected with exploring Siberia and Far East in the 17th century and setting up trade and diplomatic relations of Russia with China, Korea and Japan.
This setting up of the Patriarchal exarchate of the South-East Asia, which now includes over 70 Orthodox parishes, located in 13 countries of South-East Asia, continues the work of our predecessors and revives the activity of once existing church structures and restores historical justice.
- What impressed you the most when you first came to the region?
- I was impressed by people and their sincere interest to Christ, to pure Christian faith. It is difficult to describe the first impression from visiting local Orthodox communities. The majority of churches are chapels made of bamboo or rented rooms in private houses. I saw eyes of people, who had never visited a traditional Orthodox church, had never heard singing of Orthodox choir, but who were happy to welcome Orthodox clerics at their small parishes – these meetings were very special and the moment referred to the experience of the first Christians. Local Orthodox communities more than once requested to send priests for providing pastoral care in their regions. We get used to many things connected, for example, with divine services, that they do not surprise us anymore, and people, who found Christ here, sometimes radically change their lives and have sincere true interest to everything Orthodox, even the esthetic of divine services.
- What plans does the exarchate have? What trends in ministry and mission do you consider a priority?
- We focus our attention on social ministry. This work is especially developed in the Philippines, but a social demand exists almost in all countries of the region. The Department of Charities and Social Ministry is set up in the Philippines and Vietnam Diocese, every week it provides food and vitamins for children from poor families. Orthodox priest David Grubbs chairs the ministry. Last year, over 3,000 families received food sets, personal care items and school supplies, over 20,000 portions is distributed according to the program pf feeding children. Local residents who lost their job during the pandemic year and have not found it yet also receive humanitarian help. The Philippines are exposed to natural calamities and flooding, people loose not only job, but also their houses. Our parishes try to help not only Orthodox Christians, but to everyone who turns for help.