I would have liked to be born Greek…
A letter from the first Taiwanese Orthodox missionary Pelagia Yu to the Greek people
I am Chinese, born in Taiwan and my Christian name is Pelagia. I was a Protestant Christian, and it took me five years to become Orthodox. I love to read the Holy Bible and have all of its publications in the Chinese language.
I have visited Greece and discovered that it is a truly unique country. While travelling in your country, even before I arrived, on the plane I saw how different in temperament Greek people were, how cheerfully they conversed with each other, how they laughed and how they applauded the pilot after the landing, something unheard of for us Asians, who are more conservative and do not easily display emotion. I learnt after this experience that the expression of freedom requires passion and liveliness.
In Greece, I visited many churches, I participated in the Divine Liturgy and when I received Holy Communion, it reduced me to tears even though I did not understand the Greek language, because the Orthodox faith is the same, no matter what the language.
I would have liked to be born Greek, to have been born Orthodox, to have received Holy Communion and venerated holy icons from my years of infanthood right up until my death.
I cry for me, and my compatriots, because instead of Holy Communion, we eat and drink food sacrificed to idols.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so my ears may be filled with holy hymns.
I cry for me, and my compatriots, whose ears are filled with the noise of sutras and the screeches of those who worship the idols.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may smell the sweet aroma of incense.
I cry for me, and my compatriots, who are constantly assaulted by the pungent smell of the smoke rising up from the sacrifices offered up to the idols.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that my hands could touch the holy icons, the holy relics of the Saints and be filled with the love of Christ.
I cry for me, and my compatriots, whose hands touch the idols and the things sacrificed to them, but who in reality are holding on to nothing.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may light candles to Christ – not like here, where we burn money as an offering to the spirits.
I was searching for the Truth, using more than 30 different publications of the Holy Bible, which unfortunately, were all full of errors (translated by non-Orthodox).
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may read the Holy Bible in its original form!
I cry for me, and my compatriots, because, although we have eyes, we are blind.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may be able to see the grace of God all around me.
I cry for me, and my compatriots, who are surrounded by temples dedicated to false gods.
Yes, I am Orthodox, but living in Taiwan, I have very limited opportunities to experience the Orthodox Christian way of life.
I cry for me, because I do not have the ability to show my compatriots the greatness of our faith… The people here want to see signs and miracles…
I cry for me, and my compatriots, because we do not have the gift of hearing of and seeing so many miracles, so many holy words that you have seen and heard over 2000 years in Greece, and which you still see…Taiwan is not an Orthodox country, our feast days and holy days do not look at all like yours.
I am disappointed that in Greece, although you have so many beautiful mountains, you do not look after them, you burn them down. However, I am amazed that practically every mountain in Greece has at least one monastery. We have mountains filled with Buddhist temples and monasteries.
I would have liked to be born Greek, so that I may go and pray at an Orthodox monastery easily.
I cry for me, and my compatriots. For the first time, I visited an Orthodox monastery, dedicated to St John the Forerunner in Pelion. I travelled to Greece from Taiwan- 16 hours on the plane, a few hours on the train to Larisa and another hour with the monastery car, that was driven by one of the nuns…
I saw the ancient ruins of the Holy Monastery, I saw so many other places in Greece that have been abandoned and my heart bled. In Taiwan, we do not have such a wealth of archaeological artefacts, holy and beautiful places, but you do not appreciate them.
I cry that we do not have beautiful icons. I cry because I feel like Christ is weak and naked here.
Greeks, you think you are poor due to the economic crisis you are going through, but you do not know how truly rich you are.
Taiwan is a country with a huge amount of material development and progress, and yet it remains in the darkness of Satan and our spiritual life is empty.
In Greece, I saw a lot of people, especially on Sundays, drinking and celebrating and not going to church. But here in Taiwan our fellow citizens, mainly young people, even if they wanted to, find it impossible to come to church, because the only Orthodox church in the entire country is a small room on the 4th floor of a huge apartment building on the outskirts of Taipei. Many times, people cannot fit into the church and remain outside for the duration of the services.
My brothers and sisters in Greece, even though I am spiritually handicapped, I still have my legs active so that I can kneel before you and beg.
I pray that you consider me like the poor man Lazarus, so that you may throw to me some crumbs from the spiritual treasures you have, of the gifts you give to your churches, of the many little churches you build on all corners of your homeland.
Our Orthodox flock in Taiwan, as you know, is small- less than 100 people. We are not wealthy. We do not have the means to buy a decent place in the city that will be able to meet our needs for worship, catechism and teaching. Fr Ionas conducts lessons on a regular basis, targeted mainly at the young people of our city and of course, open to whomever wants to come and meet us in person. Those people that up until now have only had the opportunity to see the Orthodox Church in Taiwan through the Internet.
I do not ask for help to build an Orthodox church building here. It would cost millions. Please help us to buy a bigger place in the city centre, which we will convert into a church, for the sake of our nation, our brothers and sisters, who have never had the opportunity to hear about and know our Christ. We are a country of 23 million people! And yet we have need of your help…
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if the need arises, I will do whatever is in my power to repay a little of your love, I will do whatever is needed with all my heart and for the duration of my life.
I thank you. Forgive me.
Translated by P.S.Z. This article was originally published in Greek in the Periodicαl “Agios Kosmas o Aitolos” (Issue 84-First quarter 2011) and online at http://www.iersyn.gr/pelagias_letter.php (Tuesday 22nd February 2011, 18:30).
Taiwan is a country of various religious beliefs. There are currently fourteen registered religions on the island practiced by nearly half the residents of Taiwan. These religions include Eastern Orthodoxy, Buddhism (the most popular), Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hsuan-yuan Chiao, Islam, Li-ism, Tenrikyo, Baha’i, T’ienti Teachings, Tien Te Chiao, I-Kuan Tao, and Mahikarikyo.
The Eastern Orthodoxy tradition of Christianity is present as a minor denomination in Taiwan. The Orthodox church was first established in 2003 when it registered with the government. The bishop of the church is Father Liang. The establishment of the Orthodox Church was supported by sister churches in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.
Buddhism is the most prevalent institutionalized religion in Taiwan, and is practiced by almost 4.9 million individuals. Originating from India, Buddhism was introduced to Taiwan in the late 16th Century. The more significant type of Buddhism today is the Mahayana (Great Wheel). Devotees of this religion chant mantras and sutras, and practice meditation in the many temples available on the island.
Taoism is the second most popular religion in Taiwan, followed by 4.5 million people of Taiwan. This religion evolved from the philosophy of Lao Tzu, who lived during the 6th Century BC. The central idea of the religion is the fulfillment of divinity. Taoists use incense for prayer and worships.
Roughly 304,000 individuals are believers of Catholicism. Christianity came to Taiwan in 1626 through the Spanish occupation. A Catholic priest, Father Martinez, together with four Dominican priests from the Philippines started this mission to introduce the Catholic faith to the people.
Georgius Candidus of the Reformed Church of Holland was the first successful missionary to introduce Protestantism to this island. In 1997, there were at least 65 Protestant sects, 2,700 Protestant churches, and 2,550 ministers in Taiwan.
Hsuan-yuan Chiao was established by an old legislator named Wang Han-sheng in 1957 in Taiwan. ‘Hsuan-yuan’ is the name of Huangti, the Yellow Emperor who unified China, while ‘Chiao’ means teachings or religion in Chinese. This religion was conceived because of Wang’s anguish over the dispossession of the Chinese mainland to the Chinese communists.
Each lunar year, a large-scale ceremony is held to honor Huangti on the ninth of the first month. Other smaller ceremonies are held on specific days of other months to celebrate Huangti’s birthday and his ascent to heaven. The largest Hsuan-yuan temple is situated in Tamsui.
Islam was introduced to China during the reign of Tai Tsung (627-649 AD). A massive migration of Muslims into China brought about the augmentation of Muslim arts and sciences, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and military science. In 1949, 20,000 Muslims accompanied by the Republic of China (ROC) government came to Taiwan, and Islam was thus established as a religion.
Muslims in Taiwan today, however, have difficulties conforming to orthodox Islamic customs. The hectic city lifestyles and the restraints of a non-Muslim environment contribute to the many problems faced by the Muslims. There are currently three new mosques, which have been constructed in Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Lungkang, together with two other mosques in Taipei.
Li-ism was founded by Yang Lai-ju in the 17th Century. The meaning of Li-ism is ‘the doctrine of order’. Li-ism accentuates traditional Chinese morals and ethics. It is an amalgamation of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism while accentuating also on the worshipping of Kuanyin (Goddess of Mercy). Customs and practices of Li-ism are similar to that of Buddhism in terms of worship and ‘dos and don’ts’.
Tenrikyo, as the name suggests, is a Japanese religion founded in 1838 by Miki Nakayam, who was a daughter of a peasant family. It teaches people how to abide by God’s will by gaining control of their destiny so they can lead a life of joy. This religion was introduced in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation. Due to its similarity to Buddhism, it was accepted and developed in Taiwan. The Tenrikyo headquarters is located in the Yuanshuan area of Taipei.
The Baha’i faith was founded in Iran in 1844 by ‘Bab’. Baha’is have few beliefs. They believe that the family is the foundation of human society, and God has sent messengers like Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed to fulfill his purpose. In 1954, an Iranian missionary couple came and constituted Taiwan’s first Baha’i center in Tainan. Now, the local headquarters is located in Taipei.
Tienti teachings were founded by Lee Yu-Chieh in the mid-1980s. Tienti teachings focuses on some of China’s oldest religious traditions and honors the Lord of Heaven (T’ienti), ruler of the universe. The religion stresses the co-existence between the spiritual and material worlds. However, the absolute goal of Tienti teachings is a world of universal love regardless of race or belief.
Tien Te Chiao
Tien Te Chiao is a combination of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. The religion was brought into existence in mainland China in 1923. Its founder, Hsiao Chang-Ming was gifted with the gift of healing, which attracted much attention. He inducted many principles in which followers were to adhere throughout their lives. Wang Ti-ching, a disciple of Hsiao in Kaohsiung, spread Tien Te Chiao.
I-Kuan Tao is a new faith and also the third most popular religion in Taiwan. It strives to distinguish common principles underlying Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. Worshippers believe that by unveiling the universal truths, the world can achieve peace and harmony.
Mahikarikyo, another Japanese religion, was founded by Yosikazu Okada in 1959. Mahikarikyo believes that anyone can attain healing powers by taking a three-day seminar on the Spiritual Art of Divine Light. Devotees believe that their teachings of the righteous law will bring all people happiness in the coming Holy Twenty-First Century. Mahikarikyo was introduced to Taiwan in 1983, but was only registered with the Ministry in 1996. Now, the religion has vastly developed with shrines available around the island.