Refugee children at Tubabao, c. 1950

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

Google translation: Original in Russian at

In 1949, over five 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.

In 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 in the 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 US 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 TubabaoSaint John and clergy on Tubabao
Photos of the saint on Tubabao

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

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

Locals heard for the first time from Fr Philip that Archbishop John had been glorified among the saints, and were very happy to know that they lived in the time of their lives. Father Philip told them about Orthodoxy and gave them the icon of the Blessed Virgin. He was taken to the forest, 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 – This seems a worthy honor to St John of Shanghai — the only Orthodox saint to have visited this country.

Father Silouan

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