For decades, the citizens of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) have suffered the pain and gnawing awareness of division. They have been separated from their families and their homeland by the political reality of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the physical reality of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which bisects the peninsula near the 38th parallel and is packed with soldiers on both sides. Former President Bill Clinton once described the DMZ as, “the scariest place on earth.”
While the “Miracle on the Han River” typically refers to South Korea’s rapid economic growth from the ruins of war in 1953 to successfully hosting the 1988 Olympics and becoming a G20 member in 2010—despite the peninsula’s ongoing division—the “miracle” has, appropriately, been manifested within Korea’s Orthodox community as well. After the North’s army abducted Korea’s only Orthodox priest at the time, Fr. Alexi Kim, at the start of the Korean War in 1950, and after the St. Nicholas Church building was destroyed by the 1951 bombing of Seoul, the small flock of Orthodox faithful was at risk of annihilation. However, by the grace of God and through the help of Greek chaplains and soldiers serving in the Korean War, St. Nicholas was rebuilt, a new Korean priest (Fr. Boris Moon) was selected by the faithful and ordained (being transported secretly to the nearest bishop—in Japan—and back!), and the flame of Orthodox Christianity endured. In 1955, 55 years after the first Orthodox arrived in Korea from Russia (1900), 38 years after all spiritual support from the Russian Orthodox Church had ceased with the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) and subsequent Soviet regime, and 2 years after the Korea War’s ceasefire, the ecclesiastically orphaned but resilient Orthodox faithful of Korea wrote a letter to the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate asking to come under the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s spiritual care and jurisdiction. Their request was granted, and the development and growth of the Church in Korea began to accelerate.