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BEIJING, May 2 (RIA Novosti) - An Orthodox Easter service took place in Beijing this Sunday. As there are no Orthodox churches in the Chinese capital, the service had to be performed in a Catholic cathedral instead, and with prior authorization from City Hall.

Under China's laws, foreign priests may not be invited to perform religious services for Chinese nationals, and there are no native Orthodox ministers on hand. This was why the Easter service had to be conducted by laymen - for the first time in forty years.

The congregation thanked City Hall for its kindly permission to hold the service, and expressed hope that they would soon have an Orthodox priest of their own. Most of the worshippers in attendance were Beijing residents, but some had come all the way from Tianjin and Harbin.

Another Easter service took place yesterday on the premises of the Russian Embassy in Beijing.

The Orthodox Church in China gained autonomy from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1957. After the Culture Revolution of 1966-67, the life of the local Orthodox community got almost frozen. China's oldest Orthodox priest-Father Alexander Du Lifu-died on December 16, 2003, at the age of 80. He is survived by just two Chinese-born Orthodox clergymen-Mikhail Van, currently based in Australia, and Evangel Lu.

Several Chinese students are now attending religious schools in Russia. Beijing's Orthodox Christian population is estimated at 400. And there are an estimated 13,000 Orthodox Christians in the whole of China (Russian nationals not included), according to statistics of the Moscow Patriarchy's Exterior Church Relations Department.

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