Rev. Kirill Shkarbul from the Parish of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Taipei, Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) was on Saipan last week to touch base with Orthodox Christians on island and explore the possibility of putting up a church here. He has also traveled to Guam, Tinian and Rota.
Shkarbul said he has met and talked to Orthodox Christians on Saipan and several of them are Russians who are well established in the CNMI and are here long term.
“In fact, some of them have been here for 20 years and they all say they need a church. …They have expressed a desire to have a church that will tend to their religion and religious beliefs,” he said. “The church or parish would be a place for them to gather to establish common faith and lasting friendships. It is also good for the children to have a class or some activities like on Christmas and Easter to learn things. To do this, we would need a priest and currently, we already have one candidate who is willing to come to serve for both Saipan and Guam.”
Shkarbul said he also met with Bishop Ryan Jimenez of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, who has expressed a willingness to help him. “Yes, and he is very friendly, very willing to help, and we have a lot of cooperation with the Catholic Church in Taiwan, and in other countries like Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and I think there would be possibly an opportunity of lending a place for us. Maybe.”
He assured that they do not necessarily need a big church right away.
Shkarbul said the Orthodox Church holds a records of their expeditions to the Mariana Islands in 1817 and in other years. The Orthodox Church is, in fact, also celebrating this year the 200th anniversary of some Orthodox missionaries’ visit to the CNMI, particularly on Anatahan and other Northern Islands.
“We have a map of all the Marianas Islands created in 1846. All of the islands were measured in this map. There was a group of scientists working in a settlement in Guam where they studied all the islands from an observatory established there,” he said.
“These are documented sources. Maybe the missionaries then we’re just plotting all the islands and with the intention to come back but it didn’t happen. …This is unconfirmed but a historian in Guam said there is also a story of an existence of an Orthodox settlement on Tinian even up to now. This remain unconfirmed until official records are found,” he added.
Aside from establishing an Orthodox Church, Shkarbul is also here to help the Monastery of Saint Tokhow of Zandonsk, another Orthodox church based in Pennsylvania, which has requested the CNMI government for permission to erect three commemorative crosses on Anatahan, Pagan, and Farallon de Pajaros islands.
“This year is the 50th anniversary of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America. This is special because it used to be like a diocese of the Russian church, but later it was granted out separately, which means that now it’s on its own, is independent, and completely run by Americans,” he said. “This celebration involves many activities across the United States, and the these two ideas came together—establishing a church in the CNM and putting up commemorative crosses in the Northern Islands. …So all these things work together and is the basis of our application.”
Shkarbul said they have developed plans and sketches and the initial response from the Governor’s Office has been positive. “We haven’t gotten approval yet as there are conditions that need to be met like permits and approval from the Department of Public Lands. Overall, they were supportive. …The original idea is to put up a cross at the peak of the volcanoes. But after talking with [Northern Islands] Mayor [Vicente] Santos, we decided that it’s better and it makes more sense to put it up closer to where people are…and not too far from the shore.”
Two of the crosses would be nine feet tall, while the third one would be five feet tall.
Shakarbul is now back in Guam and he hopes to come back to the CNMI soon. “Outreach is definitely our priority—sharing the faith and interacting with others. …There are plenty of opportunities to share the faith with others, especially with our family members. …We wish to continue what the Russians who came here in the past intended and that is to build a church,” he said.