A Russian Bell in Harbin

We spotted the bell in the tower from the street on Saturday as we walked around the church. It was locked up tight and looked like it had been locked up tight for decades. We trained our telephoto lenses on the bell, snapping at a distance, figuring that was as close as we were likely to get.

We were wrong.

By noon on Sunday, we, along with our new Russian friends were climbing up into the tower to see the bell.

An American friend had introduced us to some Russians who worship at the church and know the man in charge. They agreed to meet us there on Sunday morning. When the services were done at 11:30, they set about trying to get permission to go up in the tower. Since they were the ones with a relationship to the leaders of the church, we were content to hang out off to the side and let them do the talking.

It wasn’t an easy task—convincing the man to let these strangers (Americans and Protestants, to boot) climb up to see the bell.

After awhile our Russian friends called me in to make a final appeal, directly and in Chinese.

I told him that I viewed the bell as a symbol of God’s love for the Chinese Church and that I wanted to tell that story. Upon hearing that, he asked me to write down my contact information, then got out his keys and opened the door to the  tower.

Up we went!

Even though the inscriptions on the bell were in Old Russian, our friends were able to tell us that it had been made in Moscow, and weighs 784kg. According to this website, it was made in 1899. There are some differing stories as to what happened to the bell during the Cultural Revolution, which I’m still trying to sort out.

Of course we were thrilled to have gotten up to see the bell, but our Russian friends felt it even more since it was THEIR cultural heritage we were glimpsing. They were also happy to meet a couple of nutty Americans who were interested in learning about and telling the story of that heritage.

After seeing the bell, we all went out to lunch to celebrate.  As we enjoyed a wonderful meal together — with Chinese as the common language among us — I couldn’t help thinking that, given the unique circumstances of our seeing it, the message that this bell rings forth is the message from the great hymn “In Christ There is No East or West.”

In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord,
Close binding humankind.

Join hands, then, members of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as His child
Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
In Him meet North and South;
All Christly souls are one in Him
Throughout the whole wide earth.

I will save the story of the church itself for the next post.

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10 thoughts on “A Russian Bell in Harbin

  1. One of my favorite hymns! I’ll be on the lookout for old bells out here in the west that you can come research. I KNOW you want an excuse to come back here! 🙂

    • Actually, we were told that there is an old Russian Orthodox Church in Yili. If you ever get up there, please check to see if it’s there and if it has a bell. Have also been reading about a number of Orthodox churches in Urumqi back in the day. And YES, I do want an excuse to return to the west.

  2. So, you went to Harbin, I feel like this is “old home week” for me. I believe this is the church we would go to that was next to the market and was used for storage. We never got to go inside but I think Rich Mohr was able to convince someone to take him inside and up to the top. Now it is a functioning church, that is awesome! I think you need to let Rich now about your discoveries in Harbin. Who knows he may still have contacts with those old Polish guys who maintained the churches he attended. Glad to see this bell through your eyes via your photos!

  3. I would love to visit there again. Was there from 1988-89 and worshiped in that church during that academic year. I met Richard and Cheryl Mohr there who quickly were added to my short list of personal best friends.
    Timothy Beach
    Taichung, Taiwan

  4. Hello, there. This is such an interesting website. My White Russian husband Dimitry (“Mitya”)grew up in Harbin, had to leave in 1957, along with most foreigners living in China at the time. After many years of research, I recently have published a memoir about his family’s life there and about the city of Harbin, titled “Mitya’s Harbin: Majesty and Menace” which might be of interest to some of your readers here. In addition to the true story, it includes: photos; a chronology of historical events relating to activities of the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Russians in the region; specific source notes; a bibliography of 178 items; and an index. The family experienced the Bolshevik Revolution, Japan’s occupation of Manchuria, the Soviets’ expulsion of the Japanese from the region and the arrests and detentions of many White Russians which followed, Chinese civil war, the Chinese Communist Revolution, and the eventual exits of most Russian from the region later on. The book is available on Amazon.com, on Amazon.co.uk, and on other sites. Please feel free to email me at lezisser@outlook.com if you have any questions, and thanks for letting me share this information here. Lenore Zissermann