Icons from the Philippine Island of Tubabao

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Among the effects of the late Tatiana Valentinovna Deev (+2004) given to our community we found three large icons, a Holy Epitaphion, and several other holy things. Photographs found among the deceased’s personal effects showed that the Icons of the Most Holy Theotokos and two Archangels at one time had graced the Icon Screen of the church in the Displaced Persons’ camp on the Philippine island of Tubabao. The family of T. V. Deev lived in that camp.

These icons are precious to Orthodox Washingtonians because Holy Hierarch John of Shanghai came directly from Tubabao to the capital of the USA in order to lobby the American Government on behalf of his refugee flock. On September 11, 1949, he founded our parish, dedicating it to the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. We can state with near certainty that Vladyka John prayed before these icons before setting forth on his mission to Washington.

The following is a short history relating the establishing of the camp on Tubabao Island, and several photographs of the icons of the church and the refugee colony.

The Chinese Red Army advance upon the Nationalists in Northern China in 1948 forced many Russian emigrants living in Hankow, Peking, Tientsin, Tsingtao, and other Chinese cities to hurriedly move to Shanghai. Their transfer to Shanghai and their temporary resettlement in the former French barracks on Route Frelunt [tr.note phonetic] was arranged by the United Nations’ International Refugee Organization, the IRO.

As the approaching/attacking Chinese army’s ultimate goal was to take the entire country, including, of course, Shanghai, the IRO appealed to several nations to afford temporary refuge to the refugees then living in dormitories on Route Frelunt, and to the Russian émigrés and to people of other nationalities who were permanent residents of Shanghai. The only state to respond to the IRO appeal was the Republic of the Philippines, which provided an uninhabited section of the little island of Tubabao as a temporary refuge for those fleeing China. The island is located next to the Southern tip of Samar Island, and is linked to it by a bridge.


Refugee evacuation from Shanghai to Tubabao began in January 1949, and was completed in early May, shortly before the Chinese Communists’ arrival in Shanghai. About 5,500 people - men, women and children, predominantly Russians, were transferred either by sea or air from Shanghai to Tubabao.


Within the first few days following their arrival on Tubabao, Russian Orthodox clergy (priests and nuns) and laity had already set to work on organizing church life, establishing and furnishing two tent churches on camp territory: the Church of St. Seraphim and the Church of St. Michael the Archangel. Moreover, Philippine authorities granted them temporary use of a building that had formerly been a church for the American military. Several days before Pascha 1949, Archbishop John of Shanghai (prior to monastic tonsure, Michael Borisovitch Maximovitch) arrived at the camp. He left the island on July 12, 1949, to go to Washington DC and lobby the United States Congress on behalf of those on Tubabao, with the goal of securing for them the right to become permanent residents of the USA. Vladyka John took part in the composition of the so-called “Appeal by Russian Hierarchs to the Governments of the World,” an appeal that included a request to ease the fate of those living on the island. As later demonstrated, the Russian hierarchs’ efforts bore fruit: ultimately, all of the refugees were taken off Tubabao and resettled in various countries.

From N. V. Moravsky’s book The Island of Tubabao, 1949-1951. The Russian Far-eastern Emigration’s Final Haven, Moscow, 2000

* * *

The Island of Tubabao lies in the path of seasonal typhoons that rush over this part of the Pacific Ocean. However, during the entire 27 months of the camp’s existence there, a typhoon threatened it but once. Even then, it changed course and bypassed the island. When, in conversation with some Filipinos, a certain Russian happened to mention that he was afraid of typhoons, they told him that there was no reason to fear, as “each night your holy man blesses your camp on all four sides.” After the camp had been evacuated, a terrible typhoon struck the island, completely obliterating all of the buildings upon it.

In the person of Vladyka, the Russian people of the diaspora had a powerful intercessor before the Lord. In nurturing his flock, Holy Hierarch John also accomplished the impossible. He himself went to Washington to make arrangements for moving these Russian people, who had lost everything, to America. By his prayers, there was a miracle! American laws were amended, and a large part of the camp – about 3,000 people – moved to the USA, and the remainder to Australia.

From the Vita the St. John Foundation

The camp residents both sensed and treasured the presence in camp of Vladyka, their intercessor, healer, their person of fervent prayer “for each and for all. ”Everyone would know that Vladyka was walking around and blessing the camp at bedtime, and in small ways, a great miracle would happen: Living in tents, in exhausting heat to which they were not accustomed, people would not lose courage; they would continue to maintain their Orthodox way of life. In a camp of five and one half thousand people, there were no disturbances, and morale was exceptionally high. It was a starry night, on Pascha.

T. A. Stupina
San Francisco, USA
(Russian Life, 12 April 1993)

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