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The unusual Orthodox church set to star in Putin’s state visit to North Korea

Church of the Life-giving Trinity is a symbol of Russia-DPRK friendship and could receive rare visit from Kim Jong Un

North Korea is pulling out all the stops for Vladimir Putin’s first visit to the country in decades, hanging Russian and DPRK flags around the capital and planning one of its trademark celebratory events in Kim Il Sung Square.

But the itinerary for the Russian leader’s state visit is also set to feature a stop at an unusual symbol of the two countries’ enduring friendship — the sole Orthodox church in the atheistic state.

Putin’s top aide Yuri Ushakov announced on Monday that both Putin and Kim Jong Un will visit Pyongyang’s Church of the Life-Giving Trinity after holding summit talks.

The church visit represents a key agenda item for Putin, who has long strived to present himself as a devout Christian despite accusations that he weaponizes religion for political ends, most notably to rally support for his invasion of Ukraine.

North Korean media has yet to confirm whether Kim will accompany Putin to the church, but if he does, the rare visit by a DPRK leader to a place of worship would underscore the importance Pyongyang attaches to relations with Moscow.

Former DPRK leader Kim Jong Il personally initiated the construction of the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in the early 2000s. The church’s construction began in 2003 and took three years, with the first North Korean priest ordained after its completion.

Roman Husarski, a researcher at the Institute of Religious Studies of the Jagiellonian University, told NK News that Kim Jong Il’s decision to build the church reflected his “strategy to improve bilateral relations with a powerful neighbor” after a decade-long pause, as the country had no single Korean Orthodox Christian at the time.

“Today, the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity is run by Korean priests ordained by the Russian patriarchate and has integrative significance for the small group of Orthodox Christians living in the DPRK, mostly Russians.”

The church represents a “symbol of Russian-Korean friendship,” making it a suitable venue for the two leaders to visit, the expert said.

“The use of the Orthodox church as the meeting place also shows the increased importance of religion in Vladimir Putin’s policy,” he underscored, adding that the “hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church is a vocal supporter of Putin’s war efforts in Ukraine.”

Priests and the congregants at Pyongyang’s Church of the Life-Giving Trinity | Image: Russian Embassy in the DPRK via Facebook (May 5, 2024)

The North Korean regime claims it allows its citizens freedom of religion. In addition to the Orthodox church, Pyongyang has one Catholic and three Protestant churches and a mosque, as well as Buddhist temples and churches adhering to the pantheistic Chondoist religion scattered across the country.

But in practice, the state heavily restricts religious activity, and the constitution prohibits using religion as a “pretext for drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State or social order.”

Given the state’s position on religion, North Korean leaders almost never visit churches or other places of worship, but there have been a few notable exceptions tied to efforts to boost foreign relations.

For example, Kim Jong Il visited the St. Bishop Innokenty of Irkutsk Church in the Russian Far East’s Khabarovsk city in Aug. 2002 as a sign of his “attention and respect” for Russians’ beliefs.

“Although I am not a believer, I am going to visit it because religion is also an object of politics,” he reportedly told officials accompanying him, deciding to build an Orthodox church in Pyongyang after the visit.

Kim also visited a Catholic church during a 2010 trip to China despite both countries’ ruling parties advocating atheism.

State media has also occasionally highlighted religious organizations’ gifts to North Korean leaders.

In addition to holding regular services and celebrations for Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter, the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity is an important site for Pyongyang’s Russian residents and visiting delegations that typically visit it.

The expert Husarski noted that former Russian Ambassador to the DPRK Andrei Karlov “was a regular participant in the church’s Divine Liturgy” and even got married there.

Kim Jong Il’s visit to a Russian Orthodox church in Khabarovsk in 2002 | Image: Rodong Sinmun (Aug. 27, 2002)

Edited by Alannah Hill


  1. Hey Nick. I’m surprised you haven’t done a write up about Mitsotakis’ talk with Bartholomeu, in Switzerland, demanding that Elpidoforos is replaced ASAP

      • If this is the case that he will **actually** be removed and Mitsotakis has requested it, you have to wonder if Bartholomew will wait till after the upcoming Clergy-Laity, which is bound to be a disaster (just look at the topics), to remove him.

  2. Hey Nick.. I am confused .. does Mistotakis have the authority to remove a sitting archbishop of North America , Elpi , and do tell on what grounds? According to you .. Mistotakis and Elpi are on the same page of their masters in the U.S state department on all the things important to them …like Gay rights and freedoms, etc etc . Additionally, Nick , i am still wondering what was Israel supposed to do to help Cyprus reunite with Northern Cyprus after Netanyahue meetings at the UN ? And do you think Mistotakis meeting with the other officials in Switzerland .. will draw Greece into war to help the soon to be charged Netanyahue and his Regimes for War crimes , Crimes against Humanity against the civilian population of Palestine and Gaza .. in the coming war with lebanon and Iran .. and possibly Turkey and who knows who else ? I mean if Mistotakis has the power to remove Clergy and Archbishops, then he also has the power to put a “Gun” to the Head of Elpi and Bartholomew to make them do all the things they have been doing, which are underminig the Greek Orthodox church !

    • Greece gives the Patriarchate about $10 million in CASH annually which arrives in Istanbul with the diplomatic mail and so it has enough influence on the Fanar. Greece also controls the “new Lands” whose metropolises are under the patriarchate… for the rest I will write an analysis soon.

  3. I was quite surprised to learn here there is an Orthodox Christian church in North Korea. We have been kept in the dark in the US.


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