Alfred Herbert Ernest Osborne, formerly known as Basil Osborne (born 12 April 1938), is a former Orthodox Christian bishop. Osborne was formerly an auxiliary bishop of the Patriarchate of Moscow from 1991 to 2006 and a titular bishop under the Ecumenical Patriarchate from 2006 to 2010. He was returned to lay status, at his own request, in February 2010 after indicating to the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople that he wished to resume a family life and be free to remarry (having formerly been married and widowed prior to his consecration as a bishop).
Osborne held the position of Bishop of Sergievo as a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church and the position of Bishop of Amphipolis within the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in which he served as an assistant bishop in its Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, charged with the care of its people in Great Britain and Ireland.
Osborne was born in in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1938, but grew up in the United States. He was introduced to Orthodoxy in 1957 by Father Michael Gelsinger, Professor of Classics at the University at Buffalo, New York.
Osborne married his wife, Rachel, in 1962, after a time of service in the US Army. He received his doctorate (in classics) from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1969.
Early clerical offices: 1969-2006
Osborne was ordained to the diaconate by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate) in 1969 and priest in 1973, serving the Russian Orthodox Parish of the Annunciation in Oxford. Following his wife's death in 1991 he was consecrated in 1993 as Bishop of Sergievo in the Moscow Patriarchate, to assist Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. Following Metropolitan Anthony's death in 2003, he was appointed temporary administrator of the Diocese of Sourozh, which position he held until 2006.
Departure from the Russian Orthodox Church: 2006
In 2006 Osborne left the Patriarchate of Moscow and sought reception into the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople - a process which caused much controversy and ecclesiastical friction (see details under Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh). After a lengthy dispute between the two patriarchates over the situation and the canonical questions raised by a bishop who seeks entry into a new jurisdiction without release from his current patriarchate, the situation was eventually resolved and Osborne was received into the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a titular bishop with the title of Bishop of Amphipolis. As with all other titular bishops in the Ecumenical Patriarchate who do not have sees, he was technically known as one of the "bishops of the throne" (i.e. a bishop who serves the patriarchate in a titular manner, rather than being head of a diocese).
Osborne's reception into the Ecumenical Patriarchate came at the end of a period of intense controversy. He was forcibly retired from his position as administrator of the Sourozh diocese after seeking incardination into the Ecumenical Patriarchate without receiving release from Moscow. In a letter sent to the Patriarch of Moscow without notice to his clergy, Osborne requested that he and the whole of the Diocese of Sourozh (and not simply those members who wished to follow him) be released from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate in order to be received into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch as a new diocese existing alongside Constantinople's Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe. Without awaiting a full response from the Patriarchate of Moscow, he wrote to the Ecumenical Patriarch on 2 May 2006, again repeating his desire to establish a new diocese under Constantinople. Announcement of Osborne's retirement by the Synod of Moscow followed upon his refusal to withdraw this letter to Constantinople. Following announcement of his retirement in the Sourozh cathedral in London, Osborne immediately appealed the decision to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the basis of Canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council and also Canon 28 of the same council. Such canons, some argue,[who?] endow the Constantinopolitan Patriarch with the privilege of the ekkliton (read, hearing appeal) and grant it jurisdiction over regions not already subject to the other four senior patriarchates, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. This interpretation of these canons is not undisputed and runs contrary to the classical interpretations of the canons found in the canonical commentaries of the Church.
Osborne's request to have himself and his diocese received into the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a new diocese was not granted by that body; however, the Ecumenical Patriarchate subsequently accepted him into its jurisdiction on the basis of his appeal which followed, although Moscow had not issued a canonical release and had instructed him not to be received into another patriarchate until matters could be looked into by an appropriate commission. Additionally, it requested his presence in person numerous times, which Osborne refused to heed on all occasions, instructing others to do likewise. Given these circumstances, the Moscow Patriarchate did not regard his incardination into the Ecumenical Patriarchate as valid, nor did it recognise the title "Bishop of Amphipolis" given to him by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on 8 June 2006. Considering him still a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, but in retirement, it referred to him in official correspondence without titular connection, as 'The Right Reverend Bishop Basil (Osborne)'. Similarly, it did not regard as valid the 'letters of release' issued by Osborne to his former clergy in the Diocese of Sourozh - letters either backdated or prepared earlier, in early February. Osborne was summoned to appear before the Moscow Patriarchate synod on 17 July but declined to appear. From 19 July 2006 the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate placed him under temporary suspension, forbidding him 'from celebrating divine services until his repentance or until the decision of the matter by a court of bishops'.
The resolutions of the Moscow Patriarchate of 19 July 2006 therefore made Osborne's canonical stature a matter of intense dispute between Moscow and Constantinople. According to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Osborne could legitimately celebrate as a bishop; according to Moscow, he was forbidden to do so. Accordingly, no communicant of the Moscow Patriarchate who wished to remain faithful to the decisions of his hierarchy could knowingly participate in a liturgy at which Osborne celebrated as a bishop, nor could they receive Holy Communion from him. Similarly, after these resolutions, no Moscow Patriarchate priest could concelebrate with Osborne.
The ancient patriarchates of Alexandria (19 June 2006) and Jerusalem (June 6), along with the Church of Cyprus (June 14) and the Church of Albania (August 12)—all of whom have close social, ecclesiastical and political ties to the Ecumenical Patriarchate—later confirmed their support of its authority to act in the manner that it had. The ruling archbishop of the Church of Greece publicly "deplored" Constantinople's decision to accept Osborne into its jurisdiction and in this context expressed regret at both "emerging threats to constructive co-operation between local ethnic diasporas" and "violations of Church order and troubles, harmful primarily to the unity of the Holy Orthodox Churches."
In March 2007 negotiations took place in Geneva between representatives of the two patriarchates. These concluded with the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate releasing Osborne from its jurisdiction on 27 March. Commenting to the media on the synod's decision, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church Relations, said that "The problem arose because Bishop Basil went over to Constantinople without any request from Constantinople and without any consent from the Moscow Patriarchate. Now Constantinople has requested his documents, which customarily include a letter of release. This means that the Moscow Patriarchate has granted Bishop Basil a canonical leave."
In response to this, Osborne wrote:
- "On Wednesday, 27 March 2007, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow decided to accede to the request of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and to forward my personal dossier to His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. This means that they have accepted the situation as it is, i.e. that I am a bishop in good standing within the Ecumenical Patriarchate and that from their point of view there is no longer any problem about their clergy celebrating with me or with the clergy under me. This is a welcome move - though one that could have been made many months ago. It restores normal relations between the Patriarchates and will make life easier for us all."
Ecumenical Patriarchate: 2006-2009
As Bishop of Amphipolis, Osborne was appointed assistant bishop within the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Archdiocese of Parishes of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe (i.e. the 'Exarchate'), under the headship of Archbishop Gabriel of Comana. In his brief time as assistant bishop in the Exarchate, Basil's authority was over a newly formed vicariate of parishes in the British Isles who had followed him in his departure from the Russian Orthodox Church into the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This body was given the title Episcopal Vicariate of Great Britain and Ireland, and consisted of some twelve parishes and some smaller Eucharistic Communities (details are disputed: these are enumerated and discussed here). As part of this role, he sat on the council of the Exarchate.
In 2009, Osborne requested retirement and announced to his local clergy that he would retire at the end of November, giving as his own reasons his age and desire to spend more time with his family. A council of the archdiocese, however, moved his retirement forward, without explanation, to 12 October 2009, announcing at the same time that he was relieved with immediate effect from all "pastoral, liturgical and administrative responsibilities".
Osborne's retirement from active ecclesiastical office was accompanied by retirement as rector of the Parish of the Annunciation in Oxford. The episcopal vicariate that he had formerly headed was changed to the status of a deanery within the archdiocese.
Return to lay status
Early in 2010, Osborne petitioned the Patriarchate of Constantinople for a return to lay status "to enable him to have a family home with the possibility of marrying again". This petiton was granted, although the precise terms of the decree of the Holy Synod bringing about the return to lay status have not been published. According to a report of the Moscow Patriarchate, Osborne was also defrocked.
Osborne's approach to the Ecumenical Patriarch was effected, at his request, by his ruling archbishop, Gabriel of Comana. On 20 February 2010 Archbishop Gabriel informed members of his archdiocese that the decision to "return Bishop Basil to lay status" had been made the previous week.
- "becomes Exarchate.org.uk | Exarchate.org.uk" (PDF). Exarchate-uk.org. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
- Details and a chronological history here.
- Letter "To all the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Sourozh" - Abp. Innokenty of Korsun, 23 July 2006
- See Osborne's letter of 24 April 2006.  On taking this decision without consulting his clergy or diocesan council, see his statements online.
- See the text of his brief letter to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In this letter, unlike his original letter to the Moscow Patriarchate, he indicates that the new diocese would be made up of himself, "together with those clergy and parishes that wish to follow me."
- For a canonical commentary on this canon, see: Prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As an example of the variances in interpretation, regarding Canon 9 of Chalcedon, St Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain comments: "[This canon] did not say that if any clergyman has a dispute or difference with the Metropolitan of any diocese or parish whatever, they must be tried before the Bishop of Constantinople…." Zonaras likewise says that the Bishop of Constantinople is not necessarily entitled to sit as judge over all Metropolitans, but (only) over those who are judicially subject to him, and that "The Bishop of Constantinople must hear the appeals only of those who are subject to the Bishop of Constantinople, precisely as the Bishop of Rome must hear the appeals only of those who are subject to the Bishop of Rome." In D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 255.
- As reported by the commission established to investigate the issue. This report also noted Osborne's use of the internet to propagate information on the disputes outside of official channels.
- Press Release for the Election of Bishop Basil of Amphipolis - Ecumenical Patriarchate, 8 June 2006
- Decision of the Holy Synod concerning Bishop Basil (Osborne) - Moscow Patriarchate, 19 July 2006
- As noted in a Letter by Archbishop Innokenty - 22 May 2006.
- Russian Church: It considers Osborne's move to Constantinople's jurisdiction invalid as he is still one of its bishops fax, June 14, 2006
- Letter from Pope of Alexandria concerning Bp. Basil Osborne - June 19, 2006
- Letter from Patriarch of Jerusalem concerning Bp. Basil Osborne - June 6, 2006
- Letter from locum tenens of the Archbishop of Cyprus concerning Bp. Basil Osborne - June 14, 2006
- Circular Letter from the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Albania on the subject of the election of Bishop Basil, addressed to His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew II - August 12, 2006
- Refer to ORDOs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the latest being that of 2006, for the official designation of titular bishops as "bishops/hierarchs" of the "Throne" and to the text of canons 9, 17 and 28 for the rights and privileges of Constantinople regarding extraterritorial appeals and jurisdiction in the "varvariki", regions beyond the borders of the other senior patriarchates.
- As reported by Interfax.
- So the report of the Metropolitan's remarks by Interfax, also available in Russian.
- [dead link]
- Parishes of the Vicariate
- Communiqué N° 12-06 du Conseil de l'Archevêché et Déclaration
- "Archevêché des églises russes en Europe occidentale - Communiqué N° 05-09 du Conseil de l'Archevêché". Exarchat.org. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
- "Bishop Basil (Osborne) is defrocked and laicised : Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church". Mospat.ru. 2010-02-24. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
- "becomes Exarchate.org.uk | Exarchate.org.uk" (PDF). Exarchate-uk.org. Retrieved 2011-03-02.