Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh
The Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh (Russian: Суро́жская Епа́рхия) is a diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church which has for its territory the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. Its name is taken from an ancient see in the Crimea that no longer has a bishop. The patron saint of the diocese is St Stephen of Sourozh, an eighth-century Archbishop of Sourozh (today Sudak) and Confessor of the Faith during the Iconoclastic Controversy.
Founded in October 1962, the diocese was headed by Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) until his death in 2003.
Bishop Basil (Osborne) continued as the administrator of the diocese, maintaining the late Metropolitan Anthony's cosmopolitan Orthodoxy. When the situation became untenable, Bishop Basil applied to have his diocese transferred from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate to that of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Before that could happen, on 9 May 2006 the Russian Holy Synod peremptorily announced him retired.
On 6 October 2006, the Holy Synod announced that Archimandrite Elisey (Ganaba), head of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem, was to be consecrated Bishop of Bogorodsky, assistant bishop of the Diocese of Korsun, with responsibility for the administration of the Diocese of Sourozh.
Origins of the diocese
The origins of the Diocese of Sourozh lie in the Parish of the Dormition in London, which from 1716 existed as the Russian Embassy Church and which changed location several times in the course of its history.
The jurisdictional history of the parish in the years following the Russian Revolution is complicated. Immediately following the Russian Revolution the parish was under the jurisdiction of what would become known as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). In 1926, however, the parish split into those who continued to support ROCOR and those who supported the Moscow Patriarchate. Each group took services in turn. Then, in 1931, the parish was taken into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In 1945 the parish followed its bishop, Metropolitan Evlogii, who wished to move back into the Moscow Patriarchate but on the condition that he would need a release from the Ecumenical Patriarch – which was applied for, but never granted. To this day, therefore, the London Parish has never been canonically released from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and in terms of canon law it remains with Moscow only on a de facto basis.
In 1948 Hieromonk Anthony (Bloom) was appointed Chaplain of the Anglican-Orthodox Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius. On 1 September 1950 Hieromonk Anthony became the Rector of the Russian Parish of the Dormition in London. But by that time, the Parish of the Dormition was not the only Russian Orthodox parish in Great Britain, as a number of other parishes appeared, set up by Russian Orthodox communities. This prompted, in 1957, the formation in Great Britain of the Vicariate of Sergievo of the Exarchate of Western Europe (Moscow Patriarchate), with Hieromonk Anthony now becoming Bishop of Sergievo.
Following this, on 10 October 1962, the Diocese of Sourozh was formed, led by Bishop Anthony of Sergievo, who now became Archbishop Anthony of Sourozh. The Russian Church did not name the diocese after British territory so as not to upset good relations with the Church of England.
Distinctive ethos of the diocese
For many years the political situation between Great Britain and the Soviet Union meant that the Diocese of Sourozh was able to function in virtual independence of the Moscow Patriarchate. In those years it developed its own distinctive ethos and liturgical practices. Thus, in contrast to the typical practice of the Russian Orthodox Church, in Sourozh marriages may take place on a Saturday, frequent communion is common, confession is not considered necessary before each communion, fasting rules are observed less strictly than is often the case in the Russian Orthodox Church and women are not required to wear headscarves in church and may wear trousers rather than skirts. Also distinctive of the Sourozh diocese has been the stipulation in its diocesan statutes according to which the Sourozh diocesan assembly has the right to determine what bishops can be appointed to the diocese (it is standard in the Russian Orthodox Church for bishops to be appointed directly by the Holy Synod without necessarily having to consult the diocese in question). These particularities were legitimated within the diocese upon the basis of the decrees of the All-Russian Church Council of 1917–1918, in accordance with which the statutes of the Diocese of Sourozh were written. The Moscow Patriarchate, however, has never formally accepted these statutes, so in legal terms they are in effect without any force.
Throughout its existence, the diocese has remained predominantly located in southern England. It has not expanded substantially into the north of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, though increasing numbers of Russian Orthodox Christians located in these areas of Great Britain and Ireland. The Diocese has been centred on the Cathedral in London and the Parish in Oxford, with the episcopacy residing in these locations (Metropolitan Anthony and Archbishop Anatoly in London, Bishop Basil in Oxford, even whilst administrator of the diocese as a whole.) This diocesan focus has sometimes been referred to by critics as an 'Oxford-London' corridor.
The culture of the diocese reflected both the Franco-Russian emigre Orthodoxy in which Metropolitan Anthony had spent many of his formative years, as well as the middle-to-high Anglicanism which formed the ecclesial background of many of the English converts to the diocese. Many in the diocese had a long-term vision of the establishment of an autocephalous (self-governed) Orthodox Church in Great Britain.
Metropolitan Anthony himself maintained links with the Moscow Patriarchate to the end of his life. And whilst the Diocese of Sourozh was numerically far smaller than the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain (the local British Diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), Metropolitan Anthony considered the Diocese of Sourozh to be 'the Orthodox Church in Britain' simpliciter, on the grounds that it was open to all and not only to those of a particular ethnic background (as he took the Diocese of Thyateira to be).
However, some traditionalist ROCOR criticised the Sourozh diocese for endorsing 'an Anglican form of Orthodoxy', led by 'a small and ageing clique of intellectuals, very much part of one particular, upper middle-class, Western cultural elitist group, one elderly generation'.
Influx into the diocese after the fall of the Soviet Union
With the fall of communism in Russia, a new wave of Russian Orthodox parishioners entered the diocese. Many amongst this group, attending the diocesan cathedral in London, were unhappy at the (for a Russian Church) non-standard practices which prevailed in the diocese, and sought to bring its liturgical practices and ethos into line with the standard practice of the Russian Orthodox Church. For the supporters of such change, this amounted to 'normalisation'; for its opponents, it constituted Russification. Tension developed within the Cathedral over these issues. Until recently, however, there has been no evidence of such problems elsewhere in the diocese, not even in parishes with significant 'new' Russian and British elements.
It has been alleged by British ROCOR clergy that the diocese of Sourozh failed to expand to meet the spiritual needs of newly-arrived Orthodox Christians from Russia who lived in areas of the United Kingdom in which the diocese did not have parishes or communities. Such allegations have been confirmed by the commission of the Holy Synod, which has concluded that in recent years 'there were not enough Russian-speaking priests in the parish to celebrate services and, in particular, to confess, that English was gradually used more and more as a liturgical language, and that this was disproportionate to the actual number of English people at the Cathedral'.
Since May 2006, when the Enismore Gardens Cathedral has been controversially taken over by the pro-Russian traditionalist faction, and a number of priests and members of the congregation were forced to leave, various new parishes and communities have been opened.
Beginnings of tensions within the diocese
In years prior to the death of Metropolitan Anthony, several problems were noted amongst the clergy of the Diocese:
- Certain members of clergy felt there was 'a very serious lack of priests and deacons'; an absence of 'after-ordination' training for clergy; an 'Episcopal dismissiveness' of 'the normal ecclesiastical awards system'; an 'Episcopal dismissiveness' of monastic life within the diocese. Moreover, it was claimed that 'probably most of' the clergy 'have no written evidence that [they] were ever ordained'.
- Some felt there existed a divide within the diocese between 'London and not-London', and that there was 'little or no appreciation of the difficulties faced by parishes outside the larger centres at Oxford/London'.
- Some clergy felt there existed an insufficient number of Episcopal visitations to 'provincial' parishes and communities outside London (i.e. less than one a year), and, correspondingly, that there existed an isolation of particular priests in such parishes and community, whose work was not properly appreciated within the diocese.
- Some felt an absence of any 'culture of trust and honesty' amongst the clergy, and there to be instead a clerical culture of 'point-scoring'. Some felt themselves unable to make 'express uncertainties, fears and problems' within the diocese, and to have no way of raising sensitive issues in confidence.
- Some were worried that 'the visions and aims of the Diocese' were 'limited to handouts of the Metropolitan's speeches', and that there was 'no follow up or discussion among the clergy' – something which left 'a dangerous vacuum'.
- Some clergy considered the diocese to be doing 'nothing at present' to address the 'large influx of Russians from abroad' – 'things are left to drift and matters are simply getting worse'.
Tensions in 2002–03 surrounding Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev
In January 2002, Hilarion Alfeyev was consecrated Bishop of Kerch as an assistant bishop for the Sourozh diocese, assuming the title previously held by Archbishop Anatoly who was sent into retirement for the purpose. After arriving, Alfeyev travelled around much of the diocese in a short period of time, visiting those parishes and communities which had only rarely received episcopal visitations and also identifying the need for the diocese to expand to cater for the spiritual needs of newly arrived Orthodox Christians from Russia now living in the United Kingdom.
Initially, Bishop Hilarion was well accepted by the diocese as a whole. But soon, Bishop Basil and others in the diocese claimed that Bishop Hilarion was, on the direction of senior clergy in Moscow, undermining Metropolitan Anthony in order to increase Moscow's control over the diocese. Suspicions were voiced regarding the manner of Bishop Hilarion's appointment and the manner of his leadership following his appointment. Bishop Hilarion later named those whom he took to be the leaders of this group.
Metropolitan Anthony on Bishop Hilarion
On 19 May 2002, Metropolitan Anthony issued an open letter in which he wrote that:
- the manner of Bishop Hilarion's appointment as the Bishop of Kerch was "hurtful and tactless" to the diocese, adding "insult to injury" since the Patriarchate did not notify the diocese beforehand;
- Bishop Hilarion was being lined up as Anthony's successor as head of the Sourozh diocese;
- the Diocese of Sourozh was (at least partly) constituted by its own particular 'style' and particular 'ideals';
- though Bishop Hilarion was 'very remarkable young man whom I wanted to have here', he did not yet know what it meant to be a bishop; he alleged that Hilarion persistently used the word 'to rule' and not 'to serve' in his presentations, reflecting a lack of understanding of the spirit of episcopal service;
- members of the Diocese should help Hilarion to understand how the Diocese of Sourozh worked according to its own 'style' and 'ideals'.
In the letter, Metropolitan Anthony set a three-month period by which time Bishop Hilarion was to have come to understand the diocese. If he was not 'prepared ... to continue in the style, and with the ideals' of the diocese, then he was to 'part company' with the Diocese.
Bishop Hilarion's response to Metropolitan Anthony
Bishop Hilarion responded by claiming that:
- Metropolitan Anthony had in fact been petitioning the Patriarch since 2001 that Hilarion come to Sourozh as an assistant bishop (something subsequently confirmed by the Holy Syond's commission of enquiry, who stated that 'the appointment of Bishop Hilarion ... came about exclusively in connection with the repeated and insistent demands of Metropolitan Anthony');
- he, Hilarion, did not know of any plans to appoint him Metropolitan Anthony's successor; and that
- his understanding of episcopacy was based on service, and in support of this cited his episcopal acceptance speech (written before the controversy and published in the Sourozh journal).
Hilarion also alleged sustained distortion of his words by an 'anti-Moscow' faction within the diocese, comprising principally Bishop Basil and three members of the diocesan council, all of whom, he said, were working through misinformation 'to undermine trust in the Patriarch and the Holy Synod'. He asserted that many Sourozh priests from outside London felt neglected by the diocesan bishops, who seemed to lack concern for their parishes and communities. (He claimed that there was one parish in the Diocese which had gone eight years without an episcopal visit.)
Bishop Hilarion also declared his inability to understand how the 'style' of Sourozh diocese could be incompatible with his own Russian Orthodox liturgical tradition, and noted that "liturgical celebration in the London Cathedral has a style of its own peculiar only to Vladyka Anthony".
Talk of departure for Constantinople
During this period, Bishop Basil and others began to suggest that, should relations with the Moscow Patriarchate worsen, then the members of the Diocese of Sourozh would change jurisdiction by leaving the Russian Orthodox Church and joining the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It has been reported that Bishop Basil stated at this time that 'he had no future in the [Moscow] Patriarchate', and attempted unsuccessfully to persuade Metropolitan Anthony to remove Sourozh from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Subsequently, Bishop Basil also claimed that, with the full knowledge of Metropolitan Anthony, 'letters of dismissal' were prepared for clergy of the Diocese of Sourozh, to enable them to transfer out of the Diocese to another jurisdiction. However, several of the closest and most trusted assistants of Metropolitan Anthony claim to have had no knowledge of this.
Control of property
On 13 May 2002, an attempt was made to modify the trust deed of the diocesan cathedral's property, to enable "property to be removed from the control of the Parish Council and handed over to the exclusive competence of unelected members of the committee of Trustees of the Parish". (Previously, the management of parish property and decisions regarding issues about 'the continuity of parish life and the identity of the community' remained within the competence of the Parish Council, whose members were elected by the Parish.) The attempted change – which was unsuccessful – was considered by some as an 'designed to ease the transfer of property', should there be a change of jurisdiction from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Subsequently, Metropolitan Anthony explicitly opposed this attempted change.
Departure of Bishop Hilarion
On 17 July 2002, the Patriarchate of Moscow moved Bishop Hilarion out of the Diocese of Sourozh, to become Head of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions.
Reactions within the diocese
During this period, elements of the Diocese divided between support for Bishop Hilarion and for Metropolitan Anthony with Bishop Basil. The priest of the Sourozh parish in Cambridge, Fr John Jillions, wrote an open letter protesting at Hilarion's "trial by public propaganda", where 'a new assistant bishop was publicly accused, humiliated, effectively put on trial and dismissed by the diocesan leadership', and in which Bishop Hilarion 'was not given the due process that should be accorded to anyone in the Church, let alone a bishop'. He perceived Bishop Basil to have been using the Sourozh journal with the purpose of 'Hilarion-bashing', particularly through his publication of an article on Hilarion subsequent to Hilarion's departure from Sourozh diocese. For others, however, the behaviour of those opposed to Bishop Hilarion, and in particular the conduct of Bishop Basil, did not transgress the bounds of 'brotherly' behaviour.
Concerns over Metropolitan Anthony
There were also concerns at this time over Metropolitan Anthony's announcement that he wished to be succeeded as head of the diocese by Bishop Basil Osborne, an announcement which contravened both the statutes of the Moscow Patriarchate (according to which bishops are appointed by the Holy Synod) and those of the Diocese of Sourozh (according to which the diocesan assembly determines episcopal appointment).
According to the commission of the Holy Synod, there were significant tensions between Bishop Basil and Archbishop Anatoly during these and subsequent years. The commission stated that 'Archbishop Anatoly lived in a damp basement flat and for a long time his monthly salary was at a level several times inferior to that of other members of the Cathedral clergy. Archbishop Anatoly was distanced from decisions regarding the running of the Cathedral, including liturgical decisions. Witnesses spoke of instances when some of the parishioners and choir members behaved in a rude and tactless manner and did not carry out Archbishop Anatoly’s instructions when he was celebrating.'
Bishop Basil accused Archbishop Anatoly of failing to provide adequate support to care for the Russian-speaking flock of the Diocese, and of supporting 'dissident' groups.
No resolution of the tensions in the years 2003–06
According to the commission of the Holy Synod, Bishop Basil came to be increasingly distrusted by Russian-speaking groups within the diocese over the following years. The problems surrounding the influx of Russians into the Diocese repeatedly came up in Parish Council meetings and at General Meetings of the Cathedral, 'but were not dealt with effectively'.
Metropolitan Anthony's personal reaction to the undermining of the diocese
Metropolitan Anthony's opposition to the group seeking to undermine and destroy the Diocese of Sourozh is forcefully expressed in an address he made to his London Parish on 12 December 2002 which has been recorded.
Tensions in 2006 surrounding Archpriest Andrey Teterin
Suspension and reinstatement of Fr Andrey
In December 2005, the Russian priest Fr Andrey Teterin, who had been in the diocese for two years after being recruited from Russia 'at the personal and insistent request of Bishop Basil', was suspended following a speech made to the Russian Christian Movement. In the speech, Fr. Andrey claimed that to be in line with the tradition of the Fathers was not simply to quote Metropolitan Anthony; that Christians of the diocese should be loyal to the ecclesiastical authorities of their jurisdiction (i.e. Moscow); and that the 'Russian Christian movement' should have the word 'Orthodox' in its name. Bishop Basil considered this to amount to 'a public attack' on himself and on the Diocese.
According to the commission of the Holy Synod: 'The bans imposed on Father Andrei by the leadership of the Diocese because of his outspokenness at the Conference of the Russian Christian Movement seem excessively strict. The Commission noted that his suspension was accompanied by a prohibition not only to be in the altar, but also to be in the church itself, which seems unthinkable from a canonical viewpoint.' 'The conflict between the Diocesan leadership and Archpriest Andrei Teterin developed in a written form. There was no personal contact and Archpriest Andrei was not summoned for a discussion and this only made the situation worse. ' 'In his correspondence with Bishop Basil, Archpriest Andrei Teterin used disrespectful and improper expressions, which are inadmissible for one ordained to the priesthood.'
According to Bishop Basil, in the following week, Fr Andrey sent letters comdemning the policies of Bishop Basil and his supporters to the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations (DECR) Metropolitan Kyril of Smolensk, Patriarch Alexei of Moscow, Archbishop Innokenty and to the Russian Ambassador in London. (According to the understanding of the canons which Bishop Basil would himself later follow, Father Andrey's approach to senior clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church was in accordance with canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council; moreover, since the content of the letter to the Ambassador is not publicly available, it cannot be said whether or how this letter pertained to ecclesiastical matters as opposed to matters of concern to the Russian state of whom Fr Andrey is a citizen.)
On the 26th of December, 2005, Fr Andrey was granted an audience with Metropolitan Kyril in Moscow. Bishop Basil claims that, after this audience, Fr Andrey communicated by email to Basil his willingness to apologise in return for the lifting of his suspension. (Bishop Basil does not, however, say for what Fr Andrey allegedly apologised.) In the circumstances, Bishop Basil says that he did not consider Fr Andrei's to strictly require a public apology about anything and so did not ask for an apology.
On the following Sunday after the Liturgy, Bishop Basil announced the lifting of Father Andrey's suspension. Fr Andrey then publicly thanked the parishioners for their support. Bishop Basil alleges that the voices of the tea-ladies (the only people, and certainly the only supporters of Fr Andrey not in Church at this momentous time) could be heard shouting joyfully in Russian from the kitchen, 'We have won!'
Throughout these events, and to Bishop Basil's chagrin, the other assistant bishop in the diocese, Archbishop Anatoly of Kerch, did not consider Fr Andrey's actions to merit suspension, and refused to positively support Bishop Basil's actions.
On 1 January, the Deans of the Cathedral wrote to Bishop Basil, expressing their concern over Father Andrey's actions, asserting Fr Andrey had 'long been at odds with the majority of the clergy', and affirmed 'total support' for Bishop Basil.
Bishop Basil dismisses from the parish council those who disagreed with him
On 20 March 2006 Bishop Basil sent out a decree dismissing six members of the Cathedral Parish Council who had openly advocated closer links between the Diocese of Sourozh and the life and practices of the Russian Orthodox Church. This was in contravention to the rules governing the operations of the Parish Council. Moreover, since, members of the Parish Council are responsible for managing parish property, the Holy Synod's commission of enquiry noted that the dismissal of supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate 'might well have thought that this was a preparation for going over to another jurisdiction'.
Holy Week 2006
Shortly before Holy Week of 2006, the supporters of Fr Andrey organised a 'withdrawal of labour' from the Cathedral parish. Petitions were circulated against Bishop Basil at the Cathedral and on the Internet. At this point, Bishop Basil forbade Fr Andrey from coming to the Cathedral. Bishop Basil wrote to Metropolitan Kyril asking for support, but was told that Kyril would not reply until he received a report on the situation from Fr Michael Dudko, whom he sent to the diocese during Lent to assess the situation. Bishop Basil inferred from Kyril's refusal to reply before he received this report the conclusion that the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church relations (headed by Kyril) was actively supporting those elements of Sourozh diocese opposed to Bishop Basil. However, the commission of the Holy Synod has noted that there is no documentary evidence to support this claim and that, to the contrary, correspondence from Moscow to the dissident groups in Sourozh advocated their reconciliation to the hierarchical authorities in the Diocese.
Bishop Basil's resolution to leave the diocese
Before hearing from Metropolitan Kyril, Bishop Basil decided to write to the Patriarch asking that he, and those who wished to follow him, be released from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate that they may be received into the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Bishop Basil and his supporters leave the diocese for the Paris exarchate
Letters to Moscow and Constantinople
On 24 April 2006, and without first consulting his diocese or clergy, Bishop Basil of Sergievo wrote to the Patriarch of Moscow requesting that he and the Diocese of Sourozh as a whole (and not simply those elements who wished to go with him) be released from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate to be received into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch, to exist alongside Constantinople's Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, based in Rue Daru in Paris. In the letter, he claimed this action to be necessary on the grounds that the Department of External Church Relations was actively supporting a dissident element in the diocese which was working to undermine him – and this, claimed Bishop Basil, constituted a violation of the canonical principle that one bishop may not interfere in the diocese of another.
Soon after writing to the Patriarch of Moscow, Bishop Basil wrote to the Ecumenical Patriarch, asking to be received under his omophorion together with those who wished to follow him from the diocese.
Holy Synod retires Bishop Basil
In response to Basil's letter to him, Patriarch Alexei expressed surprise at Basil's request, since a fortnight earlier Basil had written to Alexei assuring the Patriarch of his 'deepest loyalty'. Alexei did not grant Basil's request, but rather indicated his desire to discuss the problems with Basil, face to face in Moscow. However, upon hearing of the letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople, and of Basil's subsequent refusal to withdraw it, Patriarch Alexei withdrew the offer of an audience, and the Holy Synod retired Bishop Basil pending an investigation, appointing in Basil's stead Archbishop Innokenty as temporary administrator of the diocese.
Bishop Basil, however, refused to meet with the commission appointed by the Holy Synod to conduct this enquiry, and recommended others not to do so either, opting instead to set forth his views on his web-page and in the media.
Departure from the diocese of supporters of Bishop Basil
Upon learning of the intention to retire him, but before he was in fact retired, Bishop Basil issued letters of canonical release to all the clergy of the Diocese of Sourozh, letters backdated to (or prepared at) the beginning of February. The Moscow Patriarchate rejected the canonical validity of these letters, regarding them as an attempt to sabotage the diocese. The clergy of the diocese who wished to leave the Moscow Patriarchate with Bishop Basil used these letters, and were granted temporary admission into the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, under the omophorion of Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain.
Appeal to Constantinople against retirement
Upon being retired, Bishop Basil responded by appealing to the Patriarch of Constantinople, on the basis of canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. However, the Patriarchate of Constantinople informed him that they could not possibly interfere in the affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate upon the basis of these canons, and told Bishop Basil to apply again to them for appeal, this time on the basis of canon 28 of Chalcedon – something which Bishop Basil did. This canon affirms Constantinople as having 'equal privileges' to 'Old Rome', and assigns Constantinople the right to appoint bishops over 'barbarians' – which according to Constantinople's interpretation (not shared by the Moscow patriarchate) gives Constantinople the right to appoint bishops in all areas outside canonically-defined territories. It was upon the basis of this second appeal that the Patriarchate of Constantinople acted.
Response of Constantinople
On 8 June 2006, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate responded to Bishop Basil's appeal. The synod unanimously agreed to receive Bishop Basil, giving him the new title of Bishop of Amphipolis.
However, whereas Bishop Basil had requested originally to be made the Diocesan Bishop of a local British Diocese alongside the Paris Exarchate, Constantinople received him as an assistant Bishop within the Exarchate. Bishop Basil and his group were formed into an Episcopal Vicariate, which rather than being a local British Diocese, had instead a Diocesan Bishop who resides in France, not in Great Britain.
The response of Moscow: Suspension of Bishop Basil
Moscow refused to accept Constantinople's decision to receive Bishop Basil, on the grounds that it had not issued Constantinople with a letter of dismissal. It rejected Constantinople's interpretation of the canons to which it has appealed as ahistorical and contrary to the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church. Bishop Basil was summoned to appear in Moscow at the next session of the Holy Synod on the 17th of July, 2006.
Bishop Basil, however, did not appear for this meeting. In his absence, the Holy Synod issued a decision on the 19th of July. There the Holy Synod noted 'with regret' that Bishop Basil 'did not respond to the summons of the Higher Church Authority and did not attend the present meeting'. It also affirmed that it considered it 'important to hear the personal testimony' of Bishop Basil 'before making a final decision about his actions', and for this reason 'once again' called Bishop Basil 'to the next session of the Holy Synod.
The resolutions passed by the Holy Synod at this meeting included:
- its approving the report it had received from the commission of enquiry appointed to study the situation in Sourozh diocese;
- its noting 'with special concern the distribution by His Grace Bishop Basil, after his retirement, of unlawful "letters of dismissal", and likewise the invitations addressed by Bishop Basil to clergy and parishes of the Diocese of Sourozh to transfer to another jurisdiction without observing the established canonical procedure';
- its recognizing 'that the actions of Bishop Basil, beginning on 24 April 2006, are in fundamental contradiction with his previous declarations of loyalty to the Russian Orthodox Church';
- its 'temporarily' suspending Bishop Basil (upon the basis of Apostolic canon 33; Council of Carthage canon 32; and 'Twice-repeated' Council canon 15) 'from celebrating divine services' for reason of his 'breaking of the episcopal oath'; the suspension would hold until such time as Basil offered 'his repentance or until the decision of the matter by a court of bishops';
- its calling 'the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to an appropriate canonical resolution of the question of His Grace Bishop Basil'.
Declaration of the Holy Synod on the reception of Bishop Basil by Constantinople
In its Declaration on the reception of Bishop Basil by Constantinople, the Moscow Patriarchate addressed the issues of the interpretations of the canons, the actions of Basil, and the actions of Constantinople:
On the issue of the interpretation of the Canons, Moscow:
- deemed Constantinople's actions to constitute an illegitimate interference in the affairs of another local Church, violating Canon 6 of the First Ecumenical Council, Canon 2 of the Second Ecumenical Council, Canon 8 of the Third Ecumenical Council and Canon 3 of the Council of Sardica;
- asserted that the canons appealed to by Constantinople do not give it the right to 'intrude into the affairs of other Local Churches and, in particular, to take into his jurisdiction a hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church without the letter of dismissal stipulated by the holy canons', quoting Apostolic Canon 33 and Council of Carthage, Canon 32, which forbid this;
- noted that according to the most respected of interpreters of canon law – St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and according to the Byzantine canonist John Zonaras – Canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council (appealed to by Basil and Constantinople) do not give Constantinople the right to interfere in the affairs of another Patriarchate;
- pointed out that Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council (appealed to by Constantinople) applies only to 'certain provinces' within the Byzantine Empire, and not to the world as a whole, and that Constantinople's current interpretation is a new innovation, not found before the twentieth century;
- made clear that it objects to Constantinople's canonical position, according to which 'any hierarch or cleric, outside the limits of the geographical borders of his Local Church, can now be received into the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, without the knowledge of the hierarchs who ordained him, without a canonical letter of dismissal and without the permission of his Hierarchy';
- drew the conclusion from that that it 'does not recognize the validity' of Constantinople's reception of Basil into its jurisdiction, 'and considers that it contradicts the holy canons'; Moscow announces that 'Bishop Basil remains within the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and any decision regarding his future situation is the prerogative of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church'.
Regarding Constantinople's actions, Moscow:
- observed that Constantinople did not even conduct an enquiry into the matter before announcing its decision to receive Basil;
- stated explicitly that Constantinople's actions, if not modified, will 'have disastrous consequences for Orthodox unity';
Regarding Bishop Basil's actions, Moscow:
- asserted that, by leaving the Moscow Patriarchate for that of Constantinople, Bishop Basil violated Canon 33 of the Holy Apostles, Canon 32 of the Council of Carthage, Canons 14 and 15 of the ‘Twice-repeated’ Council, and broke his oath of episcopal obedience to the Holy Synod;
- stated that, without Bishop Basil's repentance of his actions, 'his further service in the Church is impossible', and warned that, should such repentance not be forthcoming, 'a church court may take the appropriate decision in relation to him'.
Thes resolutions increased greatly, at the local level, the significance of the recent events in the Diocese of Sourozh: according to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Bishop Basil may legitimately celebrate as a Bishop; according to Moscow, he is forbidden to do so. After these resolutions, no Russian Orthodox Christian who wishes to remain faithful to the decisions of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church may knowingly participate in a liturgy at which Bishop Basil celebrates as a Bishop; nor may they receive Holy Communion from Bishop Basil. Similarly, after these resolutions, no Russian Orthodox priest may celebrate with Bishop Basil.
A minority of Bishop Basil's followers move to the Exarchate
Over the following two months,a few of the clergy who had followed Bishop Basil out of the Diocese of Sourozh, and who had been granted temporary admission into the ranks of the clergy of the Greek Archdiocese of Thyateira, now followed Bishop Basil into the Paris Exarchate. Of these, some seventeen did so without either requesting or receiving letters of dismissal from the Moscow Patriarchate.
Together with these clergy, several of the parishes and communities with which they were most strongly connected were accepted into the Paris Exarchate.
Case of Fr Stephen Platt
Fr Stephen Platt, in Oxford of his own accord, now sought an additional letter of canonical dismissal from the Moscow Patriarchate before being received into the Paris Exarchate. However, the Hierarchy of the Exarchate insisted that it would only receive Fr Stephen upon the basis of Bishop Basil's letter of release, refusing to contact Archbishop Innokenty in order to obtain from him a further letter of release for Fr Stephen. Initially, Fr Stephen had been received into the Exarchate simply upon the basis of Bishop Basil's letter, which Father Stephen had himself presented to Archbishop Gabriel. However, when Fr Stephen subsequently insisted – after a series of private conversations between himself and Archbishop Innokenty – that he be received with a letter of dismissal from Archbishop Innokenty, Bishop Basil considered that Fr Stephen was behaving in a manner 'extremely damaging to the Vicariate', and decided, together with the ruling bishop of the Exarchate, Archbishop Gabriel of Comana, that Fr Stephen could not be a priest of the Exarchate. Bishop Basil had described in detail to Father Stephen all the steps he needed to take to be received into the Exarchate as a priest, but it is clear that Father Stephen did not wish to follow that advice. Had Archbishop Gabriel's and Bishop Basil's decision been otherwise, all the letters of release issued by Bishop Basil, and accepted by both Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateria and Archbishop Gabriel of Comana, would have been cast into doubt along with the canonical position of the clergy who had presented them.
In consequence of Fr Stephen's actions, his name was then removed from the list of Exarchate clergy, and he was informed that he remained a priest of the Diocese of Sourozh.
Archbishop Gabriel of Comana in Nottingham
Further controversy developed over the visit of Archbishop Gabriel to the parish of Ss Aidan and Chad in Nottingham on the 27th of August, 2006. The Parish had immediately prior to this date voted, by a narrow margin, to leave the Diocese of Sourozh and to join the Exarchate, and its Parish Priest had asked to be received into the clergy of the Exarchate.
However, and notwithstanding the decision of the Parish and its priest, Archbishop Innokenty, in a letter to Archbishop Gabriel, objected to the latter's intended visit to the Parish 'in the strongest possible terms', deeming it an 'absolutely unlawful action', an 'interference in the internal affairs of another diocese and of one of its parishes'. He has warned Archbishop Gabriel that his actions may lead to 'pernicious consequences' and that, through these actions, Gabriel is 'taking upon [himself] full responsibility for further deterioration in the relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Archdiocese which [he leads]'.
Meeting of the Holy Synod on 6 October
In its meeting on 6 October, the Holy Synod in Moscow noted that, despite a second invitation, Bishop Basil had again refused its summons. The Synod warned that if its third invitation were ignored, Bishop Basil would be 'liable to judgement by a Court of Bishops'. The Synod also expressed 'deep concern' at the 'uncanonical actions' of the episcopal authorities of the Paris Exarchate. It proposed to the Patriarch of Constantinople that 'for the sake of the preservation of Church unity', the two Patriarchates resolve matters within 'the context of bilateral conversations.'
Regularization of Bishop Basil's status
In March 2007 negotiations took place at Geneva between representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Moscow Patriarchate which concluded with an agreement that Bishop Basil's personal file, which would normally include a letter of canonical release, would be sent from Moscow to Constantinople.
Bishop Basil subsequently issued the following statement:- "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 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."
Regularization of Bishop Basil's clergy
On October 12, 2007, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow, under the chairmanship of Patriarch Alexis resolved to grant canonical letters of release to those clergymen who had sought to leave the Diocese of Sourozh to join Bishop Basil's vicariate. This decision was made in response to a request on September 23 by Archbishop Gabriel of Comana to grant letters of release to the priests and deacons who had followed Bishop Basil into the Exarchate of Russian Orthodox Parishes in Western Europe.
At first glance this might have seemed a departure from Archbishop Gabriel's earlier position that such a request, 'would cast doubt on all the letters of release issued by Bishop Basil [...] along with the canonical position of the clergy who had presented them'. However, this is clearly a different situation from that which involved Father Stephen Platt, as the clergy who received the Letters of Release in October 2007 had already served as clergy of the Exarchate for over a year. For those clergy, the Letters of Release from Moscow were superfluous, as they had been canonically received by Constantinople on the basis of the Letters of Release given to them by Bishop Basil in May 2006. The only point of the new Letters of Release was to regularise their status as far as the Moscow Patriarchate was concerned, and reduce tension between the Exarchate and the Patriarchate.
Appointment of a new bishop for the diocese
At the same meeting of the Holy Synod, it was announced that Archimandrite Elisey of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem would be consecrated Bishop of Bogorodsky, to serve as an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Korsun, with responsibility for the administration of the Diocese of Sourozh.
Fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the cathedral
On 15 October, the Diocese of Sourozh celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and all Saints. Joining the Diocese for this special event were Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira, Archbishop Theofan of Berlin and Germany, as well as Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev), now Bishop of Vienna and Austria.
In his message to the faithful of the Diocese for that occasion, Patriarch Alexei of Moscow and All Russia stressed that the Cathedral is home to a 'multitudinous and multilingual flock', and that this is quite proper for the Church, being 'a single body made up of many and dissimilar members, filled with one Spirit'. Alexei exhorted the members of the Diocese to 'bear one another's burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ' (Gal. 6:2). He hoped that the celebrations would contribute to the 'healing' of the 'wounds' inflicted upon the Diocese in recent times.
Consecration of Bishop Elisey of Bogorodsk
On 26 November, Archimandrite Elisey was consecrated Bishop Elisey of Bogorodsky at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, to be assistant bishop to Archbishop Innokenty of Korsun, with pastoral responsibility for the Diocese of Sourozh.
At his consecration, Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and all Russia laid upon him three tasks.
- 'First of all, above all other tasks, however great and urgent they may be', Bishop Elisey is to 'face the daily and unceasing task of caring for each child of God, for whom Christ died'.
- Secondly, Bishop Elisey is 'to witness to the truth of the Orthodox faith before all the peoples of the West, working to strengthen it, with the ultimate aim of reuniting all in the One, Holy, and Apostolic Church'.
- Thirdly, Bishop Elisey is 'to give spiritual support' to Russians ('our compatriots') who 'now live in Great Britain'.
Wonderworking icon brought by the diocese to Great Britain
The Derzhavnaya (Reigning) Icon of the Mother of God, painted in a typical nineteenth century style, was brought to Britain by the Diocese of Sourozh in September 2007 with the stated blessing of Patriarch Alexei.
Bishop Elisey appointed as Bishop of Sourozh
On 27 December 2007 the Holy Synod appointed Bishop Elisey as Bishop of Sourozh, bringing to an end the Temporary Administration of Archbishop Innokenty, who was thanked for having restored peace to the Diocese.
Since the disruption in 2006 the format of the main Easter Services has remained almost the same. However the cathedral has also introduced three separate services for the blessing of kulichs and paskha (Russian Easter foodstuffs) during the afternoon of Holy Saturday as well one prior to the Saturday Evening Vigil Service, in addition to the blessings of foodstuffs which traditionally have always happened at the end of each Divine Liturgy on Holy Saturday and the Sunday of Pascha itself.
Diocesan conference 2008
The Diocese continued the tradition of holding a full three-and-a-half-day residential conference on the bank holiday weekend of 23 to 26 May 2008. Approximately 150 clergy and laity of the Diocese (including children of all ages) assembled at the Royal Alexandra and Albert School at Gatton Park, near Reigate. The theme of the conference was “Pray without Ceasing”. The principal speaker was to have been Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, a great friend of the Diocese, and a renowned expert on the theology and practice of prayer. However, Metropolitan Kallistos was prevented from attending by a last-minute fax from the Phanar in Constantinople (Istanbul) forbidding him both to attend and to speak at the aforementioned conference. Other speakers were Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, Father Stephen Platt and Deacon Matthew Steenberg, both from Oxford, and Matushka Alexandra Zaitseva.
The judgment of the High Court in the case between the Diocese and the adherents of the Episcopal Vicariate, and the parallel proceedings in relation to the London Parish, was published on 5 June 2009. . The litigation is now (April 2010) concluded.
New Statutes for the Diocese
The Diocesan Statutes which had been developed by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh between 1979 and 2001 to secure the spiritual and administrative independence of the Diocese were cancelled by a Decision of the Diocesan Assembly on 26 June 2010 and new Statutes were agreed. There has been criticism that the new Statutes contravene the Statutes of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as Orthodox Canon Law relating to the independence of Diocesan Hierarchs.
- Official site of the Diocese of Sourozh
- Official site of the Episcopal Vicariate of Great Britain and Ireland of the Exarchate of Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Commentary on the departure of Bishop Basil Osborne and his followers
- The Diocese of Sourozh's official information page relating to the crisis which these departures caused in the Diocese.
- Orthodoxie.com, a French Orthodox news site with (usually) the most up-to-date information on the situation in Sourozh Diocese.
- Interfax.ru, a Russian Orthodox news site carrying many articles about the departure of Bishop Basil and his followers from Sourozh.
- Orthodox England, a British ROCOR site with commentary on the situation in Sourozh Diocese.
Official documents of the Moscow Patriarchate
- The Declaration of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church relating to the decision of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople concerning the reception into its jurisdiction of Bishop Basil (Osborne).
- The Report of the Communications Service of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate on the Work of the Commission for the Investigation of the Crisis in the Diocese of Sourozh.
- Metropolite Euolge, Le Chemin de ma Vie, Paris, 2005, page 554
- See Gillian Crow, This Holy Man: Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony (London: DLT, 2005), 132–33 for details. For many years, Gillian Crow has been the Secretary of the Diocese of Sourozh's Diocesan Assembly.
- http://www.orthodoxengland.btinternet.co.uk/sourozh1.htm[dead link]
- The form of this culture may be seen in Crow, This Holy Man, passim.
- See Crow, This Holy Man, p. 173
- Crow, This Holy Man, p. 133.
- http://www.orthodoxengland.btinternet.co.uk/sourozh2.htm[dead link]
- http://www.orthodoxengland.btinternet.co.uk/patience.htm[dead link]
- http://www.orthodoxengland.btinternet.co.uk/meletios.htm[dead link]