2006-07-20 14:22:00

Maxim Doronin, Candidate of History.
Sourozh facing new challenges

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, having considered a report by the Commission on Enquiry into the situation in the Sourozh diocese, came to a conclusion that the crisis has been brewing for a long time.

The connection of the crisis with a serous change in demographic situation on the British Isles is not questioned by anyone at least slightly familiar with the situation in this much-suffering diocese. Metropolitan Anthony, who had founded and led Sourozh till his demise, could not have envisaged many thousands of our former compatriots streaming to England ten-fifteen years ago. They were potential flock of a foreign diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. Where else if not in a Russian Orthodox parish could they feel at home and find consolation against vicissitudes of their uneasy life in emigration? This seemingly simple question got quite an unusual answer in Sourozh.

The old Sourozh believers saw the diocese as a beginning of something larger, i.e. a Local English Church. This idea could not accommodate the new Russian immigrants. The Sourozh leadership, so proud of the diocese’s missionary direction, has failed to meet a new missionary challenge. Not only Bishop Basil, but also a part of the old parishioners accustomed to a ‘club’ atmosphere of the old Sourozh possible only in a small community, found themselves helpless as this atmosphere began to change independently. The old parishioners did not like that the newcomers were noisy and active in trying to find differences between the traditions here and those they got used to in their parish churches at home. If a notorious ‘hand of Moscow’ existed, it was that of many thousand people. The situation demanded new pastoral approach, but there was none.

Even Metropolitan Anthony, who took individual care for everyone and did not consider administrative skills necessary for a pastor, was horror-struck by disparity between the settled pastoral practice of Sourozh and the number of his new parishioners. The situation aggravated when Metropolitan Anthony was succeeded by an American who lacked the charisma of his predecessor, but had a specific ‘Oxford’ spirit of snobbery and was not fluent in the Russian language. His withdrawal was the only way out. However, there are different ways of withdrawal, including the noisy one of accusing all and sundry that was applied. The diocese has split, and the hostile pronouncements of Bishop Basil’s supporters multiply. They still accuse Moscow of aggression, while Bishop Basil is not willing to dialogue and ignores proposals to meet, including the ones from His Holiness the Patriarch and the Holy Synod. Moscow has not received even a negative polite answer. If this is not animosity, then what is it? It may well be a vacillation provoking an acute need of ‘hiding’ so characteristic of Bishop Basil’s behaviour during his conflict with the new parishioners. On July 19, the Synod resolved to suspend Bishop Basil and summon him to Moscow again. The Holy Synod sent a letter to the Primates of the local Orthodox Churches saying that the Russian Orthodox Church finds it alarming that the Patriarchate of Constantinople has received Bishop Basil (Osborne) into its jurisdiction without consultations and contrary to church canons. No one needs a ‘Pope of Constantinople.’

It’s the truth that the situation could have been different, isn’t it? Dura lex, sed lex, the ancient Romans said. Bishop Basil, while ignoring the canons, has caused serious division not only in the Sourozh diocese, but in the world Orthodoxy too.