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Commentary: The Judgement for Sourozh

In speaking about the judgement, Bishop Elisey of Sourozh said that, "We welcome this judgement, which recognises the vigorous life of the Diocese and the London Parish and the importance of its work. The Russian Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom remains true to its original vision and purpose, which is to minister to all adherents to the Russian Orthodox tradition, of whatever nationality or background. We give thanks that this judgement will now allow the Church to devote all of its energies and all of its resources to such vision and purpose."

From the Website of the Sourozh Diocese

The tragic 2006 Amphipolis schism from the Sourozh Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate in Great Britain and Ireland took place on the very eve of the Fourth All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). As was widely hoped, this Council decided more or less unanimously that the Moscow Patriarchate was at last free and that it was now time for it to re-enter communion with ROCOR and for ROCOR to re-enter communion with it.

Thus the free and canonical Church of the Russian emigration, founded as a separately-administered part of the Church by Patriarch St Tikhon of Moscow in 1920, given the Communist persecution of the Church inside Russia, declared itself in favour of unity. Sadly, at the same time, the Amphipolis modernists in England declared themselves in favour of disunity and schism. This sadly led to a court case regarding Church property and funds. In this case, the newly-formed Amphipolis Vicariate tried to claim that Sourozh Church property and funds belonged to it. On 15 June 2009 the judgement went against Amphipolis and in favour of Sourozh. Now that passions have calmed, it is perhaps time to look at some aspects of this judgement.

Basically, the otherwise unheard-of belief of Amphipolis is that within the Local Orthodox Churches the tiny US-sponsored Patriarchate of Constantinople can behave as an Orthodox Papacy with worldwide authority. (Why they did not maintain this before May 2006 remains a mystery. Could it be because it did not suit their ambitions? Why also do all the Non-Greek Local Orthodox Churches, the majority, not accept this? Why also should this be the case, when at least one of the 20th century Patriarchs of Constantinople was a freemason?). Although the judgement (the website is given below) contains many errors and other highly controversial misinterpretations of the canons by the Amphipolis group, it also contains many interesting admissions of fact.

Firstly, there is the fact that, as we know, we who were present in the Sourozh Diocese in the 70s and early 80s until we were persecuted for our faithfulness to Russian Orthodoxy even then to leave it, is that the old Sourozh Diocese had abandoned the Russian Orthodox Tradition. We quote from the judgement:

The developing split manifested itself many ways. For example, Archbishop Anatoly [a cleric who had been sent from Moscow in the 1990s to assist in the running of the Diocese] forbade people to list the names of non-­Orthodox persons when they gave in their prosfora at the Sunday Liturgy. This kind of approach is particularly painful for converts to Orthodoxy whose family and friends belong to other traditions, especially since prayer for the dead is very important in Orthodoxy. This approach also affected prayers for the departed on anniversaries etc. A new authoritarianism was evident, including insistence on sacramental confession before every communion in a way that was contrary to the teaching of Metropolitan Anthony. In the cathedral a disagreement arose regarding the reading of the Hours before the Liturgy, whereas previously the cathedral had been kept quiet so that anyone present could follow the Liturgy of Preparation. Pressure was also exerted to increase the amount of Church Slavonic in the services, even though few (even most Russian speakers) could understand it."

Interesting that normality is dubbed ‘authoritarianism’! Thus, the schismatics freely admit that they had abandoned the Tradition, replacing it with rationalism (the need to understand the incomprehensible mysteries of God), and introduced other novelties from the Non-Orthodox world. Moreover, they clearly believe that Metropolitan Anthony himself was behind this ‘reformism’ = renovationism:

‘Metropolitan Anthony's espousal of a reformist approach is reflected in the "Introduction to the 1998 Edition" of the Diocesan Statutes…’:

For another quotation on the same subject:

In the section above headed "Russian Orthodoxy in the British Isles" I referred to the long ministry of Metropolitan Anthony and his reformist approach to matters of worship and governance within the Diocese of Sourozh. I mentioned how this came under challenge with the influx of Russians into this country following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

What is incorrect here is the confession that reformism came under challenge after 1991. In reality, it had been under challenge for decades. However, those of us who challenged it had been persecuted out of the Sourozh Diocese years before. We had not been numerous enough to stand up to the mass of Metr Antony Bloom’s mostly wealthy Anglican converts (even nominal Anglicans have long been only a minority of English people) and Paris Russian modernists. Many lives were ruined. But we stood up and defended the Church and suffered for it. Sadly, at that time the Church authorities in Moscow would not support us, because they were enslaved to the Soviet Communist Party. As it was for this very reason that St Tikhon had originally set up the separately-administered Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), our choice therefore became crystal clear. For as long as the Church authorities in Moscow were enslaved, our duty was to belong to ROCOR.

The judgement again also makes clear the admission which we have always maintained, that the old Sourozh Diocese was an anomaly, not an inherent part of the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition. We quote:

10. The Diocese of Sourozh as it developed during the twentieth century was, in a sense, an anomaly in the Patriarchate of Moscow. Its spiritual ethos was very much that of the 'Paris' jurisdiction of Russian tradition under Constantinople.

Thus the old Sourozh Diocese belonged in ethos to those who had long ago lapsed from Russian Orthodoxy and fallen into the errors of the modernist Paris group.

As we now know, three months after losing the court battle, in September 2009, the American Bishop Basil of Amphipolis chose to retire and go to France. This curious decision is made all the more curious by Bishop Basil’s own admission, given in his third witness statement in the judgement, that:

"It is not normal for an Orthodox bishop to retire. He normally dies 'in harness'.

This curious episode from Church history can now be put behind us. Although the Amphipolis schism has caused much damage, it also shows the danger of ex-Anglican (or other ex-Protestant or ex-Roman Catholic) groups fragmenting from the Orthodox mainstream and setting up in isolation on their own, in tiny jurisdictions, vicariates, deaneries or simply individual ‘brotherhoods’, churches or private chapels. Thus, they introduce into the Church the Protestant mentality, whether modernist or traditionalist, of creating their own churches by putting their personal opinions above obedience to the Church Tradition.

We heartily welcome the statement of Bishop Elisey of Sourozh on the judgement and under his episcopate the return, after decades of aberrations, to a ‘Russian Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom (which) remains true to its original vision and purpose, which is to minister to all adherents of the Russian Orthodox tradition, of whatever nationality or background’. Yes, to all adherents! This is what for so many decades we have lived and struggled for, against all the extremists, and what we have always been willing to be martyred for.

The modernists may have been able to take away our livelihoods, but they could not take away our Faith. Proof that: ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail’ (Matt 16, 18). The fact is that when the Church is persecuted, people can either support the persecuted or else support the persecutors. It is our Christian duty to forgive our persecutors, but we cannot and indeed must not forget, so that this does not happen again.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

7/20 October 2009
St Osyth of Chich, Martyr

(For the full judgement, see:

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