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Alexis II sacks his man in London

02 November 2006

THE leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain has been dismissed from his post by the Moscow Patriarch seven years before he was due to retire, after a "crisis" in his diocese.

Bishop Basil of Sergievo, 68, was released from his duties administering the British diocese of Sourozh, by the Patriarch of Moscow & All Russia, Alexis II, on Tuesday of last week. The Patriarch has appointed the French Archbishop Innokenty of Korsun as temporary administrator.

Archbishop Innokenty, in a letter to the clergy and people of the diocese, has written that this is "an exceptionally difficult time" that could result in "the tragedy of division in the Church".

Rumours that locks in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens, London, have been changed are denied on a website that has the blessing of Bishop Basil. (The website www.sourozh. org has been removed from his control.) It expects negotiations over ownership of the Cathedral, which could end up in court. The future of parishes and their property, it says, will be determined "by the relevant Deeds of Trust and the wishes of the parishioners".

Until 1993, the small Russian Orthodox community of around 3000 worshippers, established after the Russian Revolution in 1917, was well-integrated into UK society and reflected its host country's outlook. But hundreds of thousands of Russians have arrived in the UK in the past decade. Many cannot follow the service in English, and want something more like the Church they left behind, Bishop Basil said on Tuesday.

He said that he had asked the Moscow Patriarchate to send Russian-speaking priests to care for the immigrants, and had proposed that Moscow establish a separate parish for them, which the diocese would support. At the same time, he had proposed that the diocese should leave the Patriarchate of Moscow and go under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (in Istanbul). But Moscow had rejected the plans, and has barred him from transferring to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

"Moscow has wanted to get a tighter grip of the diocese, which has had a high reputation ever since Metropolitan Anthony," he said. Metropolitan Anthony died in 2003.

Bishop Basil said that he had appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch to review the situation. "He has to think about the bigger picture. This kind of situation is occurring all over the place."

Bishop Basil said that the  Charity Commissioners had been contacted. A "fair number" of clergy had "expressed their desire to stay with me" and change jurisdictions. Most of the Russian Orthodox clergy also had other jobs.

The website says that the clergy will remain under the new leadership, but have been sent letters allowing them to ask to be received "elsewhere" when the situation has been "clarified".

Two parishioners, Irina and Wladimir von Schlippe, write on the website that the long-established community is "under attack" from "an extraordinarily numerous immigrant group of Orthodox neophytes", most of whom have had little experience of church life.


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