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The battle over Britain's Orthodox Church

Eight years ago, Oleg Deripaska stepped in to save a crumbling Orthodox church in Manchester. Was his generosity the start of a Kremlin-backed crusade to reclaim Russia's spiritual outposts in the West? Special report by Paul Vallely

English Orthodox worshippers at St Andrew's church in Holborn. Bishop Basil Osborne takes the service as his several hundred strong congregation look on. Many of the congregation are Russian refugees, over the past six decades, a small but vibrant branch of the Russian Orthodox Church has grown in the UK

John Lawrence

English Orthodox worshippers at St Andrew's church in Holborn. Bishop Basil Osborne takes the service as his several hundred strong congregation look on. Many of the congregation are Russian refugees, over the past six decades, a small but vibrant branch of the Russian Orthodox Church has grown in the UK

It is a restrained, well-proportioned interior, as befits a church by Sir Christopher Wren. There is an Augustan austerity to its oak panelling and large, arched windows of plain glass. Its barrel-vaulted ceiling is painted in a tasteful Anglican sage-green, discreetly picked out with cream and gold.

But hanging above the altar is something huge and exotic. It is an overwhelmingly massive Byzantine icon in the shape of a jet-black cross. On it hangs a gigantic crucified figure with bright red blood streaming from his hands and feet. The image is surrounded in an edging of the brightest gold clearly designed to turn darkness into glory.

Beneath it is something else alien to the aesthetic of the building. A figure in a golden robe wearing a golden, onion-domed crown is waving two bundles of lighted candles over the altar. Around him stand half a dozen priests, deacons and altar servers in faded burgundy silk robes and copes.

This is St Andrew's church in Holborn, on the first Sunday of the month. The congregation, several hundred strong, are refugees, some for the second time in their lives. Over six decades, a small but vibrant branch of the Russian Orthodox Church has grown in the UK. Its members were a miscellany of elderly �migr�s, and their descendents, who had fled their homeland in the Communist era, and who had arrived via long sojourns in Finland, Switzerland, Italy and France, along with a collection of aristocratic and upper-class English converts. What united them was the charismatic personality of the holy man who led them for 50 years, the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom.

But now, this community is again in exile. This Anglican church, where they gather twice a month, is a temporary home. They are no longer welcome in Bloom's cathedral.

This is more than just a story of schism, much like the others that have dogged Christianity for 2,000 years. For these curiously anomalous English Orthodox Christians claim they have been pushed out of their own cathedral by a large influx of Russians who arrived in the UK in recent times, some of whom have launched a Moscow-inspired takeover of the church.

It's all part of a much bigger story in which Oleg Deripaska is a key figure. He is Russia's richest man, the aluminium tsar who is a friend of the British cabinet minister Lord Mandelson, and on whose yacht the hapless Tory shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, entangled himself in the rigging of the oligarch's lavish hospitality and allegations of illicit soliciting of political donations.

What has stirred the pot is that another government minister, the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, has issued a crucial legal opinion in advance of a court case next week between the two warring Orthodox factions – and has come down on the side of Moscow, which has just elected a new Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk, a man widely regarded as an ex-KGB agent.

The whole saga comes to a head on Monday when the two factions meet in the Chancery Division of the High Court to contest ownership of the £15m cathedral in Kensington, along with five houses and flats. But there is more than property at stake; the battle is for the soul of Orthodoxy.

***

The cathedral of The Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints in Ennismore Gardens, down the road from the Royal Albert Hall, is a very different kind of building from the church in Holborn. Italianate in style, the Church of England decided in 1978 that it was redundant. Inside, vast electric candelabra dangle from the ceiling. The walls are hung with icons in hues of gold. Candle stands illumine icons and relics. Across the nave is a high screen, the "iconostasis", which hides the church's inner sanctum from the profane eye of the ordinary worshipper.

There is a lot that is impenetrable about this place. At the side of the nave is a portrait of the cathedral's founder, Metropolitan Anthony. Yet those who insist they have been driven from the church say that his memory is more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Anthony Bloom was born in Switzerland of Russian �migr� stock and raised in France. He was a medical doctor and a member of the French Resistance during the Second World War, before being ordained and sent to London as chaplain to the community of white Russians there.

His Orthodoxy was cosmopolitan in its character. After his arrival in Britain in 1948, he made it a principle that his church should meet the needs of people of all national backgrounds. He refused to accept any money from the church in Moscow, which under Stalin had been revived as an organ of the state. Indeed throughout the Cold War, Bloom broadcast to Russia as the free voice of its Church when its entire hierarchy was tainted by collaboration with the Communist authorities. When perestroika came, he welcomed it, and he welcomed too the flood of Russians who migrated from their homeland to the UK.

What he had not anticipated was that the incomers would try to change the distinctly open-minded brand of Orthodoxy his community had developed over the previous 40 years. "Huge numbers arrived," says one of the parishioners, Ruth Nares, a teacher who converted from Anglicanism two decades before because of what she describes as Orthodoxy's extraordinary sense of sacredness. "We were a community of white Russians, Finns, French, Italians and English converts. But the incomers had a different mentality. To many, it was just a place to meet fellow Russians. They would come in halfway through service, talking loudly at the back, and started making lunch there." Karin Greenhead, a musician, says: "There was a lot of unpleasantness and elbowing and pushing. It was noisy and unprayerful. There was even a fight outside the church."

But it was not just the congregation that changed. Extra priests sent over by Moscow during the past six years imported an unwelcome world view, too. "Nearly every Sunday we were bombarded with Soviet-style propaganda and warnings that 'the Devil is among us'," says Nicholas Tuckett, the founder of Ikon Records, which markets recordings of Orthodox music. "I was finding it impossible to pray."

The points at issue largely concerned the minutiae of church life. There were disputes about whether marriages could take place on a Saturday, how frequent communion should be, how strictly fasting rules were to be observed, whether women were obliged to wear headscarves in church or forbidden from wearing trousers.

But what lay behind all the nit-picking was a fundamental struggle for power. The Russo faction began to petition Moscow for reform to press the original community to become more Russian. Metropolitan Anthony's anointed successor, Bishop Basil, asked Moscow to disassociate itself from what he saw as troublemakers. But in Moscow, Metropolitan Kirill, who was last month elected head of the entire Russian Orthodox Church, declined to reply.

At that point, Archbishop Kirill was head of the Church's Department of External Relations, a post which his critics point out was created by Stalin when he revived the Church to boost civilian morale during the Second World War. The Moscow Patriarchate became an organ of the Russian state. In the years that followed, those who rose through Russian Orthodoxy's hierarchy were either collaborators or active KGB agents.

Papers disclosed relatively recently suggest that Archbishop Kirill, who had the agent codename of Mikhailov, had close links to the KGB and saw the Church's interests as aligned to those of the state. In 2001, he stated that the Moscow Patriarchate "acts today in close co-operation" with Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to "re-establish historical justice with the aim of returning to the Motherland her architectural and historical treasures which have been built by Russian artists and with money of the Russian people. If an Orthodox church building abroad used to belong to the Russian Church, and if this is legally proven, it must become again the property of our Church. If it was in former times on the registry of State property, it must return to the State."

Under his leadership, Moscow has moved to re-acquire property in Israel, Hungary, Germany, France, and now the UK. Sometimes court action has been the strategy; in others, such as Manchester, money has been deployed.

A decade ago, the church used by the Russian Orthodox community there began to fall down. The local community struggled to raise cash for a new building. Then, as their website reveals, "in late 2001, the Building Trust received a very generous donation from a well-known industrialist from Russia". It turned out to be Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch who had given support for the restoration of Orthodox churches in Russia.

But there was a price to pay, it seemed – the local community was expected to vote to remove itself from its relationship with Metropolitan Anthony in London and place itself under the direct authority of Moscow. The Orthodox community in London should have seen the writing on the wall. But being middle-class English folk, they were too diffident. "I think we were all probably too polite, but then we did not understand what was happening," says Karin Greenhead.

When Moscow sent a committee of inquiry, they co-operated. The English converts thought they were just a bunch of rather vulgar peasants used to pushing people around. "Too late we realised it was a more orchestrated, deliberate attack," Greenhead recalls. "The inquiry was a very unpleasant, traumatic experience. Everyone was taken off privately and grilled about our loyalty."

"It was the tactics of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin," says another parishioner, Nicolai Matveyev. "Having been arrested by the KGB, I was naturally suspicious," says another parishioner who asked not to be named.

***

Bishop Basil decided that the situation was untenable and applied to have his diocese transferred from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate to that of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople – who is the leader of all the world's Orthodox who are not Greek or Russian. Before that could happen, Moscow peremptorily announced that Bishop Basil has been "retired".

"He arrived one Sunday morning to find that an Archbishop had been sent over from Paris and had taken over," says one of the priests, Fr Stephan Maikovsky. "It would have ended up in a fist fight had Bishop Basil not just bowed out." Permission came then from Constantinople for the bishop to set up a new body – the Vicariate – under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Bishop Basil left. Fifteen of the parishes in the diocese went with him, as did half the clergy and 554 of the 1,161 members registered on the diocesan roll.

In response, Moscow went to court to demand that the two trusts holding the community's property should hand over the £15m cathedral and five clergy houses or flats – and throw two priests out of their homes. What complicated the picture was that the deed of trust drawn up in 1944 spoke only of "the promotion of the Orthodox Faith" and deliberately made no mention of "Russian" Orthodoxy just in case Moscow ever tried to grab control. What the British courts must now settle is who are the rightful heirs.

Moscow is represented by the solicitor Paul Hauser, who insists the position is legally clear: "A bishop had a falling-out with the church and left, taking some of his co-religionists with him. But that does not fundamentally alter the fact that the charities exist for the benefit of the diocese and parish, which continue to exist."

He offers an analogy: "Say a trust was established for the benefit of Guy's Hospital. Suppose a group of doctors at Guy's had a fight with the hospital administrator and went down the street to set up a new hospital which they called Guy's 2 – and then turned around and said that this new hospital should be the proper beneficiary of the trust. The original Guy's Hospital undoubtedly would say that, although these doctors were entitled to start a new hospital, that did not change the position with respect to the trust. The trust remained for the benefit of the original Guy's Hospital, not for the new one the doctors established."

The Attorney General, he insists, had no option but to give her opinion in favour of Moscow. But others suspect politics is afoot. The effect of the Attorney General expressing such a clear view is that Bishop Basil's side are now in line to pay the entire costs of the hearing if they lose – and they are not allowed to use the trust's money to pay for lawyers, so they cannot afford legal representation in the High Court on Monday. "That means that our witnesses will be without lawyers," says another parishioner, Tamara Dragadzay, "but the other side seems to have unlimited funds."

Hauser, who also acts for Oleg Deripaska, does not say where his side's money comes from. "Let's put it this way; it is not coming out of trust funds because the church has adopted the position that it doesn't want to see the trust funds disturbed for any other purpose. So the Russian Orthodox Church has had to make arrangements to fund this matter, which it has done. It has not been funded from any funds in UK."

***

This is where politics re-enters the picture. Britain's relationship with Russia has been in a delicate phase since Moscow refused to hand over the agent suspected of killing the KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, and the UK refused to hand over the dissident businessman Boris Berezovsky. There have been tit-for-tat expulsions. Things have been more frosty since Britain backed Georgia in its stand-off with Moscow. The last thing the Government needs is to irritate Vladimir Putin by ruling the wrong way in a small row over Church property.

The Attorney General's office insist that their "view on these cases has been arrived at on advice and after careful analysis of the evidence and having regard to the original trust deeds and their objects". It has not, a spokeswoman said, "been influenced by foreign policy considerations".

A number of MPs aren't convinced. "The intervention of the Attorney General to try to prevent one side of the case having legal representation is very singular," said the Lib Dem MP Norman Baker. "It goes against natural justice, which leads you to suspect this may be about not upsetting relations with Russia." He is to raise the matter with Sir Alan Beith, chair of the Select Committee on Justice, who is now conducting an inquiry into the office of the Attorney General and its susceptibility to political interference, following rulings in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Back at the cathedral, they raise their eyebrows at such a notion. "It is too ludicrous to comment on," says Adrian Dean, the secretary of the parish council in whose name the court action has been brought. "It looks like a bit of scandal-mongering to me. The clique who have left have invented the idea purely because the Attorney General's ruling has gone against them. It's just sour grapes really. The legal fact is that this church has always been the diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate and it still is."

***

The court will find things more complex. The present parish was set up in 1934, and its 1944 trust deed was designed to allow for a change of jurisdiction. It was that which allowed the Parish Council to vote, in 1946, in a mood of post-war euphoria, to join the Moscow Patriarchate. What the court must decide is whether the switch back to Constantinople of just half the community allows the trustees to choose which way to go.

What heightens the sense of grievance of Bishop Basil's supporters is that it was they who bought the cathedral in 1978. "We raised all the money ourselves," says Ruth Nares. "Elderly White Russians sold their gold teeth to pay for it. The rest of the community worked tirelessly to find the money, and to fund a restoration programme – only now to find ourselves homeless and all because Moscow wants to extend its tentacles."

Emotions are high. Tamara Dragadzay likens what has happened to the way groups of foreign Muslims have tried to take over certain British mosques. There are parallels with the infiltration of Militant Tendency into the Labour Party in the 1980s. There is talk of cuckoos and nests.

"I just don't recognise that," says Adrian Dean, a more recent convert. "No one asked Bishop Basil and his supporters to go," says Moscow's lawyer, Paul Hauser. "They just decided to leave of their own volition. No one has slammed the door in anyone's face. They are always perfectly free to return." But no one in the new Vicariate believes that. They suspect that what goes on behind the iconostasis is something that Moscow would prefer to keep from public view.

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Orthodox Church
[info]observer_line wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 07:46 am (UTC)
Wonder why all the articles about Russian Orthodox church sound bit hissing and spit with poison?
Russian Orthodox in UK.
[info]amcmhuirich wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 11:41 am (UTC)
While I respect the memory of the great Metropolitan Anthony and his legacy, please understand that Bishop Basil has been tactless in his handling of this messy affair. After the Russian Revolution (putting it simply), the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe split into three factions. Relations between them were, at times, very bad.
Thank God, the Patriarchal Church (to which Met Anthony and Bp Basil belonged and which accused the other groups of schism and unpatriotic hankering after Tsarism, serf-flogging, etc,) and the Russian O'dox Church Outside Russia (which included most of the White refugees, who accused the Patriarchal Church of being Stalin's foot-stool) now enjoy the best of relations, to the extent that ROCOR delegates helped select Patriarch Kirill. In London in 1944, the only other faction working in London was ROCOR; therefore, the trustees would have joined ROCOR if Stalinist bullying of the Moscow Patriarch became too much to accept.
That leaves the smallest and most theologically liberal group, nicknamed the"Paris Jurisdiction", to which Bp Basil went. This retained Russian customs but placed itself under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the primus-inter-pares of O'doxy's Patriarchs, an ethnic Greek based in Constantinople. Thus, by departing suddenly with his Vicariate (legally, a new entity) to this group, Bp Basil unintentionally opened old wounds.
Like any organisation, there are "club rules" in O'doxy and these cover the movement of clergy and laity between Church Jurisdictions. Bp Basil needed to obtain his Patriarch's permission to "go to Paris" but went without it. As Moscow and Constantinople are engaged in a "quiet quarrel" over what territory belongs to each, this was again tactless.
Just to make one point clear, I am NOT Russian Orthodox.

Thank You!
[info]ellenika wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 12:54 pm (UTC)
As a first-hand witness to the situation I am very happy to see this good and quite accurate analysis. Bishop Basil did everything possible at the time to protect the local Russian Orthodox Church from a deliberate attack by Moscow - over many years. In my personal view the situation is very simple - and I sincerely hope that the truth and the law will prevail in the court over politics and money.
Re: Thank You!
[info]brionyw wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 02:22 pm (UTC)
I second the thanks for this balanced and sober analysis of the situation. I am a member of the Vicariate (British, and a recent convert). Though I am too new to Orthodoxy to have been personally affected by the situation, I have seen the effects on others: the tactics used have not been pretty. My congregation shares with others the vision of developing a form of Orthodox Christianity that will be embedded in the language and culture of these islands, as well as being open and welcoming to those of other nationalities, and towards other Orthodox churches in Britain. It is a great blow to be subject to the machinations of those with different agendas, and at this point we can do nothing but put our faith in God, who defends the weak and powerless.
A short breath away
[info]takenunawares wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 02:14 pm (UTC)
We're a short breath away from seeing whether a British Court can uphold fair law against obviously fat and gigantic pressure from, ultimately, the Russian State.
I sincerely hope it does.
Article better than most
[info]trvalentine wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 06:30 pm (UTC)
I was delighted to see the article avoided the often seen declaration that the Ecumenical Patriarch is 'leader' or 'spiritual head' of all Orthodox Christians. Unfortunately, 'leader of all the world's Orthodox who are not Greek or Russian' is not quite correct either. Better would have been to write the Ecumenical Patriarch is leader of the world's Orthodox who are not Albanian, Bulgarian, Cypriot, Czech, Finn, Georgian, Greek, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serb, Slovak, Ukrainian, or live in the Middle East or Africa. Most accurate would have been to write he is the first among all other bishops, each bishop the spiritual head or leader of his (arch)diocese/metropolia.
What Nonsense
[info]aristocles2 wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 06:41 pm (UTC)
Self-pitying English people dislike 'peasants' using their church. They have a sulk. Do you have a fact checker?
'Profane eyes'?
Drivel
'Head of all Orthodox not Greek or Russian'
Drivel.
Berezovsky was a 'dissident'
Drivel.

I could go on....
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN BRITAIN - SPLIT
[info]culturehawk wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 06:43 pm (UTC)
I have rarely read a report on a subject that has been so factual and correct. Your article on the split in the Russian Church in Ennismore Gardens, London is spot on! I have been a parishioner since 1976, when a BBC TV programme led me to meet that charismatic man, Metrolpolitan Anthony Bloom. His bones must be shaking in his grave with the way his life's work was hijacked by his own compatriots, the newly arrived Russians, who affect to know how to behave in a Church but clearly do not. Trained by years of Communism , denouncing neighbours to the KGB, they would the the same with the successor to Anthony, Bishop Basil of Sergievo. But this time to the Patriarch in Moscow. They dimissed him and rendered him irrelevant. It was a masterly coup, and now they stand to take the assets, aided and abetted by the decision of the Attorney General.
I despair about the state of British Justice. We must always be on guard about the intentions of the Russians, whether they claim to be Christians or atheists. the expansionist nationalist is always there
What Nonsense
[info]aristocles2 wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 07:33 pm (UTC)
'We must always be on guard about the intentions of the Russians, whether they claim to be Christians or atheists. the expansionist nationalist is always there'

Yes, they'll even have us using capital letters at this rate. Still, cheers 'culturehawk' for demonstrating the Anglo-Saxon bigotry that is tearing the church apart.

"They just decided to leave of their own volition. No one has slammed the door in anyone's face. They are always perfectly free to return." But no one in the new Vicariate believes that. They suspect that what goes on behind the iconostasis is something that Moscow would prefer to keep from public view.'

Ah, the old Iconostasis again. How can you 'believe' or not believe that? It is either a fact or it isn't. And it is a fact. I have a good friend who is English and who regularly visits the cathedral. She gets on well with the Bishops.

Oddly enough, she is not 'middle class', that embattled group that this article glamorises. Maybe it is because she has the humility to respect the Russians that she is not alienated. Sadly, most converts fail to see humility and stoicism as virtues.
Re: What Nonsense
[info]ellenika wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 08:18 pm (UTC)
I am Russian and not a convert, same as many other Russians who did join bishop Basil in his attempt to keep the work of late bishop Anthony from a complete destruction by Moscow. I will not elaborate more on this - enough is to say that all attempts to negotiate a reasonable settlement over parish property with the current occupants of the Cathedral were rejected by Moscow outright. A sentiment of "They just decided to leave of their own volition. No one has slammed the door in anyone's face. They are always perfectly free to return." from a squatter towards a rightful owner does look a bit ridiculous, doesn't it? It is almost the same as to turn somebody's head by 360 degrees and than pretend that nothing has happened, everything is same as before.
Re: What Nonsense
[info]propast2 wrote:
Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 02:31 pm (UTC)
If you are 'the rightful owner', why bother negotiating with 'a squatter' at all? As you say, let the court decide. And until it does so, keep a dignified silence, do not run to the media with scurrulous stories of oligarchs and KGB agents and await the outcome of due process. 'We are in Britain, aren't we?'
Re: What Nonsense
[info]ellenika wrote:
Friday, 13 February 2009 at 02:48 am (UTC)
I personally did not "run to the media" and this article was a complete surprise. However if the Attorney General can take a side before the court hearing so can the media, I suppose.
[info]aristocles2 wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 09:26 pm (UTC)
'from a squatter towards a rightful owner does look a bit ridiculous, doesn't it'

Firstly, God is the rightful owner. I didn't care about the whole thing, or have an opinion, until now. But it sickens me that these people used a national newspaper (even one thankfully collapsing like this one) to show themselves beating their chests in public. If Christianity regains strength in Britain it will be because we live the Gospel. Not if we act like self-pitying drama queens. If you believe in God and that your side is right, pray to God. Don't go to a newspaper with an agenda of its own and scream about being made 'homeless' or that it is some dark Slavic conspiracy. The talk of 'Moscow's tentacles' is just typical yellow press journalism. And of course the ultimate villain is 'Vladimir Putin', and the goodie is (obviously) the 'dissident' Berezovsky.

Also, don't you think that it is astoundingly presumptuous of Valelly to write:
'the battle is for the soul of Orthodoxy'. when it is no such thing and he is probably not even Orthodox?

Of course, in contrast to the politics of a small parish in England, debates over the Most Holy Sacraments are 'nit-picking'. The term is a cliche, in common with much of the article. But it also demonstrates how little Valelly knows about Orthodoxy.

Furthermore, if you are Russian, aren't you proud of your allies like culturehawk?
[info]ellenika wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 10:17 pm (UTC)
We are in Britain, aren't we? And is there such a thing as the law? Yes, there is. All I do care in this case is that the law should be upheld. I hope that the court will separate the reality of the matter from politics and lies. That is the only reason to defend this case against Moscow with it's unlimited resources and political influence. And I have to admit, that I understand fully feelings of culturehawk, as I am ashamed of the behaviour of my countrymen in this situation. It certainly shows a complete disregard not only to Christian values but of the Law.
[info]propast2 wrote:
Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 10:41 am (UTC)
There is no answer to bigotry and xenophobia - even when a top legal arbiter, like the Attorney General makes a pronouncement, it's still because of 'politics', 'Russian preassure' and 'deep pockets'. You can be sure the Vicariate would not be saying this if the Attorney General had ruled in their favour, as they clearly expected. No doubt they would have hailed the fair and unbiased British justice for showing up the uncouth, corrupt peasants! As for politics, the article is big on cheap emotion and small on fact, beginning with calling Putin 'president' on the cover page. The emotion is cheap because the jounalist clearly cares (and knows!) nothing about Orthodox Christianity, but is rather interested in developing his reputation as a fearless crusader against Russian state corruption penetrating beneath the hallowed vaults of Westminster. Maybe it makes for a livelier read to the average 'liberal' Indie reader, but a lot of it is nothing but less than intelligent scaremongering. I expect that those in the Vicariate who know the facts behind the Sourozh split are secretly embarrassed at being 'defended' by such an asinine article, but in these desperate times, they can no longer afford to be fussy.
In fact, they were never very fussy about massaging facts, but that's another story...
[info]ellenika wrote:
Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 11:37 am (UTC)
Let's leave it to the court to decide what's what. I am, for a start, know about the facts behind the destruction of the Sourozh probably more than most people involved and I hope that the facts will be clear in the near future, and a complete and truthful history of these events, starting from 2001, will be eventually written.
Legal battle in the Russian Church
[info]friend_woman wrote:
Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 07:08 pm (UTC)
This is an excellent article.

It seems clear to me that the Moscow faction is not acting in a Christian manner. Surely the assets should be split 50-50 given that the community has been splilt down the middle.

It seems very strange that the Attorney General should make such a pronouncement at this stage; it would seem to make it difficult to have a fair court hearing. Surely for justice to be done in law, either both parties should be able to be equally represented in a court case , or the matter should be settled by negotiation.

Too much damage has already been done. I pray that loving-kindness as well as truth and justice can govern future developments.
Re: Legal battle in the Russian Church
[info]clegheaton wrote:
Monday, 16 February 2009 at 08:30 pm (UTC)
It is astonishing that the Moscow Patriarchate feels so threatened by opposition. Why not allow the Vicariate a share of the property in Christian charity? Why not negotiate and discuss instead of this continual opposition and threat. Bishop Basil tried everything he could before taking the drastic action he was eventually forced into. Those who talk of 'factions' and 'cliques' should remember that it was half the Diocese who wished to no longer be ruled by the Moscow Patriarchate. A bit of humility on the part of the Patriarchate and its representatives in the UK, a desire to try to understand why so many people felt the way they did, and a desire to meet their needs, would not go amiss. Those of us who left the Patriarchate, knowingly walking into the uncertainty of financial ruin, leaving even our own churches, did not do so lightly, and some willingness to try to understand the unhappiness which led to such an extreme act should be the least we are able to expect from those who purport to lead in church life in Russia.
Battle over Britain's Orthodox Church
[info]lenthony wrote:
Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 08:38 pm (UTC)
On the face of it could one be of the mind that this article has been funded by a teaspoon of prejudice to stir a timely pot ? Perhaps the real issue is below the surface and has nothing to do with buildings and trustee deeds but with the battle for Christian Orthodoxy. The opposing and desperately serious factions/groups are for the one, fighting to nurture and enrich the local Church from the treasure house of Tradition and world- encompassing Christianity [of the many jurisdictions], while the other seeks to undermine that Tradition, which they perceive as stultifying and authoritarian, by veering surreptitiously towards the ' straight-jacket' often called 'liberal' while peering through the rose-tinted glasses of modernism. What has carved a chasm through Judaism, the Roman Church and Anglicanism et al, has now arrived at the door of Christian Orthodoxy in Britain... Lenthony
Re: Battle over Britain's Orthodox Church
[info]white_sirin wrote:
Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 07:45 pm (UTC)
Having been fairly close to these events, I can only call them a tragedy, with the dispute about property being by far not even the main part of it.

1: Metropolitain Anthony Bloom made Orthodoxy open and accessible to people outside the ?traditional? ethnic boundaries of the faith. If it wasn?t for his gift as a preacher and willingness to speak to non-Russians/non-Orthodox in a language they could understand (not some sort of more ?fashionable/liberal? version of Orthodoxy, but the faith of the Fathers of the Church, indeed the faith of the ancestors of the present-day English) the Diocese of Sourozh would not exist.

2: The policy of the External Relations Department of the Russian Church, once headed by Metropolitain Kyrill, includes the view that one of the main aims of the Russian Orthodox Church in other countries is to be a bastion of Russian culture and national identity and help prevent the integration of the Russians into the country they live in. (An example of the above, which actually mentions this conflict, for those who can read Russian or have a good computerised translator: http://www.strasbourg-reor.org/modules.php?name=News&new;_topic=25&file;=article&sid;=547 )

What it comes down to, really, is where you put the accent in the ?Russian Orthodox? (Church). It?s actually a problem faced by many national Orthodox Churches and it was M. Anthony?s great achievement that he managed to bring out the universal character, the emphasis on the ?Orthodox? and ?Church? in his ministry as opposed to an emphasis on . The Ennismore Gardens cathedral, as I remember it before these events, was somewhere where not only English could also feel at home, but many Orthodox from other ethnic backgrounds. This is no longer really the case.

Perhaps there is as much admiration for his person and his sermons in Russia as there is little understanding there of what M. Anthony did here in the UK. And then I meet fellow-Russians who tell me that there is no grace outside the Russian Church and others who are convinced that the mentality of the English would never allow them to become truly Orthodox, that you have to acquire a ?Russian soul? to be saved.

It?s not really so much about liberal/traditionalist beliefs, as about nationalism and universality as forces within the Orthodox Church. For instance, I have a fairly ?conservative? background, but understand Bishop Basil?s decision to change jurisdictions, although I daresay that he put a little too much faith in the British legal system in this situation.
a return to Cold War journalism
[info]incommunion wrote:
Friday, 13 February 2009 at 09:09 am (UTC)
For people like myself, this has been like watching a bitter divorce in which one is close to both husband and wife. Profoundly sad.

The John Lawrence article struck me as doing a good job of presenting one side of the dispute, but only one side. Its caricature of the new leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, struck me as a return to Cold War journalism -- "Kirill the KGB Agent furthering the malignant designs of Evil Russia" I have known Kirill for a long time, and have friends who have been close to him for decades. As a bishop and former head of one of the two seminaries allowed to exist in the Soviet time, of course Kirill had relations with the KGB, as would anyone in a leadership role, not only in the Church but in any institution in those grim days. His own attitude to the KGB is probably best summed up in the advice he gave to a seminarian who had been approached by the KGB with the request "to help." Kirill's advice to the young man was quite simple: "Say 'yes' and do 'no'."

Jim Forest
correction
[info]incommunion wrote:
Friday, 13 February 2009 at 11:06 am (UTC)
My apologies for an error -- the article was of course written by your religious correspondent, Paul Vallely, not by John Lawrence.
It is still rubbish though...
[info]aristocles2 wrote:
Friday, 13 February 2009 at 12:16 pm (UTC)
Some recent contributions seem to be missing the point of the whole thing. What offends me is not really the bias, but the presumption of the article. Even if I agreed with Valelly about who 'owns' the church, his idea that this issue is 'over the soul of Orthodoxy' is appallingly presumptuous. Ours is not an earthly faith. Without the Holy Trinity, it would be just a den of vipers.

Secondly, Valelly's article is full of factual and theological errors, especially his words about the Iconostasis. For that alone people should not praise the article.

However, they seem to fully agree with Valelly that Orthodox Christianity is an earthly faith. Presumably they call themselves the first amongst sinners before cringing at the wicked Ivans. Presumably they say 'forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us' before blubbering to a national newspaper about wicked Moscow trying to get its tentacles into our green and pleasant land.

Still, people like that (and I've known a few) are generally very gifted at driving people from the Orthodox Church. Anyone drawn by the humility and Holiness of Greek and Russian elders who finds the parish full of pushy, nosy, self-righteous middle Englanders will soon leave. If they form their own parish it will wilt within a decade.
Orthodox Church in Britain
[info]ortho_docs wrote:
Friday, 13 February 2009 at 03:07 pm (UTC)
Interestingly enough, both parties are WRONG! According to Orthodox Canon Law, local churches are under the authority of local bishops - not foreign bishops. The idea that well-established Orthodox Churches in a territory must come under either the Moscow Patriarchate or the Patriarchate in Istanbul is contrary to canon law. What should happen in this case? All the Orthodox Churches in Britain should unite under a formulated "autocephalous" Orthodox Church with it's own bishop to rule over all these churches. The same should happen in France, Germany, etc. In fact, the easiest way to do this would be to proclaim the organization of "The Autocephalous Orthodox Churches of the EU, AOCEU."

Initially, both Moscow and Istanbul would balk at this, however, according to Orthodox Canon Law, they would both have to back down!
disappointed
[info]anlbe wrote:
Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 11:10 pm (UTC)
At the end of the day I find it ultimately disappointing that any of us would talk to the press in such a manner about each other. There is but one holy church and we are all still members of it and all in communion with one another, sometimes it seems we forget that.
As painful as the recent events have been this is NOT a schism. Those who left the Diocese of Sourozh did so because they left their community could no longer exist under the Moscow Patriarch and so asked the Ecumenical Patriarch to accept them, which he did. 'amcmhuirich' should note it was the Ecumenical Patriarch who sent Bishop Basil and those who followed him to the Vicariate, they did not ask to be put under its authority.
Those on both sides of the split in the membership of the Diocese of Sourozh believe they are striving to continue the work begun by Metropolitan Bloom to nurture Russian Orthodoxy in Britain, and in many ways they both are, it is tragic we can't continue this journey together or even under the same jurisdiction but that is they way it has to be for now. Is this sort of public name calling, appropriate, is it Christian, is it Orthodox?
shocked
[info]iliya19 wrote:
Monday, 16 February 2009 at 10:15 am (UTC)
I'm Russian I live in Russia, and I want to say that woman in trousers and with uncovered head in church is a realy hard break of rules. In same time I want to say that Russians hwo "talking loudly at the back, and making lunch there" are not orthodox, I even not sure Russians they are?I've never seen like this in Russian church.
little shocked
[info]iliya19 wrote:
Monday, 16 February 2009 at 10:17 am (UTC)
I'm Russian I live in Russia, and I want to say that woman in trousers and with uncovered head in church is a realy hard break of rules. In same time I want to say that Russians hwo "talking loudly at the back, and making lunch there" are not orthodox, I even not sure Russians they are?I've never seen like this in Russian church.
Re: little shocked
[info]aristocles2 wrote:
Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 01:00 pm (UTC)
Iliya
I have a friend who is an English convert. She has said that all the Russians she has met in Ennismore Cathedral are very polite and show far more reverence for Orthodox tradition than the English have.

The lovely English congregation called her 'a traitor' for being friendly towards the Russian Bishops.
orth church in the UK
[info]observer67 wrote:
Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 01:41 pm (UTC)
I can`t help second thanks to your author Paul Vallely for his very timely exposition on the long standing issue of the Most Rev Antony Bloom`s Church in the UK. Perhaps since the times when Nikodim Rotov headed the MP Foreign Rel Dep Bloom became deeply respected by the faithful in Russia he was still considered "a bad twink" by those in high rank. Str8 himself he nevertheless found himself in a trap of his own fault. This paved the way for the Alfeyev`s affair and the like to follow.
Re: orth church in the UK
[info]platonovff wrote:
Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 08:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the timely and well researched article. Being Russian myself, I could not possibly just step aside and watch all the values Metropolitan Anthony taught us over the years destroyed by my compatriotes who are used to force (sometimes physical) as a method in dealing with any adversaries - religious or otherwise. Sadly, for Metropolitan/Patriarch Kirill and his close circle power is paramount and everything else is secondary. Not so in our old Diocese of Sourozh. The whole spiritual dimension has been lost - hence the conflict. It was Metropolitan Anthony who told us about Metropolitan Kirill's side-kick Bishop Alfeev's infatuation with power. So sad...
Re: orth church in the UK
[info]keeleman wrote:
Wednesday, 18 February 2009 at 12:22 pm (UTC)
People had been wanting to form an English Orhodox Church for well over 20 years. We all know that rapid demographic change coupled with insufficient resources can lead to tensions. Under these circumstances a number of people thought it right to make a move. They also felt they ought to act quickly. This made it very difficult for them to think through the legal implications, including the security of residential tenure of certain clergy who had worked very hard over a long period of time. The possibility that the trust deed had been left deliberately vague cannot have been in the least helpful, since legal action has resulted, almost inevitably, incurring large costs. For years we had all been working towards increased cooperation between all the Orthodox in this country, and we must resume this as soon as circumstances allow, if Orthodoxy is to make the spiritual contribution in service of this country which Metropolitan Anthony hoped it would. I shudder every day when I reflect upon what Almighty God thinks of what has happened, particularly when I read the Gospels. But sometimes things happen all too quickly and events overtake those who try to keep people together in order to face problems together. To attack one another now is very wrong. We will have to find ways of clearing up the mess. In contrast to what has been said, I believe that Patriarch Kyril is not intending to grab property all round the world, but rather wants to improve relations between churches, between faiths, between nations, and also to help to deepen spirituality within his own church.
Yet incurring larger costs...
[info]observer67 wrote:
Thursday, 19 February 2009 at 12:43 pm (UTC)
The cost one has to endue laying new grounds for a nation Church is undoubtedly tremendous. For this reason it is almost instantly met by God. Metropolitan Anthony`s genuine ambition might have as well embraced his faithful dream to help to enlighten christians in Russia striving forth as an independent missionary. He could and made indeed not a single effort to speak on God in many places there and hundreds lent him their ears.
Being once asked in private whether he cared for the dictum Jesus ordained his disciples:"No servant can serve two masters..." (Luke 16,13) he rebuffed, consenting, that sometimes he had to serve and honour many more. He meant to say that what was all too obvious for many from outside: he would`ve never done his best unless he had to have done his worst. But this in the end has by now incurred a larger cost.
The Spirit of the Risen Lord brings us all together to celebrate the everlasting memory of the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom and share his love forever.
Sad to hear it
[info]irina333irina wrote:
Friday, 20 February 2009 at 03:25 pm (UTC)
I didn't want to comment on this article because it is full of nonsense and alteration of facts. I just feel sad that people who call themselves "followers of Metropolitan Anthony" can write things like that. Mertopolitan Anthony was often called the "Apostle of love" and he delivered a message of love (not only for English middle class but for all people). It seems like the poeple who wrote this article missed the main point of his teachings.
As a matter of fact, the Russian Orthodox Catherdral on Ennismore Gardens is open every single day and there are services every day, morning and evening. It is full of people who certainly don't push and serve lunches in the church but pray devotedly. There are many nationalities such as English, Russian, Greek, French, Georgian, Ukranian etc. Everyone is wellcome in the God's house. Please come!
Court Hearing
[info]takenunawares wrote:
Friday, 20 February 2009 at 10:15 pm (UTC)
Mr Justice Blackburne decided to hear the case of Dean vs Bowlby and others on Monday at half past 10.
Re: Court Hearing
[info]gregory1953 wrote:
Friday, 27 February 2009 at 08:39 am (UTC)
Paul Vallely's article shows little understanding of the Orthodox Church and how she arbitrates internal disputes. The first three paragraphs are not germane to the issues involved but rather predispose the non-Orthodox reader to view the conflict as alternately a load of stuff and nonsense AND the resurgence of Russian cold war shenanigans. There's no discussion about the need for canonical release when clergy and congregations move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and whether such requirements had or had not been met. This is an armchair form of journalism that delves no deeper than arranging detail to serve impressionistic prejudices and a particular cause that has lost most if not all of the legal arguments. It's all very sad of course and a poor reflection on inter-Orthodox relations but even more it exposes the inexcusable prejudice of those who comment from a position of woeful ignorance of the technical issues involved.
Re: Court Hearing
[info]ellenika wrote:
Friday, 27 February 2009 at 01:52 pm (UTC)
Please do not mix the internal Orthodox Church rules (even about these you provide not quite correct information) and English Charity Law.
Re: Court Hearing
[info]gregory1953 wrote:
Friday, 27 February 2009 at 02:49 pm (UTC)
That's a fair point and I accept that I may have unintentionally confused the two for which I apologise. I fully accept that the Court has yet to judge the matter (notwithstanding the legal opinion of the Attoney General) and that Orthodox canon law on changing jurisdictions has no bearing on that whatsoever.

However, Paul Vallely's piece was not simply about English Charity Law was it? It was about those naughty Moscow people who allegedly trampled all over our decent liberal English sensibilities. With Great Lent and Forgiveness Sunday now in view you would have thought that the Orthodox would have been just a bit more sensitive to this highly pertinent teaching of our Lord. (Matthew 5).

23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
Re: Court Hearing
[info]takenunawares wrote:
Saturday, 28 February 2009 at 03:59 pm (UTC)
The hearing now moved to 28 April. And Matthew applies both ways, doesn't he?
2 way Matthew
[info]gregory1953 wrote:
Saturday, 28 February 2009 at 07:28 pm (UTC)
Indeed he does but this looks increasingly like a cul de sac for one party. We will see. What I am sure about is what a tragedy this has been and what an awful witness it has made as to our interminably quarrelsome jurisdictional politics. Do we really expect such unedifying spectacles to do anything except turn away seekers in droves?

By the way, I am Orthodox but not in the Russian tradition and I have no axe to grind here one way or the other. I hope and pray that there can be an agreement short of the Court even at this late hour.
Re: 2 way Matthew
[info]keeleman wrote:
Sunday, 1 March 2009 at 06:40 pm (UTC)
My view of how all this started is mentioned a few sections above. We must try to think about the future. There is an old saying that the only people capable of destroying the Orthodox Church are the Orthodox themselves. If there must be a court case then let both sides put their case before Mr Justice Blackburne with honesty, clarity and courtesy. Let judgement be given and accepted. Then let the work of healing and reconciliation begin, with God's help. We Orthodox must work together to bring some lovingkindness into this country and the world. We have a contribution to make, and I am certain that God the Holy Trinity, who loves everyone, can and will help us. We all need God's help to get through the remaining stages of this grindingly depressing time, and move towards a more constructive period of development and useful service.
Resolution
[info]gregory1953 wrote:
Sunday, 1 March 2009 at 08:22 pm (UTC)
Amen.
Why obscure the issues?
[info]takenunawares wrote:
Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 10:11 pm (UTC)
As concerns jurisdiction and ecclesiology everything has been resolved between Patriarchs months and months ago; nothing pending there. All is in peaceful order.
The issue to be resolved in Court is a property difference between two British Charities. No theology there; just real estate, fifty years of savings and so on.
I fail to see why some insist on blurring the issues.
Re: Why obscure the issues?
[info]thirdrome3 wrote:
Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 02:56 pm (UTC)
I am an English member of the Russian church and as such would like to put the record straight

The Russia church in London is multi ethnic church
Far from being the home of just Russians. The Russian church in Knightsbridge is multi - ethnic: containing Americans, Arminians, Beleruusians Estonians, English, French, Latvians, Lithuanians, Polish, Greek and Irish. This is despite the split.

A closed church
The Russian church in London is not a closed church it is open to everyone. People are free to express their views openly

A move away from 'Liberal autocracy'
Despite Bishop Basil supporters claiming that they are 'open', the truth of the matter is that the reverse was often the case. The church under Bishop Basil was ruled by an iron fist, a priest were banned from church, members of the Parish council were banned from meetings, public meeting were cancelled and not allowed to happen. This was not a democratic church. The group around Bishop Basil were often refereed to as the 'orthodox Taliban': as anyone who disagreed with their stand point was harshly treated.

A club for the boys
The Russian church under Bishop Basil was run as a closed club, those that disagreed with the club were ostracised. The club was essentially made up of 'middle class' English academics who loved the over intellectualise religious thought, those who were not as academically gifted and could not speak with an oxford twang were ignored and treated like idiots.

Lack of cultural understanding bordering on Xenophobia and racism
Those around Bishop Basil showed a real lack of understanding for people that are not English e.g. referring to people as 'new Russians': when this is a term for Russian oligarches, one must consider that most of the congregation are poor immigrants from ex USSR(a large majority of which are not even Russian) - who need help not condemnation, this group often referenced women in head scarves as those that look like Muslims - these are the kind of comments that you would expect to find BNP literature, not comments made by Christian people

A question of spin
Not sure if Bishop Basil and his supporters have a 'spin doctor'? But at times it feels like it. These guys are the masters of 'black PR', everything is dressed up like we are still in the 'cold war': everyone is KGB, everything is run by oligarches, false rumours such as everyone will be forced to wear head scarves, English will be banned, women won't be able to wear trousers etc was regularly spread around the church.

Political cronyism
Bishop Basil and his supporters are very well connected to the 'English establishment'. I think it is amazing that Liberal MPs are taking up their cause especially when you consider that one of Bishop Basil parish councilors is the aunty of Nick Clegg - cronyism - you make up your own mind?

Destroying the memory of Metropolitan Anthony
Bishop Basil supporters claim they are upholding the memory of Metropolitan Anthony. Yet Metropolitan Anthony did not believe that the Parish Exarch(which Bishop Basil and his supporters joined) should exist. So by joining this organisation they are going against Metropolitan Anthony's wishes.

So what was the row about?
The row was orchestrated by a handful of Bishop Basil supporters who were members of the parish council - this group ruled by fear and believed that their power base on the parish council was under threat, due to the wave of new immigration. Rather than face a vote at the parish council elections they decided to take matters into their own hands and planned a split that has caused immense pain to a large number of the orthodox faithful within the U.K.

Re: Why obscure the issues?
[info]takenunawares wrote:
Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 09:41 pm (UTC)
I quite understand your view.
The fact remains that the late Patriarch Alexei and Patriarch Bartholomew have long ago resolved all Church issues, and all Orthodox in Britain are united to live their faith as they chose. This is as straight a record as possible.
The property issue does not concern neither faith nor jurisdiction; it is a matter between members of a Charity to be resolved by Her Majesty's Court.

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