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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.
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. Additionally, since the adoption of its new statutes in 2010, the Diocese was placed under the direct and personal spiritual and administrative authority of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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'.
The diocese's history with its hierarchs, and the relations between those hierarchs, have at times been tumultuous, with bishops Hilarion (Alfeyev) being moved away from the diocese, and Basil (Osborne) leaving the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate to join the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Metropolitan Anthony had spoken about, and sometimes become involved in, these tensions. These often related to jurisdictional disputes, neglect of country parishes, or to the rift between pro-Moscow laity and those who advanced the ideal of an (autocephalous) Orthodox Church in Great Britain.
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.
That deliberate destruction, so lacking in pastoral sensitivity to be an abuse of the episcopal office, was accomplished after his death by Metropolitan (now Patriarch) Kirill assisted by Bishop (now Metropolitan) Hilarion (Alfeyev).
On 15 October, 2006 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 Kirill 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.
On 26 November, Archimandrite Elisey (Ganaba) was consecrated Bishop of Bogorodsk at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, to be assistant bishop to Archbishop Innocent 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.
The Derzhavnaya (Reigning) Icon of the Mother of God, regarded as having talismanic qualities by Russian Orthodox Nationalists, was brought to Britain by the Diocese of Sourozh in September 2007 with the stated blessing of Patriarch Alexei.
On 27 December 2007 the Holy Synod appointed Bishop Elisey as Bishop of Sourozh, bringing to an end the Temporary Administration of Archbishop Innocent, who was thanked for having restored peace to the Diocese.
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. Speakers included Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, Father Stephen Platt and Deacon Matthew Steenberg, both from Oxford, and Matushka Alexandra Zaitseva.
The Conferences have continued in subsequent years but with smaller numbers attending.
By the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of 28th December, 2017, Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh was relieved of the oversight of the Diocese of Sourozh and appointed Archbishop of The Hague and the Netherlands. In the same decision, Bishop Matthew (Andreyev) of Bogorodsk was relieved of his duties as Administrator of the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Italy and appointed as Ruling Bishop of Sourozh.