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The Amazing Story of the Russian Priest who Reached Millions in the USSR with his BBC Christian Radio Show (Rodzianko)

Originally appeared at: Orthodox Christianity

Bishop Basil carrying the Holy Fire at the Moscow Kremlin


We are all joined together at this moment, on Earth and in Heaven. Now we prepare to go on this grand procession following the Cross. Following the Cross symbolizes our pilgrimage into the Kingdom of Heaven. We walk under the open sky, and this sky, visible, blue, symbolizes the eternity of Heaven. It symbolizes the Kingdom of God. We are under the open sky of the Kingdom of Heaven, and we are all joined together. We are walking, moving, going and that is the meaning of joining the Procession of the Cross. And where are we going? We are going to the Kingdom of Heaven. Sooner or later every one of us will come before the judgment of Christ. And I hope that there before God’s Judgment we will be pardoned, forgiven.

 ~ Bishop Basil


The Providence of God in the Life of

BISHOP BASIL RODZIANKO

For those of us who were blessed to have known this extraordinary man, it is hard to believe that twenty years have passed since September 17, 1999. On that day, Bishop Basil was to have received American citizenship, but the Providence of God transferred him to Heavenly citizenship instead. In the early hours of the morning, Vladyka suddenly and peacefully fell asleep in the Lord in his small apartment chapel in McLean Gardens in Northwest Washington, DC. He was 84 years old.

The Providence of God which brings good out of evil, was always one of Vladyka’s frequent themes as a teacher of Orthodoxy. And indeed, his entire life is an example of the working of God’s Providence.

He was born Vladimir Mikhailovich Rodzianko on May 22, 1915 at Otrada, the family estate in Ekaterinoslav, Russia. He was a subject of the last Tsar.

Within a few years, however, the life of his family was radically changed. Following the October revolution in 1917, his grandfather, Michael Rodzianko, President of the last Imperial Duma, was placed on a death list by the Bolsheviks. The entire family was included along with the youngest grandson, Vladimir.

The family managed to make their way out of Russia to Serbia, arriving in 1920. There, young Vladimir was brought up in the spiritual and cultural tradition that was lovingly preserved by the large Russian émigré community that settled in and around Belgrade. He was able to attend the excellent Russian Lyceum there, thanks to the sponsorship of an American family in Boston who wished to provide for the education of the children of exiled Russian nobility.

There, he was mentored by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and especially the young Hieromonk, Fr. John (Maximovitch), his first spiritual father.

“At our first meeting, his affectionate smile, his remarkable, penetrating eyes and his first words touched my soul. He spoke with me like an old friend. . . He was a very well educated monk, but at the same time he was not of this world. He lived in the world of the Gospel, the Holy Fathers, in the environment of the church. The world around him was practically non-existent. . But mainly in him was his remarkable love for everyone, without exception. . . He made such a deep impression on me that I decided that I would serve the Church in the same way as Fr. John and that I would also become a monk, like him. . . A new life began in me, full of meaning and joy. Fr. John was able to show me the other world, that paradise in which we were and which we lost.”

   (Моя Судба, p. 99-100, Сретенскии Монастырь, Москва, 2016)

Thinking in this new inner life, young Vladimir made an interior vow to Christ that he would become a monk, “like Fr. John”. Many years later, having ultimately become a monk and a bishop, he would attend the canonization of Vladyka John in San Francisco in 1994.

But at that time, he continued his studies at the Theological Faculty of Belgrade University. Among his renowned professors there, was Fr. Justin Popovic, who would also be recognized as a saint in the future. These soaring figures had a powerful formative influence on him and the spiritual legacy that he later brought to Orthodoxy in America.

Serbia, 1937


Soon after completing his studies at Belgrade University, one of his sisters brought home a friend, “a bride for Vladimir” as she announced to her mother. Vladimir was actually quite taken with Manya Kolebaev. But for a long time he was tormented by his promise to God. Finally, he turned to Metropolitan Antony for Confession, explaining that he had promised God that he would become a monk. “And now, I feel that I can’t”. Vladyka asked him how old he was when he made that vow. “Twelve? Oh, what kind of a vow is that. And what is her name?” With that, he turned and pronounced “Oh Lord, bless Vladimir and Maria”!

On August 29, 1937 they were married in the Russian church in Belgrade in the presence of the wonder-working Kursk Root icon. The young couple settled briefly in England, where he continued graduate work in theology through a fellowship from the Anglican Church. They returned to Yugoslavia at the beginning of World War II with their young son, Volodya, who was born in London.

Following his ordination to the diaconate in 1941, Fr. Vladimir was ordained to the priesthood by Metropolitan Anastasy in the Russian church in Belgrade, again in the presence of the Kursk Root Icon. One week later, war broke out in Yugoslavia. The newly ordained priest served his first Liturgy on the Feast of Annunciation as German bombs fell all around.

The war was the beginning of sweeping change once again in the life of the Russian emigres in Yugoslavia. The Nazi invasion was followed by Soviet “liberation” and a communist takeover in Yugoslavia led by Marshal Tito.

With communism came religious persecution and on July 15, 1949, Fr. Vladimir Rodzianko was arrested for “excessive, illegal religious propaganda”. He was sentenced to eight years of hard labor and transported to a gulag in Yugoslavia. The hard labor to which he was assigned was almost unimaginable in its severity. He was part of a team of prisoners assigned to pull a train.

But the Providence of God once again brought about a turn in the life of this young priest. Through the fervent prayers of his matushka, as it was later discovered, St. Seraphim of Sarov appeared to him in a dream one night with a message of consolation that everything would be alright. Soon after that his labor assignment was lightened to a new “labor” of monitoring foreign broadcasts. His knowledge of English and other European languages qualified him for this work. And he was introduced to the technology of radio broadcasting. More than that, it was a personal experience of the impact that radio broadcasts could have on imprisoned people. This experience soon led him to an important new mission, religious broadcasts to Russia, the Soviet Union.

Through the efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury and others, Fr. Vladimir was released from prison in 1951 after serving two years of his term. He was then able to move with his family to France. They went straight to the little community in Versailles where his parents and other members of the Russian community in Yugoslavia had sought refuge from Tito’s communist regime. Fr. John, by then an Archbishop, was there too, on his way out of Shanghai, seeking refuge for his flock in the West. While they were there, Archbishop John miraculously healed Matushka Marusya from the incurable degenerative condition that was disabling her.

The young family soon settled in London where he was to remain for the next twenty five years. There, he was offered a job as a news broadcaster with the Russian department of the BBC World Service. When asked if he would like to do programs on other subjects as well, he suggested religious broadcasts. “This is not the policy of the BBC”, was the reply.

But he changed that policy. Working by night in the studio, he gradually initiated the first religious programs. These were broadcast on off hours through the night, but they reached listeners all over the Soviet Union in spite of the government jamming. Soon, letters of gratitude from listeners began to reach the BBC.

BBC Studios, London


When Patriarch Alexis I visited London in 1960, he met Fr. Rodzianko at the Russian Cathedral at Ennismore Gardens. At one point during the Liturgy,

they were alone in the altar. The Patriarch took off his enameled white cross and presented it to him. “This is for your broadcasting”, he said. Being at a loss for words, Fr. Vladimir simply asked, “Do they listen?” “Millions listen” was the reply. These broadcasts continued for thirty-five years and played a significant role in the re-emergence of Orthodoxy in Russia.

Home broadcasting studio


In 1978, his matushka, who had joined him as a BBC broadcaster, suddenly collapsed following a talk she had recorded in the studio on “The Life of the Soul after Death”. She was taken to the hospital where she died of an aneurism early the next morning, March 5.

After forty years of marriage, this was a difficult milestone in the life of Fr. Vladimir. He soon decided to take monastic vows, as Matushka Marusya had once told him. She always remained a spiritual participant in his subsequent episcopal ministry. He was given the name of Basil by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, his spiritual father who tonsured him at the Russian Cathedral of the Dormition in London.

Within a year Archimandrite Basil was elected by the Orthodox Church in America to become a bishop. The Providence of God brought him to Washington, DC. where he was consecrated bishop at St. Nicholas Cathedral on January 12, 1980. He was 65.

After serving as Auxiliary Bishop of Washington for a year he was transferred to San Francisco to succeed Archbishop John Shahovskoy, who was retiring. On February 5, 1981, he was installed at the historic Holy Trinity Cathedral as Bishop of San Francisco and the West.

Right from the beginning of his episcopacy, Vladyka shone forth as a gifted pastor with great spiritual insight and knowledge of the Word of God. Numerous spiritual children began to come to him, and he received many newcomers into Orthodoxy. He continued to record talks and sermons for the BBC Russian Service. But his episcopacy in the Diocese of the West was cut short by the heavy arm of church politics. His health began to decline and in the spring of 1984 Bishop Basil was retired from his administrative duties in San Francisco and returned to Washington where he focused on the continuation of his broadcasting mission to Russia, serving regularly at St. Nicholas Cathedral. In retrospect, the Providence of God opened a door that led to the political changes that would soon happen in Russia in 1991. It then became possible for him to travel to Russia where he was able to broadcast talks and interviews directly over Russian radio and television.

During these years Vladyka deepened in humility and in the grace which emanated from him like “rays” as one passer-by in Moscow once said, seeing him walking along Bolshaya Ordynka. In the years since his death in 1999, Vladyka’s spiritual presence continues to be felt. His prayers are still helping his spiritual children. And I am one of them.         

Marilyn Swezey


On the Jesus Prayer

The Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem


The Jesus Prayer is for moments of repentance. But in between these moments one is in the atmosphere of the Spirit, wordless and motionless—in the silence of deep hesychia which penetrates everything, including daily work. It is constant, never hindering earthly activities of any kind, but rather sanctifying them. We live in this atmosphere like fish in water.

Only sin can interrupt this atmosphere and every sin is possible only outside of it. When this happens, the Jesus Prayer is the ladder back.

This is the answer to the question of how it is possible to pray constantly. People say they cannot repeat the Jesus Prayer without ceasing. But there are two ways to cease that prayer, either up or down; in the silent glory of the Holy Spirit or in sin. This is the ‘unseen warfare’. “The Kingdom of Heaven is acquired by force.”

         Bishop Basil


A Reflection on the Life of Bishop Basil

Holy Archangels Chapel


Bishop Basil, now twenty years after he died and was buried, is alive in our midst. Some of us were related to him, some of us simply received the gift of his spiritual

fatherhood, his spiritual direction; and as a result, our lives were changed. Our lives were transformed. He made the Word of God manifest to us.

His presence is powerful. The grace of the Holy Spirit which has been imparted to each of us allows us to perceive that presence, that grace that came forth through him during his life through his prayers, and to perceive that grace which comes forth from him now.

The veil between this life and the next is something that becomes very sheer, sometimes, especially when we encounter those who have been sanctified by the grace of God. It is that sanctification for which we are all striving in our Christian life. But how many of us are willing to pay the price for it? It only comes at the price of suffering, of rejection, of all sorts of bitterness, which is what it takes to overcome the brokenness of this fallen world. Only suffering breaks down the false self, that “old man”, in St. Paul’s language, which we so desperately grasp onto, not letting that “new man” emerge who has been renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit and born again, resurrected in Christ.

Bishop Basil was one who, having suffered tremendously, including at the hands of the Church, let that “new man” come forth, that “new man” who is recreated in Christ for good works. Those good works are not just acts of kindness that one does during his lifetime. They persist even now, as I think we all realize, as we all know and experience. It is precisely this task of uniting ourselves to the grace of God, to the will of God, to that energy and activity of God that is what our Christian path is all about, and leads us to that resurrection, to that rebirth in the Kingdom.

Those who have gone before us and have shown us the way, like Bishop Basil, have shown us that it takes tremendous effort to take up that cross and follow Christ. But we also see that it’s worth it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be celebrating Bishop Basil here today.

Think of the grace that is poured out on us through his prayers. Is such a state not something to strive for? The cost is heavy in human terms, and it is precisely these words of the Lord that explain it: “He who would save his life, will lose it, and he who loses his life in this world for my sake, will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul. What would a man give in exchange for his soul?”

We see in Bishop Basil someone who lost the world. He lost his country, was imprisoned for his faith; he lost his beloved wife, his episcopate. Yet if he had not gone through all the trials and tribulations, he would probably have just been a good bishop and his family would remember him as such. But maybe it is precisely through those trials and tribulations and all the darkness and evil that he had to go through, that he transcended all of the bonds of worldliness, the last ones that held him down, so that purified he might cast his hope solely on God. And indeed he did. And we are celebrating the fruits of that here and now.

It is important for us to remember that the way of Jesus Christ, the way of being a Christian, means to bear the cross. It means suffering and by our suffering, we identify ourselves with Him and He with us. By our voluntary acceptance of the cross, we transcend ourselves. We overcome even death itself as Jesus did and as all of those who have been sanctified have done by the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is that grace of sanctification that is poured out on our souls. It is the very gift of the life of the Kingdom to come.

I think we experience here today how sheer the veil is between this life and the Kingdom. And we give thanks to God for that wonderful man who has revealed to us how sheer that veil is, who has revealed to us that way of faithfulness and obedience to Christ, that way of sanctification through perseverance even in suffering, so that that cross might bring forth the fruit not only of salvation, but of sanctity, and that that gift of eternal life might be given most freely to a multitude of people.

         Metropolitan Jonah


The Cross of Ministry

“What is given to me as my direct ministry, comes in the form of an eight-pointed cross. A small crossbar represents a vicariate, it is always small. A big crossbar—obedience of the vicar to his Lord for the completion of those tasks which he gives beyond, in this case, this cathedral. And third - the oblique line which slants up - The Word of God. In my special case, this was radio broadcasts. This is the Cross. All three crossbars...cannot bear fruit unless there is a vertical line that carries and lifts us up to God. But the points of intersection - always remain points of intersection, this is difficulties, slander, overcoming difficulties, your own weaknesses, sins. Christ the Savior gives us the strength.

What is this Divine help and this Divine power? - It is what I just talked about, it is the Holy Divine Eucharist, which is practical implementation of the word of God the Savior about love: “A new commandment I give you: love one another, as I love you.” Christ’s love is the love with which Christ loves us. Not as it was before: love your neighbor as yourself, but the new commandment of Christ. What is its essence? It is in the Prayer of Christ the Savior in Gethsemane. This is the love Christ the Savior prayed and spoke of: “So that all of them may be one. Just as I am in you and you are in me. May they also be one in us.” Very often these words are used to portray a unity... entirely between us and the other world, between us and the one we take communion with, be it a pastor, an archpastor, a layman or a small child. This is what we must fight for. This, what I see, is the ministry of the archpastor. Because a Bishop connects everyone—clergy and faithful—eucharistically. At the same time, he is a living connection with all the canonical bishops of Orthodoxy throughout the world in the Eucharist. Therefore, let us not sin against Eucharist in any way, we will go and carry this love everywhere and this overcoming of all divisions, starting from the tomb of Christ.”

  Bishop Basil, from a forthcoming book about his life by Svetlana Deviatova, translated by Anastasia Ginsburg


Bishop Basil and St. John of Shanghai

stpeterorthodoxchurch.com


We returned back to Paris from London, where we had gone to spend two months of the summer to meet my sister. She lived at the time in London, and also many relatives and friends. My Matushka, my departed wife, had fallen ill. Something unclear happened, but she had a horrible pain in her thigh, she could not stand, she could not move, and we slowly moved her to the school where we lived in Versailles, and immediately brought in a French doctor. The French doctor examined her for a long time, nodded his head, and took me to the side and said, “You need to get used to the idea that she will never be able to walk again. You will need to buy a special wheelchair for her. And this will last until the end of her life. But never the less, we will take her to the hospital for a conclusive and full examination.” But, you can imagine: after all the trials which we had gone through, after my imprisonment, after all the difficulties with my retirement, can you imagine this?

Vladyka John was traveling at this point. He came, found out about it, and immediately called me saying, “Do not worry! I will come tomorrow and give her communion. Then you can take her to the hospital.” He served the Liturgy alone, and I was with her during this time. After Liturgy (in the domestic chapel in the school), he came in full vestments, directly from Liturgy with the Chalice. He stood at the door and said, “Maria, stand up! Come and receive Holy Communion.” She immediately stood up and walked over. He said, “is it painful?” “No.” “Then come and commune.” “You received communion? Now go and lay down again.” She laid down. It was like a dream. He departed, in order to consume the Holy Gifts back in the church, and I remained with her. She said to me, “The pain has passed. I don’t feel anything.” But just the same, after lunch the ambulance came and took her to the hospital. She spent several days there, and after a few days they brought her back with a note from the doctor: “Why did you send her to us? She is completely healthy, she has nothing at all wrong.” What it was, how it was, God only knows. I simply relate what happened.

After this we spent some time with Vladyka John in that school with those children, and in that church. I served there with Vladyka, it was an unforgettable time. But then, when we travelled to rendezvous with relatives in London, I also met with still another of the great men of the Church, the Serbian bishop Nikolai Velimirovich. I could relate many things about him, but at this moment I will simply say that we met together, and he simply gave me an obedience: Come here to London. We need a Serbian priest, and you are such; although you are Russian, you’re also Serbian; you know Serbian. Come. We had already been acquainted with each other in Yugoslavia, long ago. And so, I told this to Vladyka John, who very much admired Vladyka Nikolai, knew him well, and had served in his diocese in Yugoslavia. Nikolai said about Vladyka John, “There is a living saint walking on earth.” So there were two saints, cooperating, meeting, and both deciding that I had to be at the Serbian Church in London. So I went there. I remember, as we were leaving, that Vladyka John stood and watched, how we drove off in the taxi, and blessed us with both hands, not stopping until we were out of sight at the end of the road. I still see him thus now, with his tender smile, his marvelous appearance, childlike, loving, fatherly—blessing us on our new path.

After some time, again, the telephone rang, already in London. Vladyka John called. “I’m here in London, come serve with me!” So I immediately went. At that time he was the administrator of all the parishes of the Church Abroad in Western Europe, of which one was in London. I had just met and become close friends with my new spiritual father Vladyka Anthony of Sourozh, who was still in London. I served with him frequently there, in the Patriarchal Church, and commemorated Patriarch Alexei. It did not hinder Vladyka John at all from inviting me to serve in London in the so called “opposition” Church. Neither of my friends and spiritual fathers were hindered by this. Vladyka John actually was overjoyed at this, as was Vladyka Anthony. So, through me a sinner, in that moment there was full love and peace between both churches, which officially were divided. The saints sometimes work thus, and in this are miracles.

The next meeting happed there in the same apartment in London, when he appeared to me after his death and turned me back, in the full sense of the word, to the path of the Liturgy. Because there were trials and temptations at that time, he knew why I needed him, one could say, even to rouse me in a rough way, and poke me in the ribs, and tell me, “Go serve Liturgy!” And so I went and served. Thus, “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16)

       Bishop Basil, from his booklet On Vladyka John


Approaching Heaven

To establish Heaven on Earth is impossible, but to approach Heaven is possible. And we approach very near in those moments when, at the Divine Liturgy, we are present at our own spiritual ascent into Heaven. These words are from the prayer of the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, “You O Lord, created us, and when we had fallen, then You raised us up, and restored us, and brought us into Heaven, and gave us your future Kingdom.” In one phrase of this Church Slavonic thought all three grammatical tenses are used, past, present, and future. Why? Because this is our real elevation, our ascent into Heaven, another world, the world for which we were created, where in the words the Russian philosopher Berdyaev, time is not “fractured.” Fractured—yes that is the word. As Basil the Great says, the past is ending and before it has gone, the future is already here, so that there is no real present time as such, standing before us. It moves. The river never stops flowing. And so entering the river you cannot say that you stopped it. In other words, there is no present in our current situation, according to Basil the Great, his thought, and according to Berdyaev. This is the constraint of evil.

That evil constraint that the leads everything towards death. This is the essence and the meaning of everything.

There are times when we can get out of this terrible frozen condition of our word. We can be in movement under the covering of ice. Sometimes we can find ourselves above the ice, able to move forward and back. But there is no way for us to lift ourselves entirely above our world, without first dying and being resurrected.

This is the meaning and essence of our Liturgy. But we can and do experience resurrection already, here on earth, by breaking this constraint of evil through Divine Holy Communion.  

Bishop Basil

All photos courtesy of rodzianko.org, except where noted

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