The extraordinary life of Bishop Basil (Rodzianko)

In the above video, my godmother reflects on her close relationship with her spiritual father, the late Bishop Basil (Rodzianko). By all accounts, Bishop Basil was a remarkably holy man whose life was truly extraordinary. Among her many activities, Marilyn served for thirty years as the parish historian at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The young Vladimir Rodzianko grew up in Belgrade, Serbia, Yugoslavia. This photo was taken in 1926 when he was 11.

Born into an old Russian noble family as Vladimir Rodzianko, his grandfather Mikhail served as the Chairman of the last Imperial Duma prior to its dissolution in February 1917. At the age of five, the young Vladimir emigrated to Belgrade, Serbia with his family following the Bolshevik Revolution, and his family lived in greatly reduced circumstances. One of his uncles was a leading general in the White Tsarist forces during the Russian Civil War, and in a cruel twist of irony, the young Vladimir endured years of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of his cruel tutor, also a former White army officer, who took out his hatred for Vladimir’s grandfather on the young boy.

Growing up in Belgrade, young Vladimir was blessed to receive a superb religious and spiritual education from two of the shining luminaries of twentieth century Orthodoxy: his spiritual mentors were the professor and hieromonk Fr. John Maximovitch, the future St John the Wonderworker, Archbishop of San Francisco, and Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev, the first ruling Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. After attending a prestigious gymnasium, Vladimir attained his undergraduate theology degree at the University of Belgrade in 1937 and in that year married Marya Kolubayeva.

Mikhail Rodzianko (1859-1924) served as Chairman of the Fourth State Duma. The head of an old noble family living in what is today Ukraine, Mikhail supported the Imperial Family but criticized the Tsar for what he perceived were failures in leadership on the part of Nicholas II during the First World War. He urged the Tsar to separate himself from Rasputin, relax censorship and institute universal suffrage. Shortly before Nicholas II’s abdication he sent the Tsar a telegram which may have influenced him to renounce the throne.

Vladimir continued his post-graduate work at the University of London before returning to Serbia where he was ordained a deacon and then a priest in 1941. After the Second World War in which his parishioners experienced numerous privations and abuses by the Nazis, he was sentenced to eight years’ hard labour by the communist authorities for spreading “religious propaganda”.

Following his release in 1949, due in part to the intercession of the Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, Father Vladimir and his family moved to France before settling in the United Kingdom where he continued serving as a priest in London. Always fascinated with radio technology, he began broadcasting religious programs to the faithful in the Soviet Union on the BBC. Due to the popularity of these programs, the Soviet KGB targeted the priest for assassination, and tragically one of his grandsons was killed by communist agents seeking to kill Fr. Vladimir.

Father Vladimir delivering a radio programme at the BBC in the 1950s.

Father Vladimir lectured widely on Orthodoxy at leading British religious and academic institutions and was an active member of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, an Anglican-Orthodox ecumenical society. Following the tragic death of his wife Marya in 1978, Father Vladimir was tonsured a monk the next year by his spiritual mentor, Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh, taking the name Basil.

In 1980, with Metropolitan Anthony’s blessing, Hieromonk Basil was received into the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) from the Moscow Patriarchate and consecrated as auxiliary bishop in Washington, D.C. to the Church’s primate Metropolitan Theodosius. In November of the same year Bishop Basil was consecrated as Bishop of San Francisco and the West, a diocese he served until his retirement in 1984.

Following his retirement, His Grace Bishop Basil spent the closing years of his life in Washington, often serving at St Nicholas Cathedral, where my godmother met him and became his spiritual daughter (his very kind niece Masha is her godmother). Following the end of communist rule in the Soviet Union, the bishop was at last free to travel to his Russian homeland and meet with many of the adoring and pious people who had come to love his radio broadcasts on all aspects of Orthodox spirituality, which he had given without interruption over four decades since leaving Serbia for the United Kingdom.

Bishop Basil continued giving regular Russian-language radio broadcasts until the end of his life. Several recordings of sermons he gave in English at St. Nicholas Cathedral have been carefully preserved.

Patriarch Aleksey II with Bishop Basil in Moscow.

Patriarch Aleksey II with Bishop Basil in Moscow.

In May 1991 His Holiness Patriarch Aleksey II of Russia asked Bishop Basil to journey to Jerusalem and bring back to Russia some of the fire which miraculously ignites each Pascha at the tomb of Christ in the Holy Sepulchre. En route to Moscow, Bishop Basil met the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I in Istanbul and received his blessing. Upon arriving at the Kremlin’s Uspensky Sobor (Dormition Cathedral) just as the choir and bishops began singing “O Come, let us worship”, His Grace placed the sacred fire on the altar Divine Liturgy with Patriarch Aleksey. Following the Liturgy he then processed with the Patriarch and senior bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate around Moscow.

Bishop Basil in the Kremlin carrying the holy fire from Jerusalem, May 1991.

Bishop Basil in the Kremlin carrying the holy fire from Jerusalem, May 1991.

Bishop Basil fell asleep in the Lord in Septemb1999. Many Russians in the St. Nicholas community feel his close presence even today and he is considered a saint among a number of Orthodox believers across the world. May his memory be eternal! For more information about his remarkable life, please visit this website run by Holy Archangels Foundation, a group of Orthodox in Washington dedicated to preserving and honouring Bishop Basil’s memory. Here is the Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation‘s principal website.

Friends and family of the late Bishop gather at his grave site in September 2009 to mark the tenth anniversary of his repose. Since this date, every year Metropolitan Jonah, former Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) offers an annual memorial lecture in Bishop Basil’s memory usually during Great Lent. Standing to the left are his nieces, my godmother, and His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah. On the far right are Fr. Valery (Shemchuk) and his wife Matushka Marina.

This Vimeo video was produced by Peter Vlasov in 2005.

8 thoughts on “The extraordinary life of Bishop Basil (Rodzianko)

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