September 25 marks the feast day commemorating the repose of St Sergius of Radonezh in the year 1392. Glory to Jesus Christ for the wonders He enables His saints to perform!
This beautiful Byzantine kontakion “To thee, my Champion”, featuring both male and female chanters, commemorates the miraculous deliverance of the Imperial Capital of Constantinople from almost certain conquest by Arab besiegers in 718. Contemporaries, including then Patriarch and future saint Germanus (r. 715-30) attributed the city’s salvation to the intercessions of the Theotokos.
The award-winning Cappella Romana, a Byzantine vocal ensemble formed in 1991 in Portland, Oregon, chants this magnificent piece, taken from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Music of Byzantium” CD. A similar Greek version of this kontakion, featuring exclusively male voices and images from a Russian Orthodox liturgy, can be found here.
St Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople composed this hymn of thanksgiving on the eve of the Annunciation in the year 718. Here is the link through which I located the following information on the background of the composition of St Germanus’ hymn.
“In 717-718, led by the Saracen [Umayyad] general Maslamah [full name: Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, called Μασαλμᾶς in contemporary Byzantine accounts], the Arab fleet laid siege once more to the city. The numerical superiority of the enemy was so overwhelming that the fall of the Imperial City seemed imminent.
But then the Mother of God, together with a multitude of the angelic hosts, appeared suddenly over the city walls. The enemy forces, struck with terror and thrown into a panic at this apparition, fled in disarray. Soon after this, the Arab fleet was utterly destroyed by a terrible storm in the Aegean Sea on the eve of the Annunciation, March 24, 718.
Thenceforth, a special “feast of victory and of thanksgiving” was dedicated to celebrate and commemorate these benefactions. In this magnificent service, the Akathist Hymn is prominent and holds the place of honour.
It was only on the occasion of the great miracle wrought for the Christian populace of the Imperial City on the eve of the Annunciation in 718 that the hymn “To thee, the Champion Leader” was composed, most likely by Saint Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople.”
“Dullness, not doubt, is the strongest enemy of faith, just as indifference, not hate, is the strongest enemy of love.” -Peter Kreeft, Christian philosopher and writer
“Until recent times, Christians had become too used to power, taking it for granted that people will always come to church (did we really care if their heart was changed by it?). Now we grumble about secular society, while at the same time thinking that the only way to survive is to be as much like secular society as possible! Have we forgotten that the Church grew and flourished when it was a religio illicita? Have we forgotten the martyrs? Have we forgotten that our Church was founded upon blood?
Today, September 17, 2012, marks the thirteenth anniversary of the repose of His Grace, the late Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) of the OCA Diocese of San Francisco and the West. I will be attending an 8am Liturgy commemorating His Grace of blessed memory at his small apartment here in Washington, D.C. His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah has often celebrated weekday Liturgies here. His Grace peacefully reposed in this studio apartment, a cozy place filled with books, icons, religious items, and thousands of tape cassettes of his broadcasts, which also contains a beautiful little chapel. Metropolitan Jonah will be celebrating the commemorative Liturgy this morning, and I will share your many prayers and good wishes with him.
My godmother is very devoted to preserving the memory and legacy of Bishop Basil, and she has been instrumental in maintaining the Holy Archangels Foundation, an informal group which he helped organize in 1986 to assist him in his various efforts and broadcasts. This group continued assisting him in the later years of his life in carrying on his various broadcast ministries, writings, and other endeavors.
After his death, the group set to organizing and making available to the public many of Bishop Basil’s incredible sermons, brilliant audio recordings and wide-ranging thoughts on many topics, including Orthodox asceticism, contemplative prayer, the Liturgy, Orthodox history, the communist regimes, spiritual reflection, contemporary issues, personal holiness, and life in the Church. One intriguing and comprehensive result of their collaborative efforts is this beautiful web page. Included on this website is a remarkable and compelling account of Bishop Basil’s fascinating life!
My godmother, whom Bishop Basil as a newly consecrated bishop received into the Church, maintains the small apartment where he lived after his retirement, including the tiny, beautiful chapel where he often celebrated the divine services. While I never knew Bishop Basil in his earthly life, as many of my older friends from St Nicholas did, I have been blessed to hear and read so much of his life that I feel I have come to know him in many ways. This article is one small attempt I have made to describe, in my own words, the extraordinary breadth and impact of his long life.
Metropolitan Jonah has spoken movingly of his vivid memories of Bishop Basil, including in this video which includes his sermon at the Liturgy commemorating His Grace on the tenth anniversary of his repose in 2009 at St Nicholas Cathedral. As my godmother recorded in this article featured on the Cathedral website, His Beatitude observed about Bishop Basil that
“Ten years ago he died and was buried – and yet he is alive in our midst. . . His presence is powerful and the grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to perceive that presence – that grace that came forth from him during his life through his prayers and the grace which comes forth from him now through his prayers”.
These words embody the very fullness of our intentions when we say, in reference to our departed loved ones, “Memory eternal!” / “Вечная память!” For Bishop Basil, however, the extraordinary holiness and depth of faithfulness and wisdom which permeated his life as a monastic and a bishop call to mind another aspect of our references to our beloved ancestors and forerunners who have reposed in the Lord. These words are from the very prayers offered at the commemorative Liturgies in memory of the reposed:
“Among the spirits of the righteous perfected in faith, give rest, O Savior, to the soul of Your servant. . .”
“The righteous perfected in faith”. Many have spoken to me of the deep veneration and love they have for Bishop Basil, and, although the Orthodox Church has yet to formally canonize him as a saint, many ordinary faithful already honor him as such. What is beyond doubt is that, in his vocation as a bishop, Bishop Basil touched the lives of thousands of the faithful with his glowing countenance, demeanor, and kindness of spirit.
My godmother has recounted to me that, on the late bishop’s many visits to Russia, trips on which she often accompanied him, countless ordinary villagers upon first meeting him immediately discerned that he was a holy man. Russian babushkas in particular would exclaim, “He is with the angels!”. Most of us can only ponder what this means, to be in the presence of a living saint! I count the testimonies of those who knew Bishop Basil, especially those who were very close to him, as invaluable in preserving for the rest of us an account of this man’s extraordinary life and the path to holiness which he followed in his later years.
Bishop Basil spent the last fifteen years of his life serving at St Nicholas Cathedral at a time of tremendous growth in parish life, serving as the beloved spiritual father to many in this parish. As a retired bishop, after 1984 he concentrated his efforts on his radio broadcasts to the faithful living in the Soviet Union. My godmother and many others who knew him and frequently traveled with him in Russia have recounted that these broadcasts played a major role in the reemergence of Orthodoxy in Russian spiritual and public life following the collapse of the Communist regime.
I count it among the greatest of blessings in my life that I have been able to attend these intimate Liturgies at the chapel where Bishop Basil so often served in his latter years, in the apartment where he lived and reposed. I have felt his calming, healing presence permeating the room and softening the hearts and countenances of all present.
To give you just one small sense of the extraordinary holiness and grace which sanctified and transformed this man’s life as a bishop, here is one quote from a veritable library of sermons, addresses, and special messages he recorded, which are continually being transferred to more updated electronic media files:
“When Christ promised his disciples that the Spirit of God, His Holy Spirit, would descend upon them, He called Him the Comforter. To be in the Spirit promised by Christ is to be comforted, consoled. One need not fear any kind of sorrow or surrounding evil or inner affliction when there is such consolation. But in order to come to this consolation, it is necessary to understand in the depth of one’s soul that any sorrow, any suffering, any affliction is a consequence of sin – either one’s own or another’s. And if you accept everything as your own sin, if you identify yourself with the whole of sinful humanity and understand the fall and that you deprived yourself of Paradise, the Kingdom of Heaven – first of all, you yourself – then tears of repentance will flow at once and with them, all encompassing consolation. Such a person (who has come to such repentance) becomes meek, filled with an inner calm, silence and peace. Only in such a condition is it possible to subdue surrounding evil, win people over and win over the world. ‘Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved’ said St. Seraphim of Sarov.”
It is my hope that Bishop Basil’s legacy will continue to live on in the stories of all who knew him, and, through their efforts, that more and more people come to know of his extraordinary life. May his memory be eternal! Вечная память!