Update on Metropolitan Jonah’s situation

Since this past summer, Metropolitan Jonah has often been serving at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist here in Washington at the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and Cathedral rector Fr. Victor Potapov. For some time Metropolitan Jonah has been serving weekly at St John’s, a warm and very active parish. Metropolitan Jonah has been welcomed very kindly by all, including both English parishioners and Russian and Ukrainian parishioners attending the Slavonic Liturgy.

His weekly Bible studies are always very well attended, and these talks are available here via the St John’s Cathedral YouTube channel. His ministry is well-loved and growing under the care of this wonderful parish and the kindness of those in the Russian Church Abroad who have been very welcoming. The OCA enthrones Metropolitan Tikhon this coming Sunday, January 27 at St. Nicholas Cathedral. It is crucial for Metropolitan Jonah that the OCA soon release him to ROCOR so that he may continue his ministry uninhibited by those in the OCA who sought his removal as primate.

The following information comes from George Evanisko, an active Orthodox Christian in the Washington, D.C. Metro area. I highly encourage you to share this information with all your friends. Since the OCA is no longer paying Metropolitan Jonah, if you or any of your friends are in a position to financially support his continued ministry, I can vouch for the integrity of the Holy Archangels Foundation.

Dear Fellow Orthodox Christian,
 
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) requested Metropolitan Jonah be released to ROCOR from the OCA more than a month ago.
The OCA Synod has yet to release +Jonah, even after the Synod’s letter accused +Jonah of being unfit for the OCA.  In addition, the OCA has stopped providing a salary to +Jonah.
 
I am asking you to do two things today to assist +Jonah, as the OCA Synod meets in seven days.
 
1.  Write a letter to the OCA Synod and Metropolitan Tikhon kindly asking that the OCA Synod release Metropolitan Jonah to ROCOR.
The address is: Metropolitan Tikhon and the OCA Synod, c/o St. Nicholas Cathedral, 3500 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20007.

 
2.  Write a letter to Archbishop Justinian of the Moscow Patriarchate asking that
a.  He speaks to the OCA Synod and asks them to release +Jonah to ROCOR, and 
b.  if the OCA does not release +Jonah, that +Justinian asks Patriarch Kirill to mercifully accept +Jonah into the Moscow Patriarchate.
The address is: Archbishop Justinian, c/o St. Nicholas Cathedral, 15 East 97th St, New York, NY 10029.
 
Finally, if you are interested in supporting Metropolitan Jonah’s ministries, a charitable organization has been established.
You can send a check to: Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation, 3027 Foxhall Rd NW, Washington DC, 20016
If you have any questions about the foundation, you can email mpswezey@comcast.net to find out more information.
 
Let us never forget what was unjustly done to Metropolitan Jonah and let us all work to come to a Christian resolution to this sad chapter in the OCA.
 
In Christ,
George Evanisko 

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St Nicholas Cathedral: A photo essay

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Standing in the Cathedral after Sunday Liturgy on August 12, 2012. In addition to its magnificent and historic iconography, completed in the 1990s following the dissolution of the USSR, the Cathedral houses the relics of many saints, including St John of Kronstadt, St Elizabeth the New Martyr, St Herman, apostle to Alaska, St Innocent, metropolitan of Moscow and apostle to Alaska, St Tikhon, and St Daniel of Moscow.

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Gazing up at the dome with the image of Christos Pantokrator (Christ as Ruler of All, or Lord of the Universe) offering all worshipers His benediction.

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The choir gallery overlooking the nave, with beautiful frescoes of the Russian New Martyrs on the left and right as well as many of the North American saints. Note the magnificent fresco of Christ’s Resurrection on the wall hanging over the gallery as well as the ceiling icons of the Great Feasts of the Dormition of the Theotokos (L) and that of Pentecost, the Decent of the Holy Spirit (R). Symbolizing the triumphant restoration of Orthodoxy in Russian life, the fresco of Moscow’s rebuilt Christ the Savior Cathedral – initially demolished under Stalin’s orders in 1931- crowns the beautiful choir gallery.

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The four writers of the Gospels are depicted on the pendentives supporting the dome. Higher up, closer to Christ, are depicted the cherubim and seraphim and other angelic powers of heaven. The red fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit descending to and filling the earth.

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The frescoed icons on the Cathedral’s north wall depict the life and deeds of St Nicholas, the fourth century bishop of Myra (located in modern day Turkey), and patron saint of Greece, Russia, and many ancient cities. Can you find the picture of the saint rescuing a drowning man?

Worshipers light candles in memory of their departed loved ones before this beautiful wooden crucifix of the crucified Christ with His Blessed Mother the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary and His Beloved Disciple, the apostle John the Theologian, standing by Him. The skull below the cross reflects Christ’s saving triumph over Death, the enemy of His Kingdom which is everlasting life.

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A reliquary of St Herman of Alaska (1756-1837), patron saint of Orthodoxy in the Americas and peaceful evangelist to many native Alaskan tribes.

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Relics of the Romanov Imperial Family of Russia, who were murdered on Lenin’s others on July 17, 1918: the Emperor or Tsar Nicholas Alexandrovich II, his consort the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and their children. Orthodox Christians venerate them as “Passion-bearers” who graciously and courageously bore many sufferings and imprisonment and went to their deaths with great fortitude.

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Relic of Saint Sergius, fourteenth century Wonder-worker and deeply beloved Russian saint (d. 1392).

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Looking toward the iconostasis and the apse above the altar. Along with most of the interior fresco work, after the fall of the Soviet Union expert Russian iconographers completed the beautiful iconostasis (icon stand) which separates the altar area from the main part of the Cathedral. This evokes the Temple at Jerusalem which had a ‘holy of holies’ in which the Tabernacle was kept.

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Relics of many ancient and new Russian saints, including St Elizabeth the New Martyr (front right).
Saint Elizabeth (1864 – 1918) was the wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, fifth son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia and Empress Maria Alexandrovna (born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, she was the sister to Alexandra who became Queen of the United Kingdom as consort to Edward VII). Princess Elizabeth and her sister Alix, who in 1894 became the wife of the new Russian Emperor Nicholas II as Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, were granddaughters of Britain’s Queen Victoria.
After an anarchist assassinated her husband, Grand Duchess Elizabeth visited the man, offering him her forgiveness, but he refused her offer to intercede with her brother-in-law for a reprieve from execution. She went on to found a convent dedicated to ministering to Moscow’s poor, and as part of her efforts she petitioned the Russian Church to restore the historic female diaconate. She opened the Martha and Mary Home in Moscow to utilize the prayer and charity of devout Russian women. For many years she helped the poor and orphans through this Moscow home.
In 1918, the Communist government exiled her to Yekaterinburg and then to Alapaevsk, where she and several other members of the Imperial Family were violently killed by the local Bolsheviks on July 18, 1918. She was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 1981, and by the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole in 1992 as New-Martyr Elizabeth.

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Reliquary of the Great Martyr Saint Catherine of Alexandria (287-305), an Egyptian princess and scholar whose erudition and learned arguments inspired the conversion of thousands. She was brutally put to death on the orders of the pagan Roman Emperor Maxentius, whom Constantine defeated in October 312 at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge outside Rome. In the fifteenth century another virgin saint, the young Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc) received visions of St. Catherine exhorting her to drive the English out of France.

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Fragrant double icon depicting two pillars of the Orthodox faith in Russia. Saint John of Kronstadt (1829-1908), shown offering the Communion chalice and a benediction, is one of the most beloved Russian saints to whom thousands would come seeking his ascetic and pastoral advice. He wrote widely on many topics, especially on the profound existential need to cultivate transcendent Christian love and forgiveness.
He is shown with Saint Matrona of Moscow (1885-1952) because when he saw her as a young, blind girl in a crowd, he predicted she would be his spiritual successor. Blessed Matrona healed many people of their spiritual diseases and predicted numerous marriages, events and deaths- including her own.

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Standing in the choir, looking toward the iconostasis and the apse icon of the Panagia Theotokos (All-Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary). The elaborate chandelier, lit at various points of the divine offices, symbolizes the eternal presence of God’s grace in His Church, the radiance of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the abiding light of the Holy Spirit.

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Gazing down over the nave from the choir gallery. Approaching the central icon stand before the iconostasis, worshipers first venerate the cathedral’s principal icon of the holy person or God. Upon entering any Orthodox church, worshipers bow before the divine presence in the altar where the Eucharist is offered as the mystical transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord.

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Standing in the lofted gallery where I sing with the choir. This is one of my favorite pictures of the Cathedral interior because one really has a strong sense of the iconography- the ‘image writing’, as the term means from the Greek- as a powerful tool for the theological education of the faithful who see and comprehend the many magnificent images depicting the saints.

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Centered shot of the dome and its supporting columns and pendentives.

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The Cathedral shining in the late summer sunshine! Russian and American architects designed the Cathedral to evoke a twelfth century church in Vladimir, an ancient Russian city on the Klyazma River some 200 km (120 miles) east of Moscow. In 1988 the bell tower was erected as a gift from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Cathedral commemorating the one thousandth anniversary of the conversion of St. Prince Vladimir of Kiev and his people to Eastern Christianity. 

A weekday afternoon visit to Washington’s St Nicholas Cathedral

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The empty Cathedral was peaceful and quiet, and I keenly felt the presence of God and so many holy saints. In addition to its magnificent and historic iconography, the Cathedral houses the relics of many saints, including St John of Kronstadt, St Elizabeth the New Martyr, St Herman, apostle to Alaska, St Innocent, metropolitan of Moscow and apostle to Alaska, St Tikhon, and St Daniel of Moscow.

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The choir gallery overlooking the nave, with beautiful frescoed icons of the Russian New Martyrs on the left and right as well as many of the North American saints. Above the choir gallery is a magnificent fresco of Christ’s Resurrection.

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Symbolizing the triumphant restoration of Orthodoxy in Russian life, the fresco of Moscow’s rebuilt Christ the Savior Cathedral – initially demolished under Stalin’s orders in 1931- crowns the beautiful choir gallery.

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The northern wall of the Cathedral is devoted to frescoes recalling the life and deeds of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, fourth century bishop of Myra and inspiration for the popular folk legend Santa Claus/ Father Christmas.

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Gazing up at the image of Christ as Ruler of the Universe (Christos Pantokrator) as sunlight illuminates the inside of the Cathedral dome. The four writers of the Gospels are depicted on the pendentives supporting the dome. Higher up, closer to Christ, are depicted cherubim and seraphim and other angelic powers of heaven. The red fire symbolizes the Holy Spirit descending to and filling the earth.

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Worshipers light candles in memory of their departed loved ones before this beautiful wooden crucifix of the crucified Christ with His Blessed Mother the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary and His Beloved Disciple, the apostle John the Theologian, standing by Him. The skull below the cross reflects Christ’s saving triumph over Death, the enemy of His Kingdom and life eternal.

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Along with most of the interior fresco work, after the fall of the Soviet Union expert Russian iconographers completed the beautiful iconostasis (icon stand) which separates the altar area from the main part of the Cathedral. This evokes the Temple at Jerusalem which had a ‘holy of holies’ in which the Tabernacle was kept.

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Crowning the iconostasis is the three-bar Orthodox cross of St Andrew the First Called, a legendary apostle to the Slavs, which is also called the cross of St Olga, Christian princess of Kiev and grandmother to St Prince Vladimir.

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Approaching the central stand before the iconostasis, worshipers first venerate the principal icon of the holy person or God, bowing before the divine presence in the altar where the Eucharist is offered as the mystical transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord.

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The elaborate chandelier, lit at various points of the divine offices, symbolizes the eternal presence of God’s grace in His Church, the radiance of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the abiding light of the Holy Spirit.

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Above the Beautiful Entrance (curtained central doors) of the iconostasis is the Resurrected Christ offering a benediction in His right hand and the Gospel with His left. To His right, as always, is His most blessed Mother the Theotokos (God-bearer) the Virgin Mary, and to His left is the prophet St John the Baptist, also called John the Forerunner.

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In 1988 the bell tower was erected as a gift from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Cathedral commemorating the one thousandth anniversary of the conversion of St. Prince Vladimir of Kiev and his people to Eastern Christianity.

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Russian and American architects designed the Cathedral to evoke a twelfth century church in Vladimir, an ancient Russian city on the Klyazma River some 200 km (120 miles) east of Moscow.

Translation of church services and congregational participation in chanting

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An interview with Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), the well-known translator of church services into English — on the significance of the liturgy, the unacceptability of the symbolic interpretation of church services, and on the work of Saints Cyril and Methodius.

Excerpt: “I say, “join in” and they look at me and they like it! ‘Cause some of our singers, if the people try to join in they go – [the archimandrite gives a delightful shake of his Dumbledore-like head] “brrrrh!”. They don’t like the people joining in to their “concert”. If it becomes a concert, where the clergy are the actors and the chorus is provided by the singers, this is not what the Eucharist is about. I think this is a great misapprehension of what it’s really all about.”

At St Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where our Metropolitan often serves or presides over services, the choir loft, while lovely and facilitating our magnificent acoustics, contributes to the congregation’s reluctance to participate in the chanting along with the choir. I think in Russian and Slavic-style cathedrals or large churches with choir lofts, the problem thus can also be exacerbated by the layout of the cathedral interior which enables the choir to be heard beautifully by the con-celebrants as well as the worshipers below, but can often make the people feel like they should not sing for fear of disrupting or offending those “non-singers” around them.

St Nicholas Cathedral Choir Loft

If several members of the choir could go down and sing among the worshipers at parts of the services, more people would feel comfortable joining in at different parts. We have tried this a few times, and it has produced positive results. During Holy Week the choir always sings on the main level of the cathedral with the people, and the Metropolitan always enjoins the people to join in at different parts! At Pascha and the most solemn liturgies of Holy Week, especially the Bridegroom services, matins of Holy Thursday and Great and Holy Friday, and the epitaphios/Lamentations of Holy Friday, worshipers always participate in some of the chants, as service books are always provided and many know them from memory.

It is self-evident that the congregation would not sing every single part of the Liturgy, of course, but we must avoid any “concert”-like atmosphere wherein the Liturgy becomes something the people stand through and passively observe. As I learned at Liturgy during my time as a catechumen signing the “Lord have mercy!” and “To Thee, O Lord!” responsorials, Psalm 102 “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” in the First Antiphon, Psalm 145 “Praise the Lord, O My Soul” in the Second, the Beatitudes in the Third (from St. Matthew 5:1-12), the Symbol of Faith, Lord’s Prayer, etc., I noticed these were different parts which many people would sing.

Yet even the most musically trained and knowledgeable members of the congregation left certain parts to the choir. People obviously never sang the priest or deacon’s parts, and never the choir’s part of the Sanctus or the Cherubic Hymn! (This could conceivably be done, but only if you wanted to transform what is meant to be the most ethereal, other-worldly part of the Liturgy into the most poorly-done, unintelligible part!) People should participate when they are moved to do so, as long as they know the correct words and can sing well.

One thing my cathedral has begun doing, with the priest’s blessing and choir director’s enthusiasm, is printing up the music and text of the chants for the vigil and Liturgy and distributing it to members of the congregation before the services. This only started during my time abroad, so I look forward to seeing whether or not it has made a difference in increasing some degree of congregational participation in some of the chanting. I think we could definitely start classes once every week or so to teach members of the congregation how to read music as well, we would just need to find someone with the time and commitment to do so!

Images of my parish church: Washington’s St Nicholas Cathedral

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Taken in December 2011 shortly after my chrismation.

St Nicholas in Spring 2011

The Cathedral bell tower (kampan, in Russian, from the Italian ‘campanile’) dates to 1988, commemorating the one thousandth anniversary of the Christianization of Russia. Bell-ringing in Russia is an ancient and highly refined art, traditionally passed down through certain families of deacons or priests.

Cathedral herb and flower gardens and the parish office (left).

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Taken during a Saturday vigil, autumn 2011.

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Standing with Metropolitan Jonah and a friend outside the Cathedral, March 2011.

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The Cathedral decorated for the Feast of the Nativity – Christmas 2011.

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Taken during a Fall 2011 Saturday vigil.

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After the same vigil.

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Photo by Scott Speck.

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Photo by Scott Speck.

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Photo by Scott Speck.

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Metropolitan Jonah presides at the Liturgy commemorating Saint Nicholas on his Julian Calendar feast, Monday, December 19, 2011.

Another picture taken during the same Liturgy. My godfather and friend Mikhail (Misha) stands in the white shirt toward the back. I love the way the light reflects on the wall icons in this picture.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah blesses the faithful during the Liturgy of the Nativity (Christmas) on Sunday, December 25, 2011. Photo by Yuri Gripas.

Metropolitan Jonah, Father Valery, and Deacon Blagoje presenting the holy gifts (before their consecration) to the congregation at the Julian calendar observation of the Nativity Liturgy on January 7, 2012. Photo by Yuri Gripas.

Metropolitan Jonah blesses the faithful at the Julian calendar observation of the Nativity during the Christmas Liturgy on January 7, 2012. Photo by Yuri Gripas.

Metropolitan Jonah standing outside the iconostasis at the Julian calendar observation of the Nativity Liturgy on January 7, 2012. Photo by Yuri Gripas.

Metropolitan Jonah leads the Cathedral’s congregation in the kneeling prayers at the Great Vespers of Pentecost.

Clergy kneeling in the altar area at the Great Vespers on Pentecost. From left: Fr. Vladimir, Deacon Blagoje, and, at the Royal Doors, Fr. Valery and His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah.

This is a very beautiful photo which shows the deep faithfulness and piety of the Cathedral’s congregation.

Saint Nicholas Cathedral is the Primatial Cathedral of Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).

Beautiful icon of St Nina arrives at St Nicholas Cathedral in Washington

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Saint Nina, whom the Church venerates as Equal to the Apostles and the Enlightener of Georgia. This fourth century saint, hailing from Cappadochia, converted the Iberian queen Nana and eventually her husband King Mirian III who had initially persecuted the new faith. Her black grapevine cross is an historic symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

This icon was painted in Georgia for St Nicholas Cathedral and donated by a Georgian parishioner. It was blessed on the tomb of St Nina, which is preserved at the Bodbe Monastery in Kakheti, eastern Georgia. It was also blessed by the Patriarch of all Georgia His Holiness Ilia II and presented on April 24, 2012 to His Beatitude Metropolitan +Jonah at the Cathedral. 

Shen Khar Venakhi – “Thou Art a Vineyard”

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In this video the renowned Rustavi choir in Georgia sings this beautiful, internationally beloved Theotokion, an Orthodox hymn honouring the Virgin Mary. Sandro Vakhtangov directed this video, Anzor Erkomaishvili the camera work and artistic arrangements, and Vato Kakhidze produced it.

The hymn’s Georgian words translate:
Thou art a vineyard newly blossomed.
Young, beautiful, growing in Eden,
A fragrant poplar sapling in Paradise.
May God adorn thee. No one is more worthy of praise.
Thou thyself are the sun, shining brilliantly.

Prevailing ecclesiastical and historical tradition holds that St. King Demetre (Demetrius) I (r. 1125-1156) composed the hymn during his period of exile at a monastery when his son David briefly usurped the throne. Demetre’s other son ultimately succeeded him as King Giorgi III in 1156, reigning until his death in 1184, when his daughter St. Queen Tamar the Great succeeded him as monarch.

At St. Nicholas Cathedral we have many Georgian parishioners, so the choir has often used the music as a Cherubikon and sometimes even for the “It is truly meet”/Axion Estin to the Theotokos.

Images of the beautiful country of Georgia:

The extraordinary life of Bishop Basil (Rodzianko)

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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.

St Nicholas Cathedral celebrates 75 years

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In 2005, parishioner Peter Vlasov uploaded this video vignette onto Vimeo which commemorates the 75th year since my home Cathedral was founded in 1930. His caption reads:

“This video segment was created in 2005. Our parish celebrated 75 years and we decided to try to take you back to the history of the Cathedral by sharing some memories and personal faith stories of parishioners, family, and friends – all great enthusiasts who built the church. You will be able to see and get some sense of the Divine Liturgy as a cornerstone to Christianity. You will see our Sunday school teachers and students as well as many helpers who continue serving our Lord and large community of the ‘Saint Nicholas family and friends’.”

St Nicholas Cathedral is now in its 82nd year! Glory to God!

I miss my parish and am very much looking forward to the opportunity to once again attend Liturgy and vigils there over the summer when I return to the United States!

A Visit to Mount Athos: rare glimpse into life on the Holy Mountain

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My grandparents and I were watching television on the evening of Easter Sunday last year when this extraordinary segment “A Visit to Mount Athos” about life on the Holy Mountain aired on CBS 60 Minutes. I could barely contain my joy, that, having spent Easter Sunday (April 24) going to their Catholic parish (St Elizabeth Ann Seton) in Woodbridge, Virginia, I would be able to have some experience of Orthodoxy on Easter!

That morning at Easter mass, the deafening blare of the church’s fire alarm system interrupted the priest’s winding homily. Until those excruciating minutes in which the alarm blared and ran its course, I do not think I could have imagined the sound of anything so antithetical to the feeling of joy and sacredness which we were all supposed to have on Easter Sunday! After experiencing the somber and profoundly other-worldly services of Orthodox Holy Week, the contrast was almost unbelievable!

St Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church, Woodbridge, Virginia

I was not yet an official catechumen at this time, but had been going to Liturgy and vigils at St. Nicholas Cathedral as often as I could with what I call “a pilgrim’s heart” full of love and anticipation for the ever-deepening mysteries of the Liturgy and the holy faith which revealed themselves to me as I came more and more into the life of the Church.

Holy Week at the Cathedral was the most illuminating and transcendent experience I had ever had up to that point in my immersion in the life of the Church. My friend Rebecca Dixon was visiting from her home university, Mount Allison in New Brunswick, Canada, and it was especially fitting that we were able to attend the liturgy on Holy Wednesday at the cathedral to which she introduced me the previous Fall semester when she was at my University on exchange.

I remember that we had to run through pouring spring rain to get to the Cathedral, and I was wearing a suit jacket and had no umbrella! Upon entering the Cathedral Rebecca walked right over to where the choir and Metropolitan Jonah stood singing to the left of the iconostasis and began singing with them!

St Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The next day, Holy Thursday, at St Nicholas was so somber and beautiful with the chants recalling Judas’ betrayal and Christ’s arrest in Gethsemane, and the nailing of the image of Christ to the cross. This date marked the one year anniversary of my first experience of the Divine Liturgy at Saint Sophia Cathedral just down the road, and the next day, Good Friday, I went there with Gillian Davis, who had introduced me to St Sophia in the first place, for my first Orthodox experience of the Good Friday liturgy with its heart-wrenching lamentations.

St Sophia (Holy Wisdom) Greek Orthodox Cathedral, spring 2011.

The next day my grandfather picked me up and we drove to my grandparents’ home in Virginia for a very different approach to Easter. Fittingly, the previous year in 2010 as I left St Sophia Cathedral after the three hour Liturgy of St Basil the Great, my grandfather had called me to finalize our plans for Easter Sunday. I was so overcome with wonderment, joy and awe that I told him about  what I had experienced.