This day of May, 22 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) of blessed memory.
The remembrance of the departed within the Church differs from the worldly remembrance both through the way it is expressed and through the way it exists in time. Its outward expression is not as violent, desperate, and hopeless as expressions of such remembrance in the secular environment; grief itself is bright and filled with hope. Everything that is transient and accidental in human relationships departs; it dissipates through the prayers of the funeral service, and no longer comes in the way of the boundless brotherly love in the Lord. Constant prayerful remembrance brings the image of the departed closer to us, enriches our understanding of exalted meaning of his or her life's path, and allows us to sense the outlines of Divine Providence behind the external events...
Enough time has passed since Bishop Basil fell asleep in the Lord to let us see how straight and consequential was the path that the Lord guided him on for over eighty years. That path led from one country to the next, from one profession to another but always toward Him and toward life eternal.
Upon graduation from high school in 1933, Vladimir Rodzianko enrolled in the Department of Theology of Belgrade University, from which he graduated in 1937. In 1938 he married Maria Kulyubaeva, daughter of a priest. The same year he began working on a dissertation at Oxford, where he stayed also the following year. In 1939 a son, Vladimir, was born to the Rodziankos, and the year after Fr. Vladimir was ordained to the priesthood. In 1941 he was about to become dean of a church in a high school where he was teaching religion, but the war started, and he ended up serving his first liturgy as bombs were falling on the city of Novi Sad on April 6, the Eve of Annunciation—a portentous event, but everything in the lives of Christian ascetics is portentous, probably because they open themselves to the Lord and to His holy will.
Thus was Bishop Basil's abiding love for Russia realized. Many years later in a Russian province, as the bishop was driving to a service in a distant parish (he never declined an invitation to come and serve, however difficult the trip promised to be), on a deserted road he came upon a man grieving over the body of an old man. It was a son who had been driving his father in a sidecar of a motorcycle, and the father had been killed in an accident. The bishop offered to serve the funeral rite over the deceased, if he happened to have been Orthodox. The son replied that there was no church in their locality but that his father had had a spiritual father. He explained how that had become possible: "My father kept listening to the BBC on the radio, and he listened to the priest Vladimir Rodzianko, so he used to say that this was his spiritual father." This incident probably speaks no less eloquently about Bishop Basil's service to the Russian Church in the years of oppression than hundreds and thousands of other similar stories, although they all are just as valuable.
Fr. Vladimir's service as a priest includes an episode that is in itself perhaps run of the mill in a priest's life but which had a certain historical significance: father received A. F. Kerensky's deathbed confession. Through this the Lord seems to have entrusted to him the visible conclusion of a specific phase of Russian history.
In 1979 Fr. Vladimir encountered a difficult trial: his wife, Maria, and his grandson, Igor, both passed away. Those who knew him at that time say that his grief was full of spiritual courage. He incessantly turned to the Lord with that amazing combination of boldness and humility that strikes everyone who meditates over the pages of the Book of Job. Vladyka begged for spiritual consolation, he pleaded unyieldingly yet with reverence, and he finally received it. In 1980, after he had become a monk he was ordained Bishop of Washington of the Orthodox Church in America. The same year Bishop Basil became Bishop of San Francisco and California. Already a bishop, he visited Russia in 1981 and was warmly greeted by those who had for many years admired him as an Orthodox evangelist.
From 1984 on, the retired Bishop Basil devoted all his strength and all his extraordinary spiritual learning and experience to serving Orthodoxy. At St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC, he cared for the needs of the parish and of individual believers, yet the center of his attention was now transferred to Russia. He visited the country often and stayed there for lengthy periods of time. He became the Honorary Dean of the Church of the Ascension on Nikitskaya ("the Minor Ascension"), and in his last years, Dean of the Department of Theology and Philosophy at Natalya Nesterova's private university—a school that aims to prepare young people for advanced professional careers in the contemporary world while basing its educational system on the traditional cultural and moral values. Finally, with the blessing of Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia, he spent almost half a year at the Trinity Sergius Monastery, where he conducted research at the library and delivered a course of lectures. As a result of this stay, he completed his book The Theory of the Big Bang and the Faith of the Holy Fathers (published in 1996). This book considers the relationship of Orthodoxy and scientific knowledge, a topic that is extremely relevant in our day. Above everything, the book attracts the reader by a rare combination of qualities displayed by its author: erudition and youthful enthusiasm for knowledge, archpastoral seriousness of diction and profound humility.
Such was the remarkable life of the one who dedicated himself to serving the Orthodox Church, a pastor and confessor, mentor and scholar. Looking back at the 20th century we can only thank the Lord with joy and amazement that in the midst of historical catastrophes He sent us so many luminaries of faith, both in Russia and in the Diaspora. They are all one in their ascetic service—although each of them was given that service according to his or her strength—and they all differ by their own personal traits, which are especially touching. The archive that remained after Bishop Basil’s death requires studying; clearly it contains much valuable material, which is waiting to be published. After this publication we will be able to know his life better. But there was one character trait that delighted everyone who met with him in his last years, the trait that we can name already today—Vladyka's particular non-possessiveness.
Bishop Basil was not what we call a wealthy man, and he would come to Russia not like a "rich foreigner"—no, he would arrive rather like a bishop of the first centuries of Christianity, like a pilgrim who conquers the distance and the hardships of travel for the sake of delivering his archpastoral words to the faithful—words inspired by his spiritual zeal and his warm love for Christ and for his neighbor. Vladyka's feeble health and his advanced age served to enhance this similarity with early Christian bishops. With all that, he was far from despising everyday human needs (even though he himself was satisfied with little). With joy and love he would thank his hosts for taking him in, caring for him, even for any attention shown to him. Here is a detail that is very characteristic of Vladyka. In the preface to his book he thanks a long list of people, beginning with the name of the Most Holy Patriarch and including the names of bishops, priests, librarians, seminary students, and readers, i.e., everyone involved in the creation of the book in some way—those who lent him a computer and those who sheltered him, as well as those who sewed him a klobuk and a cassock. The beautiful image of the elder is etched in the background of these touchingly detailed and ingenuous expressions of gratitude—an elder who greeted every instance of kindness toward him as a precious divine gift. One becomes aware that the love that issues from God, which in itself is already the highest gift, makes people themselves capable of gift-giving. One becomes aware that through this simple human act of giving gifts people give a gift of themselves to one another and to the Lord, and the Creator's goodness is multiplied in the world.
The prayerful remembrance of Bishop Basil will never run dry in those to whom the Lord gave the joy to see and hear him. One hopes that his spiritual exploit will become known, through books and films, to those who had not met him in his earthly life, and that this meeting with Bishop Basil will give them comfort and strengthen their faith and will ultimately lead to an increase in love.
From Alpha and Omega, 1 2000.
Translation by Svetlana Grenier, edited by Joel Kalvesmaki.
Bishop Basil on the Jesus Prayer:
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."