His Eminence the Novice

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko). Photo by Yu. Kaver

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko). Photo by Yu. Kaver

The russian bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) died on September 17, 1999, in Washington, D.C. In reality, Bishop Basil had simply been waiting for this moment to begin a journey for which he had been preparing his whole life. Indeed, Basil often spoke about it, but no one seemed to understand. His interlocutors preferred to ignore it or to express their sympathy by saying: “Why, Vladyka”—this is what Russians call their bishops, an affectionate word meaning “Sovereign,” “Master,” or “Your Grace”—“you have a life ahead of you! God is merciful!” But the bishop himself looked forward to his journey onward with impatience and with lively interest.

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in Pochaev. Photo by the author

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in Pochaev. Photo by the author

The thing is that even during his life he had always been an inveterate traveler. Moreover, I would say that traveling was his true mission and true way of life. The beginning of his journey, without a doubt, was his birth in the aristocratic estate of Otrada, which was his family patrimony. The boy who was to become the bishop Basil was called Vladimir (Volodya) by his parents. The newborn boy’s paternal grandfather was Mikhail Vladimirovich Rodzyanko, the chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Empire. And his mother came from two ancient princely lineages of the highest rank: the Golitsyn and the Sumarokov families. Indeed, many noble Russian families were in close or remote kinship with this particular servant of God.

In 1920 the bishop undertook his next real journey. At the time he was only five years old. The road was long—by land and by sea, through Turkey and Greece and on into Serbia. The family was forced to leave because the new leaders of Russia were not willing to let the former chairman of the Imperial State Duma and his family live in peace. The Rodzyankos settled in Belgrade, and this is where the future bishop was raised.

He was fortunate to have wonderful teachers. The cream of the Russian emigre community had congregated in Yugoslavia. Among them were his immediate mentors, the Holy Hierarch John (Maximovich), who thirty years later was to become the distinguished Archbishop of San Francisco, and sixty years later would be known as a saint to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, as well as the great Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). These were both spiritual giants, and they had a powerful and positive influence on their young pupil.

Yet there was another teacher who was no less important in the life of the future bishop—one whom Volodya could never forget. This was his tutor, a former officer of the White Army. No one but little Volodya knew that his tutor was constantly beating him and torturing him, and torturing the poor boy very skillfully too, hitting him without leaving any traces. This miserable officer nursed intense hatred for Mikhail Vasilyevich Rodzyanko, his little student’s grandfather, believing him to be at fault for the destruction of Russia. He had no way of venting his anger at the grandfather, and so, alas, he made the poor little grandson pay for all of it.

Years later, the bishop recalled: “My mother not long before her death said: ‘Please forgive me for unwittingly letting that man torture you when you were a child.’ ‘Mother, this was God’s will,’ said I. ‘And if it had not happened to me when I was a child, I would have never become who I am today . . .’ ”

The Church of the Feodorov Icon of the Mother of God in Tsarskoye Selo. Photo: uolliss.ya.ru

The Church of the Feodorov Icon of the Mother of God in Tsarskoye Selo. Photo: uolliss.ya.ru

When the bishop was already in his declining years, God gave him the chance to return to the Imperial village of Tsarskoye Selo. There Bishop Basil had received permission from the Church authorities to serve the Liturgy in the Church of the Feodorov Icon of the Mother of God, a church especially beloved by the Tsar’s family. When the service was over, the bishop came out to the people and confessed the guilt he had felt since his childhood solely because he had been the grandson to his beloved grandfather. The bishop said: “My grandfather only wanted the best for Russia, but as a feeble man, he often made mistakes. He was at fault when he sent his parliamentarians to his Imperial Majesty asking for his abdication. He didn’t think that the Tsar would abdicate both for himself and for his son, and so when he learned that this is what had happened, he cried bitterly and said, ‘Nothing can be done now. Russia is lost.’ And so he unwillingly became responsible for the tragedy of the massacre of the Imperial Family in Yekaterinburg. This was an involuntary sin, but a sin nonetheless. And so now, in this holy place I am asking for Russia, for her people, and for the murdered Tsar’s family to forgive my grandfather and to forgive me. And as a bishop, with the authority given to me by God, I forgive him, and release his soul from this involuntary sin.

***

The Rodzyankos settled in Yugoslavia. Vladimir grew into a kind, tall, and very handsome young man. He received a brilliant education, and fell in love with a wonderful girl who became his wife. And at the age of twenty-five he was appointed to serve as a priest in a Serbian Orthodox Church. When the Second World War began, Father Vladimir Rodzyanko fearlessly participated in the fighting against the Nazis. And when the Communists came to power, he remained unhesitatingly in Yugoslavia while most of the other White Russian emigres fled the country. Father Vladimir served as a priest in his Serbian parish and he believed it was wrong to leave his congregation, even if he were under the threat of prison or death. He was not killed, but he was sentenced to spend eight years in a camp. Tito’s camps were no less terrible than those in the USSR. Fortunately, Tito soon got into an argument with Stalin, and to irritate his former patron, he let all the White Russian emigres he had imprisoned out of the camps. As a result the bishop was let out of the labor camps after just two hard years and was allowed to leave the country. And so he immediately began his further travels.

Father Vladimir Rodzyanko in the BBC Studios

Father Vladimir Rodzyanko in the BBC Studios

At first he came to Paris to his spiritual father, Archbishop John (Maximovich). Then he was sent off to London to serve at a Serbian Orthodox Church. While in London he began to host religious programs on the BBC Russian language radio service. And through this program many, many generations of citizens of the USSR learned something about God, about their holy Orthodox faith, and also about the history of their Church and their country.

Time passed and Father Vladimir became a widower. The Church blessed him to take his monastic vows and he received a new name, Basil, and became a bishop. Soon afterwards, Bishop Basil undertook a new journey to the United States, where he converted thousands of Protestants, Catholics, and atheists to the Russian Orthodox faith.

But as it happens, he ended up like a fish out of water, not so much for his energetic missionary activity as for his conflict with a very powerful lobby—a group who advocated certain practices that have no place in the Orthodox Church. As a result, Bishop Basil had to retire on a very modest pension. But even this uninspiring event led to the continuation of his heartfelt dreams of wandering and became a reason for renewed activities. During those years, new opportunities for travel to Russia had opened up, and the bishop rushed back to his native land, which was so scary yet so important to him. I happened to witness a part of the events that took place during his return.

***

Sculptor V. Klykov, hieromonk Tikhon (Shevkunov) and Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko)

Sculptor V. Klykov, hieromonk Tikhon (Shevkunov) and Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko)

Bishop Basil appeared in my life and in the life of my friend, the sculptor Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Klykov, because of an astonishing and unexpected encounter. It happened in 1987 just before July 17, the anniversary of the Tsar’s family’s death. Vyacheslav Mikhailovich and I had wanted to serve a requiem for the repose of His Imperial Majesty before, but during prior years it had been impossible, and the idea represented an unsolvable problem. Going to a church in Moscow and just asking a priest to serve a requiem for Tsar Nicholas II was clearly unthinkable. Everyone knew that word would get out, and the very least punishment that such a brave priest could expect for such a deed would be dismissal from the Church. Having services in a private home was impractical, as many friends would have wanted to attend.

It so happened that during those days Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Klykov had just completed the monumental gravestone for Alexander

Peresvet and Andrei Oslyabya—two famous warriors, schema-monks who had been sent to fight for the victorious army of Dmitri Donskoy at the Battle of Kulikovo Field in 1380, in which Russia freed itself from the yoke of the Tatars. After a long confrontation with the local Soviet authority, a memorial gravestone for them was finally placed on the grave of these heroic monks in the former Simonov Monastery, the site of the famous Dynamo Factory during Soviet times.

And suddenly I had a thought—since there already had been an issuance of official approval for sanctifying the gravestone for Peresvet and Oslyabya, we could insert a requiem for the Tsar’s family during the service. They would definitely send someone from the KGB to spy on us, but the spies would be unlikely to understand the subtleties of the memorial service in Church Slavonic anyway—for them it would all simply be one long church service.

Vyacheslav Mikhailovich liked this idea. Now there was only one small problem: trying to find a priest brave enough to be willing to carry out the memorial service. Because there were, after all, quite serious risks. Perhaps not the greatest of risks, but risks all the same. And if any of the snoops and stool pigeons caught on to what it was that we were planning on doing . . . we preferred to not even think about this. On the other hand, we didn’t want to get any of the priests we knew into any trouble.

And then one of my acquaintances mentioned to me that Bishop Basil Rodzyanko had recently arrived in Moscow from America. Many of us had heard about this bishop, and some of us even knew about his radio broadcasts by the “voices of the enemy.” As we thought about this, we came to the conclusion that we would never be able to find a better candidate for serving the requiem for the Imperial Family.

First of all, he was a White Russian emigre. Second of all, since he was a foreign citizen, the risk he would bear would be far less than the risk that our local priests would be facing. The KGB wouldn’t really be able to do anything particular against him—probably. At a minimum, we thought it would be easier for him to get out of any pickles he might get himself into—after all, he was an American. That’s what we told ourselves. Lastly, as it used to be said in a slightly cynical but popular line from a poem of those days: “Grandpa is old and he doesn’t care.” In fact, when push came to shove, we just didn’t have any other candidates.

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in Pochaev. Photo by the author

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in Pochaev. Photo by the author

Anyway, that evening, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich and I went to the Hotel Cosmos, where Bishop Basil was staying with a group of Orthodox American pilgrims. The bishop came out to meet us in the lobby of the hotel . . . We were amazed! Before us stood a remarkably handsome, tall, elegant old man with a surprisingly kind face. To be more exact, he was the very model of a nobleman and an elder, without any irony or sentimentality, a perfect example of the best people of the times of old. We had never seen such grand prelates. There was something noble about him that we could sense—it was the old unspoiled Russia and her culture so long lost. This was a completely different bishop from all the other bishops with whom we had ever had dealings before. It’s not that those other bishops we knew were worse. No! But this one truly was a completely different bishop, from a completely different Russia.

Vyacheslav Mikhailovich and I suddenly were ashamed of ourselves for trying to put such a grand, kind, defenseless, and trusting dear old man into danger. After we first met him and said a few general words, we excused ourselves, stepped to the side, and before having broached the main subject of our conversation, agreed between ourselves that we would insist that the bishop think very carefully before agreeing to our suggestion.

In order to have our conversation the three of us went out for a walk on the street, to be further away from the KGB microphones in the hotel.

But as soon as the bishop heard why we had come to see him, he joyously stopped right on the sidewalk, and, grasping my arm as if he were afraid that I was going to run away, he not only gave his full agreement, but passionately assured us that we had been sent to him by the Lord God Himself. While I was rubbing my elbow, trying to figure out whether or not I would have a big bruise beneath my sleeve, everything was explained. It turned out that on this date every year for the past fifty years, since the time he had first become a priest, our bishop always said a commemorative memorial service for the Imperial Family. And now here he was in Moscow, and for several days he had been trying to figure out where and how he would be able to say this memorial service for the Tsar and his family even here in the Soviet Union. And suddenly we had turned up out of the blue suggesting our pious adventure! The bishop saw us as neither more nor less than angels, sent to him by Heaven. As for all our warnings about the dangers, he merely swept his hands indignantly.

There were only a few other questions, which Bishop Basil resolved instantly. According to ancient Church canons, a bishop who arrives in another bishopric could not celebrate Divine Service without the blessing of the local presiding bishop—and in Moscow, that meant the Patriarch himself. But the bishop told us that on the evening before, His Holiness Patriarch Pimen had already allowed Bishop Basil to have private supplicatory services and requiems. This was exactly what we needed. Furthermore, we needed a choir for the service. But it turned out that almost all the pilgrims who had arrived with the bishop sang in their local church choirs.

In the early morning on the anniversary of the murder of the Imperial Family, we all met by the entrance of the Dynamo Factory. Klykov and I had brought about fifty friends, and there were also about two dozen American pilgrims. For the most part these were Orthodox Anglo-Saxons who had converted to Orthodoxy but who spoke only English and Old Church Slavonic. We had to figure out something urgently, because if our “minders” became aware that foreigners had entered the territory of the factory, this could also cause us major headaches. Therefore, in order to make sure we would be okay, we were forced to scare our American Orthodox brethren half to death by warning them that they might end up in the basements of the Lubyanka Prison if they so much as said one word other than singing during the services. By the way, once the bishop began the services, they actually were quite an excellent choir, and they sang the entire service entirely by heart, almost without any accent.

The representatives of the administration of the factory and some gloomy minders conveyed us along through very long corridors and passageways until we reached the place where the monks Peresvet and Oslyabya were buried. My heart trembled when I saw with what suspicion those plainclothes minders were staring at this elegant bishop, and at his terrified, silent, but otherwise extremely not-Soviet-looking flock. But somehow, everything went okay.

Klykov’s memorial sculpture for the warrior monks Peresvyet and Oslyabya was remarkably beautiful: acetic, restrained, and yet majestic. We began with the consecration, and then, in a way that the official minders watching us could not understand, subtly switched into the fune­ral service. The bishop then gave the service with such passion, and his parishioners sang with such generosity of spirit, that it seemed the whole service was over in a minute. The bishop was careful not to say the words Tsar, Tsarina, or Crown Prince, but instead said the service for the fallen Andrei Oslyabya and Alexander Peresvet, praying also for the murdered Nicholas, the murdered Alexandra, the murdered boy Alexey, and the murdered young girls Olga, Tatyana, Maria, and Anastasia, as well as those who were murdered just for being close to them.

It’s hard to say whether those folks and plainclothes understood or not. I cannot quite rule it out. But none of them gave any sign of having understood. And they even thanked us when we took our leave—sincerely, as it seemed to me and Vyacheslav Mikhailovich.

When we left the territory of the factory and once more emerged into the city, Bishop Basil suddenly came up to me and hugged me, with a great affectionate bear hug. Then he said some words that will remain in my memory forever. He said that he would be grateful for what I had done today for the rest of his life. And although I myself didn’t really understand what it was that I had done that was so extraordinary, it was extremely pleasant to hear these words from the bishop.

And it was true: the bishop for the rest of his life treated me with the most affectionate consideration and reverence, which became for me one of the most valuable and undeserved gifts ever given to me by God.

***

In those days the truth about the martyrdom of the Tsar and his family was only just coming out. Yes, there had been some books published overseas, and a few of the older generation of Russian Orthodox Christians had related what had happened—and these accounts, sparse as they were, were the source of what learning we could glean about the new martyrs of Russia. At that time, quite furious arguments were raging about the fate of Nicholas II and his family. Various people whom I very much respected were rather skeptical about the idea of elevating the Imperial Family to the status of saints. One of these skeptics was the wonderful Archpriest Metropolitan Nicholas of Nizhny Novgorod, who was as well as a professor at the Moscow Spiritual Academy, Alexey Ilyich Osipov. I had nothing to answer against the objections of these highly worthy individuals. Except for one thing: I just knew that Tsar Nicholas and his family had in the end been saints. This happened about two years after my acquaintance with the bishop, during one of the most difficult moments in my life. I was still just a novice, and I was in an unenviable state of mind when I wandered into the Donskoy Monastery to visit the grave of Patriarch Tikhon. I did this on the anniversary of the murder of the Imperial Family. In that year memorial services were said for him, but for the first time not in secret. And from the bottom of my heart I began to pray to these Imperial martyrs, asking them, if indeed they had attained holiness before God, to help me.

The memorial service ended. I left the church still in a despairing and quite heavy state of depression. By the doors of the church I met a priest whom I had not seen in several years. Without any small talk or questions from my side he immediately started talking about the subject and immediately resolved all my doubts. He calmly and clearly told me exactly what I needed to do. This without exaggeration in many ways influenced my further fate. And the question about how or whether the Imperial Family should be revered never arose further in my heart—no matter what I was told afterwards about the undeniable flaws, mistakes, foibles, and sins of the last Russian Emperor.

Of course, our own religious experience means relatively little if it has not been confirmed by the Church. But fortunately for me, the fact of the canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church of the martyred Tsar Nicholas II and his family gives me the right to recognize my own small personal experience to have been truthful.

Among my acquaintances no one has ever doubted that for Russia the monarchy is the most organic and natural form of government. This is true even though we were more than skeptical about various active and scattered monarchist movements of the time.

Once when I was working for Metropolitan Pitirim, serious people dressed up in pre-Revolutionary officers’ uniforms walked into the pub­lishing department where I worked. On their uniforms Imperial medals and orders were gleaming, including crosses of St. George—the very highest of Tsarist honors.

I was very surprised and asked: “What made you decide to put on such medals? After all, they were only ever given out for extreme personal bravery in the battlefield.”

My guests assured me that they had indeed won these medals honestly on the battlefield. They said that they wanted to speak to the Metropolitan immediately. The Metropolitan, to my surprise, received them, and attentively heard what they had to say with great curiosity for a whole hour and a half. The theme of their visit was hardly without controversy: these guests were demanding that the Metropolitan give them all kinds of assistance in the matter of the immediate restoration of the monarchy. But when Metropolitan Pitirim had shown them out, he remarked: “Give you a new Tsar now, and you’ll shoot him again within a week . . .”

***

After this, every time Bishop Basil came to Russia, he always called me ahead of time. I was always glad to accompany him on one of his amazing new adventures and pilgrimages. Indeed, the bishop always had innumerable occasions for these. Although, strange as it may sound, the bishop never once undertook a single one of these journeys of his own free will.

He told me one particular story about this. In 1978 his wife Maria Vasilyevna died. The death of his wife was a terrible blow for Father Vladimir. He had absolutely loved and doted on her. The loss caused some­thing that not infrequently happens to real, open-hearted Russian people: Father Vladimir began to drink. The bishop told me about this sad period of his life with a clear heart, explaining it as his most difficult ordeal, the worst he had ever been forced to undergo.

Fr. Basil with his wife

Fr. Basil with his wife

He became a real alcoholic. Fortunately, because of his incredibly strong constitution, large size, and great strength, for a while his drinking did not affect his ability to carry out his priestly duties or his radio broadcasts. Father Vladimir used to drink a powerful Balkan vodka popular in Serbia known as raki. It’s not clear how this all would have turned out, because neither his father confessor, nor his family, nor his friends could do anything about Father Vladimir’s drinking.

Things might have been absolutely terrible, had not the departed spirit of his wife Maria Vasilyevna, who in life, as they say, had been a woman of great spiritual strength and prayer, appeared from the other world in a dream to make her husband shape up. Father Vladimir was so shocked by her appearance, and particularly by the severity of what his wife had to say to him when she appeared, that he immediately pulled himself together after her supernatural scolding. His particularly Russian disease was cured instantly.

Well, he did stop drinking. But he also had to somehow live on. His children by that time had already grown up. And naturally, there could be no question of a second marriage. By the canons of the Orthodox Church, second marriages are forbidden to the clergy. In the event that a priest who is a widower remarries, he is forever stripped of any right to serve in the priesthood. But, even beside these rules, Father Vladimir had been so attached to his former wife and had loved her so deeply that the portion of his own heart that had known earthly love remained entirely devoted to Maria Vasilyevna until the end of time. Father Vladimir began to pray devotedly. And the Lord answered his prayers.

After the death of Father Vladimir’s father confessor (Archbishop John Maximovich), his new spiritual father became the Metropolitan of London, Anthony (Bloom) of Surozh, an old friend of the Rodzyanko family. It was he who informed Father Vladimir that the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of America were delicately yet insistently petitioning him to try to talk the widowed priest Father Vladimir Rodzyanko into taking monastic vows, after which he should be sent to the United States to serve as a bishop in the capital city of Washington, D.C.

Father Vladimir knew all too well that true service as a Church hierarch has nothing to do with honors and rank, but instead with a multitude of ceaseless daily cares, and with the complete impossibility of ever having a moment to yourself, as well as with constantly bearing an enormous load of responsibility almost incomprehensible to laypeople. Furthermore, poverty is also the inescapable lot of a Russian bishop in the diaspora, even dire poverty. By this time he had nearly reached the age of sixty-six, forty years of which he had spent in the priesthood.

But Father Vladimir accepted the suggestion of becoming a monk and then a bishop as the will of God, and as the answer to his own prayers. He agreed. The hierarchs of the American and British Orthodox churches shook hands, and the fate of Father Vladimir was decided.

Metropolitan Anthony of Surouzh

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

However, right before taking the monastic vows, the future monk asked his spiritual father, Metropolitan Anthony of Surouzh, an unexpected yet heartfelt question. “Well, Your Grace, I will now receive the monastic vows from you. I will undertake for the Lord God and His Holy Church the great monastic vows gladly. As for the vow of chastity, I totally understand what it means. I fully accept the vow of poverty as well. All the vows related to prayer are also perfectly clear and acceptable to me. But as for the vow of obedience—here I can’t understand anything!”

“What are you talking about?” Metropolitan Anthony was very surprised.

“Well, I mean,” Father Vladimir reasoned, “instead of starting me out as a simple monk, you’re immediately making me a bishop. In other words, instead of being a novice and obeying the commands of others, my job will mean that I’m the one who will have to command and make decisions. How then do I fulfill the vow of obedience? To whom will I be a novice? Whom will I obey?”

Metropolitan Anthony grew thoughtful for a moment, and then said: “You will be in obedience to everyone and anyone whom you meet on your journey through life. As long as that person’s request will be within your power to grant it, and not in contradiction with the Scriptures.”

Father Vladimir was very pleased by this commandment. But later it turned out that people who made the acquaintance of the bishop did not have an easy time of it all in dealing with his constant willingness to carry out his decisive and unequivocal fulfillment of this monastic vow. Partly I’m referring to myself. Sometimes, the bishop’s understanding of his holy vow of obedience would prove to be quite a trial for me.

Bishop Basil blessing the fatihful in Russia. Photo: bishop-basil.org

Bishop Basil blessing the fatihful in Russia. Photo: bishop-basil.org

For example, we might be walking together through the streets of Moscow—on a miserable day, through the pouring rain. And we are in a hurry to get somewhere. And suddenly an old babushka with an old string shopping bag called an avoska (“perhaps bag”) stops us.

“Father!” She quavers in the voice of an old woman, not realizing of course that she’s speaking not just to a simple priest, but to a bishop, no less—and what’s more, a bishop from America! “Father! Please can’t you help me? Please, bless my room! This is the third year that I’ve been asking our Father Ivan, and he still hasn’t come. Maybe you’ll take pity on me? Will you come?”

I hadn’t even managed to open my mouth, and the bishop was already expressing his most passionate willingness to carry out her request, as if his whole life long he had only been waiting for the chance to bless Grand­mother’s little room somewhere.

“But your Grace,” I say desperately. “You don’t even have the slightest idea where this room of hers might be. Grandma, where are we going?”

“Oh, not far at all. Just the other side of town—in Orekhovo-Borisovo. It’s only forty minutes by bus from the last stop on the Metro. Really—it’s not that far,” she warbles joyfully.

And the bishop, canceling all our important plans (since it was impos­sible to contradict him in such situations), would first traipse headlong all the way to the other end of Moscow, the largest city in Europe, to a church where a friend of his gave him the necessary vestments and utensils needed for a house blessing. (Of course, I tagged along with him.) All the while Grandma, beside herself with joy (Lord only knows where she got her strength) and unable to contain her happiness, ceaselessly told the bishop all about her children and grandchildren who never visit her anymore . . . Then, after the expedition to the church, off we went in the other direction, jam-packed like sardines in the crowded Moscow Metro at rush hour, standing all the way and with several long walks to change train lines through the jam-packed corridors, and then standing that way as we rode all the way to the end of the line, on the very outskirts of Moscow.

From there, just as Grandma had promised, it was a forty-minute bone-rattling ride in a dusty old bus, also crammed full to overflowing. But finally the bishop blessed and consecrated Grandma’s little room, all eight meters square, on the ninth floor walk-up of some hideous Communist project housing. And he did it with sincerest prayer, majestically, and triumphantly, just the way he always performs any divine services. Then he sat down with the ecstatic Grandma (actually, both of them were ecstatic about each other) and praised to the skies her humble offerings— little Russian pretzels called sushki, and tea over-sugared with sickly-sweet cherry jam, full of pits . . .

Then, with immense gratitude, he accepted as an honor and did not refuse the crumpled one ruble note that she stealthily handed to her

“Father” as she said goodbye. “May the Lord save you!” she called out to the bishop! “Now it will be sweet for me to die in this little room!”

***

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko). Photo: bishop-basil.org

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko). Photo: bishop-basil.org

Time after time I was able to observe how Bishop Basil gave entirely of himself in carrying out his “task of obedience as a novice” to absolutely anyone who would ask for his help. What’s more, it was plain to see that beyond his sincere desire to serve people there was an inner and still more secret desire, known but to him alone. As I meditate upon this I recall that the Russian word for a novice’s monastic obedience, poslushanie,derives from the verb slushat (to listen, to obey). Gradually I began to grasp that it was through this humble vow of service and obedience, remaining a novice even upon attaining the rank of a very senior cleric, that our sovereign Bishop Basil taught himself how to sensitively hear and to obey the will of God. Because of this his entire life was nothing more nor less than one constant search for the knowledge of the will of God, one mysterious yet absolutely real conversation with our Savior, in which He would speak to mankind not with words, but with the circumstances of this life, while granting unto His listeners the very greatest reward there is—a chance to be His instrument in this world.

***

Sometime in the summer of 1990, during one of the bishop’s visits to Moscow, a young priest who looked like an old-fashioned grenadier came to meet the bishop, and immediately asked him to come serve in his parish. As usual the bishop did not need to be asked twice; meanwhile, I realized we were in for a few problems.

“And just where is your parish?” I asked the young priest gloomily. From my tone of voice the young grenadier understood that I was hardly his ally. “Oh, not far . . .” came his unfriendly reply to me. This was the usual answer always given to us whenever we were being asked to sweep at once across the vast expanses of our endless Motherland!

“You see, Georgiy? He says it’s not far,” said the bishop, trying in vain to calm me down. “Well, not too far,” clarified the young grenadier.

“Where exactly?” I demanded to know. The young priest began to stammer a little. “It’s quite a lovely little church, built in the eighteenth century. There are hardly any in Russia like it! It’s in the village of Gorelets . . . Not far from Kostroma . . .” My forebodings, as it turned out, were entirely justified.

“I see,” said I. “And how far is it from Kostroma to your Gorelets?”

“It’s maybe about 150 kilometers. Or probably more like 200 . . .” admitted this young priest. “It’s between Chukhloma and Kologriva, to be exact . . .”

I shuddered. Then I began to think out loud. “Let’s see . . . four hundred kilometers from here to Kostroma . . . then 200 more . . . by the way, Bishop, do you have even the foggiest idea what kind of roads there are over there between this fellow’s Chukhloma and Kologriva?”

I tried to grasp the last straw of hope. “Listen, young priest! Have you received the blessing of the Bishop of Kostroma for this bishop to come visit you? Because by our Church law, without your bishop’s blessing, our bishop is forbidden to give any service in another bishop’s parish!”

“Without our bishop’s express permission I would never have come,” the young grenadier pitilessly assured me. “All the required blessings have already been received well in advance from our bishop.”

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) and priest Andrei Voronin

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) and priest Andrei Voronin

And so this is how Bishop Basil ended up on a rut-filled, bumpy, winding “road” in the middle of nowhere en route to a lost village deep in the forests of Kostroma Province. Father Andrei Voronin, as our young grenadier was called, actually turned out to be a remarkable, devoted servant of the Church, as so many of those who came calling to us in those years proved to be. He had graduated from Moscow State University, the top university in the country, but had put aside career prospects in order to restore a ruined church, and create a parish, school, and a beautiful summer camp for children. The trip to his village, however, truly was long and arduous, and we, his travel companions, were soon thoroughly worn out.

But then our car suddenly came to halt. Literally a few minutes ago there had been an accident on the road: a truck had run head-on into a motorcycle. There was a dead man lying right in the dust of the road. Standing over him, numbed with grief, stood a young man. Nearby, the truck driver listlessly stood smoking a cigarette.

The bishop and his companions hurriedly got out of the car. There was already nothing that could be done to help. This cruel senselessness of how sometimes things are in the life of this world, this awful picture of irreparable human grief depressed all of us who happened to be there at that minute on the road.

The young motorcyclist, clutching his helmet in his hands, was weeping. The dead man had been his father. The bishop embraced the young man and said: “I am a priest. If your father was a believer, I can say the necessary prayers for him.”

“Yes, yes!” The young man began to cover from shock. “Please do whatever is needed! My father was an Orthodox believer. Although . . . he never used to go to church. They got rid of all the churches around here. But he used to say that he did have a spiritual father. So please, do whatever is required!”

They were already taking the necessary ecclesiastical vestments out of the car. The bishop could not restrain himself and gently asked the young man, “How did it happen that your father never went to church, and yet had a spiritual father?”

“It just happened that way . . . For many years my father used to listen to religious broadcasts from London. They were made by some priest named Rodzyanko. And my father considered this priest his spiritual father, even though he never saw him once in his life.”

The bishop sobbed and wept and got down on his knees before his spiritual son who had just died.

***

Wanderings . . . Near and far, truly they are blessed, as are all of those who are followers of our Christ, for indeed our Lord God Himself was once a wanderer among men. His very life was but one long wandering . . . From the world above the clouds down to our sinful earth. And then amidst the fields and valleys of Galilee, and through the blazing deserts and the crowded towns, and then on to His dealing with the descendents of human souls, throughout all of the world that He has created, and with all of its people, who have forgotten that they are His children and heirs.

***

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in the desert

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in the desert

It may be that the bishop also loved to travel because, in all his wanderings, surprises, and sometimes even dangers, he always felt a particular closeness to God. It is no accident that in every service the Russian Orthodox Church contains a prayer for “those who are voyaging and traveling” or “for those in peril on the sea.” This particular closeness to God that comes during travel may be one reason why even in this modest volume there are quite a few stories that have to do with travel. How many amazing, unexpected, and unforgettable events have taken place during all our voyages?

We have honestly always had the complete and utter “service and faith­ful obedience” in keeping with the monastic vows of this unforgettable bishop. In 1992, I was with Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Klykov and our wonderful old friend, the scholar Nikita Ilyich Tolstoy, chairman of the International Foundation for Slavic Literature, as we prepared the pil­grimage of a large Russian delegation to visit the Holy Land, in order to bring back to Russia for the first time Holy Fire from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.[1]

After the Easter service in Jerusalem our pilgrims were supposed to come back by bus to Russia bringing the Holy Fire from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher through various Orthodox countries en route: Cyprus, Greece, Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Belarus, and finally home to Moscow.

Nowadays, the Holy Fire is specially brought for the Easter Service by airplane to many cities in our country. But back then, since it was the very first time, the trip with the Holy Fire involved all kinds of worries and complications. It was supposed to take an entire month. His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy II sent two Archimandrites—Pancratius, who is now a bishop and the Abbot of the Monastery of Valaam, and Sergius, who was later appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Novosibrsk.

One of the participants in our pilgrimage was supposed to have been Maria Georgievna Zhukova, daughter of the commander of Soviet forces in World War II, Marshal Zhukov. But suddenly on the evening before we were supposed to leave she fell ill. We had to urgently find someone who could travel in her place. Complicating matters even further was the problem that it would be impossible in such a short time to arrange for visas for such a large number of countries. And then once again we remembered Bishop Basil, who happened to have just arrived in Moscow on that very day.

To our great shame we didn’t think about the fact that the bishop had already turned seventy and it might be not so easy for him to live for a whole month on a bus—not to mention the fact that he had all kinds of things to do in Moscow. The main thing for us was that the bishop, as always, would agree. The second thing was that the question of visas would be resolved by itself: the bishop was a citizen of Great Britain, and with his passport, he did not need a visa for any of the countries we would be visiting.

Best of all, with the participation of Bishop Basil, our pilgrimage had acquired a spiritual director—the kind about whom we could only dream. We even regretted that we hadn’t thought about him earlier. In addition to all of the other good things about him, the bishop, unlike many other participants of our pilgrimage, was fluent in English, German, and French, Serbian, Greek, Bulgarian, and a fair bit of Romanian.

And so His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy II blessed him to be the leader of our pilgrimage group, which filled the heart of our bishop with joy in the feeling of extraordinary responsibility. Furthermore, thank God, the bishop’s health remained favorable throughout the trip. One of our participants, Alexander Nikolayevich Krutov, would bind up the bishop’s aching legs every day, and make sure he didn’t forget to take his medicines. In short, as Bishop Basil himself said, Alexander took care of him like a devoted mother.

I remember how then before our trip we all helped him pack and pre­pare, and with what relief we set out on our long journey. All our problems had been solved!

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) on the ship

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) on the ship

The problems began again as soon as our pilgrims needed to cross through any country’s border control. Our delegation was supposed to cross through the border control exactly in accordance with the list that had been given to these authorities in a group visa. On that list was Maria Georgievna Zhukova. But there was now Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) to take her place.

The first problems began when we got to Israel, a land famous for its scrupulous rigor in all issues of security, border control, and customs matters. Israeli security services in the airport immediately asked this unusual group of Russians to step aside and began to call us out each by name. There was no problem with the first names in the group visa, such as Archimandrite Pancratius and Archimandrite Sergius, Alexander Nikolayevich Krutov. But then when they called out the name Maria Georgievna Zhukova, suddenly instead of her they saw Bishop Basil, who politely smiled at the Israeli border agent and bowed to him.

“Wait a minute!” The agent was confused. “I called out Maria Georgievna Zhukova.”

“Maria Georgievna Zhukova is me,” said Bishop Basil naively.

“What do you mean that she is you?” The agent got annoyed. “Who are you?”

“I? I am the Russian Bishop Basil.”

“Maria Georgievna Zhukova is a Russian bishop? Listen, this is not a place for joking! What’s your real name?”

“You mean on my passport? Or—?”

“Of course your name on your passport!” the agent snorted.

“My name on my passport is Vladimir Rodzyanko.”

“Maria Zhukova, Bishop Basil, and now Vladimir Rodzyanko! Where are you from anyway?”

“Actually, I live in America,” the bishop began. “We can explain every­thing to you!”

Other members of the delegation tried to assist. But the Israeli border agent rebuffed them. “All others are requested to keep quiet!” Then he turned once more to the bishop. “Let’s see if I get this straight. You say you are a Russian bishop, but for some reason you live in America? Interesting. Let’s see your passport.”

“I have a British passport,” said the bishop cautiously, as he handed it over.

“What?” Indignantly the border guard shook the list of the group visa and waved it in the face of Bishop Basil. “Where are you listed in this group document?”

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko)

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko)

“How should I explain?” The bishop tried his best, himself somewhat surprised and smiling. “The thing is, in this document I am listed as Maria Georgievna Zhukova.”

“Enough nonsense!” said the Israeli border guard. “Just tell me who you are! And right now!”

The bishop was genuinely upset to have been the cause of so much trouble for this young officer. Of course, notwithstanding his natural modesty, he also did not like being yelled at. “I am a Russian Orthodox cleric, Bishop Basil,” he answered with a dignified air.

“So you are Bishop Basil? Who then is Vladimir Rodzyanko?”

“That’s also me.”

“Well then, and who is Maria Georgievna Zhukova?”

“And Maria Georgievna Zhukova is also me.” The bishop waved his hands vaguely.

“Hmm! And you live—where?”

“In America.”

“And your passport is?”

“My passport is British.”

“And on this list you are . . . ?

“And on this list I am Maria Georgievna Zhukova.”

This delightful little scene was repeated every single time we crossed a national border. However, notwithstanding all these difficulties, Bishop Basil was utterly happy. It had been his dream to pray at Easter time in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And he was overjoyed that after so many years of separation he could be—even if only for a brief visit—back in his beloved Yugoslavia. What’s more, he faithfully executed the important task that he had been given, as head of our mission of pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and, on his return to Moscow, on the day of Saints Cyril and Methodius, was able to participate in the Procession of the Cross, right next to Patriarch Alexiy, around the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin on Slavyansky Square, solemnly carrying the receptacle of the Holy Fire as he did so.

***

Bishop Basil carrying the Holy Fire.

Bishop Basil carrying the Holy Fire.

Although the bishop never said as much out loud, it had always been his fondest dream to serve Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. He had been brought up this way. Once we were able to make arrangements with Channel 1, the Central Television Station, to record a series of broadcasts— discussions about God and the Church, about the revered saints of old, and about the new martyrs of Russia, about the Russian Diaspora, and about the fate of Russia itself.

Bishop Basil was not feeling well, but he raced to Moscow and worked day and night with all of his fading strength on these broadcasts. These turned out to be the first discussions on these themes that had ever been shown on what was then still Soviet television. These programs provoked immense interest among their viewers and were repeated many times. Wherever the bishop appeared later, people would come up to him expressing their gratitude for having acquired faith thanks to his programs. For the bishop these words were his very highest reward.

Much of the ecclesiastical history of the twentieth century was revealed to us in a completely new way by Bishop Basil. Somehow at one point an argument began about what was then a popular theme—the ecclesiastical authorities under the Soviet regime. Some of the speakers were quite bitter in their condemnation of their collaborationist mentality, expressing thereby feelings not just aggrieved, but poisonously inimical towards them. The bishop listened to the arguments silently. When these fearless judges of the Russian bishops of the past appealed to him to support their position, which they considered self-evident, the bishop merely told them one story:

In the beginning of the 1960s when he was still just a priest named Father Vladimir, he was visited in his apartment in London by Metropolitan Nicodemus, chairman of the foreign relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church. In order for them to speak, they actually needed to lie down on the floor, so that the Secret Service agents tailing Metropolitan Nicodemus, and never once leaving him alone, would not be able to record their conversation through the windows.

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in Pochaev. Photo by Archimandrite Tikhon

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in Pochaev. Photo by Archimandrite Tikhon

Lying on the floor, and whispering softly as he could, Nicodemus told Father Vladimir that the Soviet authorities were planning any day now to close the ancient Pochaev Monastery (the foremost Orthodox monastery in the Western Ukraine). The Church hierarchy back in the Motherland had already exhausted all its possibilities to stop this from happening. Nicodemus therefore begged Father Vladimir to organize special broadcasts on BBC Radio and on the Voice of America to put pressure on the Soviet government not to eliminate the Pochaev Monastery. Both Metropolitan Nicodemus and Father Vladimir perfectly understood what a risk the Metropolitan was undergoing in appealing to Father Vladimir with such a request.

But by the very next day, the theme of the threat to the Pochaev Monastery was the lead topic in the religious broadcasts of the BBC and the Voice of America. Thousands of letters of protest from all over the world flew in, addressed to the Soviet government. All of this was perhaps decisive in influencing the authorities to change their minds and once again allow the Pochaev Monastery to continue with its activities.

In 1990 Bishop Basil and I had the good fortune of finally visiting Pochaev Monastery. It was his first time there. He served Divine Liturgy and was able to meet with all the people who together with him had been participants in the dramatic events that had taken place thirty years previously.

***

What else can I remember about the bishop? Somehow every one of his visits always coincided with some extraordinary event: the thousand-year anniversary of Russia’s conversion to Christianity, the bringing of the Holy Fire to Russia for the first time, the first Memorial Service for the martyred Imperial Family, the first religious programs on the Central Television Station. But as the bishop himself liked to say: “Whenever I stop praying, the amazing coincidences stop happening.”

The visit of the bishop to Moscow in the summer of 1991 was no exception. He had come as part of a large delegation from the United States attending the first global summit of Russian-speaking communities. Representatives of the Russian emigre community from many countries and of all different political persuasions were officially invited to Moscow for the first time. The government planned this meeting to mark a new stage in the development of post-Communist Russia.

A large number of people arrived. They included various emigres who had forever decided to have nothing at all to do with the Soviet Union. There were so-called “White Guards” who would never believe that anything good whatsoever could come out of the land of the Soviets, and there were even certain representatives of Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army, famous for siding with Hitler against the Soviet Union during the Second World War, and mercilessly punished for this after the war. How anyone had convinced these people to attend remains a mystery to me! Maybe in spite of everything they truly missed their Motherland . . .

The Intourist Hotel was booked full to overflowing. Various emigres and their families wandered around Moscow, looking at the city and the faces of the people. They were all amazed to see how interested everyone was in meeting them. What amazed them even more were the high hopes, in some cases rising to the level of unbounded fantasies, with which they were received. At the time there was no shortage of well-meaning souls who truly believed in the myth that “we will be helped from overseas.” As to this, I wish to say that if anyone on behalf of the Russian emigre community truly contributed to Russia’s spiritual renaissance not just in words but in deeds, it was the ever modest retired Bishop Basil, along with several tireless laborers from the emigre community—bishops, priests, and laypeople.

Patriarch Alexiy II and Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko)

Patriarch Alexiy II and Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko)

The main event of the first global summit of Russian-speaking com­munities was Divine Liturgy in the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. After long decades in which service of Divine Liturgy in the cathedrals of the Kremlin had been forbidden, a service was held and presided over by His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy II. Bishop Basil also assisted the Patriarch at these services. Unfortunately, a week before flying to Moscow, he had broken his leg at his home in Washington. But he could not miss such an event—and so, with his leg in a cast, and hopping about oddly on crutches, he stood through the whole service, as well as all the events, barely able to catch up with the crowd of Russian emigres moving around from place to place.

Then on the early morning of August 19, 1991, on the day of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, several dozen buses crowded with Russian emigres from every continent set out from the Intourist Hotel. These buses brought the tourists to the Kutafyev Tower of the Kremlin. With tears in their eyes, hardly believing what was happening, they proceeded through the Kremlin Gates to the Dormition Cathedral, where His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy II with all his bishops (including Bishop Basil, hobbling on crutches) began the Divine Liturgy.

However, as is well known, this was precisely the day, August 19, 1991, of the attempted coup against Gorbachev and his government. Indeed, this coup was taking place exactly at the time that His Holiness the Patriarch was praying in the Dormition Cathedral. And so when these emigres, touched to the depths of their hearts and full of joy after the conclusion of the Liturgy, left the Kremlin, they were astonished to see not tour buses waiting for them, but a thick line of armored personnel carriers and tanks and soldiers with machine guns.

At first nobody knew what was going on, but then someone cried out: “I knew it! Those Bolsheviks have deceived this again! It was all a trap!”

The confused soldiers in their ranks surrounding the Kremlin looked around at this quite confusedly. Another of the emigres cried out: “I warned you! I knew we shouldn’t have come! They tricked us! It was a trap, a trap! All of this was arranged on purpose!”

Just at this moment an officer approached these panicked emigres. He had been given orders to protect these members of the foreign delegations. His orders were to accompany the delegates to Lubyanka Square, where there were buses waiting for them on the instruction of the troops who would surround the Kremlin. These buses were supposed to take these for­eigners as quickly as possible to the Intourist Hotel.

“Comrades, do not panic!” The officer’s voice rang out with authority and command. “You are all instructed in an organized manner to proceed to the Lubyanka! These soldiers will accompany you now!” As he spoke, the officer pointed to a squadron of troops armed with machine guns.

“No, no, no! We don’t want to go to the Lubyanka!” The emigres’ panic was only increasing at the mention of that dreaded place.

“But they’re waiting for you there,” said the officer with good-natured surprise. This only increased the terror further.

“No! Anywhere but the Lubyanka! Absolutely not!” Everyone was yelling.

Several times the officer tried to reason with the crowd, but it was all in vain. So finally he gave the order to his troops, and they, energetically pushing these emigres, sometimes with the barrel of their machine guns, and sometimes with their burly arms, forcibly drove them on towards Lubyanka Square.

Everyone was so utterly shocked that they forgot all about Bishop Basil. He was left alone by himself on his crutches by the Kutafyev Tower, surrounded by soldiers and armored personnel carriers. Up to this point, no one had even heard about the coup. People who were accidentally in the vicinity of the Kremlin might be guessing as to what was going on, but at this point certainly no one knew for sure. But many people began to recognize Bishop Basil and asked what they should do . . . So there was an entire crowd gathered around the somewhat confused bishop, who was a head taller than everyone else.

Meanwhile the emigres who had been driven forcibly on to Lubyanka Square finally understood that they had been brought to their tour buses, which would be taking them to their hotel, and not to the prison and the dreaded basements of the KGB. Then suddenly they remembered about the bishop! The bishop’s secretary Marilyn Suizi ran out of the tour bus and courageously ran back towards the Kremlin, fearlessly approaching the tanks of the armored personnel carriers in that foreign land, trying to rescue her dear Bishop Basil.

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko). Moscow, 1991

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko). Moscow, 1991

She recognized him immediately. He looked like a gray-haired prophet towering above the crowd in the center of the ever growing protest meeting. Marilyn stretched out her arm to him and briefly but convincingly talked him into taking the only route towards certain safety . . . to go with her towards the Lubyanka . . .

But the bishop on his crutches was physically unable to walk that far. He told Marilyn that he would go but somehow transport would need to be arranged for him. Marilyn dashed out of the crowd of protesters and looked around. There was no transport available except the armored personnel carriers of the soldiers with their engines humming. Marilyn walked up to a young officer and in her broken Russian with bits of

English mixed in explained that there was an old priest from America who was unable to walk and urgently needed to be transported to the Lubyanka Square.

But the officer shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands: “What transport can I offer you? Only a tank. Or maybe an APC . . .”

But suddenly Marilyn noticed that not far away from the tanks there appeared to be a car that might be sufficient for transporting the bishop. “How about that Jeep over there?”

“The police van, you mean?” The officer was happy to help. “All right, we can give him a lift in the police van! Let me work it out with the cops!”

For some reason this officer felt true compassion for the fate of this foreign bishop. And so the van, which had been brought up with the intention to arrest the crowd of protesters against the coup, instead drove through the crowd, in the center of which the bishop was standing towering above everyone else. Marilyn followed the officer and two policemen as they approached. Yelling above the crowd and the racing engines of the tanks, Marilyn told the bishop that they were being taken to the Lubyanka.

Everyone together—the policeman, the officer, and Marilyn—grabbed the bishop and dragged him through the crowd. When they saw this, the crowd became extremely nervous. “What’s going on? Are they arresting the priest?” The crowd grew utterly indignant.

When they saw policeman taking an old priest on crutches and with a cast on his leg and putting him in a black van, the crowd became so furious that the people immediately began to cry out in defense of the bishop. “It’s starting all over again! They’re already arresting priests! No! We won’t let them arrest that good father! We will die for him!”

“No, no!” The bishop tried to calm the crowd and get away from his own rescuers. “Let me go, let me go . . . It’s all right. I want to go to the Lubyanka!”

Those soldiers barely managed to put the bishop with his crutches and his leg in a cast into the police van and to drive off with him through the now utterly furious crowd of protesters. As the bishop looked out the window of the police van, tears of gratitude started rolling down his cheeks. “What a wonderful people! What a great country!”

Soon the bishop was met on the Lubyanka Square by his faithful parishioners.

***

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in the Sretensky monastery

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) in the Sretensky monastery

Even in the last years of his life, when he was ailing, he always yearned for Russia and visited as often as he could, ever hoping to serve his native land.

The bishop was already quite ill when he visited Moscow for the last time. He spent several weeks in bed. Natalya Vasilyevna Nesterova, in whose home he was staying, took tender care of him. But I understood that the bishop possibly would never come back to Russia again, and therefore asked the brothers and nurses to sit by his bed in vigil, and ordered that he be attended to around the clock by monks and novices of our Sretensky Monastery. That way the young monks could converse with the bishop, ask his advice, and pose questions to him, questions that only an extremely spiritual, wise, experienced priest could answer.

More likely than not my monks were not the best nurses. Probably they asked the poor ailing bishop too many questions and wanted too much advice and too much of his failing energies. And yet just as for these young novices it was extremely useful to spend these days and nights with this elderly bishop, so it was extremely important and pleasant for the bishop to spend time with those who one day would be taking his place in the Church. He was actually happy that even at the cost of wearing himself out he was able to answer their questions, teach them, give them the benefit of his experience and knowledge, and yet again provide service, that service for which he had always lived and without which he would not have been who he was.

***

On his final voyage, away from the country in which he was living and on to the long-awaited Kingdom of Heaven, Bishop Basil embarked all alone. He was found one morning on the floor of his room in Washington, no longer breathing. The bishop had lived in this little room for many years. It was a tiny studio, and yet in addition to housing the bishop, it had somehow also contained a house church, a radio station, a library of decades of sermons and writings and radio and television broadcasts, a hospitable refectory for parishioners who frequently came to visit, and a study. Somehow there was even space for visitors. Guests from Russia would often show up at the bishop’s home to spend a night or two—or sometimes even a week . . .

Even after his death, the bishop did not deny himself the pleasure of traveling a little bit.

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) after death

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko) after death

His family could not at first figure out where it was that he should be buried. Some said he should be buried in Russia—his Motherland, after all. Others wanted to bury him in England, next to his wife, whom he had so dearly loved. Others suggested Serbia, a land that had always been close to his heart. I can only imagine what joy filled the soul of the bishop as it was hovering above this scene in the heavens: he would truly have enjoyed any one of these journeys! But in the end his body was brought from Washington only as far as New York: one of his relatives insisted that he be buried in the Orthodox convent of New Diveyevo, which is located not far from the city. However, for some reason the burial did not take place there and the bishop was brought back again to Washington. Here his worldly wanderings finally came to an end. The bishop was laid to rest in the Orthodox Christian section of Rock Creek Cemetery.

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko)

Bishop Basil (Rodzyanko)

Sometimes during his life the bishop used to call himself “the reposed bishop.” That is because under his status he was merely a retired bishop, who had been fired (or sent “into retirement,” a phrase that in Russian sounds like being “laid to rest”) from the American Autocephalous Church. A bishop who has been “retired” in fact is no longer really a bishop, and no longer makes any official decisions about formal ecclesiastical matters. That is why the bishop from time to time used to joke about himself that he was “the reposed Bishop Basil.”

But he was indeed a real bishop! He truly governed without borders the human souls who crossed his earthly path. He did so with the indefatigable force of that remarkable power which to this day continues to bless those who had the joy of knowing Bishop Basil and experiencing his unforgettable and irreplaceable goodness, faith, and love.

[1] The miracle of the Holy Fire is an annual event in which the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem enters the Holy Sepulcher with thirty-three unlit candles he has bound together and emerges with them lit. Both the Sepulcher and the Patriarch are thoroughly searched by civil authorities before the event to exclude the possibility of any technical igniting. The first written record of this event, which occurs on Saturday of Passion Week according to the Orthodox Christian calendar, dates back to 870 a.d.

“EVERYDAY SAINTS” and Other Stories

Journey of a Young Artist

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Jonathan Jackson and The Seeds of “The Mystery of Art”

 

Whoever wants to become a Christian, must first become a poet— Saint Porphyrios
When I was young, they brought me to Babylon
And the night hung over my head
The smoke came into my dreams 
In the valley of dry bones

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with God
My eyes were seared and my blood was bruised
But I was hidden within a song

All around were the sounds of Babylon
But all I heard, were the hymns of heaven

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with her 
I was barely coming clean and she had already seen
A war on her innocence

I spoke of the Christ underneath the clouds 
And woke her from the sleep of death

She took my hand and walked me through the crowd
Why, is anybody’s guess?

All around, was the gold of Babylon
But all I saw, was an angel of heaven

You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church
You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church

 

I would like to start with the journey of how this book, “The Mystery of Art” began. It was not an intellectual or abstract search. The questions and explorations on this subject were immediate and crucial for me growing up. I began working as a professional actor at the age of 11 on General Hospital. At The age of 12, by God’s grace I had a profound encounter with Christ. My father would give us cassette tapes of sermons to listen to and one night, I heard a sermon on “The holiness of God and the pride of the human heart.” I don’t know why and I don’t know how these things occur, but I was cut to the heart. I suddenly realized how far away from God I truly was. How prideful and full of selfishness and egoism I was. It scared me to be honest. And yet, paradoxically, in that very moment of feeling the weight of my sinfulness—how my supposed righteousness is like “filthy rags” before the holiness of God, as Isaiah says—a Divine Presence also overwhelmed me. I felt like a great sinner who was also mysteriously loved beyond comprehension.

Around the same time, I read C.S. Lewis’ chapter called “The Great Sin”, which is all about Pride. I read Matthew 25, the Last Judgment and Matthew 5 when Christ says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I knew I could never impress God with my self-righteousness, so I cried out for mercy, I cried out for grace. And the compassions of God washed over me.

This was a turning point in my life. Nothing was the same after this encounter. I began to hear and perceive my own thoughts with great clarity. This was frightening too because I was suddenly aware of all the judgments and horrible thoughts I had about people. But the Holy Spirit was so merciful in this process. He never made me feel condemned. Convicted, yes. But never condemned. He would always whisper, “I’m not showing you this to condemn you, I’m showing you this darkness, so you can be healed.”

I began to think about God all the time. Throughout the following years there were many struggles and trials but the mystery of God became the most beautiful, the most attractive, the most intriguing and important pursuit in my life.

Naturally and organically, I had a desire to incorporate the Holy Spirit into the work I was doing. I had studied a few different acting methods but for the most part, my own personal method was being birthed through experience. Working with Anthony Geary and Genie Francis and other incredible performers like Michelle Pfeiffer and Sir Ben Kingsley. It was very much like Orthodoxy in the sense that I was a sponge, soaking everything in through experience and not through theory.

Within a short period of time after this initial encounter of grace, I was given some very heavy storylines to portray. I was about 15 years old and my character Lucky Spencer finds a young girl in the woods, who has just been raped. It is winter and the poor girl is freezing out in the cold, left for dead. He rescues her and they develop a friendship. He spends months taking care of her and being by her side as she tries to heal from this horrific event.

On a Soap Opera, you are on TV almost every day; especially when your storyline in prominent. In a more direct way than most artistic mediums, you are living the day-to-day story of your character. I was portraying this storyline for months. It was during this time that I first remember bringing God into my preparation as an actor. I began to ask Him, “How could you allow this innocent creature to suffer in this way?” “How can anyone be healed from such a wound?”

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They were questions my character could have been asking God and questions most of us have asked before. What it began to do for me, was nudge my work towards something inherently spiritual and although I would not have known it at the time, something sacramental.

Over the following years I portrayed a lot of dark and tragic roles: someone struggling with suicide, a heroine addict, a murderer among others. It was around this time when I began to ask God, “How can I portray these dark and troubled characters dynamically and truthfully, without being consumed by the darkness myself?” There are many tragic stories of young actors who become drug addicts after playing one in a film. The stories of drug overdoses and suicides among young actors and actresses are too many. I instinctively steered away from “Method Acting” and sought a different path, even though I didn’t know exactly what that would be.

It was around this time when I discovered Dostoevsky. It’s amazing to me now, being Orthodox that I wasn’t able to comprehend anything about the Orthodox Church as I read his books. It was like a veil, I suppose. But what I did discover was a kindred soul. Here was someone who was writing about very dark and tragic characters and themes but from a place of beauty—from a place of the Light of Christ. Prince Myshkin, from the “The Idiot”, changed my life. I clung to Dostoevsky in my heart as I approached portraying these dark characters and prayed, “Lord, please help me to portray the darkness of this world from a place of purity and light. Please, help me not to be overcome by the darkness, but to infiltrate the darkness with Your Light. Without you I can do nothing. I am nothing, I have nothing and I can do nothing without You, Lord. Amen.”

This is a snap shot so to speak, of the journey towards writing, “The Mystery Of Art”. These were the seeds, which by God’s grace, grew over time. There were so many important and profound spiritual realities that I wasn’t exposed to at the time, because I had not encountered the Holy Orthodox Church. I was grasping in the dark, looking for answers, feeling my way towards Christ, as best I could, but I always knew that something was missing; something significant and crucial to my relationship with God. There is a beautiful Scripture in the Gospel of John where Christ says,

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

I was one those lambs who was not of this fold. But through the grace of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and your prayers, He found me and brought me home. My journey to the Orthodox Faith took many years and was paved with blood and heartache. I carried all of these artistic questions and experiences with me as my family and I came into the Church for salvation, deliverance and healing.

See also: Jonathan Jackson’s Orthodox Acceptance Speech at the Emmy’s

See photos from his visit to Mount Athos for the first time with his 11 year-old son Caleb (2015), where they stayed  for five days visiting Simonopetra and Xenophontos monasteries, and spent most of his time at Vatopaidi Monastery (Friday till Tuesday) where he met the Abbot, Elder Ephraim, and attended an all-night vigil on Saturday night.

While at Vatopaidi Monastery, Jonathan also gave a testimony of how he converted to Orthodoxy for Pemptousia, which can be seen here.

A Conversation About God

With Actor Jonathan Jackson & Dr. Norris Chumley

While Jonathan’s views about Art in his book The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God are quite controversial, as two opposing book reviews below indicate(*), the narrative of his conversion and finding the true Church in “A Conversation About God” is captivating.

Watch a fascinating conversation about God, Conversion and Art, with Actor Jonathan Jackson and Dr. Norris Chumley:

Orthodox Christian Network

 

(*) Moses Benjamin Cabe (Ben Cabe) is praising Jackson’s views here, while  Richard Barrett (Orthodox Arts Journal) urges caution in

The problem of art in Anglophone Orthodoxy: a review essay” .

As for me, I am undecided yet and still studying the matter. Jackson invokes Dostoyevski‘s  quotation “Beauty will save the world.” and quotes Elder Porphyrios’ words in Wounded by Love“Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.”, both  central in my life and this blog.

Indeed, you do not have to be a Christian to create true art.  In fact, it may be that you have to become an artist before you are able to truly become a Christian. Jackson adds  that, when someone is drawn to the beauty of a certain piece of music or painting, he is really being drawn to Christ.  Far removed from Christ is anyone who does not, and cannot, appreciate beauty.  “It is an incredible thing to discover that Christianity is an experience of saying yes to what is truly beautiful. …  From the beginning, the pure and ancient faith of Christ, which is still alive today, proclaims that God is beautiful!”

While Jackson is surely right in all this, there are other claims he makes in this book which may be problematic and will hopefully be addressed in future blog posts, when this whole matter is clearer in my mind…

Why Discipline Our Eyes?

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Walking on Water by David Popiashvili

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western Religious Art

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Nikola Sarić , Parables of Christ, The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Popiashvili, Angel and Shepherds on Christmas Day

An Orthodox Aesthetic Counterpoint to a Protestant blog post on Holy Images 

 

This blog post will attempt to highlight the differences between Byzantine Iconography vs. Western Religious Art. It is only fair to point out from the very start that Victoria’s selection of works of Art in the 2nd part of her article,  “Disciplining our eyes with holy images“, is truly inspired.

Enjoy!

“I desire peace—and not just any old peace, but the peace that Christ gives, and not just for myself, but for the world.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

I desire to be an agent of healing,

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Julia Stankova, “The Healing of the Demon-Possessed Man” (Mark 5:2-19), 2010. Tempera, gouache, watercolors, and lacquer technique on wood, 40 x 31 cm.

and reconciliation.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Wisnu Sasongko (Indonesian, 1975–), Zacchaeus, 2005. Acrylic on canvas, 28 × 52 in.

I desire to touch Christ’s wounds.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Right panel of an ivory diptych depicting the Incredulity of St. Thomas, made in Trier at the end of 10th century. Bode Museum, Berlin.

I desire to serve.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Sadao Watanabe (Japanese, 1913–1996), Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet, 1973. Stencil print, 26 × 22.75 in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I desire to feed people,

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art
Isaac Fanous (Egyptian, 1919–2007), Jesus Feeding the Multitude.And to help people see.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Anthony Falbo (American, 1953–), The Healing of the Blind Man.

I desire to practice resurrection.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

The Resurrection (detail), ca. 1170–80, Rhine-Meuse region. Champlevé enamel on gilded copper. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

I desire Holy Spirit fire.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Pentecost, from the Benedictional of Archbishop Robert, New Minster, Winchester, ca. 980. Bibliothèque Municipale de Rouen, MS Y.7(369), fol. 29v.

I desire to preach truth.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Azaria Mbatha (South African, 1941–), Sermon on the Mount. Linocut.

I desire to bless.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Alphonso Arul Doss (Indian, 1939–), The Blessing Christ. Oil on canvas, 34 × 24 in.

I desire to suffer with dignity.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Angelo da Fonseca (Indian, 1902–1967), Ecce Homo, 1955. Watercolor, 9 x 6 in.

I desire to stand up for justice.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Alexander Smirnov (Russian, 1947–), The Cleansing of the Temple. Oil on canvas.

I desire to protect.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Kim Young Gil (Korean, 1940–2008), The Woman Caught in Adultery.

I desire to forgive.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Jacques Richard Sassandra (French, 1932–), Father, Forgive Them. Color woodcut.

I desire to weep with those who weep.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Daniel Bonnell, “Jesus Wept.” Oil on canvas, 34 x 46 in. Tags: Lazarus

I desire transfiguration.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Attributed to Theophanes the Greek, The Transfiguration, 1408. Tempera on panel. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

 

Let me repeat again here, at the end of this selection of works of Art, that Victoria Jones’ choices have warmed my heart and have been a delight to the eyes!

 

BUT

 

Victoria’s rationale for just  “gazing” at “holy (*)  images” in the first part of her essay feels too cerebral to me, limiting and stifling, so ‘Puritan’, so Protestant, if I may add.  Even if she did not mention this so explicitly–which she does–ie. that her attitude to “holy [sic] images” is derived from her “own Protestant theology [sic] of images”, still her Protestant  limitations, again if I may say so, are obvious to anyone with an Orthodox Christian sensibility.

Even the very title of her analysis is revealing: “Disciplining [sic] our eyes“. In my opinion, what we should all be targeting instead, is not to just the disciplining, but the healing, the sanctification of our eyes and all our senses. Indeed, Victoria herself feels the needs for “having right sight and desire restored” but her ‘solution to this problem’ is too cerebral and rationalistic in my opinion, not really a solution in the end, as it fails to embrace the whole of man, body and soul, heart and nous, and perpetuates the torment of a divided, conflicting, fragmented humanity.

 

Consider the following by Victoria:

“I use them [ie. holy images] as an aid to prayer, but I do not reverence them with actions like kissing or lifting—not necessarily because I’m opposed to such displays but more likely because I’m naturally reserved, and also I’m usually interacting with the images digitally. … Part of my private spiritual practice is to spend a little time each day gazing on a holy image. I’m particularly fond of ones of Christ. For me this gazing serves a centering function; it reorders my desires. Sitting still with an image of Christ reminds me of Whose image I bear, and I take that with me as I encounter other images throughout the day that try to tell me otherwise.” (Ibid)

 

No! This is so limiting! It is by far too cerebral, too rationalistic, too ‘mind-centred’, too ‘Western’ … Rather that entering into a Communion with Christ our Saviour Himself, we are limiting ourselves to ideas and concepts about Christ. Hugging and embracing and touching icons may indeed feel strange to those of a Protestant background, more so if “naturally reserved”, but matter is not evil! It was ancient Greek philosophy which believed that the body imprisons the soul, and thus it detested matter. But Christians respect the body and all its senses, since Christ made the flesh a source of sanctification, and matter (water, oil, etc.) a channel of divine grace.

 

In his writings, St. Gregory Palamas affirmed that man, united in body and soul, is sanctified by Jesus Christ, who took a human body at the Incarnation. “Thus the Word of God took up His dwelling in the Theotokos in an inexpressible manner and proceeded from her, bearing flesh. He appeared upon the earth and lived among men, deifying our nature.” … And he significantly adds, “When God is said to have made man according to His image, the word man means neither the soul by itself nor the body by itself, but the two together.” ((A Homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary)

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Rublev, Saviour

Conversely, see how Victoria continues:

“Orthodox believers developed the practice of icon writing and veneration to address this question—creating physical images of Christ to mediate his presence and to serve as an anchor in daily life. The Incarnation, they say, renders icons absolutely essential to the task of knowing God.

My own Protestant theology of images owes much to the Orthodox view but deviates from it as well. Although I acknowledge the revelatory potential of images, I do not regard them, as the Orthodox do, as on a par with scripture. Another key distinction is that I admit into my devotional life a range of sacred images, not just those that fall within the rigorously guarded canon of Orthodox iconography.”

I define “holy image” as any image that draws the viewer closer to Christ. The religious background of the artist is, to me, irrelevant, and what functions as a holy image to one person might not for another. You sanctify the image by letting it lead you into communion with God. ” (Ibid)

But specifically, how does all this mental activity lead you into communion with God? Let us study a concrete example, the Resurrected Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene as described in the Gospel of John “Touch Me Not, by  another Protestant scholar/ artist. See how rationalistically he too approaches the whole matter:

“I believe all of these works taken on the whole can help you begin to ask yourself the question, like an artist…”I wonder what it was like to see Jesus in in his newly resurrected form?” “I wonder how Mary felt as she approached the grave?” I wonder what the meaning of this strange encounter?” When you begin to picture the scene in your mind and make it your own, this is when the resurrection becomes real to you. In this way, all of these representations can help you as long as you keep going into your own thoughts.

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

 

See? Mind and thought, logical thinking, conceptualisation and deduction, the Western curse on Christianity. But Incarnation ‘allows’  an entirely different approach to “images” and “icons” to that of Victoria Jones’ and other Protestant scholars’ ‘guided meditations’.

What we want to avoid is an overemphasis of mind and its rational faculties at the expense of nous and man’s heart. The West, with its rationalistic tendencies, has associated the image of God with man’s intellect. Barlaam’s mind was full of rational arguments, but his heart was cold.

Certainly, life with God is not just information, but also experience. Our living God cannot be conceived and described only by study, but must be spoken about from experience. “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

 

Orthodox Theology is not cerebral, but empirical, and it cannot be acquired through study alone. Books and meditation, reflection may certainly help, but the true knowledge of God is existential. God reveals Himself as Light to the purified, and “through the Holy Spirit they know God and are able to speak of Him”. Philosophers speak reflectively through reason and imagination, which is why it is not possible for them to be higher than the prophets, who see God and speak of Him through the Holy Spirit.

 

See how ‘wholistic’ the Orthodox approach is:

“The Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendour of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures.”

+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ 

 

Nikola Sarić, PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (LK 15:11–32)

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

 

 

 

(*) By the way, Victoria’s definition of what is a holy image is not correct in my opinion: “I define “holy image” as any image that draws the viewer closer to Christ. The religious background of the artist is, to me, irrelevant, and what functions as a holy image to one person might not for another. You sanctify the image by letting it lead you into communion with God.” [Bold type mine for emphasis] In my opinion, Victoria’s talking here about religious art in general, not sacred, and certainly not holy, at least for an Orthodox Christian’ understanding of these terms. Of course, anything can be perceived as holy and sacred in God’s Creation, but I do not think that this is how Victoria uses this word in her analysis above.

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Popiashvili, Zaccheus

 

For Victoria Jones’ full argument, go here

For an Orthodox Christian understanding as to what makes an image holy (even to, or better, especially to, a ‘convert’, a protestant brought to the Orthodox Church, as opposed to a ‘cradle Orthodox, born and immersed into Orthodoxy), go here

Nikola Sarić studied at the Faculty of Applied Arts of the University of Belgrade and at the Academy of Serbian Orthodox Church for Arts and Conservation in the department of church art, where he graduated in 2014. Nurtured in the practice of church art, his artistic expression is deriving from sacred Greco-Roman art and generally speaking the art of the classical antiquity and the medieval period. In his works, through the immediacy and simplicity of visual elements, he is conveying the intuition of a “transfigured world”. Using different techniques and materials, Nikola is trying to describe this unimaginable world. His interpretations reflect the personal spiritual experience as well as the tradition that breathes and evolves within the concepts of contemporaries.

For a representative sample of Nikola Sarić‘s artworks, go to Parables of Christ, to his website http://www.nikolasaric.de and his latest interview to the Orthodox Arts Journal

*

David Popiashvili studied at the Tbilisi Art School and at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts At faculty of the fine arts.

For a representative sample of David Popiashvili‘s religious paintings, go to London Art  AND  Stories about Jesus Christ, illustrated by David Popiashvili

Fountains in the Desert

Book launch by En Plo Publications in Athens

   fathers.jpg

This event has been a most humbling experience! The ethos of the two panel speakers, Hieromonk Chrysostomos of Koutloumousiou Monastery, Mount Athos, and Fr. Bogdan-Konstantin Georgeskou, and that of the author himself, Fr. Jonathan Hemmings, permeated all the events. Such love and humility, especially in the face of various trials and tribulations, the least being an airline strike (!) impacting with its last-minute flight cancellations our speakers’ trips, felt like a rare blessing in “the apostasy of our times”. Fr. Seraphim’s Rose warning “Do not be deceived !” “It is later that you think, hasten therefore to do the work of God” is a favourite motto of  Father Jonathan, his spiritual grandchild.

The book presentation proved to be a Panorthodox Synaxis, truly ecumenical! So many Greek, Romanian and English Orthodox friends turned up. En Plo Bookstore was packed out! The occasion provided everybody with the grace of fellowship.

icon7

Hieromonk Chrysostomos, the first panelistsummed it all aptly in the opening sentence of his presentation: “I have not come here to introduce or recommend the book, which needs no such thing, as this is evident to anyone who begins to read it, but I have come here, all the way from Mount Athos, to meet its author!” 

Because “cradle Orthodox” have so much to learn from “Orthodox converts“! (One of the ‘ironies’ of this event was that in the many conversations which followed with priests, academic theologians and lay people, Father Jonathan, himself a ‘convert‘, had to repeatedly ‘defend’ Orthodoxy from ‘cradle Orthodox‘ faithful, from their disillusionment, doubts, and confusion about ‘their’ faith).

For Hieromonk Chrysostomos presentation, “Monasticism as Unity and Overcoming Divisions” go to http://www.pemptousia.gr/video/ierom-chrisostomos-koutloumousianos-monachismos-ine-i-enotita-ke-i-ipervasi-ton-diereseon/

A vignette of the occasion which was indelibly marked in my heart was the author himself, in front of the audience in the packed room, all quiet during Hieromonk Chrysostomos’ presentation, deeply immersed in prayer, bending in humility his head, radiant, otherworldly, silent, and yet so eloquent, so full of the Holy Spirit amidst all this noise and praise in the crowded building. And I write ‘building’, because both floors were packed, and people were also waiting outside the book store too!

The long queue of the author’s spiritual children at the end of the book launch, their love and gratitude was such a heartwarming experience on its own! “And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29) So many memories, of his life and ministry, of his works and his deeds, of love, which will continue in them and in their families. Father Jonathan was himself visibly moved to be with his spiritual children and dearest supporters of the ‘crucified’ Community of the Holy and Life Giving Cross in Lancaster, England and meet new friends in Christ and make further ‘connections’ in the Holy Spirit with those who are part of Christ’s extended family.

 

book launch.jpg

 

The two panel speakers’ presentations were outstanding, and the author impressed the audience with his profound humility, his love for everybody, his wise words, the purity of ‘his’ Orthodoxy, his poetry and his knowledge of the Greek language:

“It is with a profound sense of thanksgiving that in humility I thank you for publishing “Fountains in the Desert.” It is the product of a long lived admiration for those who found the desert to be a treasury of blessings. I have simply woven my own experiences into this mystical landscape. Any worth in it springs from the overflowing love of God for me, a prodigal, and to those whose zeal, patience, kindness and loving example have been spiritual signposts of the faith for my own journey through the desert.

Such salvation is experienced when one is thirsty for the Truth and the saints who Christ sends, provide the living water from which one drinks deeply of the sparkling fresh fountains of our Orthodox Christian faith. I wish to recognise in particular the heaven endowed, grace-filled influences of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony of Sourozh, Archimandrite Barnabas of New Mills, Archimandrite David of Walsingham, Archpriest Michael Harper and Hieroschemamonk Ambrose ( formerly Fr.Alexey Young) the spiritual son of Blessed Seraphim Rose, who chrismated me .

The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians at Ephesus:

Ephesians 5:2

“Walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

When we drink deeply from these sparkling springs and living waters of Orthodoxy, there is an inevitable outpouring of love to sustain us in our journey and an inexpressible joy to share this life giving water with others who thirst after truth. This is the life of the Church, to share the Gospel.

Luke 13:29

 

29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.

So we have much to do- because for to those who have been given much, much is expected. We rejoice with those returning to the Orthodox Church. We weep with those who find themselves exiled from their lands. We are warmed by the fact that so many of our parishes are microcosms of Pentecost with faithful being welcomed from all over the world regardless of nationality. We thank God that we witness strength of faith and growth in His Church and we ask empowerment for the apostolic mission set before us to bring God’s love to a hungry and thirsty world.

The glory of God is revealed in joy. The mercy of God is experienced in suffering. The grace of God is discovered in fellowship. The power of God is realised in miracles. The love of God is manifested in mission. Our dialogue is with heaven, even in the deserts of our cities where we encounter ourselves, the evil one and God. Christ only speaks one language and that is the language of love for His creation. May His love give voice to our faith.” (excerpts from the author’s presentation)

*

Fr. Jonathan‘s interview following the booklaunch has been videotaped by pemptousia.com and will appear shortly.

*

The Orthodox Christian Parish of the Holy and Life ­Giving Cross at Lancaster (United Kingdom) belongs to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland, is a relatively small parish led by Fr. Jonathan, but with faithful from more than half a dozen nationalities, a ‘crucified’ parish, literally ‘on the move’ for over 20 years. After 20 years of using borrowed premises (a quite typical situation for ‘convert’ Orthodox parishes at the UK), they are renting a former Anglican church St Martin’s of Tours Church from Friday to Sunday evening, in order to serve the needs of the Orthodox Christians in the Lancaster area.  To this end, they are making an appeal to raise funds to cover the rent and other needs of the Church on a permanent basis. Apart from your much needed prayers, you can find information on how to contribute to their fund raiser here. The proceedings from this Greek translation of the book or the English original will be likewise used to cover basic needs of the Church. The Holy and Life ­Giving Cross at Lancaster is a lively parish which enjoys Christian fellowship, having meals together and taking part in pilgrimages to Orthodox monasteries, churches, ancient Christian sites and other worship places (photos), produce a newsletter each month with their news and spiritual food for thought, and is engaged in a number of holy tasks.

Work Pray Be Saved

transfiguration orthodox church Work Prayer Salvation

 

Work Pray Be Saved! Back to Mikrokastro monastery, my spiritual basis in Greece! For the Transfiguration Feast. “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” I feel so safe, protected and loved here! It is always like this: the Mother of God always comforts me; the peace, stillness and hesychia of the monastery invades me; the fellowship of the nuns warms me; the motherly affection of its Abbess, Mother Theologia’s love nurtures me; the nuns’ combination of discipline, structure, work and prayer ‘stabilises’ me; their wise ‘equation’: Work and Prayer= Salvation!‘ centers’ me, ‘grounds’ me on peace and the Holy Spirit.

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

 

Just today, I felt so happy harvesting, curing and storing potatoes after the Matins service and Holy Liturgy in the monastery chapel! It felt so exhilaratingly Van Goghean!

Work Pray Be Saved

van gogh Work Pray Be Saved

 

Certainly one eats his meal afterwards, roast potatoes😃, with gratitude and thanksgiving.

orthodox monks Work Pray Be Saved

van gogh Work Pray Be Saved

*

Fr Jonathan Hemmings has written a whole chapter on this ‘equation’: Work and Prayer= Salvation! in his book, Fountains in the Desert, which I have found most useful and often turn to for life balance ‘tips’.

 

When the holy Abba Antony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie (ἀκηδία) and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down again and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Antony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.

 

Our human condition requires dependency upon God and interdependency on others. Correct spiritual examination requires the help and direction of a spiritual father who helps us grow into the image of Christ. Self examination alone without such an external reference point can put us in jeopardy such that we choose the wrong direction, make false judgements, become disappointed, lack faith, and fall into the trap of hopelessness and despair. Here we find ourselves in that spiritual malaise of accidie whereby because of our sense of sinfulness before a Holy God, we become inactive, paralysed and reach a state of torpor.

We ponder on the contradiction “How can we be Christians and have such sinful thoughts?” St Antony addresses this dilemma in the desert where he meets the devil, himself and God

“Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone;”

We notice that St Antony wants to be saved, he is aware of his own condition. Like the Prodigal son and Zacchaeus we must first come to our right mind and possess a desire (a zeal) for change. St Antony’s request is simple and succinct:

“What shall I do in my affliction. How can I be saved?”

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

We must be direct in our prayer to God; vagueness in repentance or in our requests is a form of obfuscation.

These two questions of St Antony remind us of that question the Lawyer posed to Christ before the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25 “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Inactivity is not an option for Christians; Christians are verbs not nouns!

Antony sees a man sitting at his work then getting up to pray, returning to his work and again rising to pray. The angel was sent by God to correct and reassure St Antony. Consumed by ourselves we lose focus and the source of our strength-we lose the will to work or pray! Work and Prayer= Salvation! This is an equation for all and not just for monks. Full of self loathing we need not only correction but reassurance. When called upon, the compassion and conviction of the All Holy Spirit assists us by His comfort and strength.

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

Just as our Lord was ministered to by angels in the wilderness after the Temptations Matthew 4:11

“Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”

So with St Antony an angel ministers to him instructing him and restoring courage and joy. “ Do this and you will be saved.”

The Fathers teach us that we should not trust too readily in our own thoughts and opinions but take heed to God’s Word Who provides us with the pattern of salvation.

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

In our modern western culture, Life balance is a much discussed topic today. When mums have to juggle careers with caring and the ever increasing demand for dads to prioritize we need to drink from the fountains of the desert. Without work we become indolent and listless; too much work makes us tired and stressed. Without prayer we become detached from our source of strength and the deeper reality Who created us. Likewise prayer without action is fruitless, as St James says in his epistle:

James 2:17

“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Prayer will warm and revive us in the love of God; work will warm and energise us in the love for others thus fulfilling the Divine equation for salvation:

Luke 10:

27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’”

 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

orthodox monastic Work Prayer Salvation

Fountains in the Desert

If I Perish

if I perish.jpg

Esther Ahn Kim

If I Perish

Korea 1929

Esther Ahn Kim walked slowly up the hill to the shrine, with her students following silently behind her. The young teacher knew that when she arrived at the place of worship she would be forced to make a life-altering choice. The Japanese, who had taken control of Korea, were forcing everyone to bow at the shrine of their “sun god.” The punishment for refusing was imprisonment, torture and possibly even death. Fearing for their lives, many Christians had already given in to the Japanese soldier’s demands. And now it was Esther’s turn to make her decision. She fixed her eyes on the vast sky beyond the hills and thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, when they were commanded to bow to the statue of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. The three young men had decided that even if God did not choose to save them from the burning fire, they would die honoring Him.

At that moment, Esther knew what she would do. Even though so many other Christians had decided that outwardly bowing to the idol was acceptable as long as they continued to worship Christ in their hearts, Esther could make no such compromise. She would not bow to any other but the one true God. Defying the Japanese warlords would most likely mean torture and imprisonment, but Esther decided that she would not live her youthful life for herself. She would offer it fully to her Prince, Jesus Christ. She said a silent prayer to Him. Today on the mountain, before the large crowd, I will proclaim that there is no other god but You, she declared.

christian persecution orthodox city hermit

Esther’s group was the last to arrive at the shrine. A huge crowd had gathered, standing in straight, respectful lines, afraid to move because of the cruel gazes of the Japanese policemen. A few of the authorities eyed Esther and her students with disapproval as they joined the rest of the worshipers. Esther’s heart began to pound with dread for what she was about to do. A sense of uneasiness swept over her, and she silently repeated the Lord’s Prayer over and over. Lord, she prayed, I am so weak! Please help me do this— watch over me as I stand for You.

“Attention!” came the commanding voice of one of the officials. The crowd stood in silence and submission. “Our profoundest bow to Amaterasu Omikami!” As he shouted the words, the entire group bent the upper half of their bodies, bowing solemnly before the shrine. Esther was the only one who remained standing, looking up at the sky. The fear and uncertainty that had gripped her just moments before had vanished. Calmness and peace flooded her. She had done what she knew God wanted her to do. On the long walk back to the school, Esther continued her dialogue with God. I have done what I should have done, she told Him. Now, I commit the rest to You. I died today on that mountain—now it is only You who lives through me. I leave everything in Your hands.

For several months, Esther lived in hiding. She knew it was only a matter of time before she was found and imprisoned for the stand that she had taken against the Japanese. But instead of cowering in fear and worry about what her future held, she decided to prepare her heart and her body to suffer for Christ. Just as Paul said, “I buffet my body and make it my servant,” (1 Cor 9:27) Esther decided to train for prison life, just as an athlete might train for competitive sports. She counted it a great honor to suffer for Christ, but she also knew she was weak and unready for all that lay ahead.

If I Perish

“I knew it would be impossible for me to keep my faith in my own power,” Esther wrote later. “God would have to work through me if I was to stand firm. I decided to fast.” Many times before, Esther had fasted for three days without difficulty. Now, she was determined to go without food or drink while she prayed for an entire week. The fast was extremely difficult. By the sixth and seventh day Esther’s lips were dry and her chest was in an iron vise, causing her to fight to breathe. But when the fast was finally over and water was poured into her mouth, she raised her hands in victory, thanking God for being with her.

“Although I had not expected it, after the fast I was able to understand the Scriptures better and I felt a new power in my prayer. Now I felt I could leave the fear of torture in the Lord’s hands.”

More time went by and more fearful news of prison life reached Esther’s ears. As anxiety crept back in, she fasted once more – this time for ten days.

“Again I found a peace I had never known before,” she wrote. “I read the Bible earnestly and had a new concern to memorize important chapters against the day when I would be in prison without my Bible.”

Esther also began sleeping on the floor, learning to live in a state of poverty, and going without all the comforts she had grown up with, so that she would be prepared for the harsh conditions of prison. When she went to the market to buy produce, she bought ripe fruit for her family members but rotten fruit for herself. When her mother and sister saw the decaying food she selected for herself, they cried, but soon they understood. This was the kind of food Esther would be forced to eat in prison.

Months of faithful, diligent preparation—fasting, memorizing Scripture, tirelessly praying, and training to endure harsh conditions – transformed Esther from a weak, frail, faltering young woman to a bold and confident ambassador for Christ. Instead of fearing torture, she now faced it boldly in the power and grace of God.

Esther felt God calling her to come out of hiding and boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel among the Japanese. She knew that this would likely lead to her death, but she was determined to follow the Lamb wherever He led her.

Her courageous stand for Christ led to six harrowing years in Japanese prisons. During that time, though her body grew week with suffering, she shone with supernatural love toward her persecutors and fellow prisoners. Even through torture, she refused to deny the name of Christ. Her astounding example of “suffering hardship as a good solider for Christ” brought many into the Kingdom who would never have heard the Gospel otherwise. After she was released, the story of her imprisonment and unwavering faith became the all-time religious bestseller in Korea, inspiring countless thousands to stand strong in their faith.

If I perish Taking up our Cross orthodox city hermit

Gleaning From Esther’s Example

Modern Christianity often encourages us to chase after achievements and accolades; to develop skills and pursue accomplishments that will be applauded and esteemed by this world. Some even go so far as to say that the more impressive we are to pop-culture, the greater our witness for Christ will be. The hip, trendy, pop-culture style of many modern worship services illustrate how far we have come from the days of the apostles, when Paul proclaimed, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.” (2 Cor. 11:20)

Though Paul had plenty of human skills and achievements he could have emphasized or built upon, he chose to treat those things as “rubbish.” (Phil 3:8) His greatest accomplishments; his most powerful witness, came from the incredible suffering he endured for Christ’s sake: “Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…” (2 Cor. 11:27-29).

And so it was in the life of Esther Ahn Kim. It wasn’t her accomplishments, personality, money, or skills that caused the nation of Korea to be forever changed. It was her shining example of suffering for Christ’s sake.

One time in prison, her arms were handcuffed behind her back for days until she passed out from the relentless pain. The intent was to torture her until she finally denied Christ. But even though her mind and body were broken, her spirit remained strong, rooted and grounded in Truth. She would not relent, no matter how horrible the pain became. She emerged from the torture victorious in her faith.

Another time, she gave up her meager prison food for several days to a woman who was filthy, insane, and sentenced to death for murdering her husband. Instead of being repulsed by the woman as all the other prisoners were, Esther prayed relentlessly for her, sacrificing her own comforts to reach the woman’s heart. The woman died in her right mind, knowing Jesus Christ, with a hope and a future.

Such sacrifice and personal suffering for Christ’s sake is only possible through the supernatural grace of God. Only one who has truly given up everything to follow Jesus can exude such grace in the face of such hardship.

Esther’s story challenges me to ask the question – am I prepared to suffer for Jesus Christ? In the midst of our comfortable … lifestyles, it’s easy to think, “Of course, if persecution came, I would never deny the name of Christ. Of course if I were thrown into prison, I’d remain strong in my faith.”

But we must ask ourselves – are we truly “dying to self” daily, as Esther did, or are we more concerned with protecting our own comforts and interests than in consecrating our lives fully to Jesus Christ? The only way to be a true follower of Christ is to willingly give up everything; to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 10:38, Lk. 9:23).

… We will never gain Esther Ahn Kim’s version of supernatural boldness and sacrificial love by coddling our own self interests and protecting our own comforts. … We are not walking the narrow way of the cross anymore. We are merely living selfish lives with a “Christian label” over them.

Esther Ahn Kim counted the cost of following Jesus – not only on the day when she refused to bow at the shrine, but every day thereafter. She counted the cost when she willingly and gladly gave up comforts and trained her body to endure hardship for the sake of Christ. She counted the cost when she came out of hiding and boldly proclaimed the Gospel among the Japanese who had the power to torture and kill her. She counted the cost when, in prison, she endured horrible misery rather than deny her faith in Christ. She counted the cost when she sacficially loved a filthy, repulsive woman and gave of what little she had in order to win her to Christ. Esther’s life was no longer her own—and every outward decision she made reflected that inner reality. If you desire to do “big things” for God—ask yourself today whether you have truly counted the cost of following Christ.

Many of us think that in order to prepare for an effective ministry, we must gain a large following, write a book, gain worldly accolades, or make a lot of money. But the best way to prepare for a world-changing ministry is to ‘die’ – so that Christ may live through us. Remember that Paul had every reason to boast in his earthly accomplishments, and yet he threw them aside as worthless and counted his suffering for Christ’s sake as his greatest, most important acheivments. (See 2 Cor. 11:30 and Phil. 3:8.)

When self is at the center of our lives, the only impact we will have on this world will be shallow and human-scripted rather than eternal and God-scripted. We may make a temporary splash, but if we do not take up our cross and truly follow Him, we will never reflect the supernatural radiance and grace of Heaven.

If I perish Taking up our Cross orthodox city hermit

Taking up our Cross

… It may take a few days, weeks, or months for those old habits to fully die. But if you allow Him to re-train your daily decisions and enable you to “deny yourself, pick up your Cross, and follow Him” you will soon understand from firsthand experience what Paul meant when he said, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

This world needs more young women like Esther Ahn Kim—young women who unreservedly take up their cross and follow Him, no matter what the cost. May it be our greatest desire to follow such a path, and joyfully suffer any hardship for the One who gave everything to us. The world will never be the same when they encounter such a life.

*Story of Esther Ahn Kim taken from If I Perish by Esther Ahn Kim

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