Obituary: Bishop Basil Rodzianko

Obituary: Bishop Basil Rodzianko

BISHOP BASIL Rodzianko was one of the more colourful figures among the Christian clergy in Britain and, later, America. As an Orthodox priest of Russian origin in the Serbian jurisdiction, he ministered to a wide array of Serbs, Russians and Britons as well as by radio to Russian-speakers behind the then Iron Curtain.

For over 40 years he produced religious radio programmes which were broadcast into the Soviet Union through the BBC, Vatican Radio and the Paris-based Voice of Orthodoxy. Indeed, it was his initiative in pressing the BBC to begin regular religious broadcasting on the Russian Service that was his great achievement, enabling members of the heavily persecuted Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian churches in the Soviet Union to have at least some access to services and information about their faith.

"Out of the fogs of London we hear the voice of Father Vladimir Rodzianko," one Russian Orthodox writer declared in 1966. "His talks on the faith are talented, profound and of a very high standard. He has attracted the attention of our theologians and earned himself recognition and respect."

But, while grateful for his initiative, not all were so happy with the content of the broadcasts, which largely featured his own voice. Even when broadcasting the liturgy, he was never far from the microphone, appearing on air both as commentator (from a microphone in the corner of the sanctuary) and concelebrant.

Rodzianko was born into a prominent Russian aristocratic family. His grandfather, Mikhail Rodzianko, was a speaker of the Imperial Duma during the rule of Tsar Nicholas II. In 1919 he and his family were forced to emigrate to Yugoslavia, where he attended Russian schools. In 1937 he received a degree in Theology from the University of Belgrade and pursued postgraduate studies in Theology at London University.

He was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in Serbia in March 1941, serving as a priest in several villages in northern Yugoslavia until 1949, when he was arrested by the Communists for "illegal religious propaganda". Sentenced to eight years' hard labour, he was released after just two years thanks to the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a change in Tito's policies.

On his release he moved with his family to England where, in addition to serving as a priest, he worked for the BBC Russian Service. In 1955 he initiated the BBC's religious broadcasting to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Listener response was so positive that the BBC expanded the broadcasts to include regular weekly programmes and entire liturgical services on major religious feast days.

While in England he participated in numerous interfaith activities and lectured widely on a range of topics, from the Filioque to the Jesus Prayer. He also maintained a close association with the Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius.

In typical style, he managed to persuade Basil Hume, the abbot of Ampleforth Abbey, the Catholic monastery and boarding school, to establish a house for Orthodox boys, which was launched in 1968. Hume accepted Rodzianko's persuasive argument that something practical should be done to heal the bitter divide between Catholics and the Orthodox (which Rodzianko had himself witnessed in wartime Yugoslavia). However, the venture was fraught with tensions - often resulting from Rodzianko's actions - and all were relieved when it came to an end after a few years.

In 1979, one year after the death of his wife, Rodzianko took monastic vows in England - taking the name Basil - and was received into the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America. In January 1980 he was consecrated as the OCA's first Bishop of Washington DC. From November 1980 until his retirement in April 1984 Rodzianko served as OCA Bishop of San Francisco and the West.

His time as a bishop was unhappy: he had little sympathy for the more democratic ways of the Church in the United States, where lay people have a greater say in parish affairs, and encountered fierce opposition when he unilaterally transferred priests from one parish to another without consultation. He also found it difficult to accept some Bay Area Christian practices: he was bewildered and irked by the presence opposite his cathedral of a church for gay and lesbian Christians.

He resumed his religious broadcasts to the Soviet Union after his retirement, becoming Director of the Holy Archangels Broadcasting Centre in Washington. With the fall of Communism, he began regular broadcasting over Russian national radio and television. Many of his weekly religious talks were produced in Washington and sent to Moscow for broadcasting. Able to visit Russia for the first time since his youth, Rodzianko gave numerous television interviews and catechetical talks.

Impetuous and at times emotional, Rodzianko was not an easy man to work with. Many of his colleagues - both in broadcasting and in the Orthodox Church - found his modus operandi frustrating, even when his ideas were sound and well-intentioned. One leading cleric even described him as "impossible". However, his devotion to the Church was unquestioned.

Vladimir Rodzianko, priest: born Otrada, Russian Empire 22 May 1915; ordained deacon and priest 1941; professed a monk 1979, taking the name Basil; Bishop of Washington DC 1980; Bishop of San Francisco 1980-84; married 1937 Maria Kolubayeva (died 1978; one son, one adopted son); died Washington DC 17 September 1999.

Felix Corley

Thursday, 23 September 1999

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