When I heard about the repose of Queen Elizabeth II, my intuition as a journalist prompted me to call Marilyn Swezey, who was a long-time assistant to Bishop Basil (Rodzianko). To be honest, I did not expect to hear that Vladyka, who had lived in the UK for many years, had ever met with the Queen. All the more unexpected for me was the wonderful story, which Miss Swezey herself describes as “very human.” It brought two outstanding people together, whom the first month of autumn has now bound together forever: the Queen passed away on September 8, 2022, and Vladyka Basil on September 17, 1999.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip“I don’t know exactly when this happened, but I assume that it was in the 1960s or earlier,” Marilyn Swezey said. “The future Bishop Basil—at that time Father Vladimir Rodzianko—lived in London and recorded his talks and sermons, along with important fragments of the Liturgy, for the BBC Russian Service.
Born in Yugoslavia, Fr. Vladimir was a priest of the Serbian Cathedral of St. Sava of Serbia and often served in the Russian church together with Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.
Of course, Fr. Vladimir maintained close relations with Serbian emigrants, and first of all with the House of Karađorđević—I think with Prince Peter II. One way or another, he was one day invited to baptize a newborn Serbian prince.
I’m sorry, but I know neither the name of that prince, nor which member of the Royal Family his father was. As far as I remember, Vladyka Basil never mentioned them by name and would simply say that he was a little Serbian prince.
The child’s relatives asked Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, to be his Godfather. Although it is not customary to talk out loud about this, but Prince Philip was baptized in Orthodoxy: His mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was a niece of the last Russian Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna and her sister, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, whom she venerated very much.
Naturally, the newborn prince was baptized in that same Serbian church where Vladyka Basil served. Queen Elizabeth II arrived at the service with her husband.
During the Sacrament of Baptism, the Godfather is expected to hold the Godson in his arms for quite a long time. However, at some point the baby broke free in earnest and became too active. The little prince was moving a lot and maybe even making noise. Prince Philip tried to quiet him down, but it didn’t work. He tried to keep him in his arms or somehow distract him, but in vain.
Then the Duke of Edinburgh turned towards his wife, who was standing near—although not close enough to talk to her—and signed that he needed help. The Queen smiled in response, crossed her arms and seemed to push something away from her. It was a kind of signal: “No, I can’t, it’s your business.”
The Queen responded in this way because she was not Orthodox and did not want to interfere in the course of an Orthodox service.
Fr. Vladimir was stunned at this “silent dialogue” between the two royals. The Duke of Edinburgh tried to pacify his Godson, who had become too active, and asked his wife for help. But the Queen was not Orthodox and was officially present at the christening only because her husband had been invited to become a Godfather. She was not spiritually related to the Serbian Royal Family and therefore did not consider it possible to do what Prince Philip asked her to do.
If Elizabeth II had been baptized in Orthodoxy, she would certainly have helped her husband. But he had to sort everything out himself. She did not want to disturb the balance of the Orthodox service, and in doing so, I think, she showed respect for our faith.
Vladyka was amazed that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip had come to the church for the service he was celebrating. I assume they had met before, but I do not know the details—Vladyka spoke only about this episode.
In my view, this story characterizes Queen Elizabeth as a person. She reacted very humanly, and she was absolutely right. She was not Orthodox and not a “second Godmother” of the baby, so she could not help her husband in any way.
Vladyka Basil loved to talk about that story, and he always did it with humor and great understanding. It was a very human experience of the two royals whom the whole world knew.