Fr Sergei Hackel

Polymathic Orthodox priest

Father Sergei Hackel, the senior priest in Britain of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh, was that rarest of creatures in the modern world - a genuine polymath, one that effortlessly crossed cultural and religious boundaries and broke the mould of what we expect an Orthodox priest to be.

Sergei Alekseyevich Hackel, priest: born Berlin 24 August 1931; ordained deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church 1958, priest 1965; Lecturer in Russian, then Reader, Sussex University 1964-88; editor and broadcaster, BBC Russian Service 1984-2005; Chairman, St Gregory's Foundation 1995-2005; married 1953 Christina Mosse (two sons, two daughters); died Haywards Heath, West Sussex 9 February 2005.

Father Sergei Hackel, the senior priest in Britain of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh, was that rarest of creatures in the modern world - a genuine polymath, one that effortlessly crossed cultural and religious boundaries and broke the mould of what we expect an Orthodox priest to be.

He was multilingual - notably in Russian and English but also in Dutch, German and French. More significantly, he was intra-cultural. Born to Russian parents in Berlin in 1931, and after a brief sojourn in Holland to escape Nazi oppression, he arrived in Britain with his mother in 1940. He went to Bloxham School, in Oxfordshire, before reading Modern Languages at Lincoln College, Oxford. In 1953 his cultural grasp extended to Ireland in a personal and lasting way for he married Christina Mosse, an Irish Quaker from Kilkenny. Together they led a full and rewarding family life in deepest Sussex, raising four children with international names and independent minds.

Fr Sergei's life was as multifaceted as it was multitalented. He was, amidst his religious and cultural pursuits, a serious academic with a DPhil from Oxford, and several monographs to his name - the most notable on the poet Alexander Blok ( The Poet and the Revolution: Aleksandr Blok's 'The Twelve', 1975). He taught Russian at Sussex University for nearly 25 years, retiring in 1988 as Reader in Russian, in the School of European Studies.

But a completely different side of him was already in evidence on joining the university in 1964, when it was the newest and "hottest" college of the swinging Sixties. The young Sergei, already a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church and soon to be priested in 1965, was thoroughly at home in this milieu, for he was an aficionado of jazz, blues and American gospel. (One of his most vivid recollections from the 1950s was hearing Mahalia Jackson and Bigg Bill Broonzy in concert.) His interest in jazz extended to other modern musical forms, particularly the music of Benjamin Britten, who became a friend. His own contribution was to collaborate with the composer John Taverner by providing a translation of Anna Akhmatova's Requiem.

He was an expert on the Russian painters Larionov, Tatlin and Kandinsky. This unexpected interest in Modernism, for an Orthodox priest, dates back to his parents in Berlin, where their apartment, in its furnishings and decoration, was a model of Bauhaus living. The theatre was another artistic delight of his. At Oxford he had acted with Tony Richardson, and Robert Bolt was later to commission him to translate Russian plays for the National Theatre.

However, while he did not exude piety, nor wear his spirituality on his sleeve, this urbane and cultured man was first and foremost a priest. He was an empathetic but exacting one for many years in a small parish in Lewes, Sussex. Within the Russian diocese, he was the right hand of his bishop Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, to whom he was extremely loyal but not uncritical. But he was best known in the Christian world as a tireless and eirenic ambassador for the spiritual and liturgical life of the Orthodox tradition. From 1984 right up until his death he worked in the BBC World Service, where, as the weekly editor of Russian religious broadcasts, he reached an audience of millions.

Three achievements of Fr Sergei's distinguished life as a priest stand out. Beginning with his work in the Orthodox-Anglican organisation the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius in the 1960s, he became a committed ecumenist and an effective voice for toleration and mutual respect between Christian denominations. He not only represented the Russian Diocese in the British Council of Churches but he was active in Continental Europe and the World Council of Churches, visiting among other places Ethiopia and Thailand. For the last 30 years of his life he was editor of the authoritative ecumenical Orthodox journal Sobornost.

His work in inter-church relations was, if anything, outdone by his ministry of reconciliation in inter-faith relations - especially between Russian Orthodox Christians and Jews.

Perhaps his greatest achievement was his successful championing of Mother Maria Skobtsova as a saint for our time. She was a Russian nun who, in 1930s Paris, despite deep personal failure, devoted her life to the social outcast and the morally derelict and died a martyr in a Nazi concentration camp.

Sergei Hackel brilliantly captured her story in his vivid biography, first published as One, of Great Price in 1965. This book, along with translations of her work, propelled Mother Maria into the public spotlight and caught the attention of Russian Church leaders. This set her on a course for canonisation in 2004, which was duly celebrated in Paris. Fr Sergei was proudly in attendance, appropriately clothed in vestments Mother Maria had embroidered.

Andrew Walker



PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn