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Tony Bishop

14 September 2012

The Revd Dr Robin Ward writes:

TONY Bishop, who has died, aged 74, was the main Russian interpreter at the Foreign Office for many years, and worked with every British prime minister from Harold Macmillan to Tony Blair. He was an analyst as well as an interpreter, and much of his work was secret. This secrecy was complemented by his natural modesty, although his appearance in Moscow at the elbow of prime minsters and, in 1994, of the Queen revealed from time to time just how significant his contribution was.

Tony's professional life was intensely demanding - at one stage the hotline between London and Moscow was routed through his spare bedroom. But, despite this, he was for 40 years a dedicated and committed member of the congregation of St John's, Sevenoaks, in Kent, where he set up a remarkable and innovative link with a parish in Moscow. Sevenoaks is alleged to contain the largest number of first-class season-ticket holders in the British railway system, and there was always a risk that affluence would breed insularity.

Tony made contact in 1990 with a remarkable Russian priest, Fr Martirii Bagin, who was prepared to take the risk of innovative ecumenical work with English Christians at a time when Cold War memories were all too fresh. Martirii's most impressive work was to restore the church of All Saints' na Kulishkak, in central Moscow, which had been used in the 1930s for torture and mass executions; and to complement this with a commitment to social outreach among the many poor and sick left behind by the immense economic changes of the time in Russia. Tony inspired the founding of the Philokalia Society as a means of channelling spiritual and practical aid to All Saints', and he arranged exchange visits between the two churches which were immensely moving and instructive experiences. I was very privileged to be allowed to say mass in All Saints' when I went there in 1997.

Tony was always very patient in dealing with the prodigality of time that even the simplest of Russian social events or conversations seemed to require, and in helping people to cross cultural barriers. Our Russian visitors were always astounded that telephone calls in this country were not free, and, being used to piped hot water in their flats, were mystified when English showers ran cold after half an hour or so. We learnt to live in a larger room: Russia felt far away, daunting, and a bit sinister, but we were inspired by the witness of Christians who had recently been persecuted, and humbled by their patience in the face of real want for the necessities of life.

By 1998, the mood in Russia was changing, and Fr Martirii's work was no longer in favour: an early hint of this was a rebuke from the Patriarchate because the title of the Philokalia Society was seen as unorthodox. Tony and the parish supported Fr Martirii when he was forced to leave Russia, and to establish himself as spiritual director of the Collegium Orientale at Eichstätt, and latterly as a Byzantine-rite priest of the diocese of Vienna.

All this Tony sustained with a manifest commitment to living the Catholic life in the Church of England: faithful to the sacraments, to the Walsingham pilgrimage, and always moved in particular by the observance of Holy Week, he willingly gave himself to all sorts of necessary chores for the sake of the life of his parish, and the Church as a whole. I am very glad to have known him.

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