April 30, 2018

Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov), Bishop of the Caucasus and Black Sea (+ 1867)

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (Feast Day - April 30)

The Holy Hierarch Ignatius Brianchaninov was born Dimitri Alexandrovich Brianchaninov, on the February 15, 1807, in the province of Vologda, the son of an aristocratic landowner. Intellectually gifted, peaceful and reflective by character, from early childhood he was drawn to a life of prayer and stillness. However, his father planned a military career for Dimitri, and so, when Dimitri was fifteen years of age, his father enrolled him in the Imperial School of Military Engineers in St. Petersburg. There Dimitri excelled, even attracting the attention of Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich, the future Tsar Nicholas I. Nonetheless, Dimtri felt called to the monastic life (uncommon for a Russian aristocrat at that time), and he became deeply depressed at the seemingly inevitable prospect of a career as a military officer.

In 1826, Dimitri fell gravely ill, but nonetheless graduated first among all candidates at the School of Engineers and received his commission. Immediately, Dimitri attempted to resign this commission, but his resignation was refused on orders of Tsar Nicholas. However, in 1827, Dimtri became critically ill once more, and this time his resignation was accepted by the imperial authorities.

During the next four years, Dimitri lived as a novice in various monasteries, without settling permanently in any of them, partly because of ill health, and partly because he failed to find a spiritual father in whom he could place unreserved trust. For the remainder of his life, he would lament the scarcity of true Spirit-bearing elders in his day. Finally, in 1831, Dimitri was professed monk by the ruling hierarch of his home province, Bishop Stephen of Vologda, and he received the monastic name of Ignatius. Shortly after that Monk Ignatius was ordained deacon, and then priest. All this took place without the approval of his parents. In 1832, Hieromonk Ignatius was appointed superior of a small monastery in the Vologda diocese. However, the damp climate brought about ill-health which quickly forced his resignation.

Then, in autumn of 1833, the most unexpected thing happened. Tsar Nicholas, during a trip to the School of Military Engineers in St. Petersburg, inquired into what had become of the promising student Dimitri Alexandrovich. Upon learning of his monastic profession and priestly ordination, the Tsar ordered Hieromonk Ignatius to return to the imperial capital, where, aged twenty-six, he was raised to the rank of Archimandrite and made Abbot of the Saint Sergius Monastery, one of the most important in St. Petersburg, and one which enjoyed great imperial patronage. Tsar Nicholas entrusted Archimandrite Ignatius with the task of transforming this monastery into a model community, where visitors to the Imperial Court could see monasticism as it should be.

Below is the letter sent to the Saint by Tsar Nicholas I:

"I still like you; you are indebted to me for the education I gave you and for my love toward you. You did not wish to serve me in the position I had intended but chose instead a path of your own desires; in that case, repay me your debt on~ this path. I am giving you the Saint Sergius Hermitage. It is my wish that you would live there and transform it into an exemplary monastery for the whole of Russia."

Over the next 24 years, and amid what was often taxing circumstances, Archimandrite Ignatius fulfilled his duties as abbot of the Saint Sergius Monastery, giving particular attention to the beauty of the Divine Liturgy. During this time he was a prolific author, writing much of the material in the five volumes of his collected works.

Finally, however, in 1857, and exhausted by his responsibilities as abbot, Archimandrite Ignatius was elevated to the episcopacy, to serve as Bishop of the Caucasus and Black Sea — a vast, unorganized diocese, whose administrative burdens were particularly difficult for someone afflicted with Bishop Ignatius' ill-health.

Thus, it was no surprise when, after four years of episcopal service, Bishop Ignatius submitted his resignation in 1861. The resignation was accepted, and Bishop Ignatius was allowed to retire to spend the remaining six years of his life in seclusion at the Nicolo-Babaevsky Monastery of the Kostroma Diocese, where he devoted his time to writing and a wide correspondence with spiritual children. He reposed in the Lord on April 30, 1867.

Bishop Ignatius was glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988, and is commemorated on April 30. His relics are preserved at the ancient Tolga Monastery on the Volga River near Yaroslavl.

A refined adornment of Orthodox monasticism, Bishop Ignatius taught about the monastic life not only in his ascetical-theological writings, but by his very life which presented a wondrous picture of self-denial and struggle with sins, sorrows, and sicknesses. His numerous written works include Experience in the Ascetic Life (5 Volumes) Patericon, Homily on Death, and others. The hierarch himself acknowledged: "The source of my writings is to be found in the Fathers; they belong to the Fathers of the Orthodox Church."

Experience in the Ascetic Life is a work of singular importance. "This is not my work," affirms the hierarch, "that is why I am able to talk about it so freely. I was only the instrument of God's mercy towards contemporary Orthodox Christians in desperate need of a clear exposition of the principles of Christian struggle."

Of special value are his numerous letters on various subjects and of varied content. Like fire, they ignite cold hearts. Like light, they penetrate the darkness of sinful thoughts. They contain energy, calling to podvig, and sweet, longed-for consolation for all those who sorrow.

In Experience you read the teaching of our Fathers on the inner life of struggle. "I spent my entire life in sickness and sorrows, but without sorrows, how can one be saved? Illness is sent by God in place of and to make up for the deficiency of our struggles. I see that my ill health is a gift of God - His epitimia, His mercy."

As the foundation of his Experience, one may also cite the following remarkable words: "Orthodoxy is true knowledge of God and true worship of God. The Spirit is the glory of Christians. Where the Spirit is absent, there is no Orthodoxy. It is essential for salvation to belong to the Orthodox Church. Outside of obedience to the Church there is neither humility nor spiritual discernment."

"What is death? The age with which our true life begins. A man should not despair, no matter how great his sins, for a man is not saved by his good deeds, but by his faith in Christ the Savior; only his deeds should manifest his faith. Just think that the great Apostle Peter himself wept bitterly."

"Prayer chases away foul thoughts and fills us with jubilation… One mustn't give way to despondency. On the contrary, one must thank God for sorrows as a sign of being chosen for eternal blessedness. Not only does gratitude deaden the sharp sting of grief, it fills the heart of one who is thankful with a heavenly, spiritual solace. Nowhere can one find such solace as in patience which is born of humility. Humility consists in considering ourselves worthy of sorrows which God's Providence allows to visit us. Sorrows were always the lot of those on the path to salvation."

"Nothing and no one can snatch out of God's hands a soul dedicated to His service. For God gives to such a soul for the time of its earthly pilgrimage a narrow path paved with diverse sorrows and deprivations, because it is impossible to come to God along a broad way."

"The world lies in a state of spiritual deception and manifests an affinity for those in the same state. But it despises and rejects those who serve truth."

"Knowing the Savior and thus acquiring eternal blessedness is man's primary happiness on earth, and his only treasure."

"Faster and faster time passes, and the hour of our entrance into eternity draws nigh. Make use of your days on earth to prepare for this. Such preparation dispels temporal sorrows and brings consolation, thereby indicating that this preparation is indeed a preparation for blessedness."

"One must never, for any reason, become despondent, for we are carried in the hands of God's Providence. Our concern is to be true to the Lord. And the Lord purposely reveals the weaknesses of him to whom He wishes to grant His gift of discernment. For the beginning of a soul's enlightenment is the perception of its own sins and its insignificance."

"Stop making prostrations for awhile; illness has taken their place. But do not stop praying with heartfelt compunction."

"May the Lord teach you humility, the source of all calm. From humility peace and quiet flow into the heart. If we are handed the cup of suffering, let us accept it as the cup of salvation, as a pledge of eternal joy. He who refuses sorrows, rejects also salvation. God allows the devil to strike us for the sake of our salvation and humility."

"My sincere desire is to end my days somewhere in solitude and anonymity, in spiritual vigilance and repentance. One should not deceive oneself with false expectations of a long earthly life… Everything passes, both the good and the bad, and neither humans nor demons can overcome that which God does not allow."

All of his letters and essays in Experience are indeed profoundly edifying and moving. They are written from the heart and are penetrated by true faith and humble piety which distinguished this most highly revered author throughout his entire life.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Champion of Orthodoxy, excellent teacher of repentance and prayer, divinely inspired adornment of hierarchs, glory and praise of monastics: by thy writings thou hast imbued us with purity. O spiritual lute, Ignatius divinely wise, pray to the Word, Christ God, Whom thou didst bear within thy heart, to grant us repentance before the end.

Another Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The chosen beloved of Christ wast thou shown to be, having clung to Him in many afflictions and unceasing prayer; and having acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit, thou wast an exemplary teacher of the people. Remember us, O holy hierarch Ignatius, God-bearer of Russia, that with thy teachings and prayers we may find saving repentance, and with heartfelt love become Christ’s own.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Although traversing the path of this earthly life, O holy hierarch Ignatius, thou didst, nonetheless, unceasingly behold the laws of life eternal, which thou didst teach to thy pupils with many life-bearing words. Wherefore, pray, O holy father, that we follow them as well.