Ignatius Brianchaninov, Bishop of the Church of Russia and Ascetical Writer

April 30 is the Commemmoration of Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807-1867), Bishop of the Church of Russia and ascetical writer.
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“St. Ignatius Brianchaninov was born Dimitri Alexandrovich Brianchaninov (Дмитрий Александрович Брянчанинов), 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 15 years of age, his father enrolled him in the Imperial School of Military Engineers in St. Petersburg…. 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, St. Ignatius 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, 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, enquired into what had become of the promising student Dimitri Alexandrovich. Upon learning of his monastic profession and hieratic ordination, the tsar ordered Hieromonk Ignatius to return to the imperial capital, where, aged 26, he was raised to the rank of Archimandrite and made igumen of the St. 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.
In 1857 Archimandrite Ignatius was elevated to the episcopacy, to serve as Bishop of the Caucasus and Black Sea. After four years of episcopal service, Bp. Ignatius submitted his resignation in 1861. The resignation was accepted, and Bp. 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.
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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 “Experiences from the Ascetic Life” (5 Volumes) “Patericon”, “A Word an 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…”
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Experiences from 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”… Experiences may be read in place of the Philoka1ia as being more understandable.

Patristic teachings have always corresponded to the level of those to whom they are directed. The Fathers of the Church never wrote “just for the sake of it” or “for science.” Many of their counsels, directed at ascetics of high contemplative life and even to so-called beginners, no longer even remotely correspond to the spiritual strength of the modern Christian. Furthermore, the variety, ambiguity, and at times even contradictoriness of these counsels that naturally occur due to the varying spiritual levels of those who seek them can disorient the inexperienced. It is very difficult to avoid these dangers when studying the Holy Fathers without knowing at least the more important principles of spiritual life. On the other hand, a correct spiritual life is unthinkable without patristic guidance. Before this seemingly insurmountable impasse, we can see the full significance of the spiritual inheritance of those fathers, most of whom are closer to us in time, who “restated” this earlier patristic experience of spiritual life in a language more accessible to a modern man little acquainted with this life, who usually has neither a capable guide nor sufficient strength.

The works of Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov are among the best of these “restatements,” which provide an impeccably reliable “key” to understanding the teachings of great laborers in the science of sciences—the ascetics.
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See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_Bryanchaninov

The best known English translation of a work by Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov is that on the Jesus Prayer: “On the Prayer of Jesus”. This has gone through and remains available in many editions.
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For a summary by the Saint, see: http://archangelsbooks.com/articles/spirituality/JesusPrayer_Brianchaninov.asp
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For more on the Jesus Prayer, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Prayer

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