The future hierarch, Saint Ignatius, was chosen for the service of God even before his birth on February 6, 1807. His father Alexander S. Brianchaninov was a wealthy provincial landowner in the large village of Pokrovskoe in Vologda Gubernia. The Saint's birth was the result of his devout mother's fervent prayers, for she had no children until then. His mother Sophia (1786–1832) had been barren for a long time, and she visited the holy places in the area, asking God to give her a child. Finally, her prayers were answered, and she gave birth to a son. In Holy Baptism he received the name Demetrios, in honor of Saint Demetrios of Priluki (February 11).
Young Demetrios spent his childhood at Pokrovskoe in the natural surroundings of rural life. As he matured, he became quiet and reflective. He loved going to church and often attended the Services. In his spare time, the boy read spiritual books and he prayed. After the Holy Gospels, his favorite book was The Spiritual School, a very old collection of the Lives and sayings of the Saints in five volumes. Although he was drawn to the monastic life, his parents did not approve of this. Besides, it was quite unusual for a nobleman to follow such a path. Alexander Brianchaninov was from an old and respected family, and he was a worldly individual with ties to the palace. He planned a military career for his son.
When Demetrios reached the age of fifteen, his father entered him in the Imperial School of Military Engineers at St. Petersburg. He did so well in his entrance exam that he even attracted the notice of the Director of the school, Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich, the future Tsar Nicholas I. The Prince invited the young man to the palace, and introduced him to his wife, who suggested that he be given a stipend.
At the school he won the affection of the professors and administrators because of his excellent grades and exemplary conduct. Demetrios was even received at the home of Alexei N. Olenin, who was then President of the Academy of the Arts, Archaeology, and History, where he became acquainted with all the prominent literary figures of the day: K.N. Batyushkov, N.I. Gnedich, I.A. Krylov, and also A.S. Pushkin. These gatherings contributed to the development of the young man's literary talents.
However, the clamor of the capital and its worldly pleasures could not extinguish the fire in his soul which had been kindled by divine grace. His spirit was troubled by many thoughts: his mind was filled with doubts, and his heart seethed with passions. In this state Demetrios took refuge in prayer. He prayed constantly day and night. At the same time, he was no longer content to receive Holy Communion only once a year, as was the custom at school. Desiring to partake of this spiritual food (John 6:48-58), Demetrios went to confess to the school's priest, who was surprised by such a request. Not only did he refuse to permit Demetrios to receive Communion more frequently, he also reported what he heard in Confession to the school authorities, which was inexcusable.
Despite his excellent record, Demetrios grew more and more depressed at the thought of a career as a military officer, and he still wanted to become a monk. He and his friend Nicholas Chikhachev († January 16, 1873) decided to visit the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg for Confession. Father Athanasios, the Father Confessor, was more sympathetic than the school's priest had been, and did not discourage them when they expressed a desire to become monks.
But there were still many obstacles and heavy trials which had to be overcome by the young ascetics before they could attain their goal, which was to take refuge behind the walls of a holy monastery. Of course, the greatest opposition to their plans came from their own relatives. When the elder Mr. Brianchaninov found out about his son's life and activities, he wrote at once to the Director of the school, Count Sivers, asking him to keep a very close watch over his son. He also wrote to Metropolitan Seraphim of St. Petersburg saying that the Father Confessor of the Lavra, Father Athanasios, was encouraging his son to become a monk. The Metropolitan, fearing trouble from the powerful people of this world, reprimanded Father Athanasios severely and forbade him to receive the two young men for Confession. This was very difficult for Demetrios, so he decided to discuss the matter with the Metropolitan in person. After seeing the young man, and listening to his sincere explanation, the Metropolitan blessed him to visit the Lavra and his Father Confessor once again. Meanwhile, the young man's decision to forsake the world came to a definite resolution, and he decided to follow the call of his inner voice. The main reason why Demetrios decided to fulfill his desire right away was his acquaintance with Elder Leonid of Optina, who was distinguished by his divine wisdom, holiness of life, and experience in the ascetical life of monasticism. After their first conversation, Demetrios told his friend Michael Chikhachev (Чихачев), "Father Leonid has captured my heart. Now it is definite. I am asking to be discharged, and I am going to follow the Elder."
Before Demetrios was able to find a quiet abode within the walls of the monastery, however, he had to endure some great trials; first with his family, and secondly with the powerful people of this world. Unable to obtain that which he desired, the grieving young man left home for the capital. There, another storm awaited him. As soon as he finished his last exam, he petitioned for a discharge from his military service (which he had not yet begun). When Tsar Nicholas I learned of this, he asked his brother, the Grand Duke, to talk the young man out of this. All of the powerful prince's kindnesses, discussions, and even threats, were in vain. The young man remained inflexible. Then the Grand Duke informed Demetrios that the Tsar had refused to release him, and that he has been assigned to Dinaburg Fortress. Bitterly, the young officer was forced to submit, but when he arrived at Dinaburg he became severely ill. When he visited the fortress in 1827, the Grand Duke could see for himself that Demetrios was unable to continue his military service, and he gave him his much-desired discharge. Thus, the secular life of young Demetrios came to an end.
After obtaining his discharge, Demetrios traveled via St. Petersburg to Svirsk Monastery and to Elder Leonid (who was living there at the time because he was persecuted at Valaam by the Superior, Father Innocent), in order to submit himself to this experienced spiritual guide and begin his monastic life. Arriving at St. Petersburg, and dressed as a peasant, Demetrios stayed at Chikhachev's apartment. His friend Michael also requested a discharge, but this was not granted. So he was obliged to remain in the service for a while longer. Demetrios left for Svirsk Monastery alone, where he began his asceticism of obedience. In the meantime, his angry parents cut off all ties with him, denying him any material assistance.
While he was a novice, the future instructor of monks was distinguished by his complete obedience and deep humility. Assigned to work in the kitchen, he obeyed all of the cook's orders with humility, (the cook happened to be his father's former servant), and the entire brotherhood began to respect and to love the young ascetic. Elder Leonid was the young novice's Spiritual Father. Demetrios, by his singular obedience, cemented his relationship with his instructor. This relationship resembled that of the ancient novices with their Elders. Demetrios did not take a single step without the knowledge of his Spiritual Father, and every day he revealed all his innermost thoughts and desires to him. In this case, the Elder was like a real instructor in the spirit of true monasticism, as exemplified by the ancient ascetics of early Christianity.
The novice lived this kind of life at Svirsk Monastery, and also at Ploschansk Hermitage, where his instructor was forced to transfer after a year with his disciples. Here Demetrios was comforted by the arrival of his close friend Michael Chikhachev. Reunited in the tranquil seclusion of the monastery, the friends began to practice the asceticism of piety, offering help to one another. They were blessed to do so by Father Leonid. However, the young ascetics were unable to remain for long at the quiet abode of Ploschansk Hermitage. Because of persecution by the Superior, Father Leonid was forced to move to Optina. His disciples were also ordered to leave and were told to go wherever they pleased.
Grief-stricken, because they admired the strict and quiet life of the two novices, the other monks watched them depart. The monks gave them five rubles, which they had collected for their travel expenses. First, the two friends went to White Bluff Hermitage but they were not accepted there. Then they went to Optina to be with their Elder, but Abbot Moses did not want to admit them for a long time. At long last, because of their constant pleading, he was compelled to accept these two brilliant former officers who had rejected all worldly vanity for the sake of Christ.
Their position at Optina was difficult. The Superior regarded them sternly, and the monks did not trust them. The coarse food and the climate both affected Demetrios, and he became very ill. Chikachev took care of his friend, but soon he too was stricken with a debilitating fever. In the meantime, Demetrios's parents softened their opinion of their son. His mother became ill, and this illness aroused her maternal instincts, and she wanted to see her son again. Even the stern father seemed to mellow somewhat, and he invited his son and his friend to come and visit. Demetrios and Michael went there right away, but their reunion was far from pleasant. His mother was feeling better, but as her illness abated, his father's tender feelings also disappeared, and Demetrios got a very cold reception. Alexander Brianchaninov still hoped to have his son pursue a brilliant career, so he tried to force him to abandon the monastic life and to enter into civil or military service. Therefore, the young man began to feel burdened by life in the world.
At the beginning of 1830, he and Michael entered the St. Cyril of White Lake Monastery. The Superior at that time was Father Arkadios, a saintly man, but simple of heart. Seeing true monks in these newcomers, he welcomed them with love. Almost as soon as the two friends began their life in that monastery, Demetrios was stricken once again with a terrible fever. The monastery was located on an island in a large lake, and the dampness made it impossible for him to remain there any longer. Chikhachev also became ill. Then Demetrios returned to Vologda in order to recover his health, while Chikhachev went back to his home in Pskov Province.
It was difficult for the young ascetic to live in the world once more after he had rejected it. His only happiness then were his talks with Bishop Stephen of Vologda, who came to love the young novice, and often invited him to visit. As soon as Demetrios was well, he blessed him to live in the Semigorod Hermitage of the Dormition. Here Demetrios devoted himself to his usual works of meditation and prayer. Meanwhile, his strict father kept insisting that he enter the service again. He did not leave his son in peace even when he transferred from Semigorod Hermitage to the far-off and secluded Glushitsa Sosnovetsk Monastery. For this reason Demetrios pleaded with Bishop Stephen to tonsure him as soon as possible. Since he was very familiar with Demetrios's spiritual state, he decided to do so. He obtained special permission from the Holy Synod, then summoned Demetrios to Vologda and ordered him to prepare himself for tonsure, but to conceal this from his relatives.
On June 20, 1831, the desire of his heart was fulfilled. He was tonsured by Bishop Stephen and renamed Ignatius, in honor of the Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer (December 20 & January 29). When his relatives arrived at the cathedral that day they were greatly astonished by this new ceremony which they had never seen before. They were even more upset by their son's action, which shattered all of their fondest hopes and plans. The newly-tonsured monk was not disturbed by this, however. He was ordained as a deacon on July 5 and then to the priesthood on July 20. In that rank he was appointed as Superior of the Grigoriev Pel'shemsk Lopotov Monastery.
Lopotov Monastery was almost completely in ruins. Everything had to be restored or rebuilt. The new Superior began his work with zeal, and soon the Lopotov Monastery became unrecognizable. Not only was it restored outwardly, but inwardly as well, in its spiritual life. This was all due to the new Superior. Father Ignatius did not spare himself in laboring for the good of the monastery. For example, all during the winter of 1832 he lived in the poor, small cabin of the church watchman. These labors of the young Hieromonk were done for the glory of God, but he was not left without his joys. His first joy was meeting his dear friend Chikhachev, who also came to live at the Lopotov Monastery, and was the Superior's energetic helper. His second joy was his peaceful reconciliation with his parents. He began to visit them again and, under his influence, they became more favorably disposed toward him. His mother especially was changed, and thanked God for making her first-born His servant. She reposed soon after this, at the age of forty-six, and received Holy Communion for the last time from her son. He bore his grief with true Christian fortitude, and tried to overcome his sorrow with extra work in rebuilding the monastery. The young Hieromonk's efforts were noticed by Bishop Stephen, who elevated him to the rank of Igoumen in January of 1833.
His labors could not but affect his weakened and sickly body, especially since the Lopotov Monastery was in a swamp. All this made him very ill again until his friend Chikhachev tried to talk him into transferring elsewhere. Thanks to the help of Countess Anna Orlova-Chesmenskaya, Father Ignatius's condition was closely observed by the great Moscow hierarch Metropolitan Philaret, who offered him to be the Superior of the St. Nicholas-Ugreshsky Monastery in his diocese.
However, God's Providence was preparing Father Ignatius for much broader activities. Tsar Nicholas I remembered his beloved student and ordered that he not be sent to Moscow, but to St. Petersburg so that he could see him in person. The humble Igoumen set out for the northern capital, where he was presented to the Tsar, who was pleased to see him. After a few brief explanations, the Tsar said, "I love you as I did before! You still owe me for your education, which I gave you because of my love for you. You did not want to serve me in the place I offered you, and chose your own path. So, it is on that path that you must repay your debt to me. I am giving you the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Hermitage near St. Petersburg. I want you to live there and make it a monastery which will serve as an example for the other monasteries in the capital."
Tsar Nicholas then presented him to his wife, who was kind to her former student, and asked him to bless her children. The Tsar then ordered the Secretary of the Synod to come, and told him of his wishes. Igoumen Ignatius was appointed as Superior of St. Sergius Hermitage, and was raised to the rank of Archimandrite. The new Superior assumed his duties at the Hermitage on January 5, 1834. Here, Father Ignatius encountered new labors and cares. Until that time, St. Sergius Hermitage had been ruled by vicar bishops, which, of course, was not good for the monastery. Its proximity to the city was also harmful for it. All the buildings in the Hermitage were in need of repair, and even major renovations. There were only thirty monks, and all of them fell far short of the monastic ideal. Moral laxity reigned here in full force. It was difficult for the sickly Superior, who was frequently ill, to perform his duties, which required constant care, bother, and work. It was especially difficult to combat the depravity of his monks. He said himself, "Jealousy, evil talk, and slander rose up against me and they hissed at me. I saw enemies who breathed unutterable malice, and who thirsted for my destruction." He overcame all of this with his iron will, which was hidden in the humble Superior's weakened body.
It was not even a year before St. Sergius Hermitage was given new life and beautified. Constant work, restoring churches, a new living quarters was built, and also a new trapeza, bakery, and shops. In the midst of all this construction, the Tsar and his family unexpectedly visited the monastery. When the Tsar arrived and entered the church at 6:00 P.M., he asked the first monk he met, "Is Father Archimandrite at home? Tell him that his old friend wishes to see him."
When the Superior hastened to receive the exalted guests, the Tsar greeted him and asked about his work. He inspected the construction sites, praised the work of Father Ignatius, and promised to send money from the Treasury.
Beautifying his monastery on the outside, with the Tsar's help, the zealous Superior also brought to it a sense of inner well-being. Everything was orderly now, the Divine Services were solemn and grand, and he formed a beautiful choir. He cared even more, however, for the spiritual nurture of the monks in his monastery. He examined the personal life of each monk, instructing them to use their free time in a way that would benefit their souls: in prayer, fasting, reading spiritual books, and manual labor. In a word, he tried to instill the spirit of true monasticism in them. His great experience, his unflagging zeal, and his knowledge of the human heart, all these produced such results that Father Ignatius soon attained his goals. Indeed, he had fulfilled the Tsar's wishes by making St. Sergius Hermitage a model for other monasteries.
In caring for the perfecting of others, Father Archimandrite himself progressed higher and higher toward spiritual perfection. He taught not only by word, but also by his own example. His fondest wish was that he himself might attain the spiritual beauty of the ancient monks of the Thebaïd and of Egypt, whose lofty example had captivated him from his childhood. In order to come closer to his ideal, he did not spare his health or his strength in his ascetical struggles. These caused him to become ill, which obliged him to request retirement from his position.
Instead of retirement, however, Archimandrite Ignatius received some time off in order to regain his health at Kostroma's St. Nicholas Babaev Monastery on the Volga River. After living there for about eleven months in complete seclusion, he returned once more to his duties as Superior of the St. Sergius Hermitage. Yet the thought of living as a hermit had never left Father Ignatius. After losing his benefactor, Tsar Nicholas, he decided to devote himself once again to a secluded life in a Skete. He even began making arrangements with Father Moses of Optina Hermitage to let him have a cell in the Skete. Then suddenly, he was elected as Bishop of Stavropol and the Caucasus.
Father Ignatius was consecrated as Bishop of the Caucasus on October 27, 1857 in the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg. The new hierarch bade farewell to everyone in November, and put his financial affairs in order. He left for his new assignment, and arrived early in 1858. On the way, he was nearly killed in a severe blizzard. When he arrived at Stavropol, he began to carry out his new duties with zeal. His diocese required more from him than most others, since it had been established only a short time before. The bishop's residence had hardly anything on which to live. The clergy were very poor, and their relationship with their flocks was far from what it should be. Schools had to be reorganized, and the churches and the Divine Services needed improvement.
After seeing to the material means of existence in the bishop's residence, Saint Ignatius turned most of his attention to celebrating the Divine Services according to the Church Typikon, and to restoring a proper relationship between the clergy and the people. In his own dealings with the clergy, he was kind, simple, and straightforward. He was always concerned with improving their lives, education, and their relationship with one another. The Church Schools received his particular attention, and in general, how to raise the younger generation in a true Christian spirit. Thanks to the bishop's energy and love of his duties, the Diocese of the Caucasus was soon put into good order. Unfortunately, Bishop Ignatius was not able to rule the diocese for long. Smallpox, along with a terrible fever, completely exhausted his health. He had been weakened already by his former ascetical struggles and by his workload.
Desiring to complete the remainder of his life in the solitude for which he yearned, the bishop decided to petition the Tsar and the Synod to retire him so that he might end his days in peace. His request was accepted and he received retirement with pay. He was also appointed as Superior of the St. Nicholas Babaev Monastery in the Diocese of Kostroma.
The bishop arrived at the monastery on October 13, 1861. He went there to be at peace, but being accustomed to constant work, he could not be at ease just doing nothing. Even now, he looked to improve the monastery which had been entrusted to him. The order of Divine Services, the monastery's Rule, the monks' trapeza, the living quarters, all these were improved. He rebuilt the Superior's living quarters; he also built a beautiful new church to replace the old one. He saw to the proper use of the monastery's land, and the monastery's finances increased. The inner life of the monks was also improved. The bishop was the same extraordinary instructor that he had been elsewhere.
In the midst of all his labors, the best consolation for him was the visits of various close friends and guests. So, in his first year at Babaev, and for the last time in their lives, his friend Father Michael Chikhachev arrived from St. Sergius Hermitage. In 1862, his retired brother, the former governor of Stavropol Province, came to live in the monastery as "a pilgrim." In August of 1866, he was visited by Tsar Alexander II and the Grand Duke, who listened kindly to the Elder's conversation about monasticism.
In addition to his talks with visitors, Bishop Ignatius loved his literary labors. He reread and rewrote his previous articles, and wrote new articles. In these labors, caring for the monastery, and his monastic struggles, Bishop Ignatius spent all of his time living in Babaev Monastery until the spring of 1867. No one knew, except the Elder himself, just how close the time of his death was. He had already been preparing for it for some time.
On the Bright Day of Christ's Resurrection, after Vespers, he suddenly announced that no one was to disturb him, because he needed to prepare for death in solitude. This was on April 16. The following day, the bishop began to say farewell to his close friends. When he bade his cell attendant farewell, he bowed to the ground before him and said, "Batushka, please forgive me." Such was the Elder's humility, and it moved the cell attendant to tears. During those days, he often said that it was difficult for him to bring his mind down to earthly matters.
His feelings did not deceive him. On April 30, 1867, he reposed quietly and in peace. Death found him in solitude and at prayer. No one knew when or how his soul departed his body. His body remained in his cell for three days, preserving on his face the imprint of unearthly peace and joy. Then it was taken to the monastery church and buried by Bishop Jonathan, the vicar of the Kostroma Diocese. The funeral service seemed more like a spiritual feast than a sad funeral.
Saint Ignatius was glorified by the Jubilee Council of the Moscow Patriarchate (June 6-9, 1988), during the millennial celebration of the Baptism of Rus. His holy relics are preserved at the Tolga Monastery on the Volga River, near Yaroslavl.