Orthodox America

  The Arena

by Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov; 2nd Edition, Holy Trinity Monastery, 1983; 276 pp.


As Orthodox Christians today strive to preserve themselves from the world's apostasy, they have become more aware of the need to develop and preserve an "other-worldly" perspective, so essential to the work of salvation. Of inestimable value in guiding the formation of such a perspective, are the writings of the Holy Fathers, particularly those of recent centuries who foresaw the many pitfalls in the path of Christians in •the last times. It is, therefore, with great joy and appreciation that we should greet the recent publication of the second edition of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov's important work, The Arena.

This book, the 5th volume of Bishop Ignatius' complete works, consists of the patristic teaching of Holy Fathers applicable to contemporary monasticism. Elder Barsanouphy of Optina, who had the highest respect for Bishop Ignatius, considered that in some respects he was more profound even than Bishop Theophan the Recluse. "His word acts powerfully on the soul," wrote Elder Barsanouphy, "for it comes from personal experience. There was a great mind!" The same elder also hinted at Bishop Ignatius' sanctity:

"Do you know what happened when they buried Bishop Ignatius? The angels carried his soul and sang: “O archpastor of God, hierarch Fr. Ignatius.” That was an angelic hymn."

The loftiness of Bishop Ignatius' mind and the fact that the Arena is called An offering to contemporary monasticism," should in no way discourage lay men and women from reading it. For what is the monastic life but the perfection of the Christian ideal? And are not all Orthodox Christians called to be soldiers of Christ, warriors; athletes in the arena of spiritual struggle?

 We live in spiritually impoverished times when we must carefully guard our priceless inheritance of the Orthodox tradition. Just as Bishop Ignatius treasured what he had received from earlier generations of Holy Fathers, his purpose in writing this volume shortly before his death in 1867, was "to compile a legacy of the spiritual blessings which the right hand of God has lavished upon me. By legacy or will I mean soul-saving instructions.

As in all his writings, Bishop Ignaty bases his instructions in the Arena on Scripture and the Holy Fathers. He particularly emphasizes the need for thorough and most frequent study of the Gospels; the first four chapters of the book are devoted to the need for basing one's life on the Gospel commandments. In addition, his instructions are often illustrated with incidents from the lives of saints and righteous ones, both ancient desert-dwellers and contemporaries living in the world. Above all, his instructions are practical and are not meant to provide a rigid framework or "formula," but rather a guide which can be adapted to the various needs and circumstances of the individual.

A particularly interesting chapter is titled "Troubles are the Special Lot of the Monks of the Last Times." Here Bishop Ignatius discusses the danger which monks face as a result of the lack of spiritual instruction in our times and the increase of apostates who, "by calling themselves and appearing outwardly to be Christians, will all the more easily be able to persecute the true followers of Christ." However, as Bishop Ignatius points out, the very knowledge that afflictions are to come upon us should encourage us to wholeheartedly "humble ourselves under the strong hand of God, casting all our cares and anxiety on Him, for He cares for us."

Through his instructions on various aspects of the spiritual life-prayer, love for neighbor, humility, bodily labor, vigilance, repentance, fallen angels, remembrance of death-Bishop Ignatius skillfully guides the attentive reader along that narrow path which, he says, "rises from the earth, leads out of the darkness of vanity, leads to Heaven, leads to Paradise, leads to God, and places one before His face in unending light for eternal happiness." May Christians today read this book to great profit, inspired by the author's promise that "those who carry out these instructions will enter into possession of spiritual riches."