Orthodox America

  In Abraham’s Bosom

     Rublev's famous icon of the Holy Trinity in the guise of three angels seated at a table depicts the visitation of the three strangers to Abraham. The tree in the background is not merely decorative; the Genesis account relates that the strangers arrived in the heat of the day and were asked to sit down in the shade of a tree. According to tradition , this same tree is still standing. The massive Oak of Mature is a frequent destination of pilgrims, In the past 35 years the caretaker of this holy site, Abbot Ignatius, greeted hundreds of pilgrims with the same hospitality which met the three Strangers outside the tent of Abraham there on the plain of Mature some 4,000 years ago. News of Abbot Ignatius' repose on January 12/25 this year was received with great sorrow by those fortunate to have become even briefly acquainted with him in this life, by the many whose hearts he had warmed and consoled and whose needs he had carried to God in prayer.

    Fr. Ignaty was born of a Russian peasant family. During the Second World War he followed a wave of émigrés to Germany where, together with his daughter, he visited the displaced Brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev. He received a blessing from Metropolitan Anastassy to become a monk and was tonsured in 19a6. One of his obediences was the distribution of Gospels and other edifying literature to the many Orthodox faithful waiting to be resettled in the free world. In 1949 Fr. Ignaty was ordained to the priesthood, and the following year he was a s signed to the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, where he was soon entrusted with the property in Hebron on which stands the Oak of Mature and the adjacent Church of the Holy Forefathers.

    The countless pilgrims who made their way to this holy site during these years will not forget the joy and love with which they were received by the small Hebron community, Fr. Ignaty met everyone who came and blessed each pilgrim with an icon of the Mother of God, a copy of the Kursk Icon of the Sign, which he always carried in a small pouch hanging on his chest.

    It was customary that when a large group of pilgrims was expected, a few of them would come early to help Fr. Ignaty prepare a meal. The next morning the pilgrims arrived for the Divine Liturgy; many had confession with Fr. Ignaty, At the end of the Liturgy the cross was carried in procession to the Oak of Mature where a molieben was served to the Holy Trinity, and everyone gathered some leaves and acorns as tokens of remembrance. The procession returned to the church accompanied by the ringing of bells. After kissing the cross the pilgrims seated themselves at long tables in the dining area where they listened as Fr. Ignaty, scarcely able to restrain his tears, read the narrative concerning the meeting of the three Strangers with the righteous Abraham and Sarah. He then spoke a word of welcome, and finished by greeting one and all: "Christ is Risen!"

     Each of the pilgrims was anxious to have a few words with Fr. Ignaty, to open their hearts to him and receive his counsels. Even if, in the presence of a large group, only 5 or 10 minutes could be spared, all departed wondrously uplifted, grateful for Fr. Ignaty's counsel and his holy prayers. Pilgrims left him lists of names to commemorate and expressed their gratitude in their continuing donations to the Hebron community. Often this brief contact was strengthened and preserved through a correspondence providing many with spiritual guidance and inspiration over the years.

    Together with his two helpers Fr. Ignaty labored both spiritually and physically to cultivate the plot entrusted to his care. The daily cycle of services was conducted without omissions. The yard, the garden and the vineyard--all requiring much work--were tended with the help, in recent years, of Romanian pilgrims anxious to earn small sums to help defray the expense of their journey. Among his many projects Fr. Ignaty erected a cupola on the belfry, repaired and painted the church roof and later the interior, erected a fence; steps and a courtyard in front of the church were poured in cement.

     In his 35 years at Hebron, Fr. Ignaty maintained peaceful relations with his neighbors, though not all of Hebron's exclusively Moslem population was quite so well disposed towards the Orthodox presence in their community, and Fr. Ignaty endured many thefts, threats, and other evidence of ill will. Children, however, loved him, and he always had for them a small coin or candy.

    Fr. Ignaty's last years were marked by physical suffering, although his swollen legs did not prevent his serving,    true man of prayer, he continued the daily commemoration of thousands of names from lists--in various languages--left by pilgrims and sent from abroad. The fact that God had placed Fr. Ignaty there where He Himself had once appeared was a constant source of consolation, and Fr. Ignaty always tried to imitate, in spite of his meager resources, the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah. That he succeeded in his holy endeavor is affirmed by the scores of pilgrims who found both physical and spiritual nourishment at the tables which Fr. Ignaty set out for them there in the shade of the Oak of Mature.

    Abbot Ignaty was a monk of genuine simplicity and ascetic life. The path he chose demanded much patient suffering, hard labor and self-denial. But along the way he manifested a steadfast love for God and neighbor, shedding a rare warmth upon countless souls the world over. May all those for whom he prayed now keep in their prayers the soul of this righteous servant of God, and may God grant him rest with the saints.

Memory Eternal

(Based on a pilgrim's account in "Pravoslavnaya Rus” Jan. 28, 1986)