A letter to Abbot Anthony (Bochkov) of the Cheremenets Monastery
Most Reverend Father Anthony!
I sincerely thank you for your visit to me, a sinner; this visit afforded me heartfelt consolation. I am especially grateful to you for desiring to acquaint me with your poems, with your wonderful talent, to which I give its true value. Mother Maria, after your departure, read me several more of your compositions. All of God’s gifts to man are worthy of respect. Without doubt, the gift of eloquence [words] belongs to the greatest of gifts. By it man is made like unto God, Who has His Word. The word of man, like the Word of God, ever abides with its father and in its father—the mind—being one with it, and at the same time being inseparably separate from it. The human word is dependent upon the mind alone, from which it is continually being born, and through it the mind expresses its existence. We cannot even imagine the existence of the mind without the word or the word without the mind. When the mind wishes to communicate with the mind of its neighbors it uses its word for this. The word, in order to acquire the means of communication, clothes itself in sounds or letters. Then the immaterial word is made as it were material, remaining immutable in its essence. The Word of God too, so as to enter into contact with men and save them, became man.
A well-reasoned look at man’s word makes understandable the reason for the Lord’s strict decree, by which it is ordained and proclaimed that men will give an account for every idle word. The Divine purpose of the word for writers, for all teachers, and above all for pastors, is the instruction and salvation of men. What a terrible answer will be given by those who turn the means of edification and salvation into a means of depravity and destruction! St. Gregory the Theologian wrote in verse with a lofty, profoundly pious goal: to furnish readings and images in poetry to Christian youth, and to make unnecessary for them the study of the pagan poets, who exhale sensuality and the other passions, who exhale sacrilege.
I sincerely wish for you too the goal of the Theologian, finding you capable to a certain degree of complying with this purpose, and your reward will be great on earth and in heaven. Take the yoke of this goal upon yourself, as one obliged to render an answer at some point to the Giver for the talent given you. Take upon yourself the labor needed to attain this goal. Putting aside all vexation, apply yourself continually and humbly to the prayer of repentance that you are now occupied with, drawing inspiration from it for your writing. Then subject your writings to your own strictest criticism, and in the light of your conscience, enlightened by the prayer of repentance, mercilessly throw out of your works everything that belongs to the spirit of the world, that is foreign to the spirit of Christ. Woe unto them that laugh now! These are the words of Christ! This is a decree that proceeds from God! It is impossible to set it aside by any excuse whatever. Judging yourself and scrutinizing yourself, you will see that every word spoken or written in the spirit of this world places its mark upon your soul, by which souls are sealed unto the prince of this world. It is essential to repent of such words, which are let loose through enthusiasm and ignorance. It is essential to establish in one’s heart a deposit of faithfulness to Christ, and to immediately heal any falling away of the heart from faithfulness, due to our infirmity, by repentance and by putting away from oneself actions instilled by unfaithfulness and committed under the influence of spirits which flatter us and at the same time thirst for our destruction.
In my imagination I can already see a book of your verses, of poetry worthy of being called both sacred and elegant. Oh, may I see my expectation become fact, that I might rejoice over it with spiritual joy! About myself I can say nothing: you have seen more than I can tell you. Again I thank you for the labor you undertook in visiting me, and invoke God’s blessing upon you. I ask your holy prayers, and with feelings of the most sincere devotion and respect I have the honor to be
Your Reverence’s most humble servant, Bishop Ignatios
August 11, 1864