The Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer

This holy man is called  “the God-bearer” because he constantly bore the name of the Living God in his heart and on his lips. According to tradition, he was thus named because he was held in the arms of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ. On a day when the Lord was teaching His disciples humility, He took a child and placed him among them, saying: Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is Image result for icon of st. ignatius of antiochgreatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:4). This child was Ignatius.

Later, Ignatius was a disciple of St. John the Theologian, together with Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. As Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius governed the Church of God as a good shepherd and was the first to introduce antiphonal chanting in the Church, in which two choirs alternate the chanting. This manner of chanting was revealed to St. Ignatius by the angels in heaven. When Emperor Trajan was passing through Antioch on his way to do battle with the Persians, he heard of Ignatius, summoned him and counseled him to offer sacrifice to the idols. If Ignatius would do so, Trajan would bestow upon him the rank of senator. As the counsels and threats of the emperor were in vain, St. Ignatius was shackled in irons and sent to Rome in the company of ten merciless soldiers, to be thrown to the wild beasts. Ignatius rejoiced in suffering for his Lord, only praying to God that the wild beasts would become the tomb for his body and that no one would prevent him from this death. After a long and difficult journey from Asia through Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus, Ignatius arrived in Rome, where he was thrown to the lions in the circus. The lions tore him to pieces and devoured him, leaving only several of the larger bones and his heart. This glorious lover of the Lord Christ suffered in the year 106 in Rome at the time of the Christ-hating Emperor Trajan. Ignatius has appeared many times from the other world and worked miracles, even to this day helping all who call upon him for help.

From the Prologue of Ochrid

The significance of St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius is a direct link between the New Testament and the early Church. He is the bridge from the Apostles of Christ to the Church, the Church of the New Testament, which is the Orthodox Church. Tradition bears witness that St. Ignatius was also a hearer of the Apostles and knew them.

St. Ignatius has gifted to Church seven letters (Epistles) in which he sets forth a defense of the Church against early heresy, such as the Docetists (who taught that Christ was not truly man, for they felt created things were evil).  To battle this error, St. Ignatius stresses two important revelations of Christ: the first is the divinity of Christ. This was defense against the opinion by some Jews which viewed Christ as the last of the prophets. St. Ignatius is clear and refers to the Saviour as Christ is “our God” (Smyr. 10:1). The second is the realization of the humanity of Christ, teaching clearly of the reality of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection (Smyr., ch. 3).

Along with the Apologetic nature of his Epistles, St. Ignatius also speaks of the Hierarchy in the Church, describing attributes of the Bishop, Presbyters, and Deacons. Concerning the place of the Bishop, we read, “Without his approval no services are to be held (Smyr. 8:2) or other action taken (Trall. 7:2).” His letter to the Ephesians admonishes the faithful to love their Bishop, Onesimus: “I pray that ye may love him according to Jesus Christ and that ye all may be like him” (Eph 1:3).

St. Ignatius also writes to the faithful concerning the the Eucharist, teaching that it is “the medicine of immortality” (Eph. 20:2). Again we see the striking commonality between the early Church of the Second Century and today!

By God’s divine providence, St. Ignatius traveled an arduous journey on his way to Rome and was able to comfort and teach the faithful, offering proof of a commonality of faith and understanding among the different Church communities. So greatly was he regarded that the faithful yearned to see him on his journey.

Wondrous is God in His Saints and wondrous is it that the Church should celebrate this holy father at this time of Advent. St. Ignatius’ teachings demonstrate the two natures in Christ – the divine and human – true God and true man! The two great feasts that are quickly drawing nigh will also emphasize these points – in the Nativity the Church celebrates the Incarnation in the flesh of our Saviour. In the holy Theophany, the divine nature of Jesus Christ is revealed along with the epiphany of the Holy Trinity.

We can offer no greater praise of St. Ignatius than does the homily of St. John Chrysostom:

He held true converse with the apostles and drank of spiritual fountains. What kind of person then is it likely that he was who had been reared, and who had everywhere held converse with them, and had shared with them truths both lawful and unlawful to utter, and who seemed to them worthy of so great a dignity? The time again came on, which demanded courage; and a soul which despised all things present, glowed with Divine love, and valued things unseen before the things which are seen; and he lay aside the flesh with as much ease as one would put off a garment. What then shall we speak of first? The teaching of the apostles which he gave proof of throughout, or his indifference to this present life, or the strictness of his virtue, with which he administered his rule over the Church; which shall we first call to mind? The martyr or the bishop or the apostle. For the grace of the spirit having woven a threefold crown, thus bound it on his holy head, yea rather a manifold crown. For if any one will consider them carefully, he will find each of the crowns, blossoming with other crowns for us.

Eulogy of St. John Chrysostom for St. Ignatius Source