The Life of St. Ignatius of Antioch
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 19:14
Holy tradition tells us that when Christ spoke these words, it was St. Ignatius of Antioch who was sitting on His lap. Otherwise known as Theophorus “God-Bearer”, St. Ignatius sought the kingdom of heaven as a disciple of the Apostles and later as a Bishop by ordination of St. Peter.
Most of what we know about St. Ignatius is in seven letters preserved by St. Polycarp. During his on-foot journey to Rome, he wrote to the churches and left for us a snapshot of early Christian life, practice, and faith. Of his written teachings, he emphasized the place of the Eucharist in our lives as the source of healing and true presence of Christ.
Dying a martyr’s death, St. Ignatius was killed in the Roman arena by beasts, depicted in icons as lions, under the rule of Emperor Trajan on December 20, 107. Before his repose, he boldly expressed: “I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” In the spirit of these words and of his martyrdom, many early Christians were encouraged to continue struggling in the pursuit of God.
The path of righteousness that St. Ignatius walked and on which he emboldened so many to join was one that required endurance through persecution. Knowing what obstacles they would have to face, he implored that they would pray “without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be ye meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be ye stedfast in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness” (1 Epistle to the Ephesians). We can draw inspiration from St. Ignatius’ extreme humility towards God and towards others.
Feast Day: December 20th
How can St. Ignatius intercede for us?
As young adults and especially as college students, many of us can recall examples of times we’ve experienced unkindness for our faith. Perhaps it was someone who didn’t want to be friends after finding out we were Christian, or a mocking professor, or maybe some of us have felt the alienation that comes when we have to stand up for what we know to be true.
The first thing that we can take comfort in is knowing that we are not alone. Christ God was incarnate for our sake and was mocked, beaten, scourged, and rejected before His ultimate triumph over sin and death. For nearly two thousand years, the martyrs and Saints who have come before us have experienced all manner of persecution and oppression, but they knew that true freedom and peace can only come from the Creator of all. St. Ignatius knew this peace in the face of trial, and we can look to him in moments of adversity, that he’d lift our eyes towards heaven and plead with Christ that He would dwell in us as our Strength. Through his intercessions, may we boldly and humbly live out faith.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Matthew 16: 24-26
Learn His Troparion:
As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Ignatius. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.
St. Ignatius Troparion - Tone 4
- What does it mean to endure suffering for Christ’s sake? Consider how St. Ignatius approached his execution in Rome. How or with what posture of heart should we approach the persecutions we endure in our own lives?
- Look back at the quote from St. Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. In modeling the love of Christ for those who crucified Him, St. Ignatius calls us to pray for those who commit evils against us. Is it easy or difficult to pray for those who’ve wronged us? Why? How might we begin to do so?
Pray to him.
Hearing thy confession, the faithful people glorified God; but Trajan, gnashing his teeth, again demanded: “Why art thou called God-bearer?” And thou sayest: “For I bear my God in my heart.” Wherefore, we chant to thee:
Rejoice, faithful warrior of the King of heaven!
Rejoice, invincible champion of the faith!
Rejoice, good shepherd!
Rejoice, advocate for our souls!
Rejoice, for, enlightened by the divine Spirit, with pastoral boldness thou puteth the savagery of the tyrant to shame!
Rejoice, for, guiding the flock of Christ, thou illumineth many with the light of knowledge divine!
Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!
Considering all the beauties of the world to be as dung that thou might acquire Christ, O Ignatius, thou crieth: “Who shall separate me from the love of God? Tribulation is sweet to me; the bonds I bear for Him Whom I desire are pleasant; persecutions are dearer to me than my homeland, and pangs are more delightful to me than health of body!” And we, honoring thy glorious memory, cry out to God: Alleluia!
Seeing thee to be an invincible confessor of the Faith of Christ, the ungodly Trajan condemned thee to death; but thou didst cry out, rejoicing: “For me it is more pleasant to die than to live! Christ, and to die for Him, is gain! Unto Him do I go; Him do I love; Him do I hope to receive!” Wherefore, O holy Ignatius, we bless thee:
Rejoice, thou whose desire it was to depart and be with Christ!
Rejoice, pure sacrifice to God!
Rejoice, imitator of the sufferings of Christ!
Rejoice, for thou wast crucified with Christ!
Rejoice, for thou didst shed thy blood for Christ!
Rejoice, for by thy blood thou adorneth thy hierarchal vesture!
Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!
Excerpt sourced from Akathist to Saint Ignatius the God-Bearer (holyascensionofchrist.org)