This month, we are learning to “Walk in the Light” with St. Ignatius of Antioch. St. Ignatius was the disciple of the disciples! His writings give us one of the earliest glimpses into the faith of the earliest Christians. St. Ignatius is known for his famous letters, sent to the communities he cared for, and written on the way to his martyrdom. As St. Ignatius shared with them to meet their needs, we can pull similar lessons from his writings which are just as relevant to us today in our walk as Orthodox Christians.
Before we begin our discussion, let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence. It’s been a long day.
Take this chance to come into the presence of God and his saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.
Part I: Living by Dying
The most notable thing about the letters of St. Ignatius is that he’s writing them on his way to be martyred. As St. Paul before him, St. Ignatius is writing in chains (Philippians 1:12-13). One would think that he’d be writing to ask for their help, pleading with them to come to his aid. We find the exact opposite. Rather, he “implores the Christians at Rome not to interfere with his own coming martyrdom:”
“It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth. I seek him who died for our sake. I desire him who rose for us. The pains of birth are upon me. Suffer me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to die. Do not give to the world one who desires to belong to God, nor deceive him with material things. Suffer me to receive the pure light; when I shall have arrived there, I shall become a human being. Suffer me to follow the example of the passion of my God.” Epistle to the Romans
“Pains of birth are upon me…hinder me not from living…do not wish me to die.” St. Ignatius has turned everything upside down (Acts 17:6)! He sees his coming death as his way to be born. He begs that they don’t put a stop to his martyrdom lest he die from being kept from death! St. Ignatius, seeing things with heavenly clarity, describes to us a reality where laying down our life in Christ is the source of living and not a loss at all (Philippians 1:21).
- What are your reactions to hearing the words of St. Ignatius? Discuss together.
- The majority of us won’t have the opportunity to “die” in Christ in the same way as St. Ignatius, and yet, his clarity and wisdom seem to pour out beyond the bounds of martyrdom. How might we apply his lessons of life through death to our own lives?
- St. Ignatius mentions that when he has met his martyrdom, he shall then become a human being. Each of us would typically consider ourselves human beings—what’s the difference here? How might his understanding of a human being differ from ours?
Part II: Living As Lights
St. Ignatius sees that his journey to perfection lies in his martyrdom but for his flock, he does not lay the same heavy burden. Rather, he spends his letters encouraging them to walk in the light of Christ. He exhorts them to live lives of holiness so that they might experience the power and beauty of God. He also reminds them that the way they live their lives matters because they must shine the light of Christ on everyone they meet. He takes extra care to remind them that what we profess with our lips must be lived out through our actions and that our actions are a witness (martyria) to all those they come in contact with.
“Let your baptism be your armor; your faith, your helmet; your love, your spear; your patient endurance, your panoply.” Letter to Polycarp
“Pray without ceasing on behalf of other men. For there is hope of the repentance, that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way.” Letter to the Ephesians
“It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach if he who speaks also acts.” Letter to the Ephesians
“Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips, and the world in your heart.” Letter to the Romans
- St. Ignatius emphasizes the importance of prayer and setting an example through our actions. How do these practices relate to his “Life Through Death” theme?
- If you could make one change tomorrow that would have a significant impact on your ability to “Live as a Light”, what would it be?
- St. Ignatius highlights the importance of silence which is a common theme in many of the writings of the saints. St. Arsenius, the Egyptian desert father is famous for saying, “Many times have I repented of having spoken, but never have I repented of having remained silent.” Have you ever been in a situation where it would have been much wiser to stay silent than to speak?
Conclude your meeting with this prayer of St. Ignatius of Antioch:
I am the wheat of God
and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts,
that I may be found the pure bread of God.
I long after the Lord,
the Son of the true God and Father, Jesus Christ.
Him I seek, who died for us and rose again.
I am eager to die for the sake of Christ.
My love has been crucified
and there is no fire in me that loves anything.
But there is living water springing up in me
and it says to me inwardly,
“Come to the Father”