OCTOBER 17: FEAST OF ST IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, BISHOP AND MARTYR
WHO WAS IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH?
Ignatius of Antioch had the distinction of being one of the Christians discipled by St. John, and of being one of the early martyred Christians. What can we learn from his short but dramatic life?
For many Christians throughout the years, the name St. Ignatius of Antioch carries certain respect due to the trials this saint went through. His commitment to Christ was unwavering, even amid strong persecution. He taught his followers the knowledge of Jesus Christ to make better disciples of them for the Lord.
Here are some things you might not have known about Ignatius of Antioch.
What Do We Know About Ignatius of Antioch?
The name Ignatius means God-bearer. Ignatius was originally known as Ignatius Theophorous. He later seemed to drop the surname and went by the name of Ignatius, which means God-bearer. Tradition has it that he was one of the little children that Jesus took in His arms and blessed.
Ignatius was one of the early martyrs. Ignatius of Antioch was one of the early Christians to be martyred. It was during the reign of Emperor Trajan that Ignatius was arrested. Chained and on his way to martyrdom, many Christians came out and greeted him on the way. Among them were presbyteries, deacons, pastors, and his close friend Bishop Polycarp, the bishop in charge of overseeing the churches in Smyrna.
Ignatius told devout Christians not to pray for a way for him to escape. As Christian encouragements arrived during his death march, Ignatius told well-wishers not to pray for him because he embraced dying for the Lord. “Nearness to the sword is nearness to God; to be among the wild beasts is to be in the arms of God; only let it be in the name of Jesus Christ. I endure all things that I may suffer with Him since He who became perfect man strengthens me.” One may say that Ignatius saw these well-wishers as trying to do good, but unknowingly blocking his pathway to heavenly glory.
Ignatius preached for many years of total surrender to Christ. Ignatius preached a message of selflessness many times over the years. He taught his followers to surrender fully to Christ so that they could freely die for Him when the time came. His famous words were, “We have not only to be called Christians but to be Christians.” He backed his preaching with the type of lifestyle he lived, one that was holy and righteous in the sight of God and man.
Ignatius was an early disciple of John. Early church writings state that Ignatius was an early disciple of St. John the Revelator. It may have been John who first introduced him to the deep revelations of the things of God. He and Polycarp were both students of John.
Ignatius was ordained a bishop by St. Peter. Tradition has it that the Apostle Peter ordained Ignatius as bishop of Antioch in AD 69. He oversaw the Antioch church for around 40 years. As bishop, Ignatius made sure to teach his congregation the core points of following Christ. He vacated his position as bishop on the day of his death, in the arena.
Ignatius wrote seven letters to the churches before his death. On his way to the arena in Rome, Ignatius’ captors passed through many places. While they rested in these locations, Ignatius penned letters to churches. In the letters, he spoke of greater ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the major role bishops play in the church. In addition, Ignatius argued against disunity, encouraged faithfulness to Christ and prayer for all the saints, and warned against false teachers entering the flock. His letters became famous in the churches and were named one of the three most important letters written to the church of his time (Polycarp and Clement of Rome wrote the other two letters).
Who Were The Apostolic Fathers?
The Apostolic Fathers were second-generation apostles of the faith (the first generation were the apostles with Jesus before His death). John the Revelator was the last apostle to die. The Apostolic Fathers were responsible for carrying on where the first Apostles left off. They were responsible for teaching the word of God, caring for people in need, and above all, living an exemplary lifestyle that imitates the Lord.
What Were the Core Beliefs of Ignatius of Antioch?
Ignatius of Antioch held many religious beliefs, the most important ones being his belief in Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. He strongly believed that these three doctrines hold the answer to life everlasting in heaven with the Lord Jesus. Ignatius also saw laboring with Christ in His kingdom as a vital part of Christendom. With these fundamental teachings in his grasp, he solidly taught the word of God boldly and without fear of persecution.
How Did Ignatius of Antioch Die?
Wild beasts killed Ignatius in the arena. On the last day of Ignatius’s life, he stood before the jeering crowd and would not dare deny his Savior, Jesus Christ. Some of his last words were, “Now I begin to be a disciple… Let fire and cross, flocks of beasts, broken bones, and dismemberment come upon me, so long as I attain to Jesus Christ.” When his captors released the wild beasts, there was no struggle: he willingly laid down his life as a sacrifice and sweet-smelling offering unto the Lord.
What Can We Learn From Ignatius of Antioch?
We must not be afraid of death. Ignatius embraced death to embrace Christ’s suffering, living in His presence forever. Today, many Christians are afraid of dying if they should be called upon to give their life for the sake of Christ and the gospel. Our love for the Lord must be so strong that if death should face us for His sake, we are more than willing to rise to the occasion. The Word of God says, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).
To keep the faith at all times. Ignatius never compromised his beliefs. He felt strongly that regardless of what circumstances people should find themselves in, they should cling to the faith passed down to them. This belief rings true today. Regardless of what faces us, we should hold fast to the doctrine of Christ and never lose our faith in Him. If we hold on to Christ, we will, in turn, receive our reward, which is life eternal.
To be obedient to authorities in the church. Ignatius taught his followers to submit to the authorities that God put in place in the church. If we Christians become rebellious and refuse to submit to God-given authorities, we risk being influenced by Satan’s deceptions. Bishops, pastors, deacons, and other appointed leaders in the household of faith are placed in leadership by God to help us to grow spiritually.
Ignatius of Antioch became a great figure in the early church because of his stand for the truth and the doctrine of Christ. Although he died many years ago, today, his memory still lives on in the minds of many Christians around the world. One can truly say that this important man and champion of the faith deserve to sit with Christ in heaven.