St. Ignatius Noorono – (Agnimayanaya Ignathios) – Dec 20 I Theophorus I Bishop of Antioch I Apostolic Father
St. Ignatius of Antioch (Agnimayanaya Ignathios) has been well-known since earliest times. St. Ignatius was called “God-Bearer” (Theophorus). “This holy man was named the ‘God-Bearer’ because he always carried the name of the living God in his heart and on his lips. Also, by 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 set it among them, saying: ‘Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18: 3-4). This child was Ignatius. St. Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch, the city where followers of Jesus were first called Christians.
Our Lord held the child in His hands to exemplify humility and purity of heart to His disciples (Matt. 18: 1-6). He also bore God in his heart and prayed unceasingly to Him. This child later became the Patriarch of Antioch and came to be known as St. Ignatius Noorono, as indicated in the writings of the Holy Church Fathers. He stirred up their love of God and their courage with his fiery words.
St. Ignatius, a disciple of St. John (and St. Peter), was later chosen to be the third Bishop of Antioch. The saint, who lived a pious life in prayer and fasting, was jailed and exiled for the sake of the true faith. St. Ignatius instituted such an order in the Church of Antioch. In a vision this Holy Father witnessed the fiery angels alternately praising God in two batches (Ignathios Agnimayan). One of the most important part of Orthodox prayers is the Trisagion. This prayer came from a revelation received by Ignatius Noorono, a disciple of St. Paul. At the time of the burial of Jesus, the seraphims (angels) came down and one group sang: Holy art thou of God (Psalm 99:5)Then another group sang:
Holy art thou Almighty and then another group sang: Holy art thou, immortal (Rev. 1: 18). Then Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and the other believers (the then Church) sang: (Mark 15: 43) Thou that has crucified for us, have mercy on us. This also shows that angels and men form One Church, a single choir, because Christ is of both heaven and earth.
Jesus was the centre of thinking and core of St. Ignatius life, as he met Christ, continuously at the Eucharistic meal. Through tasting, touching and interacting, the holy mysteries unveiled the glorious mystery of Christ. He took fire from the spirit, Who is present in the Eucharist. Ignatius also stresses the value of the Eucharist, calling it “a medicine to immortality and an antidote against death.” In the Eucharist, we discover a unique medicine, that contains the physician Himself. We receive this grace and, like prophets, become Instruments of God. Our main means of receiving this Grace is through the Eucharist, which St. Ignatius calls the medicine of immortality and defines as the real presence of Christ. While the other sacraments convey and empower the Physician’s healing power, the Eucharist is “the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6.2). In the Eucharist, Christ is both Physician and Medicine.
Christ gives himself as the medicine to strengthen and preserve our souls from death and prepare our bodies to share his physical resurrection. This is why St. Ignatius calls it “the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Ephesians 20 .2). Ignatius is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyalty to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. St Ignatius was zealous and spared no effort to build up the Church of Christ. The bishop’s untiring efforts did not long remain hidden from the Church’s persecutors.
He lived during the time of severe persecutions against Christians. While passing through Antioch on his way to invade Persia, the Emperor Trojan heard about this Holy Father and forced him to desert his faith. Seeing his unwillingness to obey his order, the enraged emperor ordered Ignatius to be thrown into the lions’ den. When the soldiers approached him to chain him, the saint kissed the shackles. Even on his way to martyrdom he kept on preaching the gospel of the Lord to the faithful. He turned to the people and said: “Men of Rome, you know that I am sentenced to death, not because of any crime, but because of my love for God, by Whose love I am embraced. I long to be with Him, and offer myself to him as a pure loaf, made of fine wheat ground fine by the teeth of wild beasts.”
On this journey he wrote about seven letters, that gives us important insights into the theology of the Churches in the period immediately following the Apostolic Church period. They speak of ecclesiology, the sacraments (which were still developing) and the role of the bishops (whose role was also being developed). Four of these letters were written at Smyrna, where he had been received with great honour by Polycarp and many other Christians. These letters were addressed to the Church communities at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. At Troas he wrote the remaining three letters to Polycarp and to the church communities at Philadelphia and Smyrna. His words are timeless! The holy bishop exhorts his spiritual children to become Christians in words and deeds and not merely in name (something that we really need to introspect!).
The tradition says that on his way to execution, St Ignatius unceasingly repeated the name of Jesus Christ. When they asked him why he was doing this, St Ignatius answered that this Name was written in his heart, (the tradition also states that his heart was not touched by the lions who tore him into pieces) and that he confessed with his lips Him Whom he always carried within. St Ignatius was then led into the arena were the lions devoured him.
By the order of the emperor, St. Ignatius was martyred in Rome in AD 107/110. Ignatius’ feast day is observed on 20 December in the Orthodox Churches. St. Jerome and St. John Chrysostom both thought of his tomb as near the city gates of Antioch.