What To Do With Saint Ignatius?

What To Do With Saint Ignatius?

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Of all the saints of the Church, Ignatius maybe had the biggest impact in leading me towards Orthodoxy. Saint Ignatius threw several wrenches into my Protestant Evangelical machinery.

After discovering him, I was faced with the question:

What do I do with Ignatius?

Here’s a brief bio that will explain why he was problematic for me:

Ignatius the God-Bearer was a disciple of the holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, and was the second bishop of Antioch, and successor to Bishop Euodius, Apostle of the Seventy. This means that Ignatius knew and was taught by the apostles. He was serving as bishop and was teaching while many of the Apostles were still alive.

In the year 106, the emperor Trajan (98-117), after his victory over the Scythians, ordered everyone to give thanks to the pagan gods, and to put to death any Christians who refused to worship the idols. In the year 107, Trajan happened to pass through Antioch. Here they told him that the elderly Bishop Ignatius openly confessed Christ, and taught people to scorn riches, to lead a virtuous life, and preserve their virginity.

Saint Ignatius came voluntarily before the emperor, so as to avert persecution of the Christians in Antioch. He rejected the persistent requests of the emperor Trajan to sacrifice to the idols. The emperor then decided to send him to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts. Saint Ignatius joyfully accepted the sentence imposed upon him. His readiness for martyrdom was attested to by eyewitnesses, who accompanied Saint Ignatius from Antioch to Rome.

On the way to Rome, Saint Ignatius visited several churches, teaching and guiding the Christians there. He also wrote seven epistles: to the churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna. All these letters have survived to the present day.

On December 20, the day of a pagan festival, they led Saint Ignatius into the arena, and he turned to the people: “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.”

After this the lions were released and tore him to pieces, leaving only his heart and a few bones. Hearing of the saint’s great courage, Trajan thought well of him and stopped the persecution against the Christians.

Here was my problem.

Because Ignatius was a contemporary and disciple of the apostles, his understanding of the apostolic faith would have been identical to that of the apostles. Yet his 7 epistles, which are his last will and testament, indicate multiple doctrines that did not fit my Evangelical image of the early church and interpretation of Scripture.

Here are a few:

1. Episcopal form of government.

“Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the complete Church.” (Epistle to the Smyreans)

“as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants:” (Epistle to the Philadelphians)

2. The true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again… Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints.” (Epistle to the Smyreans)

“Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.” (Epistle to the Philadelphians)

“I desire the Bread of God, the heavenly Bread, the Bread of Life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; I wish the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.” (Epistle to the Romans).

3. The necessity and efficacy of Baptism.

“He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians)

This muddied the waters and eventually led me to Orthodoxy. I am not saying that all who consider the church that Ignatius painted will become Orthodox, but it was hard for me to support my own Scriptural interpretations against one who knew the writers of Scripture.

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

About author
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Theron Mathis

I am a sales and marketing guy with two degrees in religion. During my last year at a Baptist seminary, I stumbled into Orthodoxy, and it opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed. Within a year of graduation, my wife and I were received into the Orthodox church.

As a former Baptist, the Bible was the centerpiece of my faith, being instilled with the very words of Scripture from childhood. Yet Orthodoxy opened the Bible in ways I could never imagined (especially the OT). As Orthodox, we have often surrendered the Bible to the Evangelical Protestant world, yet every Church Father, prayer, and divine service breathes Scripture with every breath. It is this interaction of Church and Scripture that captures my heart. Time within the Church enriches the hearing of the Word, and time spent in the Scripture enlivens the words of the liturgy. They are inseparable, and to understand Scripture outside Liturgy is to rip the Bible away from its source of meaning. This connection animates my writing and reflections.

My biggest passions are my faith and my family. I attend church at St. Michael Orthodox Church in Louisville, KY, where I teach the adult Sunday school class. This has given me the opportunity to stay engaged in Biblical Studies and Patristics, and out of those classes I recently wrote The Rest of the Bible, introducing those “mysterious” OT books often referred to as the Apocrypha. You can find more info on my blog - The Sword in the Fire.