In the Gospel of Matthew (18.2-5), there is a passage that reads: “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And who shall receive one such child in my name receiveth me.'” The child whom Jesus selected to illustrate his parable and upon whom He endowed a spark of divinity with the touch of his hand was a child named Ignatius who thereafter grew up in the sacred company of the apostles of the Lord and went on to become one of the most venerated of all of our saints.
Ignatius became a student of St. John the Apostle, who guided the boy who had felt the hand of Jesus Christ. St. John saw to it that Ignatius’ desire to serve the Savior would be fulfilled. Privileged to receive the instruction of the Apostles themselves and the benediction of the Lord, Ignatius has been accorded the high honor by Church Fathers as one of the “Apostolic Fathers” of the Church, which means that, having lived among the Apostles and shared in the missionary movement with them, he merits the highest of titles. He shares the honor with only the following luminaries: Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Herman of Rome, and Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis.
The role played by Ignatius, surrounded by the greatest figures of Christianity, has not been diminished by time, principally because he was equal to the task of carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ and has come down to us as a mighty saint not because he was with the apostles, but in spite of it. There were many who shared in the apostolic missions, deserving men and women who gave of themselves that the light of Christianity might be brought to the entire world, but the brightest of these assistants was the man whom Jesus had set in their midst. His extensive travels are well recorded, and he was rewarded for his great efforts by being appointed bishop of Antioch, the most important center of Christianity in the formative years and which had been the headquarters and first episcopacy of none other than the magnificent St. Peter.
While in Antioch, St. Ignatius gave ample evidence of his intellectual power, as displayed in prolific writings and his acknowledged prowess as an orator whose persuasiveness convinced the skeptics of the truth of Jesus Christ. His famous epistles to the Ephesians, Magnesisans, Philadelphians, Romans, Smyrneans, to Polycarp, and to many others are classics patterned after the Pastoral Letters of St. Paul, compelling writings about the perpetuation of the Christian faith, the chief requirement for which was personal sacrifice. He urged harmony among Christians, obedience to hierarchs and disassociation with heretics and malcontents. His letters to Polycarp, Origen, Eusebios, and Jerome are classics in religious literature.
Igantius and his associates gained such momentum for the new faith that the Romans considered them a menace to their way of life whereas before they had deemed it an innocuous and ephemeral phenomenon that would soon dissipate itself. They therefore no longer chose to ignore Christianity, and when Emperor Trajan emerged victorious over barbaric enemies he ordered that a victory celebration be held in all cities, including Antioch. This meant not only the observance of a state-declared holiday but also meant that the pagan gods of Rome were to be thanked by everyone, pagan and Christian alike. When Ignatius refused to participate in any such celebration, he was summoned before the emperor.
In a famous dialogue in 106 between Emperor Trajan and Bishop Ignatius, each presented his case with rhetorical skill, but the truth of the Savior and superior eloquence of Ignatius outstripped the Emperor. There could, however, be only one winner, and the royal wrath called for the elimination of the defiant bishop of Antioch. Led away in chains, Ignatius continued to make a mockery of the pagan gods and to point to the Savior as the only saving grace.
Ignatius was thrown to the lions, and what was left of this courageous man of God was buried in Daphne, afterward to be removed to Antioch by Emperor Theodosios II.
Taken from Orthodox Saints by George Poulos, c1990, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, MA, pp.205-206
St. Ignatius is the patron saint of the chapel at the Antiochian Village.
By choosing the Apostles’ way of life, you succeeded to their throne. Inspired by God you found the way to divine contemplation through the practice of virtue. After teaching the word of truth without error, you defended the Faith to the very shedding of your blood. O holy martyr among bishops, Ignatius, entreat the Lord our God to save our souls!
What is a “God-Bearer”?
A God-bearer is a title for a saint who is well known for bearing within themselves the love of God, so much so that God’s presence is shown from them to those around them. St. Ignatius is a God-bearer in that he was a bishop who had a great love of God and also for the flock of believers that God placed in his care. That love showed itself most strongly when St. Ignatius willingly allowed himself to be killed rather than denying his faith in God. In some icons he is shown being eaten by lions with a smile on his face as he receives the reward of those who die for their faith – entrance into God’s Heavenly Kingdom.