Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Friday, 21 August 2015

St Irenaeus of Lyon - Carrier of the Faith

This Sunday, the 23rd of August, our Holy Church celebrates the memory of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. His writings and theology have been very influential to the Church's theology and teaching; particularly his work known as 'Against Heresies.'  As a disciple of St Polykarp of Smyrna (who was a disciple of St John the Theologian and Evangelist) he truly shared and carried forth the Apostolic teaching and faith of Christ's Church.

'By sharing the ways of the Apostles, you became a successor to their throne. Through the practice of virtue, you found the way to divine contemplation, O inspired one of God; by teaching the word of truth without error, you defended the Faith, even to the shedding of your blood. Hieromartyr Irenaeus, entreat Christ God to save our souls.' - Troparion

St Irenaeus, writing in opposition to the Gnostic movement, highlighted the unity of God. Furthermore he began describing the Holy, consubstantial and undivided Trinity (later explained more fully and precisely by the Cappadocian fathers), speaking of the Son and Holy Spirit as the 'hands of God.'

He continuously highlights the inseparability of salvation and history. God has always, and continues to, work through, and with His creation; with Jesus Christ as the highest point of salvation history.  For Irenaeus, Christ is the new Adam; as He was obedient until death on the wood of a tree, as opposed to Adam who was disobedient with regards to the fruit of a tree. The saint is also the first to draw comparisons between the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and Eve; something which of course continues to be done within the Church, in its services and writings.

'Jesus Christ the Son of God, through exceedingly great love for His creation, condescended to be born of a Virgin, having united mankind with God in His own self.' 

Through the Incarnation of God, creation becomes imaged and co-bodied to the Son of God, and Lord Jesus Christ. This is essential for the Hieromartyr Irenaeus; as through the Incarnation, and by Christ going through every stage of human life, from infancy to adulthood, human life is truly sanctified. For him, our salvation derives from Christ's incarnation. Irenaeus characterises the penalty of sin as death and corruption, and so by God becoming man and uniting with human nature we are given the gift of immortality. Like air, covering, surrounding and protecting the human race in order for us to survive, God becomes man in order for us to live eternally with Him. Of course it is for us to breathe in the air; as it is the case with accepting and living for Christ! When refuting the heresy of Valentinus, he writes this beautiful description of the Orthodox understanding of Salvation;

'The Word of God, Jesus Christ, through His inexplicable blessedness caused it to be, that we also, should be made that which He is.'

Saint Irenaeus also preached, lived, and was witness to, the truth of Apostolic Succession and Orthodoxy. He has clearly been a carrier and preserver of the Faith and Tradition of the Church, and his writings will remain important, and influential throughout every age:

'The preaching of the Church is everywhere consistent, and continues in an even course, and receives testimony from the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the Disciples - as I have proved - through those in the beginning, the middle, and the end, and through the entire dispensation of God, and that well-founded system which tends to man's salvation, namely our faith; which having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also.... For in the Church, it is said, God hath set Apostles, Prophets, Teachers and all the other means through which the Spirit works..For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth.'
- Irenaeus III.38.1

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