Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Monday, 23 January 2017

St Ignatius' Epistles

Saint Ignatius of Antioch (c.35-108) was a young convert to Christianity, and a disciple of the Apostle John. He was later called to serve as Bishop of Antioch, succeeding Saint Evodius.

His writings, especially his epistle to the Romans, mention his arrest by authorities, and travel to Rome for trial. Along this route, Ignatius wrote six letters to regional churches, and one to his fellow Bishop Polykarp of Smyrna.

In his epistle to the Romans, Saint Ignatius highlights the fact he 'shall not profit' from the pleasures of this world, but would rather 'die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth,' "for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Lk 9:25) Offering his life into God's hands, he willingly desires to imitate the Lord's passion, and be persecuted and tortured in His name. He prays for attainment to God, through his trial and martyrdom, with his life and example set on the Lord's commandment for His each follower to "deny Himself and take up his cross." (Matt 16:24-26)

Ignatius' letter to Polykarp of Smyrna offers spiritual and ecclesiastical advice to his fellow Bishop. He emphasises the need for unity, to "bear all men.. suffer all men in love," as the Lord accepts all Who take refuge in Him. He encourages Polykarp, stating that for all toils and difficulties "there is much gain," therefore "give thyself to unceasing prayer.. be watchful and keep thy spirit from slumbering," as God will give strength to those who serve Him faithfully. While noting the importance of keeping and securing the Orthodox faith, the Bishop of Antioch advises Polykarp on pastoral matters mainly; "let not widows be thou their protector...let meetings be held more frequently.. that they may obtain a better freedom from God." He thus shares our Saviour's commandment to offer our service and help to those with needs, with those in certain difficult situations, and ensure the Church, especially their Bishop, is there at all times to assist in their spiritual wellbeing. The Bishop's position as the representative of Christ is of paramount importance to Ignatius, with unity and collaboration amongst the three-fold ranks of clergy being an integral part of ecclesial life. "Toil together one with another, struggle together, run together, suffer together... rise up together as God's stewards and assessors and ministers." 

St Ignatius' letters, along with the Didache, directly follow the New Testament period, and consist of several parallels to St Paul's letters. The Bishop of Antioch enters into the Pauline, and wider Christian Apostolic tradition, preceding the well known writings and theology of St Irenaeus, who develops on Ignatius' Eucharistic theology and Ecclesiology; particularly the notion of 'The Body of Christ.' Just as there is one Eucharist, one Altar, and one Christ, there should be one Bishop in each area. As well as the undertone of unity to his theology, Ignatius significantly emphasises the real presence in the Eucharist, being at the centre of the Christian's liturgical life, as the way in which we unite with the historical Christ Who suffered and died for us, in the ecclesial community.