Saint of the Month - St. Ignatius the God-bearer, Bishop of Antioch - December 20
Tradition has it that it was the young boy Ignatius whom Christ took upon his knee to explain to His followers that they must become as children to enter the Kingdom. He knew the holy Apostles personally and, with St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. He was the second Bishop of Antioch, the capital of Syria and at that time one of the largest cities in the world. Here, during the persecutions of Domitian, he strengthened the faithful, brought many pagans to Christ, and prayed that he himself would be granted the crown of martyrdom. His flock called him the God-Bearer, a title that he did not refuse, for he said that all Christians after their Baptism are truly Bearers of Christ, clothed in the Holy Spirit.
When peace was restored to the Church for awhile, the holy Bishop devoted himself to organizing the young Church on strong foundations at a time when the last of the Apostles had only recently passed away. He established the principle that the Grace imparted to the Apostles at Pentecost was handed down to the bishops appointed by them, and so on through the generations: The Apostolic Succession.
The Emperor Trajan, passing through Syria to make war in Armenia, spent some time in Antioch and initiated a persecution of Christians. Rejoicing that the time of martyrdom had at last arrived, Ignatius presented himself before the Emperor and eloquently declared his faith in Christ. "So you are a disciple of the one crucified under Pontius Pilate?" asked the Emperor. "I am the disciple of Him who has nailed my sin to the Cross, and has trodden the Devil and his devices underfoot" the Sainted Bishop replied. The Emperor demanded: "Why do you call yourself the God-bearer?" St. Ignatius answered: "Because I carry the living Christ within me!" The Emperor, even more angry, gave the order: "Therefore, let the bearer of the Crucified One be taken in chains to Rome, there to be fed to the lions for the amusement of the people."
And so, it was. During the long and difficult journey to Rome, cruelly mistreated by his guards, the Saint wrote a series of letters to the young churches which remain one of the treasures of the Church. In Smyrna, he was able to meet with his fellow-disciple Polycarp and entrust to him the care of the churches whose shepherd he had been. As Trajan had ordered, in Rome he was taken to the amphitheater and, as the Synaxarion says, "entered the arena as though approaching the holy altar to serve his last Liturgy in the presence of the faithful, who were crowded among pagans on the steps of the amphitheatre." In a few moments he was completely devoured by the lions, save for a few bones. These were gathered by the faithful and returned to Antioch. In his Letter to the Romans, the holy Bishop wrote to some who wished to rescue him from his martyrdom: "I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found to be the pure bread of God."
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