Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Commemorated on December 20
The Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer, was a disciple of the holy Apostle and
Evangelist John the Theologian, as was also St
Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (February 23). St Ignatius
was the second bishop of Antioch, and successor to
Bishop Euodius, Apostle of the Seventy (September
Tradition suggests that when St Ignatius was a little
boy, the Saviour hugged him and said: "Unless you
turn and become as little children, you shall not enter
into the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt. 18:3). The saint
was called "God-Bearer" (Theophoros), because he
bore God in his heart and prayed unceasingly to Him.
He also had this name because he was held in the
arms of Christ, the incarnate Son of God.
St Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John the
Theologian, together with St Polycarp of Smyrna. As
Bishop of Antioch, St Ignatius was zealous and spared
no effort to build up the church of Christ. To him is attributed the practice of
antiphonal singing (by two choirs) during church services. He had seen a vision of the
angels in heaven alternately singing praises to God, and divided his church choir to
follow this example. In the time of persecution he was a source of strength to the
souls of his flock, and was eager to suffer for Christ.
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 Bishop Ignatius openly confessed Christ,
and taught people to scorn riches, to lead a virtuous life, and preserve their virginity.
St Ignatius came voluntarily before the emperor, so as to avert persecution of the
Christians in Antioch. St Ignatius 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. St Ignatius joyfully accepted the sentence imposed upon
him. His readiness for martyrdom was attested to by eyewitnesses, who
accompanied St Ignatius from Antioch to Rome.
On the way to Rome, the ship sailed from Seleucia stopped at Smyrna, where St
Ignatius met with his friend Bishop
Polycarp. Clergy and believers from
other cities and towns thronged to
see St Ignatius. He exhorted
everyone not to fear death and not
to grieve for him. In his Epistle to
the Roman Christians, he asked
them to assist him with their
prayers, and to pray that God
would strengthen him in his
impending martyrdom for Christ: "I
seek Him Who died for us; I desire
Him Who rose for our salvation... In
me, desire has been nailed to the
cross, and no flame of material
longing is left. Only the living water
speaks within me, saying, 'Hasten
to the Father.'"
From Smyrna, St Ignatius went to
Troas. Here he heard the happy
news of the end of the persecution
against Christians in Antioch. From
Troas, St Ignatius sailed to Neapolis (in Macedonia) and then to Philippi.
On the way to Rome St 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. He also addressed a letter to St Polycarp,
who mentions a collection of the letters of St Ignatius in his letter to the Philippians
(Ch. 13). St Irenaeus of Lyons quotes from St Ignatius's letter to the Romans (AGAINST
HERESIES 5:28:4). All these letters have survived to the present day. The Roman
Christians met St Ignatius with great joy and profound sorrow. Some of them hoped
to prevent his execution, but St Ignatius implored them not to do this. Kneeling
down, he prayed together with the believers for the Church, for love between the
brethren, and for an end to the persecution against Christians.
On December 20, the day of a pagan festival, they led St 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. Tradition says that on his way to execution, St Ignatius unceasingly
repeated the name of Jesus Christ. When they asked him why he was doing this, St
Ignatius answered that this Name was written in his heart, and that he confessed
with his lips Him Whom he always carried within. When the saint was devoured by
the lions, his heart was not touched. When they cut open the heart, the pagans saw
an inscription in gold letters: "Jesus Christ." After his execution St Ignatius appeared
to many of the faithful in their sleep to comfort them, and some saw him at prayer
for the city of Rome.
Hearing of the saint's great courage, Trajan thought well of him and stopped the
persecution against the Christians. The relics of St Ignatius were transferred to
Antioch (January 29), and on February 1, 637 were returned to Rome and placed in
the church of Saint Clement.
With acknowledgement to the Orthodox Church in America:

The icon of the Lord’s Nativity

We can identify at least eight elements depicted in the icon of the Lord’s Nativity as it
shows the whole of the Gospel story.
(1) The focus of the icon is the Christ-child and His mother, the Theotokos and Mother of
Light. Mary is seen reclining on a red blanket (symbolising the colour of life) and looks
not at her newborn Son but rather at Joseph. She prays so that his struggles of
disbelief might be overcome.
(2) The star of course represents the heavens rejoicing at the glorious birth of our Lord
Jesus Christ. It is shown as the brightest star in the sky and is what guided the magi
(6) to the new-born King.
(3) The backdrop of the scene is the dark cave which immediately reminds us of Christ’s
tomb. The infant Christ’s swaddling bands prefigure too the burial shroud of our
Lord. In the cave are the ox and the ass – participants not mentioned in the Gospels
but shown in fulfilment of the words of the Prophet Isaiah “The ox knoweth his
owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but
Israel doth not know, my people doth not
(4) The angels are shown sometimes in
two groups – one, a multitude of the
heavenly host praising God, and saying
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace, good will toward men”. The
second announces the news of great joy
to the shepherds (5).
(5) The fact that Jewish shepherds and
heathen magi (6) were among the first to
worship our Lord shows us the
universality of this great event, meant for
the salvation of all mankind.
(6) Bringing gold, frankincense and
myrrh, the three magi were led by the
heavenly star to the manger in which our
Lord lay.
(7) Joseph is seen apart from the main
scene of the icon – showing that he was not directly involved in the miracle of the
Incarnation of the Son of God but was the protector of Mary and Jesus. The old man
speaking to him represents Satan tempting him with doubts. St Joseph loves his wife,
and through her prayers he overcomes this struggle.
(8) The washing of Christ by the midwife is sometimes seen in the icon and sometimes
not. In some churches on Mount Athos the scene has been removed from frescoes as
the opinion was that Christ had no need of washing, being born in a miraculous
manner from a pure virgin. The image is largely retained in our icons as part of holy
tradition passed down to us – showing that the birth of Christ was a real birth and
that the body He assumed was a real, human body requiring customary care and
nurture. The water also represents the water of life and Baptism.
The icon seen as a whole is gloriously bright and colourful. Against the background of an
inhospitable world, the mountains, plants, animals and mankind, the joyful scene unfolds –
represented most perfectly in the figure of the new Eve, the most pure Mother of God.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!