Forefeast of the Nativity of Christ. Repose of St. John of Kronstadt (1908). Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer, Bishop of Antioch (107). Ven. Ignatii (Ignatius), Archimandrite of the Kiev Caves (Far Caves—1435). St. Philogonius, Bishop of Antioch (323). (1338).
The Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer, was a disciple of the holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, as was also Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (February 23). Saint Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch, and successor to Bishop Euodius, Apostle of the Seventy (September 7).
Tradition suggests that when Saint Ignatius was a little boy, the Savior 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.
Saint Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John the Theologian, together with Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. As Bishop of Antioch, Saint 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. Saint Ignatius came voluntarily before the emperor, so as to avert persecution of the Christians in Antioch. Saint 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. Saint Ignatius joyfully accepted the sentence imposed upon him. His readiness for martyrdom was attested to by eyewitnesses, who accompanied Saint Ignatius from Antioch to Rome.
On the way to Rome, the ship sailed from Seleucia stopped at Smyrna, where Saint Ignatius met with his friend Bishop Polycarp. Clergy and believers from other cities and towns thronged to see Saint 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, Saint Ignatius went to Troas. Here he heard the happy news of the end of the persecution against Christians in Antioch. From Troas, Saint Ignatius sailed to Neapolis (in Macedonia) and then to Philippi.
On the way to Rome Saint 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 Saint Polycarp, who mentions a collection of the letters of Saint Ignatius in his letter to the Philippians (Ch. 13). Saint Irenaeus of Lyons quotes from Saint Ignatius’s letter to the Romans (AGAINST HERESIES 5:28:4). All these letters have survived to the present day.
The Roman Christians met Saint Ignatius with great joy and profound sorrow. Some of them hoped to prevent his execution, but Saint 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 Saint 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, Saint Ignatius unceasingly repeated the name of Jesus Christ. When they asked him why he was doing this, Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint Ignatius were transferred to Antioch (January 29), and on February 1, 637 were returned to Rome and placed in the church of San Clemente.
TROPARIA AND KONTAKIA
Troparion of the forefeast, tone 4
Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all! Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, for the tree of life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave! Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit: If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam. Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning!
Troparion of the saint, tone 4
By sharing in 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 Ignatius, entreat Christ God to save our souls.
Kontakion of the saint, tone 3
The stirring celebration of your victorious fight Is an announcement of the One who is to be born of the Virgin. In your eagerness to possess Him forever, You hastened to be devoured by the wild beasts. Therefore, O glorious Ignatius, you were called the bearer of God!
Kontakion of the forefeast, tone 3
Today the Virgin comes to the cave to give birth to the Eternal Word. Hear the glad tidings and rejoice, O universe! Glorify with the angels and the shepherds the Eternal God, who is willing to appear as a little child!
Hebrews 10:35-11:7 (Epistle)
- Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.
- For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
- “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry.
- Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”
- But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
- Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
- For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
- By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
- By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
- By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
- But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
- By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
Mark 10:17-27 (Gospel)
- Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
- So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.
- You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”
- And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”
- Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
- But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
- Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”
- And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!
- It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
- And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?”
- But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”