ܐܦܛܪܘܦܘܬܐ ܦܛܪܝܪܟܝܬܐ  ܕܡܪܥܝܬܐ ܕܐܘܚܕ̈ܢܐ ܡܥܪ̈ܒܝܐ ܕܐܡܝܪܟܐ

Archdiocese of the Western USA

St. Ignatius Noorono 3rd Patriarch of Antioch, November 17 ܡܪܝ ܐܝܓܢܐܛܝܘܣ ܢܘܪܢܐ

St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 107)

The third bishop (Patriarch) of Antioch, succeeding Evodius around 68AD. Ignatius, who most likely, with Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna (commemorated 23 February) were fellow-disciples under St. Peter and St. John. It is a tradition by no means inconsistent with anything in the Epistles of either. His subsequent history is sufficiently indicated in his Epistles.

The seductive myth which represents this Father as the little child whom the Lord placed in the midst of his apostles (Matthew 18: 2) indicates at least the period when he may be supposed to have been born. 

Professor Ramsay suggests, that he belonged to a Syrian family, strongly affected by Western civilization, which had discarded native names.  It is clear from the nature of his punishment that he cannot have been a Roman citizen, in which case he would have been sent, like St. Paul, to Rome for trial, and, if condemned, would have been beheaded.  From the scattered hints which the letters give, e. g. Rom. 9, 'born out of due time,' and the expression, 'last (of all),' found in Eph. 21, Trall. 13, Smyrn. 11, we may conclude that his conversion was late in life (Ch. in R. Empire, p. 440, note.)

According to ecclesiastical history and tradition, St. Peter the Apostle established a bishopric in Antioch and became its first bishop and was succeeded by Evodius for the converted Jews and St. Ignatius the Illuminator for the converted Gentiles. After the martyrdom of St. Peter in Rome, he was succeeded by St. Evodius who was martyred in 68AD, and St. Ignatius respectively. St. John the Chrysostom says that St. Peter appointed St. Ignatius Bishop of Antioch, who governed the See for forty years.

Several of his letters have survived to this day; he is generally considered to be one of the Apostolic Fathers (the earliest authoritative group of the Church Fathers) and a saint by both the Roman Catholics, who celebrate his feast on October 17and February 1, and the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, who celebrate his feast on December 20, The Syriac Orthodox Church celebrates his feast on November 17 the day he martyred.

St. Ignatius was so delighted by his name Theophorus "God-Bearer" (sufficiently expounded in his own words to Trajan or his official representative), since he had the Name of the Savior in his heart and prayed unceasingly to Him, that it is worth noting how deeply the early Christians felt and believed in (2 Corinthians 6: 16) the indwelling Spirit.

Saint Ignatius was zealous and spared no efforts for toiling in the fields of Christ. To him is attributed the establishing within church services of antiphonal singing (for two parts or choirs). During time of persecution he was a source of strength to the souls of his flock, and was himself ardent in the wish to suffer for Christ.

Ignatius has been censured for his language to the Romans, in which he seems to crave martyrdom. But he was already condemned, in law a dead man, and felt himself at liberty to glory in his tribulations.

We learn from his letters that he voluntarily presented himself before Trajan at Antioch, the seat of his bishopric, when that prince was on his first expedition against the Parthians and Armenians (A.D. 107); and on professing himself a Christian, he was arrested by the Roman authorities and transported to Rome, condemned to the wild beasts in the arena. They hoped to make an example of him and thus discourage Christianity from spreading. Instead, he met with and encouraged Christians all along his route.  After a long and dangerous voyage he came to Smyrna, of which Polycarp was bishop, and thence wrote his four Epistles to the Ephesians, the Magnesians, the Trallians, and the Romans. From Smyrna he came to Troas, and tarrying there a few days, he wrote to the Philadelphians, the Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp. His letters proved to be influential in the development of Christian theology. He then came on to Neapolis, and passed through the whole of Macedonia. Finding a ship at Dyrrachium in Epirus about to sail into Italy, he embarked, and crossing the Adriatic, was brought to Rome, where he was martyred on the 17th of November 107AD (according the Syraic account), or, as some think, who deny a twofold expedition of Trajan against the Parthians, on the same day of the year 116AD.


Introductory Notice of his account:

The following account of the martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch, in several passages, to have been written by those who accompanied him on his voyage to Rome, and were present on the occasion of his death (chaps. v. vi. vii.). And if the genuineness of this narrative, as well as of the Ignatian Epistles, be admitted, there can be little doubt that the persons in question were Philo and Agathopus, with Crocus perhaps, all of whom are mentioned by Ignatius (Epist. to Smyr., chap. x.; to Philad., chap. xi.; to Rom., chap. x.) as having attended to him on that journey to Rome which resulted in his martyrdom. On the other hand, however, this account of the death of Ignatius is in perfect harmony with the particulars recounted by Eusebius and Chrysostom regarding him. Its comparative simplicity, too, is greatly in its favor. It makes no reference to the legends which by and by connected themselves with the name of Ignatius. As is well known, he came in course of time to be identified with the child whom Christ (Matt. 18: 2-4) set before His disciples as a pattern of humility. It was said that our Lord Savior took him up in His arms, and that hence Ignatius derived his name of Theophorus; that is, according to the explanation which this legend gives of the word, one carried by God. But in chap. ii. of the following narrative we find the term explained to mean, "one who has Christ in his breast;" and this simple explanation, with the entire silence preserved as to the marvels afterwards connected with the name of Ignatius, is certainly a strong argument in favor of the early date and probable genuineness of the account. Some critics, such as Usher and Grabe, have reckoned the latter part of the narrative spurious, while accepting the former; but there appears to be a unity about it which requires us either to accept it in total, or to reject it altogether.


The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius

Desire of Ignatius for martyrdom.

When Trajan (A.D. 98-117) not long since, succeeded to the empire of the Romans, Ignatius, the disciple of John the apostle, a man in all respects of an apostolic character, governed the Church of the Antiochians with great care, having with difficulty escaped the former storms of the many persecutions under Domitian, inasmuch as, like a good pilot, by the helm of prayer and fasting, by the earnestness of his teaching, and by his constant spiritual labor, he resisted the flood that rolled against him, fearing only lest he should lose any of those who were deficient in courage, or apt to suffer from their simplicity. Wherefore he rejoiced over the tranquil state of the Church, when the persecution ceased for a little time, but was grieved as to himself, that he had not yet attained to a true love to Christ, nor reached the perfect rank of a disciple. For he inwardly reflected, that the confession which is made by martyrdom, would bring him into a yet more intimate relation with the Lord. Wherefore, continuing a few years longer with the Church, and, like a divine lamp, enlightening every one's understanding by his expositions of the Holy Scriptures, he at length attained the object of his desire.


St. Ignatius is condemned by Trajan.

For Trajan, in the ninth year of his reign, being lifted up with pride, after the victory he had gained over the Scythians and Dacians, and many other nations, and thinking that the religious body of the Christians were yet wanting to complete the subjugation of all things to himself, and thereupon threatening them with persecution unless they should agree to worship demons, as did all other nations, thus compelled all who were living godly lives either to sacrifice to idols or die. Wherefore the noble soldier of Christ Ignatius, being in fear for the Church of the Antiochians, was, in accordance with his own desire, brought before Trajan, who was at that time staying at Antioch, but was in haste to set forth against Armenia and the Parthians. And when he was set before the emperor Trajan, said unto him:

"Who are you, (unlucky) wicked wretch, who set yourself to transgress our commands, and persuade others to do the same, so that they should miserably perish?"

St. Ignatius replied: "No one ought to call Theophorus (one who carries God) wicked wretch; for all evil spirits and demons you worship have departed from the servants of God. But if, because I am an enemy to these spirits, you call me wicked in respect to them, I quite agree with you; for inasmuch as I have Christ the King of heaven within me, I destroy all the devices of these evil spirits."

Trajan answered, "And who is Theophorus?"

St. Ignatius replied, "He who has Christ within his breast."

Trajan said, "Do we not then seem to you to have the gods in our mind, whose assistance we enjoy in fighting against our enemies?"

St. Ignatius answered, "You are in error when you call the demons of the nations, gods. For there is but one God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that are in them; and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, in whom I hope may be saved by His love."

Trajan said, "Do you mean Him who was crucified under Pontius Pilate?"

St. Ignatius replied, "I mean Him who crucified the sin, with its inventor, and who has condemned all the deceit and malice of the devil under the feet of those who carry Him in their heart."

Trajan said, "Do you then carry within you Him that Christ (was crucified)?"

St. Ignatius replied, "Truly so; for it is written, I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (2 Cor. 6: 16.).

Then Trajan pronounced sentence as follows: "We command that Ignatius, who affirms that he carries about within him, Him that was crucified, be bound by soldiers, and carried to the great [city] Rome, there to be devoured by the beasts, for the gratification of the Romans (people of Rome)."

When the holy martyr heard this sentence, he cried out with joy, "I thank You, O Lord, that You have vouchsafed to honor me with a perfect love towards You, and have made me to be bound with iron chains, like Your Apostle Paul." Having spoken thus, he then, with delight, clasped the chains about him; and when he had first prayed for the Church, and commended it with tears to the Lord, he was hurried away by the savage cruelty of the soldiers, like his Lord as distinguished ram the leader of a goodly flock, that he might be carried to Rome, there to furnish food to the bloodthirsty beasts.


St. Ignatius sails to Smyrna.

Wherefore, with great alacrity and joy, through his desire to suffer, he came down from Antioch to Seleucia, from which place he set sail. And after a great deal of suffering he came to Smyrna (Izmir, modern Turkey), where he disembarked with great joy, and hastened to see the holy St. Polycarp, [formerly] his fellow-disciple, and [now] bishop of Smyrna. For they had both, in old times, been disciples of St. John the Apostle. Being then brought to him, and having communicated to him some spiritual blessings (gifts), and glorying in his bonds, he entreated him to labor along with him for the fulfillment of his desire; earnestly indeed asking this of the whole Church (for the cities and Churches of Asia had welcomed the holy man through their bishops, and priests (presbyters), and deacons, all hastening to meet him, if by any means they might receive from him some spiritual blessing, but above all, the holy Polycarp, that, by means of the wild beasts, he (Ignatius) soon departs from this world, might be manifested before the face of Christ.)


St. Ignatius writes to the churches.

And these things he thus spoke, and thus testified, extending his love to Christ so far as one who was about to secure heaven through his good confession, and the earnestness of those who joined their prayers to his in regard to his [approaching] conflict; and to give a recompense to the Churches, who came to meet him through their rulers, sending letters of thanksgiving to them, which dropped spiritual grace, along with prayer and exhortation. Wherefore, seeing all men so kindly affected towards him, and fearing lest the love of the brotherhood should hinder his zeal towards the Lord, while a fair door of suffering martyrdom was opened to him, he wrote to the Church of the Romans the Epistle.


St. Ignatius is brought to Rome.

Having therefore, by means of this Epistle, settled, as he wished, those of the brethren at Rome who were unwilling for his martyrdom; and setting sail from Smyrna (for Christophorus was pressed by the soldiers to hasten to the public spectacles in the mighty [city] Rome, that, being given up to the wild beasts in the sight of the Roman people, he might attain to the crown for which he strove,) he [next] landed at Troas. Then, going on from that place to Neapolis, he went [on foot] by Philippi through Macedonia, and on to that part of Epirus which is near Epidamnus; and finding a ship in one of the seaports, he sailed over the Adriatic Sea, and entering from it on the Tyrrhene, he passed by the various islands and cities, until, when Puteoli came in sight, he was eager there to disembark, having a desire to tread in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul (Acts 28:13-14). But a violent wind arising did not suffer him to do so, the ship being driven rapidly forwards; and, simply expressing his delight over the love of the brethren in that place, he sailed by. Wherefore, continuing to enjoy fair winds, we were reluctantly hurried on in one day and a night, mourning [as we did] over the coming departure from us of this righteous man. But to him this happened just as he wished, since he was in haste as soon as possible to leave this world, that he might attain to the Lord whom he loved. Sailing then into the Roman harbor, and the unhallowed sports being just about to close, the soldiers began to be annoyed at our slowness, but the bishop joyfully yielded to their urgency.


St. Ignatius is devoured by the beasts at Rome.

They pushed forth therefore from the place which is called Portus (Potrus); and (the fame of all relating to the holy martyr being already spread abroad) we met the brethren full of fear and joy; rejoicing indeed because they were thought worthy to meet with Theophorus, but struck with fear because so eminent a man was being led to death. Now he enjoined some to keep silence who, in their fervent zeal, were saying that they would appease the people, so that they should not demand the destruction of this just one. He being immediately aware of this through the Spirit, and having saluted them all, and begged of them to show a true affection towards him, and having dwelt [on this point] at greater length than in his Epistle, [1429] and having persuaded them not to envy him hastening to the Lord, he then, after he had, with all the brethren kneeling [beside him], entreated the Son of God on behalf of the Churches, that a stop might be put to the persecution, and that mutual love might continue among the brethren, was led with all haste into the amphitheatre. Then, being immediately thrown in, according to the command of Caesar given some time ago, the public spectacles being just about to close (for it was then a solemn day, as they deemed it, being that which is called the thirteenth in the Roman tongue, on which the people were to assemble in more than ordinary numbers, they came together zealously, he was thus cast to the wild beasts close beside the temple, that so by them the desire of the holy martyr Ignatius should be fulfilled, according to that which is written, "The desire of the righteous is acceptable [to God]," Prov. 10:24. to the effect that he might not be troublesome to any of the brethren by the gathering of his remains, even as he had in his Epistle expressed a wish beforehand that so his end might be. For only the harder portions of his holy remains were left, which were conveyed to Antioch and wrapped in linen, as an inestimable treasure left to the holy Church by the grace which engulfed  the martyr.


St. Ignatius appears in a vision after his death.

Now these things took place on the seventeenth day of November (the Orthodox Churches celebrate his martyrdom on the twentieth of December), Sura and Senecio being then the consuls of the Romans for the second time. Having ourselves been eye-witnesses of these things, and having spent the whole night in tears within the house, and having entreated the Lord, with bended knees and much prayer, that He would give us weak men, full assurance respecting the things which were done, it came to pass, on our falling into a brief slumber, that some of us saw the blessed Ignatius suddenly standing by us and embracing us, while others beheld him again praying for us, and others still saw him dropping with sweat, as if he had just come from his great labor, and standing by the Lord. When, therefore, we had with great joy witnessed these things, and had compared our several visions together, we sang praise to God, the giver of all good things, and expressed our sense of the happiness of the holy martyr; and now we have made known to you both the day and the time when these things happened, that, assembling ourselves together according to the time of his martyrdom, we may have fellowship with the champion and noble martyr of Christ, who trod under foot the devil, and perfected the course which, out of love to Christ, he had desired, in Christ Jesus our Lord; by whom, and with whom, be glory and power to the Father, with the Holy Spirit, for evermore! Amen.

The relics of the holy martyr were brought back to Antioch by the deacon Philo of Cilicia, and Rheus Agathopus, a Syrian, and were interred outside the gates not far from the beautiful suburb of Daphne. They were afterwards removed by the Emperor Theodosius II to the Tychaeum, or Temple of Fortune which was then converted into a Christian church under the patronage of the martyr whose relics it sheltered.

St. Ignatius's great concern was for the unity and order of the Church. Even greater was his willingness to suffer martyrdom rather than deny his Lord Jesus Christ. Not to his own suffering did Ignatius draw attention, but to the love of God which strengthened him. He knew the price of commitment and would not deny Christ, even to save his own life.

The character of St. Ignatius, as deduced from his own and the extant writings of his contemporaries, is that of a true athlete of Christ. The triple honor of apostle, bishop, and martyr was well merited by this energetic soldier of the Faith. An enthusiastic devotion to duty, a passionate love of sacrifice, and an utter fearlessness in the defense of Christian truth, were his chief characteristics. Zeal for the spiritual well-being of those under his charge breathes from every line of his writings. Ever vigilant lest they be infected by the rampant heresies of those early days; praying for them, that their faith and courage may not be wanting in the hour of persecution; constantly exhorting them to unfailing obedience to their bishops; teaching them the true dogma; eagerly sighing for the crown of martyrdom, that his own blood may fructify in added graces in the souls of his flock, he proves himself in every sense a true, pastor of souls, the good shepherd that lays down his life for his sheep.


St. Ignatius’ Epistles, Collections

The oldest collection of the writings of St. Ignatius known to have existed was that made use of by the historian Eusebius in the first half of the fourth century, but which unfortunately is no longer extant. It was made up of the seven letters written by Ignatius whilst on his way to Rome; These letters were addressed to the Christians

·   of Ephesus;

·   of Magnesia;

·   of Tralles;

·   of Rome;

·   of Philadelphia;

·   of Smyrna; and

·   to St. Polycarp.


We find these seven letters mentioned not only by Eusebius ("Hist. eccl.", III, xxxvi) but also by St. Jerome (De viris illust., c. xvi). Of later collections of Ignatian letters which have been preserved, the oldest is known as the "long recension". This collection, the author of which is unknown, dates from the latter part of the fourth century. It contains the seven genuine and six spurious letters, but even the genuine epistles were greatly interpolated to lend weight to the personal views of its author. For this reason they are incapable of bearing witness to the original form. The spurious letters in this recension are those that purport to be from Ignatius

  • to Mary of Cassobola;

  • to the Tarsians;

  • to the Philippians;

  • to the Antiochenes;

  • to Hero a deacon of Antioch. Associated with the foregoing is

  • a letter from Mary of Cassobola to Ignatius.


It is extremely probable that the interpolation of the genuine, the addition of the spurious letters, and the union of both in the long recension was the work of an Apollonarist of Syria or Egypt, who wrote towards the beginning of the fifth century. Funk identifies him with the compiler of the Apostolic Constitutions, which came out of Syria in the early part of the same century. Subsequently there was added to this collection a panegyric on St. Ignatius entitled, "Laus Heronis". Though in the original it was probably written in Greek, it is now extant only in Latin and Coptic texts. There is also a third recension, designated by Funk as the "mixed collection". The time of its origin can be only vaguely determined as being between that of the collection known to Eusebius and the long recension. Besides the seven genuine letters of Ignatius in their original form, it also contains the six spurious ones, with the exception of that to the Philippians.

In this collection is also to be found the "Martyrium Colbertinum". The Greek original of this recension is contained in a single codex, the famous Mediceo-Laurentianus manuscript at Florence. This codex is incomplete, wanting the letter to the Romans, which, however, is to be found associated with the "Martyrium Colbertinum" in the Codex Colbertinus, at Paris. The mixed collection is regarded as the most reliable of all in determining what was the authentic text of the genuine Ignatian letters. There is also an ancient Latin version which is an unusually exact rendering of the Greek. Critics are generally inclined to look upon this version as a translation of some Greek manuscript of the same type as that of the Medicean Codex. This version owes its discovery to Archbishop Ussher, of Ireland, who found it in two manuscripts in English libraries and published it in 1644. It was the work of Robert Grosseteste, a Franciscan friar and Bishop of Lincoln (c. 1250). The original Syriac version has come down to us in its entirety only in an Armenian translation. It also contains the seven genuine and six spurious letters. This collection in the original Syriac would be invaluable in determining the exact text of Ignatius, were it in existence, for the reason that it could not have been later than the fourth or fifth century. The deficiencies of the Armenian version are in part supplied by the abridged recension in the original Syriac. This abridgment contains the three genuine letters to the Ephesians, the Romans, and to Polycarp. The manuscript was discovered by Cureton in a collection of Syriac manuscripts obtained in 1843 from the monastery of St. Mary Deipara in the Desert of Nitria. Also there are three letters extant only in Latin. Two of the three purport to be from Ignatius to St. John the Apostle, and one to the Blessed Virgin, with her reply to the same. These are probably of Western origin, dating no further back than the twelfth century.


Contents of the letters

It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of the testimony which the Ignatian letters offer to the dogmatic character of Apostolic Christianity. The martyred Bishop of Antioch constitutes a most important link between the Apostles and the Fathers of the early Church. Receiving from the Apostles themselves, whose auditor he was, not only the substance of revelation, but also their own inspired interpretation of it; dwelling, as it were, at the very fountain-head of Gospel truth, his testimony must necessarily carry with it the greatest weight and demand the most serious consideration.


The most system of Church doctrine may be discovered, at least in outline, not to say in parts filled up, in the course of his seven epistles. Among the many Church doctrines to be found in the letters are the following:

- the Church was Divinely established as a visible society, the salvation of souls is its end, and those who separate themselves from it cut themselves off from God (Philad., c. iii);

- the hierarchy of the Church was instituted by Christ (lntrod. to Philad.; Ephes., c. vi);

- the threefold character of the hierarchy (Magn., c. vi);

- the order of the episcopacy superior by Divine authority to that of the priesthood (Magn., c. vi, c. xiii; Smyrn., c.viii; Trall., c.iii);

- the unity of the Church (Trall., c. vi; Philad., c.iii; Magn., c. xiii);

- the holiness of the Church (Smyrn., Ephes., Magn., Trall., and Rom.);

- the catholicity (universality) of the Church (Smyrn., c. viii);

- the infallibility of the Church (Philad., c.iii; Ephes., cc. xvi, xvii);

- the doctrine of the Eucharist (Smyrn., c. viii), which word we find for the first time applied to the Blessed Sacrament,

- It is from the word katholikos that the word "catholic" comes. When Ignatius wrote the Letter to the Smyrnaeans in roughly used the word "catholic," he used it as if it were a word already in use to describe the Church. This has led many scholars to conclude that the appelation "Catholic Church" with its ecclesial connotation may have been in use in Antioch as early as the last quarter of the first century. After St. Ignatius was able to bring together the whole who become Christian from Jews and Gentiles into one Church in Antioch.

- the Incarnation (Ephes., c. xviii);

- the supernatural virtue of virginity, already much esteemed and made the subject of a vow (Polyc., c. v);

- the religious character of matrimony (Polyc., c. v);

- the value of united prayer (Ephes., c. xiii);

- He, moreover, denounces in principle the Protestant doctrine of private judgment in matters of religion (Philad. c. iii), the heresy against which he chiefly inveighs is Docetism. Neither do the Judaizing heresies escape his vigorous condemnation. St. Ignatius did not hold to keeping the law of the Jews for salvation, nor did he hold to the teaching of Docetism, which believed that Jesus' passion, His living, and being resurrected were figurative. Simply put, Docitism believed that Jesus did not actually live and die, nor was He raised from the dead.


St. Ignatius of Antioch is the one who said in his letters:

"He that is imprinted in mine heart, is He Whom I confess with my lips."

"The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ."

"I greet you from Smyrna together with the Churches of God present here with me. They comfort me in every way, both in body and in soul. My chains, which I carry about on me for Jesus Christ, begging that I may happily make my way to God, exhort you: persevere in your concord and in your community prayers"

"Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be; even as where Jesus is, and there is the Church''

"Hearken ye unto the bishop, so that God in turn might hearken unto you... let Baptism remain with you, like a shield and buckler; faith, like an helmet; love, like a spear; patience, like full armor".


May his prayers be with us, and Glory be to God forever. Amen.