(Jan. 29/Feb. 11)


About the Great Lesson Taught Us by the Life and Death of the Holy Godbearer


        Brothers and sisters!


        Today our Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the Translation of the Relics of Saint Ignatius the Godbearer.  Saint Ignatius was martyred in Rome, and shortly after his death in the year 107, his remains were taken to the suburbs of Antioch, the city of which he was bishop.  Much later, in 438, the relics were brought into the city itself and triumphantly enshrined there.  Later still, in 540, when Antioch fell to the Persians, or perhaps it was in 636-37, when it fell to the Arabs, the relics were removed and returned to Rome.  The present feast celebrates all these transferals.

        Saint Ignatius is arguably the most outstanding figure of the sub-apostolic era; that is, the period immediately following the death of the holy apostles.  Eusebius, the renowned ecclesiastical historian, calls Saint Ignatius the “world-famous,” and Origen speaks of him in similar terms.  The saint’s fame rests partially upon his beautiful epistles to various churches, written as he was being taken from Antioch to Rome to be martyred, and also upon his martyrdom itself.  Ignatius’ epistles are perhaps the most moving Christian documents to reach us not only from the sub-apostolic age, but from the entire period of the Second and Third Centuries; while his martyrdom, with its prelude, is one of the most instructive of all.  It is about the great lesson it teaches that I wish to speak today.

        Upon arrival in Rome, Ignatius was sent directly to the arena by the Prefect of the city.  On the way, the heathen noticed that he ceaselessly had the name of Jesus Christ upon his lips, and they asked why he constantly repeated this name.  The saint replied that he did so because he had that name written in his heart.  Following this, the lions were released, and they sprang upon him and devoured him, leaving only some bones and his heart.  Remembering what the saint had said and wishing to know if it was true, the pagans cut the heart in half.  Inside, on both pieces, they saw in letters of gold the inscription:  “Jesus Christ.”  Thus, Saint Ignatius was in very truth a God-bearer, having the name of the Lord written in his heart by his prayer as though with a pen.

        And so, dear brothers and sisters, what exactly is the great lesson taught us by this?

        What else, but that we, like the saint, should always bear in our heart the name of Christ the Saviour, and that we should always repeat that name, calling upon it in the spirit of repentance.  To whom should the name of Christ be dear, if not to us Orthodox Christians, who are clothed in Christ in Holy Baptism and united with Him body and soul every time we partake of the Mystery of Holy Communion?  We are united to Him like branches to a tree.  I am the vine, He says; ye are the branches.[1]  If we live in union with Christ here and hope to remain with Him after death, how can we ever forget Him?  When we sin before Him (and we sin, at least in thought, every minute), we must repent before Him; we must beg His mercy.  Therefore, we should remember Him and turn to Him in our thought more frequently than to anyone else, as to our King and Lord.  As David, that great master of prayer, put it:  Unto Thee have I lifted up mine eyes, unto Thee that dwellest in heaven.  Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hands of their masters, as the eyes of the handmaid look unto the hands of her mistress, so do our eyes look unto the Lord our God, until He take pity on us.[2]

        This is precisely what Saint Ignatius, and the other Holy Fathers and saints, true servants of Christ, did.  No other name was so often in their thoughts and on their tongue as the name of Jesus Christ.  The prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” was their inseparable companion, when they were in church, at work, or during their private devotions.  Not only did they constantly repeat this prayer, the Prayer of Jesus, themselves:  they taught it to the laity and urged them to say the Prayer constantly, especially those who sought to make ascents to God in their heart and by this means inscribe there the name of Jesus Christ.  According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, the Prayer of Jesus can even replace the divine services, especially when one has not the opportunity to attend them.

        When a person devotes himself to prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, this name becomes sweet in his mouth and heart, and becomes a powerful consolation to him in joy and sorrow.  More, this name, which is full of divine and saving power, and is the name of the One Who is Himself Salvation, itself becomes salvation to him.  Just one or two examples of its power will suffice to show that this is so…

        Thus, during the reign of Justinian the Great, there was a terrible earthquake in Antioch, which was threatening to reduce the city to ruins.  Then a certain devout elder advised that the saving name of Jesus Christ be painted on all the surviving homes in the city.  What was the result?  No sooner was this done, than the tremors ceased, and the city was saved from complete destruction.

        Again, a certain disciple of Saint Paphnutius was suffering from a disease of the eye.  The saint gave him a prayer rope and advised him to say the Prayer of Jesus one thousand times.  The moment he completed the appointed number, his affliction was healed, and he was saved from blindness. 

        And so, dear Christians, if we wish to save our souls, then let us say the Prayer of Jesus more and more often.  Rather than listening to empty, vapid music or pretentious pundits while we are driving or performing menial tasks, let us turn our heart to Christ and through the Prayer abide in Him.  The less you waste time, the less you sin and the more you pray, the more your affairs will prosper.  More importantly, the closer you will draw to Christ.  What profit is there in allowing one’s thoughts to remain perpetually scattered and thereby to permit oneself to be defiled constantly by the evil one?  Instead, repeat the Prayer of Jesus everywhere:  at home, on the road, and in church.  Say it whenever and wherever you can, as part of your daily rule of prayer, while you are falling asleep, when you awake, and especially when you are undergoing a temptation or trial of any kind.

        By the prayers of the holy Godbearer Saint Ignatius, may the Lord Jesus Christ direct our steps in the doing of His commandments, especially His commandment that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.[3]  Amen.



[1] John 15:5

[2] Ps. 122:1-2

[3] Luke 18:1