By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria
My brethren, we celebrate today and keep festival for a great Father of the Church, Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, Bishop of Antioch. He was a disciple of the Apostles, and is described as a father of Bishops and courageous soldier of Christ.
His name in Latin means "flame",1 that is, he was ignited with a desire for Christ, so much so that his nickname was "God-bearer", which he himself did not hesitate to use without boasting. Besides, all Christians are God-bearers and Christ-bearers and also Spirit-bearers through Holy Baptism and their participation in the life of the Church. One tradition says that Saint Ignatius, when he was a child, was embraced by Christ, Who then said: "And whoever receives a little child like this in My name receives Me."2
In the face of Saint Ignatius, just as in the faces of all the Saints of our Church, we see concepts and words overthrown. We read in the Life of Saint Ignatius the God-bearer that when Saint Ignatius was arrested and brought from Antioch to Rome to throw him to the wild beasts, he sent a letter to the Christians in Rome asking them to help him. What was the help this God-bearing Father sought?
Perhaps to offer him some services during his difficult times?
Perhaps to release him from bondage, using any acquaintances with appropriate people?
Perhaps even to redeem his life with money, in order to live as long as God would allow?
No, rather this Bishop from Syria, who is being taken from the East and brought West, asks the Romans to not wrong him with their love, but allow him to be ground as wheat in the teeth of the wild beasts, to be the pure bread of Christ.
He wrote the Romans:
"I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable goodwill towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep, I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God]."3
"May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me: I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. And let no one, of things visible or invisible, envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ."
"Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Allow me to obtain pure light: when I have gone there, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God."
"For though I am alive while I write to you, yet I am eager to die. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father. I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life."
"I have not written to you according to the flesh, but according to the will of God. If I shall suffer, you have wished [well] to me; but if I am rejected, you have hated me."4
This is how the Saints speak; this is the way of their life and how they communicate with God. They do not operate according to the frequencies of the world, nor are their lives compatible with the world. Their thoughts, their minds and their hearts, their entire being is turned towards Heaven. What happens with the Saints is that which the Apostle to the Nations preached: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."5 And also: "For here we do not have an lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come."6 Thus words cease to have their ordinary meaning and concepts are overturned.
And we ask: Will we find ourselves at this frequency of living that Saint Ignatius had, the frequency of the Saints of our Church? Do we have within us the flame that Saint Ignatius had in his heart? Are we ready to be sacrificed for Christ today? Are we able to exchange money, glory and pleasure for the name "that is above every name",7 Christ? These are some questions that should make us think.
My brethren, Christmas is near.
We are preparing to celebrate again the deep mystery of the Divine Incarnation. It is the mystery of love, with which Christ refashions humanity by healing our passions with His Passion, as Saint Gregory the Theologian writes.8
And the only way to approach this Mystery is the way of love, offering and sacrifice.
This love is a matter of the heart. There we meet God and with this flame we serve humanity.
This is the love in the face of Christ, which describes the life of Saint Ignatius and our Saints.
This love, which is expressed sacrificially for each person that is an image of God.
This love can be the barrier to the barbarism of our days, and subvert the hurricane of destruction that threatens the calmness of our lives.
This is how our Saints lived.
This is how our ancestors lived.
With love for God and sacrifice for our fellow man.
With these thoughts borrowed from the sacred texts of our Church and in view of the great feast of Christmas, allow me to remind you, in a fatherly and brotherly manner, the following:
Let us try during these days, within the atmosphere of worship in our Church, to communicate secretly with Christ, with Repentance/Confession and our participation in the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist. No one should miss the Christmas Divine Liturgy, as well as the other services of the blessed Twelve Days after.
Only in this way will our hearts become a manger, which will receive the Child of Bethlehem, to illumine within us the light of Christ, and cast away the anxiety, insecurity and various phobias that afflict us.
In this way we will truly celebrate Christmas, a Christmas with Christ, and we will richly receive His grace and His blessing in our lives, in our families and in our jobs.
1. Latin = ignis (flame).
2. Matt. 18:5.
3. "Epistle to the Romans", ch. 4, PG 5, 689Β.
4. Ibid. chs. 5-8.
5. Gal. 2:20.
6. Heb. 13:14.
7. Phillip. 2:9.
8. PG 37, 659Α.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.