Today we celebrate in remembrance of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He was born May 15, 35 A.D., in the Province of Syria, then part of the Roman Empire. He called himself Theophorus, meaning God-Bearer. We know him as the writer of seven letters, each one a treasure of encouragement, instruction and inspiration to young Christian communities.
A letter went to each of the following: the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. In his letters, Ignatius stressed the concepts of the deity of Christ, ecclesiology, the value of the Eucharist, and the theology of salvation. Many believe the epistles, which contain multiple grammatical errors, were composed in haste as Ignatius journeyed to Rome as a prisoner, marching to his death.
There is little written history concerning Ignatius, but many traditions surround this exemplary servant of God. One such tradition is that he was among the children that Jesus took in his arms and blessed (Luke, Chapter 18.) He was said to be a disciple of the beloved Apostle John, and some scholars claim that he was consecrated Bishop of Antioch by the Apostle Peter.
Trajan, Emperor of Rome, issued the order for Ignatius’s arrest and subsequent death. Trajan, a blood-thirsty tyrant, was said to have sacrificed 10,000 gladiators and 11,000 wild beasts to entertain one equally blood-thirsty crowd. While the exact date of Ignatius’ martyrdom is unknown, he died circa 108 A.D., at the age of 83. Condemned for nothing more than loving Christ and refusing to renounce his faith, he was cruelly attacked and devoured by wild beasts in a public display. Upon hearing the roar of the lions in Rome’s Coliseum, the saint proclaimed, “I am a kernel of wheat for Christ that must be ground by the teeth of beasts to be found bread wholly pure.”