Difficult times bring best out of humanity. If we are enduring the anguish and adversities what awaits us is
progress. St. Ignatius of Antioch is one of the best models of perseverance. St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch
for 40 years, was the second successor of St. Peter as bishop of that city. The ancient historian Eusebius
relates that Ignatius began his episcopate in AD 69. Roman Emperor Trajan (53–117 AD) waged a
successful battle against the Dacians in 105 and Scythians 106 in AD.
In gratitude to his gods for the success,Trajan stepped up a massive campaign against the Christian community in Asia Minor, in particular, those Christians who refused to sacrifice to the gods. While he was in Antioch, Trajan interrogated Bishop Ignatius who confessed his steadfast belief, and so Trajan assigned ten soldiers to chain him up and escort him overland and by sea to Rome. However, Ignatius wrote a series of letters during when soldiers took him from Antioch to Rome. Ignatius’ concern was his ardent love of Christ and love of Church.
Once in Rome,Ignatius was condemned to be torn apart by wild beasts. Ignatius’s reaction was to cry with joy: “I thank you,O Lord, that You have vouchsafed to honour me with perfect love towards You, and have made me to be bound with iron chains, like Your Apostle Paul.” Thus, he glorified Jesus by his martyrdom about 110 AD.
Ignatius was given the name Theophorus (God-Bearer) at baptism because he constantly bore the name of
the living God in his heart and on his lips. According to tradition, he was thus named for he was literally held in the arms of Jesus as a little child (cf. Mt 18:4). Ignatius was an influential Church leader and theologian
who led the Church during a critical period of her history. His life and words, “We have not only to be called
Christians, but to be Christians”, are ever inspirations for all Christians to persevere during difficult times.
He is the first bishop to reorder the Church in Asia Minor, setting up many of the doctrinal Catholic aspects
that are still used today. In his famous letters we find some of the earliest known references in Greek to the
words ‘Christianity,’ ‘Catholic’, and also the earliest teachings about the organization, practices, and beliefs
of the Church.
He emphasized the importance of the holiness and unity of the Church, loyalty and obedience
to the bishop, the primacy of the See in Rome, the threefold character of the Trinity as well as the salvific
power of the Eucharist, ‘the flesh of Christ,’ ‘the gift of God,’ ‘the medicine of immortality.’ His letters are
gold that is tested in fire while he was in chains in Smyrna. They help Christians of all the ages to be faithful.
St. Ignatius was a missionary in chains exactly like St. Paul who says, “It has become known throughout the
whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and
sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater
boldness and without fear” (Phil 1:13-14).
If Trajan had wanted to, he could have had him executed in Antioch. Ignatius strongly urged the Church in Rome to not attempt to stop him from being martyred; and although his captors kept him in chains, they took their time getting him to Rome, and they allowed access to him by other bishops and many representatives of other Churches along the way. It’s possible that the Roman guard thought that giving people access to Ignatius was good for warning others about the dangers of practicing Christianity; they may have stayed so long in Smyrna to get the timing of the execution right. But during that trip, Ignatius clearly recognized that his identification as a martyr made his letters significant: he became a credentialed missionary.
The missionary bishop, Ignatius writes: “I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” St Ignatius bids us to persevere in faith during hard times and bring out our best for the glory of God.