Today is the feast of St Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred in the Colosseum by being fed to wild animals around the year 108.
Who he was
Ignatius was the second Bishop of Antioch in Syria, one of the largest and most important churches in the first century. He was born only a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and became a Christian at a young age.
Since Ignatius was one of the first Christians, he would have known some of the Apostles personally, and he was taught directly by the Apostle John. Think about that for a moment. John was one of Jesus’ right-hand men for three years, he wrote the fourth gospel, and Ignatius could ask him any question he liked.
By the time he was made Bishop later in his life, Ignatius was probably the most respected living member of the Church.
Why we remember him today
When Ignatius was arrested by Roman authorities, they knew they had bagged a big one. They weren’t going to waste the opportunity to show off their prize, so instead of dealing with him in Antioch they took him to Rome to make a spectacle of him in the Colosseum.
As he travelled across the Roman Empire with his captors, Ignatius didn’t waste time worrying about his fate or
trying to escape. Instead, he used the journey as a chance to preach the gospel. Every time they passed a town, Ignatius wrote a letter to the town’s church, encouraging them to be faithful to Christ, to love each other and to persevere under Roman pressure.
Ignatius wrote seven letters along his journey, including one to the church in Rome and one to his fellow Bishop Polycarp (seven is a suggestive number – maybe he planned the whole thing ahead of time?). The letters were so valuable to the churches that they were saved, copied and read by generations of Christians, and amazingly, we still have them today.
As Ignatius approached Rome, he caught wind that the Christians in the city might be planning to fight his captors and try to free him. So he sent his letter to the Roman church ahead of him, and pleaded with them not to try anything:
“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.”
When he arrived in Rome, Ignatius was killed for his witness to Christ. In front of jeering crowds, he was led into the middle of the Colosseum, where hungry lions and bears attacked him for the people’s entertainment.
Quote to remember (and impress friends with)
“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.” – from Ignatius’s letter to church in Rome.
What we learn from him
Ignatius made it clear in his letters that he wasn’t afraid of dying for Christ. In fact, he saw his martyrdom as his greatest witness to Christ’s defeat of fear and death.
Even though his last and greatest act would be to stand in front the Roman crowds of and show them the power of Christ, Ignatius’s own status was the last thing on his mind. He spent his last days encouraging other Christians. He knew that the Roman authorities would come for them just as they came for him, and he wanted to make sure that they would stick together and stick with Jesus until the end.