Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Martyrdom of Ignatius

This is a continuation of my series on Ignatius and the seven letters he wrote while on his way to be martyred in Rome. If you are unfamiliar with Ignatius, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.

This story begins when Tarran becomes emperor of Rome.
"When Trajan, not long since, succeeded to the empire of the Romans, Ignatius, the disciple of John the apostle, a man in all respects of an apostolic character, governed the Church of the Antiochians with great care, having with difficulty escaped the former storms of the many persecutions under Domitian, inasmuch as, like a good pilot, by the helm of prayer and fasting, by the earnestness of his teaching, and by his [constant] spiritual labour, he resisted the flood that rolled against him, fearing [only] lest he should lose any of those who were deficient in courage, or apt to suffer from their simplicity." (Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chapter 1)
A great wave of persecution had crashed upon the church at Antioch and many were martyred for their love and hope in Christ. Throughout this time of persecution, Ignatius fought with every spiritual weapon for the faith and courage of those he cared over. His thoughts were not for himself but for his brothers and sisters, especially those young in the faith, lest they should be shaken from the simplicity of their love for Christ. In time, this wave of persecution rolled back into the sea granting peace once again and Ignatius rejoiced with his brethren.
"Wherefore he rejoiced over the tranquil state of the Church, when the persecution ceased for a little time, but was grieved as to himself, that he had not yet attained to a true love to Christ, nor reached the perfect rank of a disciple. For he inwardly reflected, that the confession which is made by martyrdom, would bring him into a yet more intimate relation to the Lord. Wherefore, continuing a few years longer with the Church, and, like a divine lamp, enlightening every one’s understanding by his expositions of the [Holy] Scriptures, he [at length] attained the object of his desire." (Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chapter 1)
Ignatius rejoiced over the peace of the church, yet he was grieved that he had not yet been counted worthy by his God to suffer for His name. In his heart was a desire, along with a sense of calling, to suffer for Jesus even as Jesus has suffered for him. So for many more years he continued with the church, strengthening  and teaching them in Christ. After almost nine years of peace, the wave of persecution once again flowed over Antioch.
"For Trajan, in the ninth year of his reign, being lifted up [with pride], after the victory he had gained over the Scythians and Dacians, and many other nations, and thinking that the religious body of the Christians were yet wanting to complete the subjugation of all things to himself, and [thereupon] threatening them with persecution unless they should agree to worship dæmons, as did all other nations, thus compelled all who were living godly lives either to sacrifice [to idols] or die." (Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chapter 2)
Once again Trajan breathed out threats against the church and once again Ignatius was in fear for the church that she would stand firm against the onslaught of evil. Knowing that he was a leader among the churches, Ignatius was arrested and brought before Trajan where Ignatius confessed the good confession of faith.
"Trajan answered, 'And who is Theophorus?' Ignatius replied, 'He who has Christ within his breast.' ... Trajan said, 'Do you mean Him who was crucified under Pontius Pilate? Ignatius replied, 'I mean Him who crucified my sin, with him who was the inventor of it, and who has condemned [and cast down] all the deceit and malice of the devil under the feet of those who carry Him in their heart.' Trajan said, 'Dost thou then carry within thee Him that was crucified?' Ignatius replied, 'Truly so; for it is written, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them." 'Then Trajan pronounced sentence as follows: “We command that Ignatius, who affirms that he carries about within him Him that was crucified, be bound by soldiers, and carried to the great [city] Rome, there to be devoured by the beasts, for the gratification of the people.' " (Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chapter 2)
Ignatius was condemned to death, yet he rejoiced for being found worthy and for being given the honor of suffering and dying for His Lord.
"I thank thee, O Lord, that Thou hast vouchsafed to honour me with a perfect love towards Thee, and hast made me to be bound with iron chains, like Thy Apostle Paul." (Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chapter 2)
The trip to Rome was long and difficult and Ignatius suffered much at the hands of his captors, yet he still found time to dispatch letters to the churches and to meet with those sent from the churches to strengthen him in his way and, above all, to see his friend Polycarp one more time.
"And after a great deal of suffering he came to Smyrna, where he disembarked with great joy, and hastened to see the holy Polycarp, [formerly] his fellow-disciple, and [now] bishop of Smyrna. For they had both, in old times, been disciples of St. John the Apostle. Being then brought to him, and having communicated to him some spiritual gifts, and glorying in his bonds, he entreated of him to labour along with him for the fulfilment of his desire; earnestly indeed asking this of the whole Church... but above all, the holy Polycarp, that, by means of the wild beasts, he soon disappearing from this world, might be manifested before the face of Christ." (Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chapter 3)
Having finally made it to Rome he perceived in the Spirit that some meant to persuade the people to let him go, so he entreated them to no do so but to rather pray for the church that her persecution might end.
"Now he enjoined some to keep silence who, in their fervent zeal, were saying946 that they would appease the people, so that they should not demand the destruction of this just one. He being immediately aware of this through the Spirit, and having saluted them all, and begged of them to show a true affection towards him, and having dwelt [on this point] at greater length than in his Epistle,948 and having persuaded them not to envy him hastening to the Lord, he then, after he had, with all the brethren kneeling [beside him], entreated the Son of God in behalf of the Churches, that a stop might be put to the persecution, and that mutual love might continue among the brethren." (Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chapter 6)
After which he was immediately hastened to the amphitheater and tossed to the lions.
"he was thus cast to the wild beasts close beside the temple, that so by them the desire of the holy martyr Ignatius should be fulfilled, according to that which is written, 'The desire of the righteous is acceptable [to God],' to the effect that he might not be troublesome to any of the brethren by the gathering of his remains, even as he had in his Epistle expressed a wish beforehand that so his end might be. For only the harder portions of his holy remains were left, which were conveyed to Antioch and wrapped in linen, as an inestimable treasure left to the holy Church by the grace which was in the martyr." (Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chapter 6)
The church was in tears and, in their sorrow, they turned to the Lord.
"Having ourselves been eye-witnesses of these things, and having spent the whole night in tears within the house, and having entreated the Lord, with bended knees and much prayer, that He would give us weak men full assurance respecting the things which were done, it came to pass, on our falling into a brief slumber, that some of us saw the blessed Ignatius suddenly standing by us and embracing us, while others beheld him again praying for us, and others still saw him dropping with sweat, as if he had just come from his great labour, and standing by the Lord. When, therefore, we had with great joy witnessed these things, and had compared our several visions together, we sang praise to God, the giver of all good things, and expressed our sense of the happiness of the holy [martyr]." (Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chapter 7)
Having been encouraged by the revelation of God, they rejoiced together and gave thanks for their brother and friend Ignatius. Thus ended the incredible life of Ignatius. Oh that God would once again grant to the church men of such stature, faith, holiness, and love.

David Robison

No comments:

Post a Comment