Monday, January 30, 2017

Remaining in Faithful Continuity with the Apostolic Fathers

Dear Parish Faithful,

Yesterday, January 29, we commemorated St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the earliest and most important of the Apostolic Fathers. I spoke briefly about this great saint during the post-Liturgy discussion. His great contribution to the life and early literature of the Church were his Seven Epistles that are read and studied to this day with great attention, as they reveal to us so much precious information about the life and beliefs of the early Church. I mentioned the three great themes of these Epistles:

  • The hierarchical structure of the Church and the three-fold ordained ministry of the episcopos (bishop), the presvyteros (presbyters/priests), and the diakonos (the deacon);
  • The struggle against the heresy of docetism, a false teaching that claimed that Jesus Christ only "seemed/appeared" to be human, though he was not actually human according to this heresy;
  • The inner meaning of martyrdom as an "imitation of the passion of my God."

I have appended a short document that I put together of key excerpts from the Seven Epistles that illustrates his teaching on each of these three themes. You may want to scroll down to look at that.
I have also attached a link to a wonderful collection of early Christian writings - the writing of the so-called Apostolic Fathers - that would make a great addition to anyone's Orthodox library. 

This inexpensive edition has as its editor, the brilliant contemporary Orthodox theologian, Fr. Andrew Louth. The Seven Epistles of St. Ignatius are included and I believe that these writings are "must reading" for anyone interested in the early Church and how we faithfully remain in continuity with the early Apostolic Fathers in terms of faith and practice.

Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, by Andrew Louth

Texts from The Epistles of

St. Ignatius of Antioch (†c. 110)

On the Hierarchy of the Church

See that you all follow the bishop – even as Jesus Christ followed the Father – and the presbytery as you would follow the apostles, and reverence the deacons as the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the church without the bishop. Only a Eucharist that is [administered] either by the bishop or by one the bishop entrusts should be deemed a proper Eucharist. Wherever the bishop appears let the multitude [of the people] be also, for wherever Jesus Christ is, there also is the catholic church. It is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast without the bishop; whatever a bishop approves is pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

— Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, ch. viii.

On the Heresy of Docetism

Turn a deaf ear to any speaker who avoids mention of Jesus Christ who was of David’s line, born of Mary, who was truly born, ate and drank; was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, truly crucified and died while those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth beheld it; who also was truly raised from the dead, the Father having raised him, who in like manner will raise us also who believe in him – his Father, I say, will raise us in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not true life

— Epistle to the Trallians, ch. ix.

On His Impending Martyrdom

… My birth pangs are at hand. Bear with me, my brothers. Do not hinder me from living: do not wish for my death. Do not make the world a present of one who wishes to be God’s. Do not coax him with material things. Allow me to receive the pure light; when I arrive there I shall be a real man. Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God …

— Epistle to the Romans, ch. vi.

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