Saint Ignatius is known to have been a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist, and a contributor to the early ministry of the Church. He is also believed to have been that “little child” who Jesus used as an example of the “humble” faith that “is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18:2-5).
He was a disciple of the Apostle John and served as the first bishop of Antioch in the late 1st century. About the year 100 he was arrested and taken on an arduous journey to face trial in Rome, and along the way he wrote a number of letters (epistles) to various churches. These letters are an early witness to the structure of Church government, with the threefold hierarchy of bishops, priests (presbyters), and deacons that is still found in the Church today.
Ignatius is one of the saints known as the Apostolic Fathers. Following the Apostles who had come before him, he took an active role in shaping the new Church practices that would become part of Holy Tradition. He also wrote a series of letters that are regarded by the Orthodox Church as among the greatest treasures of the second century Church. Many of these letters affirm the traditional hierarchical nature of the Church. He became the third bishop of Antioch, following Sts. Peter and Paul.
St. Ignatius was sentenced to death in the Roman Colosseum, to be eaten by lions. He went joyfully to his death around the year 110, with the name of Jesus on his lips and in his heart.
In his letter to the Romans, Saint Ignatius wrote: "Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose means it will be granted me to reach God. I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ." This icon depicts his willing martyrdom in the arena.
Saint Ignatius is commemorated on December 20.