Most of us love a good superhero movie. We admire the courage and the sacrificial love that they offer to others without wanting anything in return.
For me, the first Spider-Man movie was my favorite during my teenage years in the United States. I liked that it had science, self-sacrifice, excitement, and romance (ah…or rather lost love)! When I was growing up in Egypt, I used to love watching the Xena and Hercules series. Xena and Hercules were strong, brave, and never settled down in the face of evil. I followed all the episodes of Xena as if they were part of my curriculum! I wanted to be like her – beautiful, brave, confident, and just amazing! Once, Xena was a guest hero on the Hercules series…whaaaat! That day, I was dancing around from excitement thinking of how my two favorite heroes were together…in one place…fighting for good!!! My grandfather, who was sitting next to me that day, was very confused! Needless to say, I was an easily-amused child 🙂
So, why am I talking about heroes? Well, because recently I recognized a new set of heroes in my life. These are the Church Fathers, the saints, the martyrs and all those people who stand firm in their faith in Christ and also fight evil in their own amazing ways.
Many saints of the Orthodox Church have fought evil through their firm testimonies in the Christian faith and some even by sacrificing their own lives. The amount of self-denial, the amount of pain, and the lack of any prestige or honor that they had to endure is almost unbelievable, yet it is true. Although many saints in the history of Christianity gave up their lives through persecutions and death, one of them recently stood out to me. He may even take the place of St. George in my heart…This amazing one is St. Ignatius of Antioch:
When I was reading about St. Ignatius, I had two thoughts. The first was, “what love must he have had for Christ!” The second was, “he must have been crazy!” The type of imagery St. Ignatius used in his letters, on his way to martyrdom in Rome, about the way he was going to die at the hands of beasts is simply unspeakable. He pictured the physical horror coming his way without any hesitation to still run to his martyrdom.
His goal – one goal – was to “attain to God.” Basically, he placed Christ in front of his eyes and walked towards Him. Children do this sometimes. They look at something very attractive to them and just start walking towards it. They don’t pay attention to all the hurdles on their way that could trip them over. St. Ignatius did the same thing: he didn’t care about the pain and humiliation that could have tripped him and made him deny Christ. He cared for nothing in this world. He saw the world for what it is: fading and ending. Nothing was lasting for St. Ignatius except for his bond with Jesus Christ.
St. Ignatius writes, “For though I am alive while I write, yet I am eager to die. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, ‘Come to the Father.’ I have no delight in perishable food, nor in the pleasures of this life.” (The Fathers of the Church, by Mike Aquilina, page 66).
My love has been crucified…
What a hero! St. Ignatius WAS (and IS) a hero. He was a different kind of hero from the ones we see today in the movies. He stood for something that many people today, and in his day, despise, reject, and actively try to disprove. In the simplest terms, he stood up for his Christianity. Now, I must ask myself: how often do I deny my Christianity – in my actions, my words, my thoughts, my reactions, and my attitudes?! How often do I accept the name Christian, when in reality I am not a Christian at all?! St. Ignatius considered his witness through martyrdom as proof of him being a Christian rather than simply being called a Christian.
One needs to ask…
Am I really a Christian?
What do I die to in the world for the sake of “attaining to God”?
Do I die to my pride when someone offends me?
Do I die to my comforts when I know that someone else needs them?
Do I die to my riches and give to the poor?
Do I die to my will to do the will of God?
Do I die to worldly fame to attain true and intimate relationship with God?
Do I die to my sins to live a life of purity, virtue, prayer and thanksgiving?
Oh the many opportunities we have every single day to die to the world! We miss chances to proclaim Christ in our actions, words, attitudes, and thoughts, and to seek God! YOLO – You only live once, right?! Yes, YOLO to be a true Christian, because after this chance we have for repentance, if we don’t take it, we lose out on everything – on eternity.
St. Ignatius is a hero and a role model for us. We do not need to run for our physical martyrdom through death by wild animals! Yet, we can die to our sins and desires in order to live for Christ – to be real Christians and not just be called Christians, as St. Ignatius teaches us through his words and actions.
May our Merciful God grant us all patience, love, and desire to seek Him truly and with all our hearts in everything we do. May we find inspiration and conviction of our faith as we look at our heroes of the faith like St. Ignatius of Antioch. May his prayers be with all all. Amen.