Vol: 2 Issue: 9
Tute 1725 / Sep 2008
FROM: THE EPISTLE OF ST IGNATIUS TO THE ROMANS From: Early Christian Writings By: Maxwell Stanmforth
St Ignatius (35-107 AD) the bishop of Antioch is the second Bishop of Antioch after St Peter the apostle. He was taken from Antioch to Rome to be martyred where he also wrote this letter to the Church at Rome. This letter is the saintâ€™s response to the many attempts by the Christians of Rome to free him from martyrdom. Through prayer to God I have obtained the privilege of seeing your most worthy faces, and have even been granted more than I requested; for I hope as a prisoner in Christ Jesus to salute you, if indeed it be the will of God that I be thought worthy of attaining unto the end. For the beginning has been well ordered, if I may obtain grace to cling to my lot without hindrance unto the end. For I am afraid of your love, lest it should do me an injury. For it is easy for you to accomplish what you please; but it is difficult for me to attain to God, if ye spare me. For it is not my desire to act towards you as a man-pleaser, but as pleasing God, even as also ye please Him. For neither shall I ever have such [another] opportunity of attaining to God; nor will ye, if ye shall now be silent, ever be entitled to the honour of a better work. For if ye are silent concerning me, I shall become God's; but if you show your love to my flesh, I shall again have to run my race. Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favour upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared; that, being gathered together in love, ye may sing praise to the Father, through Christ Jesus, that God has deemed me, the bishop of Syria, worthy to be sent for from the east unto the west. It is good to set from the world unto God, that I may rise again to Him. I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to
God. 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. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to anyone. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again liberated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain. From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts, both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers, who, even when they receive benefits, show themselves all the worse. But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; "yet am I not thereby justified." May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me in this: I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. And let no one, of things visible or invisible, envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ. All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. "For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? " Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not ye give me over to the world. Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If anyone has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened. The prince of this world would carry me away, and corrupt my disposition towards God. Let none of you, therefore, who are [in Rome] help him; rather be ye on my side, that is, on the side of God. Do not speak of Jesus Christ, and yet set your desires on the world. Let not envy find a dwelling place among you; nor even should I, when present with you, exhort you to it, be ye persuaded to listen to me, but rather give credit to those things which I now write to you. For though I am alive while I write to you, 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 corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abra- Page 2
ham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His Blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life. Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it]. But as for me, I am ashamed to be counted one of them; for indeed I am not worthy, as being the very last of them, and one born out of due time. But I have obtained mercy to be somebody, if I shall attain to God. My spirit salutes you, and the love of the Churches that have received me in the name of Jesus Christ, and not as a mere passer-by. For even those Churches which were not near to me in the way, I mean according to the flesh, have gone before me, city by city, to meet me.
ENDURING AFFLICTIONS FOR THE SAKE OF GOD A certain Elder was living outside Alexandria in what were called the hermits' cells; he was very hot-tempered and mean-spirited. On hearing of this, a younger brother made a promise to God, saying: "0 Lord, in order to atone for the sins that I committed as a layman, I will go and live with this Elder, so that I may serve him and give him relief." Everyday, the Elder would insult him as if he were a dog. God, Who saw the patience and humility of the brother, six years after he had placed himself under this Elder, granted him a revealing dream: in this dream, he saw a person holding a large sheet of paper, one half of which had been erased, while the other half still had writing on it. "Struggle," he said, as he showed the sheet to the brother. "On this side, the Lord God has wiped out half of your debt-struggle, now, to take care of the remainder." Living nearby there was another Elder, a spiritual man, who was aware of the brother's situation. He had learned in detail how the ill-tempered Elder neglected and unjustly afflicted the brother, that the brother continued making prostrations to the Elder, asking his forgiveness, but the Elder would not be reconciled to him. Every time the spiritual Elder met this brother, he would ask him: "How is it, my son? How did you pass the day? Have we perhaps made some gains? Have we perhaps wiped something from the sheet?" If it turned out, from time to time, that a day passed without the brother being insulted, spat upon, or persecuted by the Elder, the brother would then go in the evening to his neighbour, the spiritual Elder, and say to him, weeping: "Woe is me, Abba, because this day was bad for me and I gained nothing, but passed the day in peace." Six years later, the brother reposed. After a short while, the spiritual Elder told us about him: "Fathers," he said, "I saw him in the company of the Martyrs, supplicating God with great boldness on behalf of his Elder, saying: '0 Lord, just as You had mercy on me through him, have mercy on him in Your great compassion for the sake of me, your servant."' Forty days later, the disciple took his Elder with him to the place of repose. Behold what boldness is gained by those who endure afflictions for the sake of God. Page 3
ASCETICISM: THE CONTEMPORARY MARTYRDOM? By: One of Youth It is well documented that in the early centuries, the blood of Coptic martyrs bathed the knees of the horses of their persecutors. However, since the legalisation of Christianity under the reign of Emperor Constantine, there has been a steady decline in the number of martyrs. Martyrdom is arguably non-existent in western countries such as Australia, and the issue has thus become somewhat distant. Have we lost the capacity to move the heart of the Lord with the sweet aroma of martyrdom? Is ascetic monasticism the martyrdom of the twenty-first century? If so, was there a need for asceticism when we had martyrdom? Asceticism has become synonymous with monasticism and involves denial and mortification of the flesh in order to empower the spirit into a higher state of oneness with God, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (Gal 5:17). Ascetics impose upon themselves a number of restrictions, none more common than chastity (entailing the purity of words, thoughts and deeds) fasting, and for the spiritual athlete, sleeplessness. What is the rationale behind monks depriving themselves of different types of food, which is the “good” creation of God, and rebelling against the natural order of man in denying themselves sleep and sexual relations? It is in the answer to this question where the relationship between asceticism and martyrdom becomes apparent. Denying oneself a necessary bodily process such as sleep, via all-night vigils and the like, allows the monk to transcend the normal bodily processes and to achieve heightened consciousness; it helps the ascetic behold the divinity of Christ, from which he can draw great power. Furthermore, the complete or partial abstinence from food not only distances the monk from the way of the corrupt world (in which he is a “foreigner” as is prayed in St. Basil’s Liturgy), but conditions him to withstand greater bodily depravations, epitomized in vicious torture and martyrdom. This refutes the claim that asceticism was a substitute for martyrdom which Christians adopted once their religion was legalized. On the contrary, asceticism logically and practically preceded martyrdom. In fact, it made martyrdom possible Scarry, a Harvard University academic, explains that early Christian communities would begin fasting as soon as they realized that persecution was imminent, even simulating the duration and the sporadic nature of the starvation they would undergo. Ascetics were prepared for prison and possible torture by fasting, lack of water, and anxiety about eating. The aim of this training was for them to “enter prison in the same state as most people who were leaving,” such that their time there would not be any penalty, but simply a continuation of their discipline. In light of this, it is not unPage 4
reasonable that so many of the ascetics increased in spirituality and love during what was perceived by outsiders as the most testing time. Therefore, the link between asceticism and martyrdom is neither an assumption nor a modern extrapolation as to how the martyrs of the early church were able to withstand the excruciating pain they were subjected to. It is historical fact. By separating themselves from the norms of the world, both physically (by their seclusion and nonmainstream habits), and spiritually (by strict regulations on everything their senses and minds encountered), the ascetic is able to distance himself not only to earthly ties, but his own body. Asceticism allowed the martyrs to reconfigure the bodies as battlegrounds which meant that the more the body was subject to self-disciplinary techniques and pain, the more distant it became to others, amongst whom were the torturers. If they are becoming more distant from the earth and from their earthly body, where is it that they are going... it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in meâ€Ś(Gal 2:20) Therefore, the torture often preceding martyrdom was empowering for the saints and thus asceticism is NOT the martyrdom of the twenty-first century, but preceded, and was perhaps essential, for martyrdom.
Left: A Group from St Dymiana Church spending the day at the monastery.
Right: Fr Wissa, Fr Jonathan, and Fr Bishoy, praying the liturgy at the monastery with their congregation.
THE BROTHER WHO WANTED TO BECOME A MARTYR From: Life of St Pachomius By: St Theodore his Disciple There was one of the very outstanding brothers, who was practising ascetism by himself. He heard of the godly life of the great St Pachomius and begged him to receive him into the monastic Community. The Great Man received him; and after he had spent a short time with the brothers, he greatly desired to become a martyr, at a time when the world was at peace and the Church was flourishing and also at peace; by the grace of God the blessed and Christ-bearing Constantine was reigning at that time. That brother continually entreated the Blessed Man saying, “Pray for me, Abba, that I may become a martyr.” The Great Man admonished him saying, “Do not allow this thought to enter your heart again.” And he would say to him, “Brother, endure the monk's contest nobly and blamelessly, directing your life according to what is pleasing to the Lord, and you will have the fellowship with the martyrs in heaven.” As he desired this thing more and more every day, and as he was pestering the Holy Man to pray for him, the Great Man, shaking off his importunity, told him, “Be it so. I will pray; but if you want it, you shall have it. Be on your guard lest, when the hour comes, instead of becoming a martyr you shall be found denying Christ. Truly you commit an offence in desiring to put yourself into temptation when our Lord Jesus Christ commands us to pray not to fall into temptation.” And having said these things to him, he admonished him to take good heed of himself and not to think of this any more. It happened two years later that some of the brothers were sent by the Great Man to a village upstream to collect straws to make mats for the Monastery. Now, the village was near the barbarians who are called Blemmyes. And while the brothers were there, on an island where there were many rushes, the Blessed Man sent to them the brother who desired to become a martyr, to carry some small things to them. He admonished him to take good heed of himself, quoting enigmatically these words of the Scripture, “Behold, now is the favorable time; this is the day of salvation;' giving no offence in anything, so as not to bring discredit on our ministry.” So, he took the donkey loaded with the things and went to the brothers. When he had come near the desert, the barbarians, coming down to draw water, came upon him. They took him down from the donkey and bound his hands. Then, taking the donkey with the baggage, they led him up to the mountain to the other barbarians. The barbarians seeing him coming with the donkey began to mock him saying, “Monk, come and worship our gods.” They slew some animals and offered them to their idols. Then they brought the monk and urged him to
offer with them. As he did not want to do it, they approached him with anger, holding their naked swords and threatening to kill him at once if he refused to sacrifice to their gods and to pour out libations to them. Seeing their naked swords and frightened at their savagery, he took the wine at once and poured it in libation to their idols and ate with them of the meat sacrificed to the idols. Fearing the death of the body, he slew his immortal soul, denying God, the master of all. Then, when he had done this, the Blemmyes let him go. When he had come down from the mountain and come to himself, he knew his iniquity, or rather the impiety which he had done. He rent his garments, struck his face repeatedly and came to his monastery. The Blessed Man, knowing what had happened to him, came out to meet him with great affliction. When the brother saw him coming to him, he threw himself on his face on the ground, weeping and crying, “Father, I have sinned against God and against you, because I did not listen to your good advice or to your admonition. For had I listened to you, I would not have experienced this.” Hearing this, the Great Man told him, “Rise up, wretched man. You have shut yourself out from such goods, O miserable one. Truly a crown was laid up for you, and you have cast it from you. You were ready to be numbered among the holy martyrs and you have banished yourself from their holy fellowship. Christ, the Master, was there with His Holy Angels, willing to set His crown upon your head, and you have denied him for the sake of an hour. Through fear of the death which you are going to endure in any case though unwillingly you have fallen away from God and lost eternal life. Where are the words you used to say before this? Where is your craving?” Then he said, “I have sinned in all things, O Father. I cannot lift up my face to heaven. I am lost, O Father. I did not expect it would happen this way.” As he said this with tears, the Great Man said to him: “O wretched man, you have estranged yourself completely from the Lord. But the Lord is good and he never kept His anger for a testimony, for He delights in merry and He is able to sink our sins in the depths of the sea, for as heavens are far from the earth, so far away does He set our sins from us. For He desires not the death of the sinner but His repentance, and that the man who has fallen should not remain in his fallen condition, but should rise up, and that he who has turned away should not go far off, but return quickly to Him. Therefore, despair not of yourself; there is hope of salvation. For, as it is said, if every tree is cut down, it will sprout again. Then, if you will even now listen to me in every-thing I say to you, you shall have forgiveness from God.” He answered with tears, “In all things I will listen to you from now on, O father. The Great Man ordered him to withdraw to a quiet place, to shut himself off and to hold converse with no one until his death; to eat every other day, salt and bread, and to drink only water for the rest of his life; to make two mats every day, and to keep vigil as much as possible; to pray as much as he could and not to cease at all from weeping. He withdrew, as the Blessed Man had commanded him, and he doubled all he had told him to do. He held converse with no man except the Great Man and Theodore and a few of the other great old men. After he had spent ten years struggling in this manner, he died, having, by the Lord's grace, borne a good witness. Page 7
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS How do I convince my family and friend about my monastic calling? When Moses asked Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go to the wilderness to worship their God, Pharaoh refused and even gave orders to his workers, â€œYou shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. â€? (Exodus 5:7-9). The same thing happens with a person who wants to go to the wilderness for monasticism, and people prevent him or accuse him of trying to escape his responsibilities in the world, claiming that he is lazy, or following an illusion or delusion called monasticism. But, when this person asks for Godâ€™s support and help, God begins working with His Strong Stretched Hand, giving this person grace before the eyes of these people, as a consequence, they begin to understand his point of view and encourage him.
Otto F. Meinardus, Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Deserts The American University in Cairo Press. In the fourth century A.D. the deserts of Egypt saw the birth of Christian monasticism under the tutelage of the desert fathers. Since then the movement has spread around the world. This standard work traces the historical development of all the currently inhabited Coptic monasteries, drawing on a wide variety of sources, including accounts by early Western travelers. Maxwell Stanmforth, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, Penguin Classics. The writings in this volume shed a glimmer of light, on the emerging traditions and organizations of the infant Church. They are a selection from a group known as the Apostolic Fathers, so-called because several of the authors were most likely disciples of the Apostles themselves. Like much of the New Testament, their writings take the form of letters, and for the most part deal with practical problems of the life of the early Church, as it struggled in the face of persecution to establish itself in the Roman world. They give us a picture of Christianity still drawing on the theology and traditions of its parent religion, Judaism. Page 8