The month of December every year is designated as St. Ignatius month. We celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius on December 20, and the members of the Order recall their patron St. Ignatius during St. Ignatius Sunday. This annual celebration brings to mind the ministry of the Order that has become an integral aspect of the life of the Antiochian Archdiocese in the Western Hemisphere.
The Order invites the faithful of our Archdiocese to a special ministry and a special way of life. Christianity calls all faithful to a life of genuine personhood in Christ. This gift of life is modeled not after human or social forums and gatherings; it is founded on the life of the Triune Godhead. It is characterized by joy and a perpetual movement of love. Saint Ignatius in his letter to the Ephesians writes “Pray, then, come and join this choir, every one of you; let there be a while symphony of minds in concert; take the tone all together from God, and sing aloud to the Father with one voice through Jesus Christ, so that He may hear you and know by your good works that you are indeed members of His Son’s Body. A completely united front will help to keep you in constant communion with God.”
The human person is to be understood in light of the movement of love and of God’s Trinitarian mode of being, which is the basis of our unity. In this community of the brethren, we share a unity of being and of action as well. The other person in my life is not there by accident, but is put there by the Lord Himself as a necessary ingredient in my own salvation. We must love in order to be genuine. If there is no love, there is no genuine unity. Unity with diversity is pleasant and joyous. We can express our differences and at the same time share a genuine oneness.
Christ is the source of our unity. We discover unity within the context of our Eucharistic Assembly. “Make certain, therefore,” writes St. Ignatius to the Philadelphians, “that you observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one Cup of Union with His blood. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God.”
As we prepare ourselves to enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, we should experience the life of unity in our church communities. We must be prepared to respond to the challenges that disrupt our church life.
Consider the following observations. The organic relation of the parish priest and his congregation must be understood as service, obedience, and mutual respect. It should rest upon genuine love. He who does not serve has no authority in the church. The organic relationship is expressed vividly in the image of the father and his children, where children grow in the knowledge of God and in truth, in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
The inner, organic structure of the church is evidenced in those who put on Christ; those who renew their baptismal vows through repentance and with contrition of heart; and in those who dwell together in the fear of God; those who practice their sacramental and liturgical obligations; and are cheerful givers. In the Body of Christ, there is no place for the crowd who are selfrighteous and those who bring nothing but dissension, illusions, and chaos in the framework of the church life. Again, St. Ignatius writes to the Philadelphians, “As for me, I did my part as one dedicated to the cause of unity; for where disunion and bad blood exist, God can never be dwelling. That is why the Lord offers forgiveness to all who repent, if their repentance brings back into unity with God and with the bishop’s council of clergy . . . . I appeal to you not to let your actions be promoted by any party spirit but rather by the teachings of Christ.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch is responsible for giving the Church of the apostolic age a model of Incarnational theology, established on the divine person of Jesus Christ with all sanctity and discipline of the spiritual and the material domains. To Bishop Polycarp St. Ignatius writes: “In all circumstances, be wise as the serpent, though always harmless as the dove. The very reason you are given a body as well as a soul is to help you gain the favor of this outward and visible world; though at the same time you must also pray for insight into the invisible world as well, so that you may come short of nothing and the whole treasury of the spirit may be yours.” Any separation between the spiritual and the material is a heresy; for it opposes the very notion of the theology of Incarnation. A dualism of action and double vision are a distortion which must be eliminated in the life of those who are called to dwell together in unity.
We ask our Good Lord to grant us the power to remain loyal and faithful to the teachings of our Patron Saint Ignatius, expressing our full cooperation to work together for the glory of God and for the building of the membership of the Order. In every Divine Liturgy let us know the unity of love and knowledge, so that “with boldness and without condemnation we may dare to call upon our heavenly Father.”
Through the prayers of our Holy Patron Saint Ignatius, O Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon us and save us.
V. Rev. Joseph Antypas
Chaplain of the Order