St. Ignatius, first-century Bishop of Antioch, called the “God-bearer,” is one of the earliest witnesses to the truth of Christ and the nature of the Christian life. Tradition tells us that as a small child, Ignatius was singled out by Jesus Himself as an example of the childlike faith all Christians must possess (see Matthew 18:1–4). In Bearing God, Fr. Andrew Damick recounts the life of this great pastor, martyr, and saint, and interprets for the modern reader five major themes in the pastoral letters he wrote: martyrdom, salvation in Christ, the bishop, the unity of the Church, and the Eucharist.
About the author:
The V. Rev. Andrew Stephen Damick is pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and author of multiple books from Ancient Faith Publishing. He is host of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, as well as editor-in-chief and author (respectively) of blogs of the same names, and he is a frequent speaker at lectures and retreats both in parishes and in other settings. He resides in Emmaus with his wife, Kh. Nicole, and their children.
I read/listened to Bearing God: The Life and Works of St. Ignatius of Antioch twice before writing this review because I needed time to consider all that I had experienced during the first and even second reading. During the first reading, somewhere along the second chapter, I remember calling a friend and telling her I needed to take a break because I felt my entire thoughts about the Orthodox faith being shaken. Not in the way that I didn’t believe the same “facts” --- but the realization that I was not living the Orthodox faith in the way that it was meant to be lived.
Fr. Andrew begins the book with a brief overview of the life of St. Ignatius of Antioch. In this explanation of the life of St. Ignatius, we get to know and understand he was a disciple of John the Apostle and one of the Apostolic Fathers of the Orthodox Church and was ultimately martyred for his faith in the Coliseum at Rome. The subsequent chapters discuss the letters that he wrote to various churches and his contemporary and fellow Bishop, St. Polycarp, while he was on the journey to martyrdom.
The chapters discussing the St. Ignatius’ teachings from his epistles are grouped by subject matter: martyrdom, salvation in Christ, the role of the bishop, the unity of the Church and the Eucharist. These chapters could come off as didactic; however, Fr. Andrew’s approach makes them relatable and practical in living the Orthodox Faith. This book does not add or subtract from the core teachings of the Orthodox Faith in creed or statement of Faith, but it does turn the way we live and practice our faith on its head. We cannot celebrate the Eucharist without the clergy (Bishop) and they cannot celebrate it without us, the lay people of the church. The Orthodox church is truly communal with the Eucharist as its central force. In the Eucharist we partake of the body and blood of Christ and in this partaking, He dwells within us --- and we in Him. We truly do “bear God” and do merely “represent” but as members of the Orthodox Church ARE the Body of Christ in the world.
The Church hierarchy, the Eucharist, and the church being the Body of Christ are not new concepts, but Fr. Andrew uses the teachings of St. Ignatius to spotlight that we simply cannot view the Orthodox faith in an individualized way or simply as a matter of inward belief. Our participation in the Liturgy and the Eucharist makes us one with Christ and each other. And if we are One with Him and each other, then we must live our faith outwardly and differently.
This book is a must read for anyone who really wants to understand how we should live as Orthodox Christians.