December 20, 2023

Divine Fire: Saint Ignatius the God-bearer (Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi)

By Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi

With the entrance of the forefeast of Christmas, we also have the commemoration of the Holy Glorious Hieromartyr Ignatius the Theophoros, one of the Apostolic Fathers. And I remembered a passage from the words of our Lord, which is appropriate for tomorrow's feast: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth", our Jesus once said, "I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matt. 10:34). And after telling the ways of the division He came to cause, as they are of course interpreted according to our sacred tradition, He added: "I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luk. 12:49). This fire is exactly what we are talking about, because at least it very much concerns us monks.

The Doxastikon of Saint Ignatius states the following: "There is no flame in me that pushes me to love material things, but rather living water that speaks in me and says to me: Go to the Father." And in general the service, as you will see, is an outburst of deifying eros, which pulsates in the heart of this great luminary. Because tradition says that this Saint was one of those children whom our Jesus accepted in His arms...

When His disciples once asked Him about who was to hold primacy and what their positions would be in the future, in the way they could understand the meaning at the time, influenced by Jewish traditions, "then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me" (Matt. 18:2-5). And again, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:14). One of these children happened to be this Saint, who was later called Theophoros (God-bearer).

That is why he was called Theophoros, because he was a bearer of God. But all the Holy Theophoroi are this, because sanctification means to be a God-bearer and Theologian. The Grace of the Holy Spirit dwells in the soul of man and makes him to be thus called, because he carries God within him. And this Grace, which dwells within him, teaches him the mysteries of Theology in general, those which are dogmas of faith.

However, we monks are especially concerned about this. When will we also see within ourselves if this fire is lit? Sometimes the Lord calls it "springing water", as He explained to the Samaritan woman. Wherever this gushes forth, it never ends and that is exactly what Divine Grace is. Especially that which connects us with the absolute – humanly interpreted – love of our Jesus, the center of our love and all our interest.

That's why we also groan, wandering in these places, to which He led us. Because when we woke up and knew what it was about, what the Apostle John says also happened to us: "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). And really, He first "loved" us and that's why He called us, as I explained to you before. It is not simply a calling in the soul, but it is a personal intervention of the blessed Divinity.

Now we are concerned with how we will be able to contribute in practice. Because on the part of Grace this exists. The fact that our call has been made and that we are here and can continue despite our weak powers, this is a guarantee and the proof rather of the complete operation on the part of Grace. Everything that depends on God is done absolutely to us.

Now the second part remains, which is "from us", that which, of course, comes from us, that is, our will, our choice, according to the Fathers. This is what we must lay down, so that these two factors work together, the energy of Divine Grace, which is done by God's pleasure and love, and the right choice on the part of man, who accepts the call and submits to the Divine will. When these two meet properly as God knows, then the indwelling of Divine Grace is achieved precisely in the soul of man and restores him to his first state. Then "mortality of life" is abolished and the "new creation", our Jesus, lives and speaks in man. And then the resurrection takes place. Now this man is the one who received Him (John 1:12) and Jesus gave him the "right to become children of God". And he explains: "Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13) did this birth took place. And man indeed becomes a child and friend of God.

This is also our goal. And I will not stop reminding you, that we must not stop as long as we live to try to achieve this...

The sign of the presence of the new man, is exactly this fire that our Jesus lit with His presence here, and as He Himself explained to us, He desired to see it lit in the four-corners of creation and set on fire all people's hearts. Unfortunately, the majority of people showed no interest...

If it lights up, it will lift us up to the Father. Since on the part of God, on the part of Grace, everything works correctly and there is no error, then if the purpose is not achieved, the fault is ours. Something is not right with us and therefore all our interest, all our meaning, all our priorities, all our attention must be concentrated here. Why is this fire not lit? There seems to be moisture in us, i.e. love of self, love of pleasure, egoism. It happens as with sensible fire. Wood does not ignite when the kindling is wet. It must dry.

And we precisely now have to be careful, because there is some moisture and this fire does not light. Because if we do not love God completely, "with all our soul, with all our strength, with all our heart, with all our mind" and also our neighbor as ourselves, the goal is not achieved, our effort is misplaced. That is why you see, that on the part of Grace everything is perfect. God with all His Divine love and sympathy, embraces man and on His part there is nothing lacking. But the same must happen on our part.

In the presence of self-love, which gives birth to the inclusive pleasure-loving of the Ego, which represents the old man, which is the passions and desires, the Divine fire is not lit. Our whole priority is to expel these dampnesses. Down with ego, down with self-love and pleasure-loving, which are the doors that brought in lawlessness and created the fall and corruption. Down with the causes of death and the causes of corruption, so that this fire can be kindled in us.

Every day and every night you examine yourself. And as long as this self-love lives inside, do not be afraid, but constantly scrape it off in any way you can, until, by the grace of God, we tear it down... This is our priority.

How is it possible to believe that we love God with all our strength, as long as we do not set aside self-love? When there is self-love, then man lives for his own person and not for the love of God and prefers something that pleases him first and then what pleases God... So let all our priorities be here. Everything that is the will of God precedes. There is no room for condescension here... If we were seduced, it is not a paradox. It is not easy for a person with a choice to be moved to dispassion. It's a difficult thing. You see, we grew up in the systems of the old man, and the old fashions and habits were hardened, consolidated in us. But that is not all. It is also the power of sin, which nestles within our members. This tragic rebellion, which was gradually planted in man and creates a constant struggle for him. Therefore we will have our minds on those ways of rebellion, of the contrary law, which is within our members and presses us not to obey God. Here is all our Titanomachy, all our struggle, all our battle, all our attention. We will not get carried away by "all things are permitted but I will not let myself be dominated by anything".

This is the motto of our Fathers, which we renew every day. We will continue our course with our hope turned to the All-Good Master, who not only now practically, when we see Him, but also before we woke up to see Him, knew with His Divine majesty, that we are lowly and insignificant and yet He did not turn away from us. This is the triumph of our boast and our great hope. That, although He knew that we are so lowly and weak, He did not detest us, but gave us the lot of His calling, as He gave it to the elect. And this gives us, in part, the blessed hope that we will definitely succeed, as long as He stays with us and justifies us.

Seeing our small intention, He will continue to the end and in the future glorify us, as He promises in His goodness.

Source: From the book Διδαχές Από Τον Άθωνα, Ψυχωφελή Βατοπαιδινά 8. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.

Become a Patreon or Paypal Supporter:

Recurring Gifts

Contact Form


Email *

Message *