New Martyr Ignatius the Martyr of Mt Athos

The holy New Martyr Ignatius was born in the village of Eski Zagora in the Trnovo region of Bulgaria, and was named John in Baptism. While he was still a young child, his parents George and Maria moved to the city of Philippopolis and enrolled him in a school there.

Although he did well at school, he had a strong desire for the monastic life. Upon reaching adulthood, he entered the Rila monastery in western Bulgaria. There he was assigned to an Elder, with whom he lived in obedience for six years. When the Elder’s strictness became unbearable, John returned home.

About that time the Serbs rose in revolt against the Moslem government. John’s father was asked to take command of an Ottoman brigade, but he refused to fight against other Orthodox Christians.

The Moslems attacked George with furious anger. He was stabbed and then beheaded. John’s mother and sisters were also taken by the Hagarenes, and they ultimately agreed to convert to Islam.

John fled and hid in the home of an elderly Orthodox woman. His mother and sisters learned where he was hiding, and they told the Moslems. Those sent to capture him did not know what he looked like, so the old woman told them she did not know him. The woman helped him escape to Bucharest, Romania, where he became acquainted with St Euthymius, who would also endure martyrdom.

John did not wish to stay in Bucharest, however, and so he left for Mt. Athos. On the way he visited the village of Soumla, where he ran into his friend Fr Euthymius again. Learning that Euthymius had denied Christ and beome a Moslem, John became very sad and left the village.

He had not gotten very far when Turkish soldiers stopped him and took all his possessions. They demanded that he convert to Islam, and in his fright he told them that he would do so. Satisfied with this reply, they let him go.

John reached the village of Eski Zagora, where he met an Athonite monk from the monastery of Grigoriou. They journeyed to the Holy Mountain together, and John settled in the Skete of St Anna. There he met Fr Basil.

One day John and Fr Basil traveled to Thessalonica on monastery business. While they were there the monks David and Euthymius of Demetsana suffered martyrdom because they were Christians. John was inflamed with the desire for martyrdom. Fr Basil, however, urged him to postpone his intention, and so they returned to the Holy Mountain. A short time after this, Fr Basil died.

When a monk from the Skete of St Anna told him of the martyrdom of the New Martyr Euthymius (March 22), John was once more filled with zeal for martyrdom. He was placed under the spiritual direction of the Elder Acacius, who prescribed for him prayer, prostrations, and reading the Gospel.

In time, John was found worthy of monastic tonsure, and was given the new name Ignatius. The Elder Acacius blessed him to travel to Constantinople with the monk Gregory in order to bear witness to Christ. After receiving the Holy Mysteries in Constantinople, Ignatius felt he was ready for his ordeal.

Dressed in Moslem garb, Ignatius went before the kadi and proclaimed his faith in Christ. He told him how he had promised to become a Moslem when he was younger, but now he threw his turban at the kadi’s feet and said that he would never deny Christ.

Thinking that Ignatius was insane, the kadi warned him that if he did not come to his senses he would endure horrible torments before being put to death. On the other hand, if he embraced Islam, he would receive rich gifts and great honor from them.

The courageous martyr told the kadi to keep his gifts, for they were merely temporal gifts. “Your threats of torture and death are nothing new,” he said, “and I knew of them before I came here. In fact, I came here because of them, so that I might die for my Christ.”

St Ignatius went on to call Mohammed “a false prophet, a teacher of perdition, and a friend of the devil.” Then he invited the Moslems to believe in Christ, the only true God.

The kadi then became so angry he could not speak, so he motioned for a servant to lead St Ignatius out of the room. Ignatius turned and struck the servant, then knelt before the kadi and bent his neck, as if inviting him to behead him then and there. Other servants entered the room, however, and dragged him off to prison.

Later, Ignatius was brought before the kadi for questioning. When asked who had brought him to Constantinople, he replied, “My Lord Jesus Christ brought me here.”

Again the kadi urged him to reconsider, for he was about to experience unimaginable tortures. “Do not expect to be beheaded so that the Christians can collect your blood as a blessing,” he said, “for I intend to hang you.”

Ignatius replied, “You will be doing me a great service whether you hang me or put me to the sword. I accept everything for the love of Christ.”

Seeing that he could not turn Ignatius from his Christian Faith, the kadi ordered him to be hanged. He was taken to a place called Daktyloporta, where the sentence was carried out. The martyr’s body remained hanging there for three days, then some pious Christians paid a ransom for it and took it to the island of Prote for burial.

St Ignatius gave his life for Christ on October, 1814. He is also commemorated on May 1 together with Sts Acacius and Euthymius.

The head of St Ignatius is in the Monastery of St Panteleimon on Mt Athos.