The PriestMartyr Ireneius (Ireneios), Bishop of Lyons
Commemorated on August 23
Ireneius (Ireneios), Bishop of Lyons, was born in the year 130 in the city
of Smyrna (Asia Minor). He received there the finest of educations, studying
poetics, philosophy, rhetoric, and all the rest of the classical sciences,
considered necessary for a young man of the world. His guide in the truths of
the Christian faith was a disciple of the Apostle John the Theologian –
Sainted Polycarp of Smyrna (Comm. 23 February). Saint Polycarp baptised
the youth, and afterwards ordained him presbyter and sent him off to a city in
Gaul then named Lugdunum (the presentday city of Lyons in France) to the dying
bishop Pothinus. A commission was soon entrusted Saint Ireneius: to deliver a
letter of Christ-confessors to the holy Pope of Rome Eleutherius (177-190).
During the time of his absence all the known Christians were thrown into
prison. After the martyr's death of Bishop Pothinus, Saint Ireneius was chosen
a year later in 178 as bishop of the city of Lugdunum. "During which time,
– Sainted Gregory of Tyre writes concerning him, – by his preaching he
transformed all Lugdunum into a Christian city!" When the
persecution against Christians quieted down, the saint expounded upon the
Orthodox teachings of faith in one of his fundamental works under the title:
"Detection and Refutation of Pretensively Called Gnosis-Knowledge",
or in short form "Five Books against Heresy" ("Adversus
Haereses"). During these times there had appeared a series of
religious-philosophical Gnostic teachings. The Gnostics (from the Greek word
"gnosis" meaning "knowledge") taught, that God is not able
to be incarnated [i.e. born in human flesh], since matter is imperfect and
manifests itself as the bearer of evil. They taught also that the Son of God –
is only an outflowing ("emanation") of Divinity. Together with Him
from the Divinity issues forth an hierarchical series of powers
("aeons"), the unity of which comprise the "Pleroma", i.e.
"Fullness". The world is not made by God Himself, but by the aeons or
the "Demiourgos" ("Demiurge"), which is beneathe the
"Pleroma". [trans. note: this Gnostic terminology reflects various
attempts at a synthesis of the Neo-Platonic thought of the time with
Christianity. But lest the reader be confused and consider all
"gnosis" to be heretically Gnostic, there is indeed an Orthodox
"Gnosis" theologically deriving from Christ as the "Logos"
or "Word" – "through Whom all things were made" (Jn. 1: 3)
underlying the Creation, without which all theology itself would be impossible.
Also, our account neglects to point out that the "Adversus Haeresus"
was a compendium of the teachings of all the known heresies of the time,
publishing "for free" the esoteric salvation "secret
teachings" of the Gnostics, who made a business charging money to be
"initiated" into the upper level of "knowers"
("illuminati" or "electi"); in doing so he helped put them
out of business].
In the refutation of the heresy of Valentinus, Saint Ireneius presents the Orthodox teaching about salvation. "The Word of God, Jesus Christ, through His inexplicable blessedness caused it to be, that we also, should be made that which He is..., – taught Saint Ireneius, – Jesus Christ the Son of God through exceedingly great love for His creation condescended to be born of a Virgin, through His own Self having united mankind with God". Through the Incarnation of God creation becomes co-imaged and co-bodied to the Son of God. Salvation consists in the "Filiation" ("Sonship") and "Theosis" ("Divinisation") of mankind.
In the refutation of another heretic, Marcian, who denied the Divine-origin of the Old Testament [trans. note: based on the problem of suffering and evil, i.e. Theodicy, with Marcian giving insufficient consideration to the issue of freedom], the saint presents the teaching about the Same Origin of the Old and the New Testaments: "It is one and the same the Spirit of God, Which through the prophets proclaimed, in what manner precisely would be the coming of the Lord, – wrote the saint, – He through the apostles preached, that the fullness of time of the filiation had arrived, and that the Kingdom of Heaven was come nigh".
The truthful veracity of Church teachings was grounded by Sainted Ireneius in the succession of the episcopacy, since the Church is more anciently primary than all the later heretics. "Anyone, that desireth to know the truth, ought to turn to the Church, since through Her alone did the apostles propound the Divine Truth. She is the door to life".
Saint Ireneius exerted also a beneficial influence in a dispute about the celebration of Pascha. In the Church of Asia Minor was preserved an old tradition to celebrate Holy Pascha on the 14th day of the month of Nisan, irregardless of what day of the week this occurred. Holy Pope Victor (190-202) forcefully demanded uniformity, and his harsh demands fomented a schism. In the name of the Christians of Gaul, Saint Ireneius wrote to the Pope, that while it be impossible to allow a schism on account of traditions, yet foremost of all it is necessary to esteem churchly peace.
During the reign of the emperor Severus (193-211), Sainted Ireneius was beheaded by the sword for his confession of faith, in the year 202.
The Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, Sainted Polycarp of Smyrna, and Sainted Ireneius of Lyons – here are three links in an unbroken chain of the grace of succession, which connects back to the Original Pastor, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In extreme old age, Saint Ireneius wrote to his old friend Florinus: "I was a lad when I saw thee (Florinus) with Polycarp. I remember what then happened better than what now happens. And I can now describe for thee the place, where blessed Polycarp usually sat and conversed. I can describe his mannerisms of life, the appearance of his body and his instructions which he spoke to people. The intimate conversations which, as he said, he had with John and others who had seen the Lord, and everything that he remembered from their words, that he heard from them about the Lord... I heard this then, by the mercy of God, with fervour and did write it down, not upon paper, but upon the heart".
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.