Who Was St. Irenaeus?

St. Irenaeus (pronounced Ir-e-NAY-us) was born into a Christian family about 125 AD and was raised in the Greek city of Smyrna, located on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea in Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

 

He was a "hearer" of St. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, who in turn was a disciple of St. John the Theologian, the apostle of Christ who was the author of the fouth gospel, two epistles, and the Book of Revelation.

 

After receiving a classical education, Irenaeus answered the Lord’s call to ministry and was ordained a presbyter, and became known as a compassionate pastor and missionary. He travelled west to Gaul (modern France) where he became bishop of the city of Lyon.

 

In many ways Irenaeus lived up to his name, which is derived from the Greek for "peacemaker" ("peace" in Greek is irene). When a conflict broke out between the Roman church and churches in Asia Minor over the proper date to celebrate Pascha (called the Quartodeciman controversy), Irenaeus attempted to mediate the matter, seeing the arguments of both sides as grounded in the tradition of the church and therefore not worth intiating a schism.

 

Irenaeus is perhaps best known for his five-volume set of writings against Gnosticism known as Against the Heresies. By the second century Gnosticism was growing sectarian movement which taught that salvation could be achieved only through the pursuit of special knowledge.

 

Irenaeus made the case that true saving knowledge comes through Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God and Redeemer of the world whose teachings were preserved by the apostles and handed down through the church, a notion that would come to be known as "apostolic succession".

 

He was also the first Christian writer to affirm the authoritative character of the four New Testament gospels and to write in some depth on the importantance of the Virgin Mary (whom Irenaeus calls the "new Eve") in Christ's Incarnation as the Redeemer of humanity.

 

Finally, Irenaeus also wrote the first comprehensive Christian catechism called On the Apostolic Preaching. Considered one of the first great theologians of the church, his influence on future generations of Christian writers was and remains profound.

 

St. Irenaeus is believed to have died about 202 CE. His feast day is celebrated on August 23 in the Orthodox Church and on June 28 in Roman Catholic and other Western Christian traditions.

TROPARION TO ST. IRENAEUS OF LYONS

 

Troparion - Tone 4

By sharing in the ways of the Apostles,

you became a successor to their throne.


Through the practice of virtue, you found the way to

divine contemplation, O inspired one of God;
 
by teaching the word of truth without error,

you defended the Faith, even to the shedding of your blood.


Hieromartyr Irenæus, entreat Christ God to save our souls!

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