St. Ambrose was probably born in 340 AD at Trier. He learned Greek, became a good poet and orator, and went to the bar. The emperor Valentinian made him governor of Liguria and Aemilia, with his residence at Milan.
Auxentius, an Arian, who held the see of Milan, died in 374 AD. The city was distracted by party strife about the election of a new bishop. To prevent, if possible, too outrageous a disorder Ambrose went to the church in which the assembly was held. There he made a speech, exhorting the people to proceed in their choice in the spirit of peace and without tumult. While he was speaking a voice cried out, 'Ambrose, bishop!', and the whole assembly took up the cry with enthusiasm. Although still a secular priest and catechumen, St. Ambrose was raised in eight days to the rank of bishop at the age of about 35.
Ambrose at once applied himself to the study of Holy Scriptures and the works of religious writers, particularly Origen and St. Basil. His personal life was one of simplicity and hard work.
He was a leader in the west of the battle against Arianism and paganism. He is one of the greatest Fathers of the Church, wrote many commentaries on Holy Scripture, dogmatic works, books on the sacraments and the duties of the clergy, and writings on monastic and moral life. He introduced antiphonal singing and other liturgical influences from the east into the west, and himself wrote hymns.
When Ambrose fell sick he foretold his death, but said he should live until Easter. On the day of his death he laid with his hands extended in the form of a cross for several hours, in constant prayer. The last thing he said was, "Arise! Make haste! He is going" and soon after he died. It was Good Friday, April 27, 397, and he was 57 years old. He was buried on Easter Day.
Saint Ambrose was born in 340 in the northern part of Italy. He was of eminent parentage. His father was the imperial governor of Gaul and Spain, and a pagan, while his mother was a Christian. While he was still in his cradle, a swarm of bees once settled on him, left some honey on his lips and flew off; and, while still a child, he thrust out his hand and said prophetically: "Kiss it, for I shall be a bishop!" He was well educated in legal sciences and on the death of his father in 370, the Emperor made him governor of Emilia and Liguria, of which province Milan was the chief city. When the bishop of Milan died, there was great dissension between the Orthodox Christians and the heretical Arians about the choice of a new bishop. Ambrose went into the church to keep order, this being his responsibility. Thereupon, a child at its mother’s breast cried out: "Ambrose for bishop!" All the people and the emperor Valentine himself took this to be the choice of God, and unanimously elected Ambrose, still a catechumen at the time, as their bishop. (A catechumen was a person only preparing to be baptized. Some people postponed baptism till they become of a mature age in those times). It was against his will, but in vain did he try to dissuade his compatriots and he even fled from Milan. Ambrose was baptized, and passed through all the necessary ranks in one week, and was consecrated bishop in 374.
The first thing he did after consecration was giving out all of his possessions to the poor. Then he started to study the Gospel thoroughly and the works of the fathers of Eastern Church. Only after that he started his work as a bishop.
Saint Ambrose fought defiantly against the Arian heresy, which at that time was supported by the empress Justina. In commemoration of the victory over the Arian heresy he composed the hymn "We praise Thee, O God," which is still sung during the thanksgiving sermons. It was he, who insisted on crossing out the pagan title of the Supreme Priest (Pontifex maximus) from the titles following the emperor’s name, pagan priests and heathen temples were left without the governmental financial support, the so-called fire of vestals was put out and the Victory statue was taken out of the Senate building.
Saint Ambrose became a model of bishop's firmness when he did not let emperor Theodosius enter the cathedral after the latter suppressed the mutiny of Thessalonians against him with brutal violence. Saint Ambrose told him, "A person who has shed so much blood cannot enter the temple of God." "David sinned too," the emperor objected, "but was not deprived of the grace of God." To this Saint Ambrose said, "You followed David in crime, follow him also in repentance," and subjected the emperor to penance for reconcilement with God and Church.
In the year of 387 under the influence of Saint Ambrose's preaching, St. Augustine the fool-for-Christ who later became a bishop and a great theologian of the Western Church, was baptized.
This renowned hierarch, who was visited by people from distant lands for his wisdom and gracious words, was very austere in his personal life, being no stranger to toil and full of good works. He slept little, worked and prayed constantly and fasted every day except Saturday and Sunday. God therefore permitted him to witness many of His wonders, and to perform many himself. He discovered the relics of Ss Protasius, Gervasius, Nazarius and Celsus. God granted this man, who was so pleasing to Him, such grace that he could raise the dead, drive demons from men, heal the sick of every ailment and see into the future.
The last years of his life Saint Ambrose spent in constant prayer, expecting his last day with peaceful joy.
He died peacefully at daybreak on Easter Day in the year 397. Saint Ambrose is deeply revered by the Church among other great theologians and spiritual fathers. He is also renown as an editor of church choral services: he introduced rhythmical time and various melodies in singing. He borrowed many texts of songs from St. Ephrem of Syria and from St. Illarius, but he wrote about 30 hymns himself.
Kontakion, Tone 3: