Saint Polycarp

Saint Polycarp

Born in 69 AD, Saint Polycarp was acquainted with the Apostles. He was a disciple of Saint John, the Apostle and Evangelist, who consecrated him Bishop of Smyrna, which is now in Turkey.

The Epistle to the Philippians, Saint Polycarp's only surviving epistle, contains valuable lessons for us to learn. Saint Polycarp urged the Philippians in this epistle to continue being devout Catholics, to live righteously, to abstain from sin, and to adhere to the teachings of both Saint Paul and Jesus. In addition, he offered specific counsel to priests, young men, virgins, lay people, and deacons. In his epistle, Saint Polycarp expresses his humility and desire to see souls saved.

The Christians of Smyrna were going through a period of persecution when Polycarp was eighty-six years old. One day, while the crowd watched some Christians being crucified in the amphitheater, they chanted for Polycarp to be executed as well. With the encouragement of some acquaintances, Polycarp had already left the city of Smyrna and was staying at a house in the countryside. He spent his time in prayer when he was a guest in the home. He had a vision of his pillow on fire and declared, "It must be that I shall be burned alive." He went to another farmhouse after learning that government forces were nearby.

After being tortured, a slave boy disclosed where Polycarp was staying, and the soldiers arrived to take him into custody. Polycarp stated, "God's will be done." Polycarp got a meal ready for the men who had come to arrest him and spoke politely to them. He spent two hours in prayer before leaving, offering up prayers for all the people he had ever met and the Catholic Church worldwide. Polycarp was driven to the stadium by two government officials in their carriage, but he was kicked out when he refused to give up his beliefs. Polycarp had to walk for the remainder of the journey.

When he got there, he heard a voice from Heaven tell him, "Be strong, and show thyself a man, Polycarp." His fellow Christians heard this voice as well. Polycarp was then instructed by the proconsul to curse Jesus. In response, Polycarp said, "Eighty-six years have I served him, and he never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?" Upon the proconsul's insistence, Polycarp declared boldly, "Since you are so intent that I should swear by the fortunes of Caesar, and since you pretend not to know who or what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them.”

If Polycarp didn't "repent," the proconsul threatened to have him slain by wild animals. With courage, Polycarp replied, "Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt what is evil." Polycarp was then threatened by fire. He remarked, "You threaten me with fire that burns for an hour and after a little is extinguished, but you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why do you delay? Bring forth what you wish.”

The audience erupted in shouts demanding Polycarp's execution after it was revealed that he had admitted to being a Christian. With stacks of wood all around, Polycarp was designed to stand in front of a stake. With his eyes fixed on Heaven, he prayed, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed son, Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before you, I give you thanks that you have counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should be counted in the number of your martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption given by the Holy Spirit. Among them may I be accepted this day before you as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as you, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, have revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled. I praise you for all things. I bless you, I glorify you, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, with Him, to You, and the Holy Spirit, be glory now and forever. Amen.” They lit the wood on fire, but the flames did not burn or kill him. He was instead reported as "appearing bright through the flames," as though it was encircling him. Enraged that he was still alive, the onlookers insisted that a sword be drawn and used to strike him. The executioner acted swiftly, extinguishing the flames with Polycarp's blood. Polycarp died on February 23, 155.

Polycarp was revered as a saintly man by devout Catholics throughout his lifetime, and the Church declared him a martyr and saint after his passing. As someone who consistently preached the Gospel and Catholic beliefs, vehemently attacked heresy and exhorted Church members to live holy lives, he was an exemplary bishop. He acted as a genuine spiritual guide for the populace within his diocese. With age, Polycarp's testimony to holiness grew stronger. Because of his love for Jesus, he bravely accepted death as a martyr.

The life of Saint Polycarp also exemplifies how elder individuals can impart their knowledge to younger people, leaving them with a priceless legacy. The Apostle Saint John taught Saint Polycarp the Faith when he was a young man. Having learned from Saint John, Polycarp passed on his knowledge to the youthful Saint Irenaeus when he was older. Senior priests and bishops who have taught the Catholic religion truthfully for many years and stayed devoted, like Saint Polycarp, can be good spiritual fathers to younger Catholics. They have wisdom to impart to us, just as Saint Polycarp.

Other Saints of the Day
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Saint Dositheus
Saint Serenus the Gardener
Saint Lazarus Zographos
Saint Alexander Akimetes

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