Saint Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna
Celebration date: 23/02
Saint Polycarp was born around 80 AD. from pious and godly parents, Pagratios and Theodora, who had been imprisoned for the faith of Christ, and he was baptized a Christian at a young age. He was, together with Saint Ignatius the God-bearer (see December 20), a disciple of John the Evangelist. Shortly before departing from this temporal life, Saint Vukolos, Bishop of Smyrna (see February 6), ordained after the Holy Apostles, as his successor, Saint Polycarp and then slept in peace.
The Saint watched with anguish and prayer the arrest of Saint Ignatius of Theophoros, Bishop of Antioch and his martyrdom. His love for the God-bearing Father is also witnessed by the Epistle he wrote to the Philippians. In this letter he congratulates them for the hospitality they provided to Saint Ignatius when he passed through their city. This text of Saint Polycarp stands out for its apostolic, theological and pastoral character.
Saint Polycarp was distinguished for his wisdom, theological training and devotion to the teaching of the Gospel, as he always spoke according to the Scriptures. He was the most authentic representative of apostolic teaching in all the Churches of Asia. St. Irenaeus (see August 23) provides the information that St. Polycarp converted many of the heresies of Valentinus and Marcion to the Church of God. He even narrates an episode referring to the attitude of Saint Polycarp towards Marcion. When this heretic approached him once and addressed him with the request: “Epiginoske ἠμᾶς”, that is, recognize us, the Saint replied: “I am epiginosque, I am epiginosque to the first-born of Satan”.
Another episode goes back to the old age of Saint Polycarp. As is known, the Churches of Asia Minor celebrated Easter on the 14th of the month of Nissan, on whatever day that happened to be. On the contrary, the other Churches did not celebrate Easter at all, but were content with the weekly Sunday celebration of the Resurrection, certainly emphasizing more the celebration of the first Sunday after the full moon of the vernal equinox. Because because of this difference the Church of Rome maintained a strict attitude towards the Asia Minors, St. Polycarp was forced to go to Rome, to settle the matter and other minor matters, with the Bishop of Rome Aniketus (see April 17).
After his return from Rome, now very old, he continued his apostolic activity with such success that he provoked the wrath of the pagans. This disposition naturally caused his martyrdom, which followed the following course. Kointos, a zealous Christian, who came to Smyrna from Phrygia, motivated a group of Philadelphian Christians to come to the proconsul Statius Codratos, to declare to him their status and their faith in Christ, which of course foreshadowed death. Eventually they were all martyred, except Koido, who, cowardly at the last moment, sacrificed to the idols. The mob, although they admired the bravery of the Martyrs, demanded that the “atheists” be executed and that Saint Polycarp be sought, who, pressed by the Christians, had left for a farm. Finally, the Saint was arrested in the year 167 AD. and was brought before the proconsul.
The old Bishop was not moved. His face was serene and radiant. The policeman Herod and his father Nikitas tried to convince the Saint to deny Christ. However, the Saint, with spiritual courage, replied that he had been serving Christ for 86 years without abandoning Him at all. So how could he now blaspheme and deny Him? The lieutenant then ordered that he be thrown into the fire. Elder Polykarpos took off his clothes alone and waited praying saying: “Lord, God Almighty, the Father of Your beloved and blessed child Jesus Christ, because of the knowledge we receive about You, God of angels and powers, and of all of creation, and all the generation of the righteous, may they live before Thee, I bless Thee, that Thou hast deserved with this day and hour to take part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of Thy Christ, in the resurrection of eternal life, soul and body, in the incorruption of the Holy Spirit, in which I was accepted before You today as a sacrifice and accepted, as You prepared and manifested and fulfilled the merciful and true God. For this and for everything I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, with the eternal and heavenly Jesus Christ…”.
The fire formed an arch around the body of Saint Polycarp without touching him. Then a soldier executioner finished off the Holy Martyr with the sword. Then the Holy relic was thrown into the fire, and the faithful collected its holy relics.
The Synagogue of Saint Polycarp was held in the Great Church.