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St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Martyr

St. Polycarp 

Born between 69 and 70AD of Christian parents, he learnt the teachings of Christ directly from the Apostles and became a disciple of St John the Evangelist. Irenaeus, who was his pupil and then Bishop of Lyon, and the historian Eusebius of Caesarea, write of him thus: "Polycarp was not only educated by the Apostles and lived with many of those who had seen the Lord, but it was the Apostles who sent him to Asia as Bishop of the Church of Smyrna". (Adversus Haereses III, 3,4, Historia Ecclesiastica IV, 14,3,4) The Martyrium Polycarpi, considered by many to be the oldest and most authentic of the Acts of the Martyrs, was written by one who was an eyewitness to his martyrdom. It is the first work in which a martyr is defined as one who dies for the faith. During his long time as Bishop, Polycarp stood out for his zeal in faithfully preserving the doctrine of the Apostles, for spreading the Gospel among the pagans, and for fighting heresies. Irenaeus describes him as a patient and lovable preacher, with great solicitude for widows and slaves.

Friendship with Ignatius of Antioch


In 107 Polycarp welcomed Ignatius of Antioch to Smyrna Ignatius was on his way to Rome, under escort, to be judged. The seven letters that Ignatius addressed to the churches along the way, are famous. The first four start from Smyrna. The, from Troas, he wrote to the faithful of Smyrna and to their bishop Polycarp, asking him to transmit his memory to the Church of Antioch, and describing Polycarp as a good pastor and fighter for the cause of Christ. In fact, the Philippians asked Polycarp to collect the letters of Ignatius for them. The Bishop of Smyrna did so, adding his own letter in which he urges them to serve and fear God, to believe in Him, to hope in the resurrection, and to walk in the path of justice, always having before their eyes the example of the martyrs - and Ignatius himself. Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians is well known. In our own day it is important in in terms of the historical information that can be drawn from it and for the dogmas on the Creed that it contains. Around the end of the year 154, Polycarp left for Rome as a representative of the Christians of Asia Minor. His mission was to meet with Pope Anicetus and discuss different issues, including the date of Easter, The Eastern Churches celebrated Easter on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, and in Rome on the following Sunday. No agreement was reached, but relations between the Churches remained friendly.

Martyred at 86 years of age

Christians in Smyrna were persecuted under the Emperor Antoninus Pius, and Polycarp was arrested. The acts of his martyrdom narrate that he was "brought before the Proconsul, who tried to persuade him to recant, saying: 'Think of your age ... change your mind ... swear and I will free you. Curse the Christ '. Polycarp replied: 'I have served Him for eighty-six years, and he has done me no harm. How could I curse my King who saved me? ... Listen clearly: I am a Christian'". He was burned at the stake, but remained unharmed as the flames never touched him. Finally, he was killed by the sword. We read these accounts in the Martyrium Polycarpi, from which we know that Polycarp was the twelfth to suffer martyrdom in Smyrna, that he was martyred on a Saturday at the eighth hour, the seventh day before the calends of March. This dates his martyrdom as February 23rd in the year 155.