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For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr, c. 69-155
A follower of St. John the Evangelist, Polycarp was one of the second generation of Church leaders known as Apostolic Fathers. As the bishop of Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey), Polycarp was the acknowledged leader of the Eastern Church. He traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Anicetus for discussion of certain issues. Among these was the timing of Easter which the eastern and western Churches differed on. Neither was able to persuade the other on this point, but they concluded that each should follow their own custom. Despite this disagreement, the pope, to signify his respect, asked Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in his own papal church.
During the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Herod, the chief of police, sent soldiers to the place where Polycarp was staying. The bishop greeted them, ordered supper for them, and requested some time for prayer before he went with them. He prayed for his own people and for the whole Church with such intense devotion that some of his captors regretted the mission which they were carrying out.
While Polycarp was being brought to his judgment, he was met on the road by Herod and Herod’s father, Nicetas, who took Polycarp into their chariot and attempted to persuade him to show some sign of compliance by acknowledging Caesar as divine or by offering incense to Caesar in order to save his life. When Polycarp refused, he was brought before the proconsul who, also failing to sway Polycarp, ordered him burned at the stake.
When the fire was lit, the flames swirled around Polycarp’s body, but did not touch him. Seeing this, the proconsul ordered him pierced with a lance. As the soldiers speared him, a dove flew from him and blood spewed forth to quench the fire.
One of Polycarp’s writings, his Letter to the Philippians, is still in existence and was commended by St. Irenaeus, one of his followers, and St. Jerome among others. The narrative of his martyrdom is taken from eyewitness accounts written by his followers.
St. Polycarp, though not named as patron, has been invoked to save those threatened by flames. His optional Memorial is commemorated on February 23rd.
Polycarp’s message today: The determination and strength that Polycarp displayed when the soldiers came to arrest him can only be attributed to a solid faith. Polycarp knew that God was with him and he knew that his prayers would bring strength to the whole Church.