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Commemorated on February 23rd

St Polycarp

23rd Feb

St Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna and one of the Apostolic Fathers. He was orphaned at an early age, but at the direction of an angel, he was raised by the pious widow Kallista. After the death of his adoptive mother, St Polycarp gave away his possessions and began to lead a chaste life, caring for the sick and the infirm. He was very fond of and close to St Bucolus, Bishop of Smyrna(commemorated February 6). He ordained Polycarp as Deacon, entrusting to him to preach the Word of God in church. He also ordained him to the holy priesthood.

St Polycarp was especially close to and a student of St John, and sometimes accompanied him on his apostolic journeys. He was also personally acquainted with 'others who had seen the Lord'. St Polycarp served as a link between the Apostolic age and Orthodoxy of the latter part of the second century.

Shortly before his death, St Bucolus expressed his wish that Polycarp be made Bishop of Smyrna. When St Polycarp was consecrated as Bishop, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. St Polycarp guided his flock with apostolic zeal, and he was also greatly loved by the clergy. St Ignatius the God-Bearer of Antioch (commemorated December 20) also had a high regard for him. Setting out for Rome where execution awaited him, he wrote to St Polycarp, "This age is in need of you if it is to reach God, just as pilots need winds, and as a storm-tossed sailor needs a port".

St Irenaeus of Lyons records to his friend Florinus:

"I was still very young when I saw you in Asia Minor at Polycarp's, but I would still be able to point out the place where Blessed Polycarp sat and conversed, and be able to depict his walk, his mannerisms in life, his outward appearance, his speaking to people, his companionable wandering with John. How he himself related, together with other eyewitnesses of the Lord, those things that he remembered from the words of others. He also told what he heard from them about the Lord, His teachings and miracles…Through the mercy of God to me, I then already listened attentively to Polycarp and wrote down his words, not on tablets, but in the depths of my heart. Therefore, I am able to bear witness before God, that if this blessed and apostolic Elder heard something similar to your fallacy, he would immediately stop up his ears and express his indignation with his usual phrase: 'Good God! That You have permitted me to be alive at such a time!'"

St Polycarp was a new kind of Christian for his time. He was not a Jew and was not familiar with Old Testament Scriptures; instead, he immersed himself in the Apostolic tradition. This is evident by his writings that weaved together phrases from a wide range of Apostolic writings. Here is a quote from his letter to the Philippians, dated c. 135 AD, that seems appropriate for the Easter period,"Everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an Antichrist; whoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whoever perverts the sayings of the Lord for his own desires, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgement, such a one is the first-born of Satan. Let us therefore, leave the foolishness and the false-teaching of the crowd, and turn back to the word which was delivered to us in the beginning.

Let us, then, continue unceasingly in our hope and in the Pledge of our justification, that is, in Christ Jesus, who bore our sins in His own body on the tree, who did no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth; yet, for our sakes, that we might live in Him, He endured everything".

Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) of Roman fiercely persecuted Christians. The pagan population demanded that the judge search for St Polycarp, who was then an old man, "the father of all the Christians", and "the seducer of all Asia". During this time, St Polycarp, at the persistent urging of his flock, stayed in a small village not far from Smyrna.

On the day of his death, when his pursuers found St Polycarp, the Saint commanded that his captures be given something to eat and drink. He then asked them to give him an hour to pray; he stood and prayed, full of grace, for two hours in which he remembered everyone he met. Seeing his devotion and love, his captors repented that they had come against so venerable a man. St Polycarp was brought by the Proconsul of Smyrna into the stadium and was commanded, "Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, 'Away with the atheists'". By atheists, the Proconsul meant the Christians. However, St Polycarp, gazing at the heathen in the stadium, waved his hand towards them and said, "Away with the atheists".

St Polycarp was condemned to be burnt alive, and was seated on a donkey and led into the city (presumably Rome), where he was asked to slander Christ. St Polycarp replied, "Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has never done me wrong. How, then, should I be able to blaspheme my King who has saved me?" This indicates that, even if he was baptised as a child, he must have been born around 69 AD.

The executioners wanted to nail him to a post, but he declared that God would give him the strength to endure the flames, so they could merely tie him with ropes. The flames encircled the saint but did not touch him, coming together over his head in the shape of a vault. Seeing that the fire did him no harm, the pagans stabbed him with a dagger. So much blood flowed from this wound that it extinguished the flames. The body of the Hieromartyr Polycarp was then cremated.

Christians later collected and hid his bones. It is traditionally accepted that he was martyred on Saturday 23 February 155 AD.

Dismissal Hymn (Fourth Tone)

As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, you found discipline to be means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, you also contested for the Faith even to blood, O Hieromartyr Polycarp. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion (First Tone)

The soldiers standing guard

Through godly virtues, you brought forth for the Lord God much spiritual fruit, O you most blessed Hierarch, and so proved worthy of God your Lord, O wise Polycarp. Wherefore, on this day we who have all been enlightened through your holy words extol your praiseworthy memory and glorify Christ the Lord.