- This event has passed.
St. Polycarp of Smyrna (click)
Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr
Memorial, February 23rd
St. Polycarpus, engraving by Michael Burghers, ca 1685
St. Polycarp was converted to Christianity by St. John the Evangelist. He was later ordained Bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). He was about eighty-six when the Roman proconsul urged him to renounce Christ and save his life. St. Polycarp said, “For eighty-six years I have served him and he has never wronged me. How can I reounce the King who has saved me?”
Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003
God of all creation,
who were pleased to give the Bishop Saint Polycarp
a place in the company of the Martyrs,
grant, through his intercession,
that, sharing with him in the chalice of Christ,
we may rise through the Holy Spirit to eternal life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
First Reading: Revelation 2:8-11
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.”
Gospel Reading: John 15:18-21
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on My account, because they do not know Him who sent Me.
Related links on the New Advent website:
Feastday: February 23
Imagine being able to sit at the feet of the apostles and hear their stories of life with Jesus from their own lips. Imagine walking with those who had walked with Jesus, seen him, and touched him. That was what Polycarp was able to do as a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist.
But being part of the second generation of Church leaders had challenges that the first generation could not teach about. What did you do when those eyewitnesses were gone? How do you carry on the correct teachings of Jesus? How do you answer new questions that never came up before?
With the apostles gone, heresies sprang up pretending to be true teaching, persecution was strong, and controversies arose over how to celebrate liturgy that Jesus never laid down rules for.
Polycarp, as a holy man and bishop of Smyrna, found there was only one answer — to be true to the life of Jesus and imitate that life. Saint Ignatius of Antioch told Polycarp “your mind is grounded in God as on an immovable rock.”
When faced with heresy, he showed the “candid face” that Ignatius admired and that imitated Jesus’ response to the Pharisees. Marcion, the leader of the Marcionites who followed a dualistic heresy, confronted Polycarp and demanded respect by saying, “Recognize us, Polycarp.” Polycarp responded, “I recognize you, yes, I recognize the son of Satan.”
On the other hand when faced with Christian disagreements he was all forgiveness and respect. One of the controversies of the time came over the celebration of Easter. The East, where Polycarp was from, celebrated the Passover as the Passion of Christ followed by a Eucharist on the following day. The West celebrated Easter on the Sunday of the week following Passover. When Polycarp went to Rome to discuss the difference with Pope Anicetus, they could not agree on this issue. But they found no difference in their Christian beliefs. And Anicetus asked Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in his own papal chapel.
Polycarp faced persecution the way Christ did. His own church admired him for following the “gospel model” — not chasing after martyrdom as some did, but avoiding it until it was God’s will as Jesus did. They considered it “a sign of love to desire not to save oneself alone, but to save also all the Christian brothers and sisters.”
One day, during a bloody martyrdom when Christians were attacked by wild animals in the arena, the crowd became so mad that they demanded more blood by crying, “Down with the atheists; let Polycarp be found.” (They considered Christians “atheists” because they didn’t believe in their pantheon of gods.) Since Polycarp was not only known as a leader but as someone holy “even before his grey hair appeared”, this was a horrible demand.
Polycarp was calm but others persuaded him to leave the city and hide at a nearby farm. He spent his time in prayer for people he knew and for the Church. During his prayer he saw a vision of his pillow turned to fire and announced to his friends that the dream meant he would be burned alive.
As the search closed in, he moved to another farm, but the police discovered he was there by torturing two boys. He had a little warning since he was upstairs in the house but he decided to stay, saying, “God’s will be done.”
Then he went downstairs, talked to his captors and fed them a meal. All he asked of them was that they give him an hour to pray. He spent two hours praying for everyone he had every known and for the Church, “remembering all who had at any time come his way — small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.” Many of his captors started to wonder why they were arresting this holy, eighty-six-year-old bishop.
But that didn’t stop them from taking him into the arena on the Sabbath. As he entered the arena, the crowd roared like the animals they cheered. Those around Polycarp heard a voice from heaven above the crowd, “Be brave, Polycarp, and act like a man.”
The proconsul begged the eighty-six-year-old bishop to give in because of his age. “Say ‘Away with the atheists'” the proconsul urged. Polycarp calmly turned to the face the crowd, looked straight at them, and said, “Away with the atheists.” The proconsul continued to plead with him. When he asked Polycarp to swear by Caesar to save himself, Polycarp answered, “If you imagine that I will swear by Caesar, you do not know who I am. Let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian.” Finally, when all else failed the proconsul reminded Polycarp that he would be thrown to the wild animals unless he changed his mind. Polycarp answered, “Change of mind from better to worse is not a change allowed to us.”
Because of Polycarp’s lack of fear, the proconsul told him he would be burned alive but Polycarp knew that the fire that burned for an hour was better than eternal fire.
When he was tied up to be burned, Polycarp prayed, “Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and powers, of the whole creation and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your sight, I bless you, for having made me worthy of this day and hour, I bless you, because I may have a part, along with the martyrs, in the chalice of your Christ, to resurrection in eternal life, resurrection both of soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, among those who are in you presence, as you have prepared and foretold and fulfilled, God who is faithful and true. For this and for all benefits I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be to you with him and the Holy Spirit glory, now and for all the ages to come. Amen.”
The fire was lit as Polycarp said Amen and then the eyewitnesses who reported said they saw a miracle. The fire burst up in an arch around Polycarp, the flames surrounding him like sails, and instead of being burned he seemed to glow like bread baking, or gold being melted in a furnace. When the captors saw he wasn’t being burned, they stabbed him. The blood that flowed put the fire out.
The proconsul wouldn’t let the Christians have the body because he was afraid they would worship Polycarp. The witnesses reported this with scorn for the lack of understanding of Christian faith: “They did not know that we can never abandon the innocent Christ who suffered on behalf of sinners for the salvation of those in this world.” After the body was burned, they stole the bones in order to celebrate the memory of his martyrdom and prepare others for persecution. The date was about February 23, 156. In His Footsteps:
When faced with challenges to your Christian life, try a version of Polycarp’s prayer of martyrdom:
“Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and powers, of the whole creation and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your sight, I bless you, for having made me worthy of this day and hour, I bless you, because I may have a part, along with the martyrs, in the chalice of your Christ, to resurrection in eternal life, resurrection both of soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. For this and for all benefits I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be to you with him and the Holy Spirit glory, now and for all the ages to come. Amen.”
Saint Polycarp, sometimes Christ seems so far away from us. Centuries have passed since he and the apostles walk the earth. Help us to see that he is close to us always and that we can keep him near by imitating his life as you did. Amen
Two Fathers [Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna]
ST POLYCARP, BISHOP OF SMYRNA, MARTYR—7?-166
St Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Martyr[Disciple of St John,the Evangelist]
Information: St. Polycarp
Feast Day: February 23
Died: 155 at Smyrna
Patron of: against dysentery, against earache
Feast Day: February 23
Born: (around)69 : : Died: 155
St. Polycarp became a Christian when the followers of Jesus were still few. In fact, Polycarp was a disciple of one of the first apostles, St. John. He was also a friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch.
All that Polycarp learned from St. John he taught to others and he was a well respected Christian leader. He was a new kind of Christian for his time. He was not a Jew and did not know the Old Testament Scriptures; instead he knew well the customs and beliefs of the Apostles.
Polycarp became a priest and then bishop of Smyrna in present-day Turkey. He was Smyrna’s bishop for many years and the Christians loved their holy and brave shepherd. The Churches in Asia Minor chose St. Polycarp to go on their behalf and discuss with Pope Anicetus an important matter – the date of the Easter celebration in Rome.
During that time Christians faced torture and death under Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Polycarp was shown to his enemies by a traitor. When his captors came to arrest him, he invited them first to share a meal with him.
Then he asked them to let him pray a while. The judge tried to force Bishop Polycarp to curse Jesus and save himself from death. “For eighty-six years I have served Jesus Christ,” answered the saint, “and he has never done me any wrong. How can I curse my King who died for me?”
The soldiers tied St. Polycarp’s hands behind his back and placed him on a burning pile but the fire did not harm him. One of the soldiers then stabbed a dagger into his heart and killed him. And so, in the year 155, Polycarp died a martyr.
He went to be forever with his Divine Master Jesus Christ whom he had served so bravely.
Daily Readings for: February 23, 2015
(Readings on USCCB website)
Collect: God of all creation, who were pleased to give the Bishop Saint Polycarp a place in the company of the Martyrs, grant, through his intercession, that sharing with him in the chalice of Christ, we may rise through the Holy Spirit to eternal life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Lent: February 23rd
Memorial of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, bishop and martyr
Old Calendar: St. Peter Damian, bishop and doctor
St. Polycarp of Smyrna, was converted to Christianity by St. John the Evangelist. He was a disciple of the apostles and friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was ordained bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey) and was about eighty-six when the Roman pro-consul urged him to renounce Christ and save his life. St. Polycarp said, “For eighty-six years I have served Him and he has never wronged me. How can I renounce the King who has saved me?” He suffered martyrdom in 155 by burning at the stake in the amphitheater of Smyrna.
According to the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, today is the feast of St. Peter Damian. His feast in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is celebrated on February 21. St. Polycarp’s feast is observed on January 26.
St. Polycarp of Smyrna
Polycarp had known those who had known Jesus, and was a disciple of St. John the Apostle, who had converted him around the year 80 AD. He taught, says his own pupil Irenaeus of Lyons, the things that he learned from the Apostles, which the Church hands down, which are true. Irenaeus, who as a young boy knew Polycarp, praised his gravity, holiness, and majesty of countenance. He had lived near Jerusalem and was proud of his early associations with the Apostles.
Polycarp became bishop of Smyrna and held the see for about 70 years. He was a staunch defender of orthodoxy and an energetic opponent of heresy, especially Marcionism and Valentinianism (the most influential of the Gnostic sects). Toward the end of his life he visited Pope St. Anicetus in Rome and, when they could not agree on a date for Easter, decided each would observe his own date. To testify his respect and ensure that the bonds of charity were unbroken, Anicetus invited Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in the papal chapel on this occasion. Polycarp suffered martyrdom with 12 others of his flock around the year 156.
—Excerpted from St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr by Fr. Paul Haffner (Inside the Vatican, February 2004)
Among the select few from apostolic times about whom we have some historical information is Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and one of the most glorious martyrs of Christian antiquity. His life and death are attested by the authentic “Acts” of his martyrdom (no similar account is older), as well as by other contemporary writings. It moves us deeply when, for example, we find in St. Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, the passage in which he reminisces:
“The memory of that time when as a youth I was with Polycarp in Asia Minor is as fresh in my mind as the present. Even now I could point to the place where he sat and taught, and describe his coming and going, his every action, his outward appearance, and his manner of discourse to the people. It seems as though I still heard him tell of his association with the apostle John and with others who saw the Lord, and as though he were still relating to me their words and what he heard from them about the Lord and His miracles. . . .”
On the day of his death (February 23) the Martyrology recounts with deep reverence:
“At Smyrna, the death of St. Polycarp. He was a disciple of the holy apostle John, who consecrated him bishop of that city; and there he acted as the primate of all Asia Minor. Later, under Marcus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, he was brought before the tribunal of the proconsul; and when all the people in the amphitheater cried out against him, he was handed over to be burned to death. But since the fire caused him no harm, he was put to death by the sword. Thus he gained the crown of martyrdom. With him, twelve other Christians, who came from Philadelphia, met death by martyrdom in the same city.”
Excerpted from The Church’s Year of Grace, Pius Parsch.
Patron: Against ear ache, dysentery.
Things to Do:
Read the Golden Legend account of the life of St. Polycarp and this life of St. Polycarp from The Early Church Fathers website. Read an account of his martyrdom.
Read St. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians.