23 February 2011

Remembering Saint Polycarp

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, depicted in the Church of Saint Polycarp in Izmir (Smyrna), Turkey

Patrick Comerford

This evening, we are celebrating the Eucharist according to Common Worship, Services and Prayers for the Church of England (2000). The calendar of Common Worship today (23 February) celebrates Saint Polycarp (69-155 AD), a second century Bishop of Smyrna.

Saint Polycarp is traditionally said to have been a disciple of Saint John the Divine. With Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of three principal Apostolic Fathers, although the sole surviving work attributed to him is his Letter to the Philippians, which was first noted by Saint Irenaeus of Lyon.

Saint Irenaeus, who was born in Smyrna, repeatedly emphasises the very great age of Polycarp, and says he heard Saint Polycarp speak in his youth. He reports that Saint Polycarp was converted to Christianity by the Apostles, that he was consecrated a bishop, and that he communicated with many who had seen Christ.

According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, this bishop and saint died a martyr, bound and taken to be burned at the stake in Smyrna for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. When the fires failed to kill him, he was then stabbed to death. In the Martyrdom, Polycarp is recorded as saying on the day of his death: “Eighty and six years I have served him.” This could indicate that he was then 86 years old … or that he may have lived 86 years after his conversion. Polycarp then went on to say: “How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? Bring forth what thou wilt.”

The date of his death is a matter of debate. Eusebius says he was martyred in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (ca 166-167). However, a later addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday 23 February, in the pro-consulship of Statius Quadratus – ca 155-156.

The Agora in Smyrna ... all that remains of the classical and biblical city (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


pwills said...

Patrick, Your blog is inspirational. Many thanks !

pwills said...

Patrick, Your blog is inspirational. Many thanks !