Saint Polycarp of Smyrna was a pagan man born in the mid to late 1st century between 65-75 AD. Not much is known of his early life accept that he was converted by and a disciple of Saint John the Apostle. He became good friends with Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Papias. Furthermore, they helped him in combating Gnosticism and Marcionites in the East and especially in Smyrna of which he was the bishop. St. Polycarp of Smyrna was also sent by the Eastern churches to discuss the date of which to celebrate Easter with Pope Anicetus.
He is most remembered for being one of the Church’s first martyrs, and the account of his martyrdom is awe-inspiring!
At the age of 86, St. Polycarp was well-known to be a holy and wise man. One day at the arena, a mass Christian execution occurred which made the onlookers hungry for more blood, and therefore they shouted to bring St. Polycarp of Smyrna to be martyred as well. The Roman proconsul sent soldiers to round up St. Polycarp, who was praying at a farm in the countryside. The Roman soldiers tortured two boys who eventually gave up St. Polycarp’s location and therefore he was captured and brought to the arena.
Once there he and all of the other Christians heard a voice from heaven say, “Be strong Polycarp, and play the man.”
Could you imagine hearing the voice of God?
St. Polycarp was then asked to denounce his faith, but he refused to do so and rather stated that, “Fourscore and six years have I served Him, and he has done me no harm. How then can I curse my King that saved me.” St. Polycarp was then bound to a stake, and those pagans and Jews observing in the crowd gathered up wood to use in the burning. The flames of the fire, however, formed around him without actually harming him in any way. The Roman proconsul was amazed and called to one of the executioners to stab him instead. The blood rushed out of St. Polycarp’s body and put out the flames. He died on the stake.
So why is Saint Polycarp remembered?
Few saints have heard the voice of God in the audible way that St. Polycarp did, that is a tremendous gift from God, and screams, “I am with you!”, even in the midst of suffering. Saint Polycarp also fits the criterion for one who more than likely compiled, edited, and published the New Testament.
Saint Polycarp did not chase martyrdom, as many Christians of the time did, but rather waited for the appointed time of his passing and entered his final trial heroically. His feast day is February 23rd.