Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr

This week’s Saints of the Week is Saint Polycarp, an early Bishop of the Church, and one for whom we have a contemporary, written account of his martyrdom.  It is the first, documented account of Christian martyrdom outside the New Testement.  Saint Polycarp was born in about 70 AD and was a disciple of John the Apostle.  He was ordained Bishop of Smyrna, in the modern day city of  Izmir, Turkey, by St. John himself, a position he held for 70 years.  

In his old age, after many of his friends and colleagues suffer martyrdom including Saint Ignatius, who visited Saint Polycarp on his way to Rome where he was martyred, found his life at risk under the persecutions of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Initially driven into hiding by well meaning members of his flock, he eventually allowed himself to be taken stating, “The will of God be done.”

Saint Polycarp like many before and after him, was confronted with the option of denying God to save his life.  As he was led into the arena where he was to make his choice before the Proconsul, a loud voice, believed by those who heard it to be from Heaven, declared, “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” 

Saint Polycarp did indeed play the man, stating in response to the Proconsul’s threats, “Eighty-six years have I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Saint Polycarp was then bound and tied to a wood pyre to be burned.  To the amazement of all attending, the roaring flames did not harm the Holy Saint, but burned white hot around him and emitted an odor of sweet spices into the air of the arena.  After some time, when it became obvious that fire wasn’t going to do the trick a soldier was ordered to slay St. Polycarp by sword, thus ending the life of the last living disciple of the Apostolic age.  His body was burned thereafter.  His relics reside today beneath the altar in the church Sant' Ambrogio della Massima in Rome, Italy.

Patron Saint against: Earaches, Dysentery

Feast Day:  February 23rd

Prayer to Saint Polycarp:

Great martyr Saint Polycarp, make us steadfast witnesses to the truth in word and deed, just as you witnessed to the truth in your own life and death. Through your intercession, make our commitment to our religion of long duration, a life project, enduring until our life of faith concludes with a death of faith

Saint Polycarp, pray for us!

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