We have read so much from the writings of the Apostles in the Bible, the Early Church Fathers, and their writings, and oftentimes, their martyrdom for their Faith, and their refusal to deny that Faith. The martyred great Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, who, when taken into the stadium, found himself being urged by the proconsul to deny Christ. The proconsul said to Saint Polycarp such things as “Have respect to thy old age” and “swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.”
Now Saint Polycarp, this holy, venerable Bishop of Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey), was 86 years old, and had himself been a disciple of Saint John the Apostle. He had written an Epistle to the Philippians encouraging the Church there. For his entire life, he had followed Christ, and now here he was, taken before a hostile crowd who's thirst for the blood of the Faithful was virtually unquenchable. The crowd was eager to see him “torn by the wild beasts” as they had seen many of the Christians killed for their faith, but, they thirsted more for this great Saints blood, because they thought with his death, that this Christianity would be purged from among them.
Upon entering the stadium, Saint Polycarp and those “brethren with him”, heard “a voice from heaven, saying, 'Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp'!” None of those in the stands of the stadium, nor the proconsul or guards heard it. So, when the proconsul had uttered the words, “...say, Away with the Atheists”, Saint Polycarp “gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, 'Away with the Atheists'.” Saint Polycarp had a vision three days before his capture, and in that vision “the pillow beneath his head seemed to him on fire”, and he knew he would be burnt alive. The fire was described as though the flames were a great sail that encircled him, but, never touched him. When the fire failed to kill him, he was stabbed by a guard with a dagger and he died. This great Saint, like all of the martyrs of the Church, died because he would not deny God! He truly believed, he truly trusted, he truly loved, and he truly had faith IN and FOR God!
“The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians” is available online, as well as “The Epistle Concerning the Martyrdom of Polycarp”. Both are an interesting insight to the Early Church and one of its great Saints.
This is from the work of Saint Jerome, "Lives of Illustrious Men":
Polycarp the bishop
Polycarp disciple of the apostle John and by him ordained bishop of Smyrna was chief of all Asia, where he saw and had as teachers some of the apostles and of those who had seen the Lord. He, on account of certain questions concerning the day of the Passover, went to Rome in the time of the emperor Antoninus Pins while Anicetus ruled the church in that city. There he led back to the faith many of the believers who had been deceived through the persuasion of Marcion and Valentinus, and when. Marcion met him by chance and said, "Do you know us?" He replied, "I know the firstborn of the devil." Afterwards during the reign of Marcus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus in the fourth persecution after Nero, in the presence of the proconsul holding court at Smyrna and all the people crying out against him in the Amphitheater, he was burned. He wrote a very valuable Epistle to the Philippians which is read to the present day in the meetings in Asia.
Copyright © 2005 Steve Smith. All rights reserved.