If you are like most folks, St. Polycarp is not so familiar to you; probably unknown. But he is one of the prominent people in the generation of the apostles and early disciples. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, who was ordained to serve the Church of Smyrna (a city in western Turkey on the Mediterranean).
According to Irenaeus, Polycarp was a companion of Papias, another disciple of St. John and a correspondent of Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius addressed a letter to him and mentions him in many of his other letters. Irenaeus notes that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by apostles, was consecrated a presbyter by an apostle, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus.
Also, according to Irenaeus, during the time when Anicetus was Bishop of Rome, Polycarp visited Rome to discuss differences in the practices of the churches of Asia and Rome. Polycarp followed the Eastern practice of celebrating the feast on the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Jewish Passover, regardless of the day of the week on which it fell, while Rome followed the Western practice of celebrating the feast on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox.
Polycarp died a martyr. He was required to burn incense in honor of the emperor as a deity – which Polycarp refused. He was burned at the stake, but according to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he did not catch fire. The fruit of such a miracle was short lived as the executioner then stabbed Polycarp in the heart, killing him instantly.
The first reading for the Memorial is from The Book of Revelation 2:8-11:
To the angel of the Church in Smyrna, write this: The first and the last, who once died but came to life, says this: I know your tribulation and poverty, but you are rich. I know the slander of those who claim to be Jews and are not, but rather are members of the assembly of Satan. Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the Devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor shall not be harmed by the second death.
Certainly, Polycarp was tested over his lifetime. On the day of his martyrdom, Polycarp was recorded as saying “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.” His final words were recorded “I bless you, Father, for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.”
May we all be found worthy. St. Polycarp pray for us!