February 23 is the Feast Day of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, a martyr of the second century. In remembrance, we offer the story of his martyrdom…
The Encyclical Epistle
of the Church at Smyrna
Concerning the Martyrdom
of the Holy Polycarp
Modern paraphrase of a 19th century translation,
excerpted from [easyazon_link identifier=”0974479691″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Water, Faith and Wood:
Stories of the Early Church’s Witness for Today[/easyazon_link]
C. Christopher Smith. Doulos Christou Press, 2003.
— PAGE 3 —
No Threats Have Any Effect on Polycarp.
The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; if you do not
repent, I will cast you to them.” But Polycarp answered, “Call them then,
for we are not accustomed to repenting of what is good in order to adopt
that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.” But again the proconsul said to him, “I will cause you to be consumed by fire if you will not repent, seeing that you despise the wild beasts.” But Polycarp said, “You threaten me with fire which burns
for an hour, and after a little while is extinguished, but you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for
the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.”
Polycarp is Sentenced to Be Burned.
While he spoke these and many other similar things, he was filled with
confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that it did not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but – on the contrary – the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the middle of the stadium three times, “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” The herald having made this proclamation, the whole crowd – both of the heathen and the Jews who dwelled in Smyrna – cried out with uncontrollable fury, and in a loud voice, “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice or worship our gods.” Speaking thus, they cried out, and begged Philip the Asiarch to let loose a lion upon Polycarp. But Philip answered that it was not lawful for him to do so, seeing the shows of wild beasts were already finished. Then it seemed good to them to cry out with one voice, that Polycarp should be burned alive. Thus, it came about that the vision that was revealed to him on his pillow was fulfilled, when, seeing it on fire as he was praying, he turned around and said prophetically to the faithful that were with him, “I must be burned alive.”
The Funeral Pile is Erected.
This, then, was carried into effect with greater speed than it was spoken,
the multitudes immediately gathered together wood and sticks out of the
shops and baths; the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting them in this search. And when the funeral pile was ready, Polycarp, laying aside all his garments and loosing his girdle, sought also to take off his sandals – a thing he was not accustomed to do, as every one of the faithful was always eager to be the first to touch his skin. For, on account of his holy life, he was, even before his martyrdom, adorned with every kind of good. Immediately then they surrounded him with the wood that had been prepared for the funeral pile. But when they were about also to secure him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am; for He that gives me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain in the fire without moving.”
The Prayer of Polycarp.
They did not nail him then, but simply bound him. And he, placing his hands behind him, and being bound like a distinguished ram taken from a great flock for sacrifice and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto God, looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live, I give you thanks that you have counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of your martyrs, in the cup of Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruptibility imparted by the Holy Ghost. May I be accepted today among these martyrs before you as a ready and acceptable sacrifice, as you, the ever-truthful God, has fore-ordained, has revealed to me beforehand, and has now fulfilled. I also praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, with whom, to you and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and in all coming ages. Amen.”
Polycarp is Not Injured by the Fire.
When he had pronounced this amen and finished his prayer, those who
were appointed for the purpose kindled the fire. And as the flame blazed
forth in great fury, we, to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great
miracle, and have been preserved that we might report to others what then
took place. For the fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed the body of the martyr like a circle. And he appeared within not like burning flesh, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odor coming from the fire, as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoldering there.
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