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 4 —
Polycarp is Pierced by a Dagger.
At length, when those wicked men perceived that his body could not be
consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to approach and pierce him through with a dagger. And on his doing this, there came forth a dove and a great quantity of blood so that the fire was extinguished; and all the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the
unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one,
having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished.
The Christians are Refused Polycarp’s Body.
But when the adversary of the Christian people, the envious, malicious, and
wicked one, perceived the greatness of his martyrdom, and considered the blameless life he had led from the beginning, and how he was now crowned with the wreath of immortality, having beyond dispute received his reward,
he did his utmost that not the least memorial of him should be taken away
by us, although many desired to do this, and to become possessors of his
holy flesh. For this end he suggested it to Nicetes, the father of Herod and brother of Alce, to go and entreat the governor not to give up his body to be buried, “lest,” said he, “forsaking him that was crucified, they begin to worship this one.” This he said at the suggestion and urgent persuasion of the Jews, who also watched us, as we sought to take him out of the fire, being ignorant of the fact that it is neither possible for us ever to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the whole world (the blameless one for sinners), nor to worship any other. For him indeed we adore, since he is the Son of God; but the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the Lord, we worthily love on account of their extraordinary affection toward their own King and Master, of whom may we also be made companions and fellow-disciples!
The Body of Polycarp is Burned.
The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed Polycarp’s
body in the middle of the fire, and it was consumed. Accordingly, we
afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, where, being gathered together, as the opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.
Praise of the Martyr Polycarp.
This, then, is the account of the blessed Polycarp, the twelfth one that was martyred in Smyrna (also including those of Philadelphia), yet he occupies a place of his own in the memory of all men, insomuch that he is everywhere spoken of by the heathen themselves. He was not merely an illustrious teacher, but also a pre-eminent martyr, whose martyrdom all desire to imitate, as having been altogether consistent with the Gospel of Christ. For, having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous ones in heaven, joyfully glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Church throughout the world.
This Epistle is to Be Transmitted to the Brethren.
Since, then, you requested that we would make you acquainted with what
really took place, we have for the present sent you this summary account
through our brother Marcus. When, therefore, you yourselves have read
this Epistle, be pleased to send it to the brethren at a greater distance, that they also may glorify the Lord, who chooses his own servants. To him who is able to bring us all by his grace and goodness into his everlasting kingdom,through his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, to him be glory and honor and power and majesty forever. Amen. Salute all the saints. They that are with us salute you, and Evarestus, who wrote this Epistle, and all his household do likewise.
The Date of the Martyrdom.
Now, the blessed Polycarp suffered martyrdom on the second day of the
month Xanthicus just begun, the seventh day before the Kalends of May, on
the great Sabbath, at the eighth hour. He was taken by Herod, Philip the
Trallian being high priest, Statius Quadratus being proconsul, but Jesus Christ being King forever, to whom be glory, honor, majesty, and an everlasting throne, from generation to generation. Amen.
We wish you, brothers and sisters, all happiness, while you walk according to the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; with whom be glory to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of his holy ones, after whose example the blessed Polycarp suffered, following in whose footsteps may we too be found in the kingdom of Jesus Christ!
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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