Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Martyr
When Polycarp was 86 years old, he was bound, slain by the sword, and his body burnt in the
arena at Smyrna, in front of a crowd baying for his blood. He was one of the first Christian martyrs and, according to his own account, had been a believer since childhood. His words at his trial, when he was asked to swear against God, have echoed down through the centuries as a testimony of one man’s obedience to Christ: “For eighty-six years I have been his servant and he has never done me wrong; how can I blaspheme my King, who saved me?
Originally one of the disciples of John, Polycarp is a link between the apostles and the earliest Church Fathers. Accounts of his martyrdom were circulated from very soon after his death and give witness to the Early Church tradition of venerating martyrs and saints.
As one of the first bishops of Roman Asia, he tried to set a date for celebrating Easter with Anicetus, Bishop of Rome, but they failed to agree a compromise between their two traditions. The Church at Rome always celebrated Easter on a Sunday, but in Asia it was celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar, on
whichever day of the week it fell. This had been a burning issue within the Early Church, and remained so for a long time. However, a mark of the esteem in which Polycarp was held can be seen in that he presided at the celebration of the Eucharist at Rome at the end of the discussions. Polycarp is also remembered for the way in which he defended Christianity against early attacks, particularly by the Gnostics who sought to dilute the Church’s understanding of the nature and person of Christ. Much of his writing is concerned with correcting heretical ideas of the Incarnation, particularly those of Marcion. On one occasion when Polycarp was asked if he recognized Marcion in a room, he replied, “Of course; I recognize the first born of Satan.”
Polycarp is remembered as an example of humility under persecution, and as a man who showed true Christ like character throughout his life. In his letters he exhorts the Church to pray for those that persecute them, and are in authority over them: “Pray also for kings and powers and rulers, and for them that persecute you and hate you,
and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest unto all, that you may be perfect in him.”
Unless otherwise stated, the source of my narrative is from, “Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church. Saints on Earth: A Biographical Companion to "Common Worship" (Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England)”