At this time when the greatest persecutions were troubling Asia, Polycarp ended his life by martyrdom. Some people are asking themselves “when was Polycarp martyred?” or “if his martyrdom it’s more important than his death?” According to the written account that still exists, should be recorded in this history.
Polycarp was martyred shortly after he visited Rome, after his return to Smyrna in 0155 AD. Fierce and violent persecution was unleashed by Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It troubled all the Churches of Asia. While the priceless martyrs of Christ endured all sorts of tortures. And were later fed to beasts, the Blessed Polycarp kept his usual quiet, insisting on remaining in the city. So as not to abandon the faithful he was shepherding. But at their insistence, St Polycarp withdrew to a small estate not far from the city. Where he prayed day and night.
Polycarp was martyred. Bishop of Smyrna, belongs to the small group of bishops called “Apostolic Fathers”. Belonging to the early period of the Church, who knew the apostles or those who saw. And heard Christ during His earthly life. It is celebrated in the Christian calendar on 23 February.
When was Polycarp arrested?
Three days before his arrest, while sitting at prayer, he had a vision in which the pillow under his head was consumed by flames. He announced to his acquaintances with great peace that he would be burned alive for Christ. A few days later he was discovered by Roman soldiers. Whom the humble bishop received with great serenity and gentleness: “May this be the will of my Lord and God!” Then, inviting them to rest and giving them food, the Holy Martyr Polycarp asked their permission. To leave him a little more time for prayer.
He was arrested and later Polycarp was martyred, on the way to the place of martyrdom, although enticed by the commander of the soldiers to save himself by renouncing his faith. The Holy Martyr Saint Polycarp categorically refused. Accepting his martyrdom with dignity: “I cannot give the better for the worse!”
There is a letter, written in the name of the Church he pastored, to the parishes of Pontus. Which recounts the events that occurred in the following words: “The Church of God which is in Smyrna to the Church of God. Which is in Philomelion and to all those who are in any place of the Holy. And Sovereign Church, may the mercy, peace, and love of God the Father. And the Lord Jesus Christ abound (in their bosom). I have written to you, brethren, of those who have confessed. And of blessed Polycarp, who stopped persecution as if he had sealed it by his confession.”
What happens when Polycarp enters the arena of judgment?
With the Holy Spirit of faith in his soul, Polycarp refused any attempt to be persuaded to renounce Christianity by honoring the gods or the emperor: “For 86 years I have served Christ and he has never done me any harm. How could I curse my Benefactor and Saviour?” he said. Being unwavering in his faith, Saint Polycarp was condemned to death by burning at the stake. As the soldiers wanted to bind him, the Saint said to them, “Leave me alone! He who gives me the strength to endure the fire will also strengthen me to remain still at the stake.”
The moment Polycarp enters the arena of judgment is a special one. Both the Saint and some of the Christians present heard a heavenly voice urging, “Courage Polycarp and behave with manliness!” This exhortation was heard amid the shouts of the heathen, who cried out in a blaze of fire, “Death to the atheists!” This was one of the charges brought against the Christians for refusing to worship the gods.
And so they were considered “atheists” (“atheist” comes from the word “Theos” meaning “God”, “god” preceded by the preposition “a” representing a denial; “atheist” = one who does not recognize the gods – “man who does not believe in the gods”, “man who does not believe in God”).
What did Polycarp do when he was burned at the stake?
When the pagans saw that the Holy Martyr Polycarp could not be destroyed by fire, they ordered the executioner to pierce him with his sword.
Polycarp, seated on the stake, raised his eyes to heaven and in a final prayer gave glory to the Heavenly Father: “I bless you for giving me this day and hour, that I may partake with the company of the disciples in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of life everlasting of soul and body in the unholiness of the Holy Spirit.”
When he said “Amen”, the executioners lit the fire, but as if by a miracle, the great flame took on the appearance of a vault and surrounded like a defensive wall the body of the martyr, which stood in the middle, not like a burning body, but like a loaf of bread baking in an oven, spreading the smell of incense. This image of bread symbolizes Jesus Christ Himself – the ‘bread of life, the food of our souls, of the faithful.
When did Polycarp die?
Having become, by the will of God and of his spiritual father, pastor of the Church of Smyrna, Saint Polycarp, the Holy Martyr, from that very moment, fulfilled all his duties, following his spiritual fathers to the letter, faithfully repeating their words, which they had received from the lips of Christ.
Because of the wounds he suffered, Saint Polycarp passed to the Lord, receiving on February 23, 156, at the age of 86, on Great Saturday, the bright crown of mutiny, his sufferings resembling the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The bodily remains of the Holy Monk Polycarp, “more honorable than precious stones and more precious than gold”, were placed by the Christian faithful of the city in a suitable place, where they gathered every year to celebrate with joy the day of his passage to heaven.
- Having been stabbed, Polycarp’s blood spurted out so hard that it extinguished the commotion, leaving the crowd speechless with amazement. The extinguishing of the flames with blood gushing from the rib. Similar to the moment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ highlights the fact that the moment Polycarp was martyred in Christ continues the eternal cycle of Resurrection. Of rebirth; Christ and those who give their lives in his name are “the water of life”.
- When Saint Polycarp is stabbed in the fire, blood flows from the wound. And extinguishes the fire, and a dove appears above him. The water flowing from the crucified Lord’s side is replaced here by a dove. A symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
- Saint Polycarp preached the Holy Word of Christ to the pagans. He courageously shepherded the Christian flock in Smyrna. Fighting against the idolaters, the hostile Jews. And the heretics who had been appearing since the early days of the Church.
Before giving the history of Polycarp, the Pontus parishes record the events that befell the rest of the mentions. And describe the great steadfastness they showed amid their sufferings. For they say that the onlookers were struck with astonishment. When they saw them torn with scourgings down to the innermost veins and arteries. So that the inner parts of their bodies, both their entrails. And limbs were exposed to view, and they were then laid on sea shells and sharp points. And subjected to every kind of punishment and chastisement. Finally, he was thrown as food to wild beasts.
And he records that especially the preterist Germanicus stood out. Overcome by the grace of God the fear of bodily death sown by nature Polycarp was martyred. Indeed, when the proconsul wished to persuade him and invoked his youth and entreated him, Germanicus was very young and vigorous. He did not falter but boldly drew the beast to himself. Striking and clawing it, wishing that he might be sooner delivered from their unjust and unlawful life.
After his brilliant death, the whole crowd, marveling at the courage of the God-loving martyr and the moral fortitude of the whole Christian people, suddenly began to cry out, “Death to the atheists! Let Polycarp be portrayed!”.