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Gospel Reflections » International

Polycarp of Smyrna

February 23, 2013

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Polycarp was a disciple of St John the Evangelist, and as a young man of 37 was consecrated bishop of Smyrna - present-day Izmir, in Turkey. This was shortly before John himself went into exile at Patmos. He distinguished himself as a zealous pastor and a capable administrator, and consulted with the Pope of that time on the settling of a date for Easter.


His Letter to the Philippians is one of the few documents we have from the great theologians of the apostolic age – we call them ‘Fathers of the Church – which describe early Church belief and practice.


In the year 155, a severe persecution broke out across the Empire, under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Polycarp was arrested, brought before the Roman tribunal and asked to abjure his faith in Christ. His reply is legendary: “For eighty-six years I have served him, and never once did he fail me. How can I now blaspheme my King and Saviour? I am a Christian !”


He was condemned to be burnt at stake, but survived the flames unscathed. He was then killed with a spear. The record of his martyrdom is one of the earliest. It  gives proof  that the ancient Church approved and fostered the veneration of the saints and their relics.

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