By Not Known

2,000 years of Christian history have produced many heroic figures whose examples of dedication to Christ inspire and teach us.

One such is Polycarp of Smyrna (Izmir in modern west Turkey). It seems he was born about AD69 and was a leading Bishop of the church in Roman Asia. In AD155 he was on the ‘most wanted’ list for the local authorities. The charges against him were atheism (for not believing in the Roman gods) and sedition (for putting Christ before Emperor).

When Polycarp was arrested he said: God’s will be done, and provided refreshments for his captors while he prayed for two hours. On the day of his trial his judges were embarrassed at such an aged and gentle man. One asked: What harm is there in saying that Caesar is Lord … and so saving yourself. Another said: Swear and I release you, curse Christ.

Polycarp’s reply is one of the noblest confessions of any martyr: For 86 years I have been his servant, and he has never done me wrong: how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?

Are we so loyal and grateful to Christ that we would say this?

Death by wild beasts and then burning was threatened. Polycarp replied: The fire you threaten burns for a time and is soon extinguished: there is a fire you know nothing about – the fire of the judegment to come … . But why do you wait? Do what you want … .

Are we so certain of the hope to come that we would be thus calm before this prospect?

As the fire was prepared he prayed again: I bless you for counting me worthy of this day and hour, that in the number of the martyrs I may partake of Christ’s cup, to the resurrection of eternal life of both body and soul ….

Are we so fixed on Christ and his kingdom that we could say the same, even for the lesser suffering that we have for Christ?

It seems that the young Polycarp knew the Apostle John. Little could John have known how his words to the church in Smyrna would prove so apt for her later bishop: Do not fear what you are about to suffer. … Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life. … The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death (Rev 2:10-11).

May we have grace to be as faithful as Polycarp.

David Burke