Polycarp – Disciple of John
I, Polycarp, a disciple of John, greet you with mercy and peace in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
I rejoice greatly to see that you are following the example of true love taught by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I first learned of this commandment from his disciple, the blessed Apostle John. He will forever be remembered through his writings, including the Gospel of John, the Revelation, and his letters.
I spent countless days sitting at John’s feet hearing the stories of Jesus. There were so many people in those days who had actually known our Lord and had walked with him during his ministry here on earth. It was a joy to be with them and hear of their great faith. I especially remember joining with the others to carry the elderly John on our shoulders while he would say, “Little children – love one another.”
Long Life of Leadership
I lived eight-six years from my birth in 70AD. Because of my devotion to the faith, I was made the bishop of Smyrna, which is in modern day Turkey. With God’s help I tried to lead the church wisely and strongly. I encouraged my flock to be constant in prayer and persevere in fasting and to ask God to keep them from falling when temptations came.
My life was one of service and devotion to the church. I continued the tradition of helping young men grow in the faith, just as I had been a disciple of John. I also encouraged the seven churches of Asia to love one another and stand firm in the unity of our apostolic faith. I warned them to run from anyone who teaches heresy. I was even invited once to meet with the Bishop of Rome. Back then there were disagreements about when to celebrate Easter. Although we didn’t resolve that issue, we did embrace each other in Christian love.
My faith is in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. I lived by that faith and it was by that faith I would die. Suddenly, in my old age, the Emperor ordered a savage and merciless persecution of the Christians. Many brothers and sisters endured unspeakable torture and were often flung to the wild beasts as food.
Because I was an obvious target my well-meaning friends urged me to leave Smyrna and hid me in a farmhouse. During this time I prayed constantly for peace to come to the churches. Then one night, in the midst of prayer, I fell into a trance and I saw the pillow under my head burst into flames and burn to a cinder.
When I awoke I interpreted the vision to my companions saying, “I see that I shall be burned alive.” My friends, concerned for my safety, quickly concealed me in a different farmhouse. But when my pursuers found that I was gone, they tortured two slave boys and discovered where I was.
Three days later I heard horsemen approach the farmhouse and I knew that the authorities had come for me. I could have escaped again, but I said, “God’s will be done.” So that Friday evening I went out to greet them, had a friendly conversation, and gave them dinner. While they ate, I stood in prayer for two hours, full of the grace of God. Then they took me away.
The next day some men met us outside the city and invited me into their chariot. Right away they asked me, “What harm is there for you to say, ‘Lord Caesar,’ and make sacrifices with us in our ceremonies?” I kept silence and gave them no answer. Then they asked me again and I answered saying, “I will not do it.”
They threw me out of the chariot so hard that my leg was dislocated. Then they pulled me up and led me into the stadium. There was such an uproar inside that I could not even hear myself speak. But I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Be strong, Polycarp, and show them the kind of man you are.” No one saw who spoke those words but those with me heard the voice.
The official in charge said, “Swear allegiance to Caesar.” I answered, “Should I pretend that I don’t know who I am. I tell you boldly, I am a Christian. And if you want to hear what I believe, then give me a day and I will explain all the doctrines of Christ.”
Then the official cursed me and said, “Have respect for your old age and swear allegiance to Caesar!” I looked around the stadium and said, “For eighty-six years I have served the Lord and he never did me any injury: How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
Then he resorted to threats saying, “I have wild beasts and I will feed you to them unless you repent.” But I answered, “Call them then because we are not accustomed to repent of what is good and accept what is evil.”
In his fury, he answered, “Then I will have you consumed by fire if you are not afraid of wild beasts!” But I told him, “You may threaten me with fire that can only last for an hour but you don’t know the fire that will come in the judgment and the punishment reserved for the ungodly. What are you waiting for? Do what you will.”
Then the official pronounced my death sentence. “Polycarp has professed to be a Christian. It is not lawful to give him to the beasts because the shows have finished for today. So let him be burnt alive!”
The crowd quickly assembled a funeral pyre made from every scrap of wood and piece of furniture that could be found and piled them around me. They tried to nail my hands to a post but I told them to leave me alone saying, “He who gives me strength will help me to stand without moving.” So they bound my hands behind me with a rope.
I looked to heaven and prayed, “Lord God Almighty, the Father of your blessed Son Jesus Christ, I give you thanks that you consider me worthy that I will become counted among the number of your martyrs into the resurrection of eternal life by the Holy Spirit. I also praise you for all things. To you be the glory now and into the coming ages. Amen.”
As soon as I said amen, they started the fire. As the flames grew they formed an arch like the sail of a ship. The fire never touched me. There was a sweet aroma, like incense, coming from the burning pile. When they saw that the fire did not consume me the executioner pierced my side with his dagger. So much blood flowed from my body that it put the fire out.
And so I passed from this life. The Jews urged the official not to release my body to my fellow Christians out of fear that they would begin to worship me. So my corpse was burned to ashes at two o’clock in the afternoon of February 23 in the year 155.
I know that the grace of Christ, which preserved me in this life, will keep my spirit now and forever more. May you also be safe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be filled with all grace in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.