Monday, February 23, 2009

Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, martyr, died 156

"Stand fast, therefore, in this conduct and follow the example of the Lord, 'firm and unchangeable in faith, lovers of the brotherhood, loving each other, united in truth,' helping each other with the mildness of the Lord, despising no man"

Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians

Polycarp, who lived from 70 to 156 AD and was a student of the Apostle John, is to us a bridge between the New Testament and early Church. He was bishop of Smyrna, on the west coast of Turkey. The letters to the "seven churches in Asia" at the beginning of the book of Revelation include a letter to the church in Smyrna, identifying it as a church undergoing persecution. At the age of 86 he was arrested for being a Christian. The Roman official, who arrested him, felt sorry for him because he was an old man and urged him to just burn a bit of incense for the Emperor in order to avoid death. Polycarp refused, saying "Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"

The magistrate had no choice but to order him burned, however he had a soldier stab him to death before he was thrown into the fire.

Polycarp was urged to compromise his faith "just a little" by a sympathetic magistrate who did not want to kill an innocent old man. Just burn a little incense, what could it hurt?

I wonder how many ways today we are urged by those who think they have our best interests at heart to just "burn a little incense – what could it hurt?" And for most of us, these temptations to give up a little of our faith, a little of our values, a little of our certainty, a little of our very selves are to avoid consequences far worse than the fire of martyrdom. I think the witness of a resolute old man is relevant for us today. "Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"

O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to your Venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Saviour, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

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