Today the church remembers one of the most direct links to the first Apostles (if the lore is true), constituting a bridge between those first followers and the emerging church to come: St. Polycarp, Disciple of St. John, Bishop of Smyrna, and Martyr.
Born just as the Gospels were being penned by Matthew and Luke (70 AD), St. Polycarp was appointed by St. John the Apostle as Bishop of Smyrna (preceding my favorite Saint, Nicholas, in that role). Polycarp kept good company with both Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus, making him the third in that Trinity of first-generation theologians.
St. Polycarp supported the early church through words of love, encouragement, and discipline (as all good parents do), and his Epistle to the Philippians remains to this day as a pastoral letter against the growing Marcionite heresy that saw the Hebrew scriptures as irrelevant. Though this letter didn’t make it into the canon of scripture (though it was close!), it was still read and disseminated throughout the early church during worship.
Polycarp was largely the leading figure in Asia Minor where the early church is concerned. In his old age he went to Rome to argue over the dating of the resurrection (long story there!) and, upon returning to Smyrna, was captured and killed by authorities at the age of eighty-six. The story goes that he was captured, brought before the proconsul and, when he refused to give oblations to the Emperor (what is it with tough guys in power always needing their egos stroked?), he was burned alive on this date in the year 156 AD.
He is unique in that his martyrdom was captured by eyewitnesses and published to embolden the church, and the Martyrdom of Polycarp can still be found at your local library (or wherever books are sold).
St. Polycarp is a reminder to me, and should be for the whole church, that when people in power invite you to stroke their egos, the faithful response is, “No thank you.”
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations