Polycarp is a celebrated figure in the history of Christianity. A direct disciple of the apostle John, Polycarp lived between 70 and 155 A.D. Several ancient sources document the contributions of Polycarp to Christianity, including his letters written to the church at Philippi, in which he encourages the members to remain strong in their faith and to flee from materialism. Polycarp served as the bishop of the church at Smyrna (modern day Izmir in Turkey) and was recognized as one of the early combatants of Christian heresies. He rejected the teachings of Marcion, an influential heretic who tried to create a "new brand" of Christianity by redefining God and rejecting Old Testament teachings, and the Gnostic heresies that were beginning to spread throughout the Christian church.
Polycarp's greatest contribution to Christianity may be his martyrdom. His martyrdom stands as one of the most well documented events of antiquity. The emperors of Rome had triggered bitter attacks against the Christians during this period, and members of the early church recorded many of the persecutions and deaths. Polycarp was arrested on the charge of being a Christian, a member of a politically dangerous cult whose rapid growth needed to be stopped. Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, "Caesar is Lord". If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar's statue, he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake.
With fraternal affection,
Fr. Homero C.