The Death of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna


‘Whom having not seen, ye love.’ (Peter, 1 Peter 1:8)

The crowd watched in desperation as the old man was violently conducted into the stadium. Old Polycarp, pastor of the Church at Smyrna and disciple of John, walked silently as the tumult grew greater.

‘Think of your old age. Swear and I will let you go: deny Christ,’ the Proconsul said.

‘Eighty and six years’ replied Polycarp boldly, ‘have I served Him, and He never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King and my Savior?’

There was exchange of words, persuasive and compelling; but old Polycarp stood adamant in His faith. The Proconsul realized that more words were futile, so he threatened to throw him to the beasts. The old Christian wasn’t intimidated. Finally, the sentence was passed: Polycarp was to be burnt at stake.

The customary Roman practice of executing criminals by fire was to first nail them to the stake to prevent escape. However, Polycarp was not nailed but simply bound as he assured the executioners that he would not move. The fire was lighted and the flames rose in voracious fury, but they couldn’t touch him. Exasperated at this, the enemies ordered an executioner to go near and pierce the old man with a dagger. As soon as he did that, blood flowed in so great quantity that it extinguished the flame. Polycarp’s body was burnt in the fire; his remains, however, were taken by the Christians and decently interred.

References:
Foxe Book of Martyrs
The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna Concerning the Martyrdom of the Holy Polycarp.

© Domenic Marbaniang, March 2008.

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