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Feb. 23, St. Polycarp, Bishop, Martyr

 |  NCR Today

Today is the feast of St. Polycarp, c. 69 - c.155, "one of the 'Apostolic Fathers,' the generation of bishops who received their teaching direct from the apostles or disciples themselves."

"It was the commemoration of his martyrdom that established the custom of celebrating the anniversary of a martyr's death, seen as the dies natalis, the 'birthday into heaven.'"

--Butler's Lives of the Saints

Eusebius, the Father of Church History, mentions Polycarp in Book III, Chapter 36.

"At that time Polycarp, a disciple of the apostles, was a man of eminence in Asia, having been entrusted with the episcopate of the church of Smyrna by those who had seen and heard the Lord."

In Book IV, Chapter 15, Eusebius describes Polycarp's "Martyrdom at Smyrna".

When men came to arrest him, "he did not hesitate, but immediately gave orders that a table should be spread for them. Then he invited them to partake of a bounteous meal, and asked of them one hour that he might pray undisturbed. And when they had given permission, he stood up and prayed, being full of the grace of the Lord, so that those who were present and heard him praying were amazed, and many of them now repented that such a venerable and godly old man was about to be put to death."

The captain of police, the proconsul, and the magistrate tried to persuade the old man to say "Lord Caesar" and sacrifice and save his life, but he refused and was taken to the stadium.

"But there was such a tumult in the stadium that not many heard a voice from heaven, which came to Polycarp as he was entering the place: 'Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.' And no one saw the speaker, but many of our people heard the voice."

Tied to the stake "like a noble ram out of a great flock", he prayed his famous prayer. The fire was lit, but it did not injure him. St. Polycarp was killed with a dagger.

For the place of Polycarp's last prayer in the evolution of the Eucharistic Prayer, see The Origins of Eucharistic Prayer, by Enrico Mazza.

Some images of St. Polycarp.

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