Memorial (1969 Calendar): February 23
Today the Church celebrates the sainthood of St. Polycarp, a 2nd century bishop of Smyrna. Saint Jerome wrote that Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle and that John had ordained him bishop of Smyrna. The Asia Minor churches recognized Polycarp’s leadership and chose him representative to Pope St. Anicetus on the question the date of the Easter celebration.
Pope St. Anicetus was the 11th pope, who reigned from c. 154 - c. 167 AD. St. Anicetus's papacy was marked by a conflict with the Christians under St. Polycarp, who wanted to celebrate Easter three days after Passover. The Church since the time of St. Peter had instead always ensured the celebration of Easter would be on a Sunday. To alleviate the situation, Pope St. Anicetus allowed the Christians under St. Polycarp to celebrate Easter their way. Those childrens continued to do so until the Council of Nicea, which suppressed such practices.
According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him. The Acts of Polycarp’s martyrdom are the earliest preserved reliable account of a Christian martyr‘s death. With St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers. The sole surviving work attributed to his authorship is his Letter to the Philippians.
An excerpt from the account of his martyrdom:
Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, "Be strong, and show yourself a man, O Polycarp!" No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, "Have respect to your old age," and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], "Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists." But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, "Away with the Atheists." Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, "Swear, and I will set you at liberty, reproach Christ;" Polycarp declared, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?"Prayer:
O God, who gladdens us each year by the feast of Your blessed Martyr bishop Polycarp, mercifully grant that we who celebrate his birthday may also enjoy his protection. through Our Lord . . .
Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal
O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before you, I give You thanks that You have counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before You as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as You, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, have revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise You for all things, I bless You, I glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom, to You, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.
Prayer Source: Prayer of St. Polycarp before death from the Martyrdom of Polycarp