Happy St Polycarp’s Day

PolycarpOne of the letters that Ignatius sent on his way to Rome was to Polycarp, the young leader of the church in Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey). In the letter, Ignatius encouraged Polycarp to take seriously his responsibilities as a minister and remain firm in his faith.

For over fifty years, Polycarp showed that he took Ignatius’s advice seriously. He served the church and preached the gospel. His great pupil, Irenaeus, tells us that Polycarp was a gifted teacher, “a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than… all the heretics.” His teaching was extremely important and influential at a time when the church was working out what it should believe, as well as fighting heresies from across the spectrum of crazy.

When Polycarp was eighty-six, the Romans began and large-scale persecution of Christians in Smyrna. Germanicus, an elderly Christian in Smyrna, was one of the first to be tried. When he refused to deny Christ, he was thrown to wild animals for the Roman’s enjoyment. But the crowd wasn’t satisfied, and called for the church leader, Polycarp, to be executed as well.

Polycarp went into hiding, but was soon found, and willingly went before the Roman authorities. When Polycarp refused to worship the emperor, the judge ordered him to cry, “Out with the atheists!” But Polycarp, turning and pointing at the crowd, replied, “Yes, out with the atheists!” (Romans would call Christians ‘atheists’ because they didn’t believe in the Roman gods.)

The judge threatened to burn him alive at the stake. Polycarp answered that the judge’s fire would only last a few minutes, but the eternal fire would never go out. “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no evil,” Polycarp said, “How could I curse my king, who saved me?”

As he was tied to the stake and kindling was piled around he feet, Polycarp thanked God that he was allowed to share in Christ’s sufferings and die for his sake. His godly example has inspired Christians for millennia.

Happy St Polycarp’s Day

Happy St Lucy’s Day

Saint_Lucy_by_Cosimo_Rosselli,_Florence,_c._1470,_tempera_on_panel_-_San_Diego_Museum_of_Art_-_DSC06640Lucy didn’t get married. She didn’t have a job, she didn’t go to school, and she didn’t do anything particularly remarkable. She lived a completely ordinary if somewhat privileged life in Syracuse, on the island of Sicily, and died at the age of 21 at the hands of Roman soldiers.

Lucy had chosen not to get married, both so she could work for the Lord as a single person, and so she could give away her dowry to the poor people in her church. But Lucy’s mother Euthychia, a widow and suffering a chronic bleeding condition, worried what would happen to them without a man in the house. She arranged for Lucy to be married to a wealthy pagan.

Lucy went ahead and gave away her dowry anyway. When her fiance heard what she had done he was furious. At that time, in the early 300s, the Church was suffering its greatest persecution by Rome. The Emperor Diocletian, feeling threatened by the growing Church, passed laws compelling Christians to worship the image of the Emperor. Thousands of Christians would die for refusing to bow down another lord.

Lucy’s fiance knew what to do. He went to the local Roman governor and denounced her for a Christian. The governor ordered her to worship the Emperor’s image, and when she refused, he sentenced her to be put in a brothel. Soldiers came to escort her away, but she resisted, and they hacked her to death with their swords.

Lucy’s short life was unremarkable, but for her gifts to the poor of Syracuse, and for her faithfulness to Christ when faced with the power of Rome, she is remembered as a saint. Lucy did the small things she knew Jesus wanted her to do, and she now sits with him in glory.

QUOTE TO REMEMBER (AND IMPRESS FRIENDS WITH)

When Lucy’s mother suggested she leave her money as a bequest, she replied:

Whatever you give away at death for the Lord’s sake you give because you cannot take it with you. Give now to the true Saviour, while you are healthy, whatever you intended to give away at your death.

BONUS MATERIAL

The Church remembers St Lucy on 13 December each year, the day in 304 when she died. Over 1,300 years later, On St Lucy’s Day 1617, John Donne wrote this poem reflecting on how short life is, and how it’s never too early to start living faithfully.

Happy St Lucy’s Day

Happy St Ignatius’s Day

iggy

Today is the feast of St Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred in the Colosseum by being fed to wild animals around the year 108.

Who he was

Ignatius was the second Bishop of Antioch in Syria, one of the largest and most important churches in the first century. He was born only a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and became a Christian at a young age.

Since Ignatius was one of the first Christians, he would have known some of the Apostles personally, and he was taught directly by the Apostle John. Think about that for a moment. John was one of Jesus’ right-hand men for three years, he wrote the fourth gospel, and Ignatius could ask him any question he liked.

By the time he was made Bishop later in his life, Ignatius was probably the most respected living member of the Church.

Why we remember him today

When Ignatius was arrested by Roman authorities, they knew they had bagged a big one. They weren’t going to waste the opportunity to show off their prize, so instead of dealing with him in Antioch they took him to Rome to make a spectacle of him in the Colosseum.

As he travelled across the Roman Empire with his captors, Ignatius didn’t waste time worrying about his fate or

trying to escape. Instead, he used the journey as a chance to preach the gospel. Every time they passed a town, Ignatius wrote a letter to the town’s church, encouraging them to be faithful to Christ, to love each other and to persevere under Roman pressure.

Ignatius wrote seven letters along his journey, including one to the church in Rome and one to his fellow Bishop Polycarp (seven is a suggestive number – maybe he planned the whole thing ahead of time?). The letters were so valuable to the churches that they were saved, copied and read by generations of Christians, and amazingly, we still have them today.

As Ignatius approached Rome, he caught wind that the Christians in the city might be planning to fight his captors and try to free him. So he sent his letter to the Roman church ahead of him, and pleaded with them not to try anything:

“I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God.”

When he arrived in Rome, Ignatius was killed for his witness to Christ. In front of jeering crowds, he was led into the middle of the Colosseum, where hungry lions and bears attacked him for the people’s entertainment.

Quote to remember (and impress friends with)

“I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” – from Ignatius’s letter to church in Rome.

What we learn from him

Ignatius made it clear in his letters that he wasn’t afraid of dying for Christ. In fact, he saw his martyrdom as his greatest witness to Christ’s defeat of fear and death.

Even though his last and greatest act would be to stand in front the Roman crowds of and show them the power of Christ, Ignatius’s own status was the last thing on his mind. He spent his last days encouraging other Christians. He knew that the Roman authorities would come for them just as they came for him, and he wanted to make sure that they would stick together and stick with Jesus until the end.

Happy St Ignatius’s Day