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.

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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