The drought had brought disaster throughout the countryside of ssyrna - a port on the Aegean sea in Asia Minor whieh is now Izmir in Turkey. The erops had failed, anicals were dying, and disease was spreading due to the laek of elean water. The eo unity would not be able to endure xueh longer. The bishop, and his young priest, Pangratios, exhorted a three day-period of prayers and fasting to be observed by all Christians. Pangratios, and as many as eould sanage, fasted the entire period. Finally on the third day, the clouds began to appear in the heavens; that afternoon, the rains eame and refreshed the parched land.
Everyone rejoieed, and it soon beeame known throughout the land that aod had ended the drought in answer to the fasting and prayers of Pangratios and the faithful Christians. 800n Pangratios was being ealled by a new name: Polyearp - which means "many fruits."
Polyearp was born in 70 A D to a Christian family who received its faith from the very apostles of Lord Jesus In these apostolic ti es, th- young Church lived and was strengthened by visits of the apostles and their disciples They had already warned of difficult tisees in their epistles, calling the Christians tos that you zay also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed " (1 Peter 4s13)
Polyearp was chosen by the bishop as his personal secretary; and later, when he was forty years old became the bishop of 8myrna Ther- he resained for 86 years of his life, faithfully serving the Church
The year Polycarp was martyred, there was a civil celobration in 8myrna, and gaes wer- being held at the local aphitheater A well-known Christian boy na-ed aereanicus had been killed, pr-ferring to fight the beasts rathor than to follow pagan practic-s, the alternative given to his When he had been slain by the anisaals, the Christians were accused of having brain- washed hi- into doing such a foolish thing as prefer death to a "simple sacrific- " Th- xob began shouting; "Bring us Polycarp!"
The rest of the story is told in a l-tter which was soon afterward written by the Christi-ns at 8myrna to the Christians at Philomenius This letter has cotne to be called the Acts of the Martyrdo of Saint Polycarp
When Polycarp heard of these events, he was not disturbed, and desired to re-ain in the city But the faithful were able to convince hio to withdraw to a far nearby with a few friends Polycarp prayed night and day, for all men and for the churches throughout the world One night while he was praying, Polycarp had a vision, seeing his pillow blazing with flaoes He came to his friends and said, "I must be burned Alive."
Now, the soldiers who were searching for him arrived at Polycarp's own house, and when they could not find him, they seized two young servant boys One broke down under their torture and betrayed where the bishop had gone And late in the evening of that Friday, they rode to the farm They took the servant boy with the- and found Polyearp in b-d in th- upper roo- of the �oall cottage When he heard of their arrival he went downstairs and talked with the- Polycarp knew why they had cosee and greeted the- The soldiers became upset that there had been such an uproar and eagerness to arrest �uch an old an Polycarp ordered a �eal for the band of captors, and asked thex to give him an hour or so in order that he ight pray This was granted The soldiers were astonished to see the bishop pray intently for two hours, remesubering the na-es and the needs of so skany of his flock.
When he had finished praying, Bishop Polycarp was put on a mule to ride back to the city, where he was to appear before the officials While they were heading down the road, a carriage came to meet them and escort them the rest of the way In the carriage were Herod, the captain of the police, and his father, Nicetes. They were interested in speaking to the venerable old man, and asked him to join them in their vehicle, which he did "What is wrong about saying, 'caesar is the lord of the world?'" asked the captain "All you have to do is sprinkle a little incense in front of the emperor's statue, and you'll save your life." At first Polycarp didn't answer, but because the two men were so insistent with him, he finally replied, "I will not do what you advise, for to do �o would be to deny the true Lord of all " so they began to insult him and threaten him, but to no avail 8eeing that they were getting nowhere, they shoved hisn out of the carriage As he fell, Polycarp's leg was bruised, but he continued to walk on at a brisk pace, as if he had not been hurt.
The stadiuss was already filled with people, shouting so loudly that it was ixpossible for anyone to speak and be heard above the noise But Polycarp heard a voice fro- heaven, saying, "Be strong, Polycarp, for I am with you " The bishop was brought before the proconsul, Statius Quadratus, who askeds "Are you Polycarp, the leader of the Christians in this city?" "Yes," replied the bishop "Then have pity on yourself, an old man, and swear by the genius of Caesar " (To swear that the emperor possessed the "gonius" of aod was considered blasphemy ) "Change your mind and say, 'Away with the godlesst" Quadr-tus was referring to the Christians as the godless ones, but Polycarp turned and waved his hand in the direction of the mob in the stadium and proclaimed, "Away with the Godless!" Polycarp was referring to the pagans and the Jews, not the Christians among them.
The proconsul continued to try to persuade Polycarp "Swear, and I will release yous eurse Christ n But the old bishop replied, "For eighty-six years I have served Jesus Christ, and he has never done e wrong Bow can you expect me to betray and blasphe-e my Ring who has saved me?" Quadratus answered, "I have wild beasts If you don't change your �ind, I will have you thrown to them " "Then bid the- to be brought," said Polyearp
The proconsul tried agains I'll have you destroyed by fire if you care not about the ani-als " "Then bring on that fire, which only burns for a short ti e and then goes out," replied the bishop "Apparently," he continued, 'You are ignorant of the everlasting fire of judgment and punish ent which awaits the wicked Why do you delay? I am ready to die for Jesus Christ "
Quadratus finally relented and sent his herald into the middle of the arena to proclaim three timess "Polyearp has confessed himself to be a Christian " Within moments, the mob brought wood to �ake the pyre The bishop removed his outer garment and shoes and was led to the mound of wood The guards atte-pted to tie him to a stake, but Polycarp said, "Leave me as I a-, for God will give me the strength to withstand your torments so the soldiers bound his with his hands behind his back Then Polyearp prayed to Gods " ... I bless You, because You have seen fit to allow me this hour to share with the sartyrs in the eup of Christ, to rise to eternal life, both in soul and in body, in the immortality of the Holy 8pirit May I be aeeepted among them in your sight today, as a pleasing saerifiee For this, I praise You, I bless You, and I glorify You ... "
Now the fire was lit and a great flame burst over the whole pyre, co-pletely covering the bishop's body For some time, the fla-es failed to burn his flesh; finally, an executioner was sent to stab hi with a dagger Once dead, Polycarp's body was eonsused by the flames and reduced to ashes The Christians who were present collected what re-ained of his bones and lovingly laid the- to rest in a fitting place, where they assembled yearly to rejoice in his memory
Thus, in 155 A D the beloved Pastor and teaeher of the Christian community in 8syrna had gone to join the triumphant Church in Paradise
May his blessing and prayers be with us Amen