Sunday, June 8, 2008

Away with the atheists!!

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." Philippians 1:29

Polycarp lived in about 69-155 A.D., and was the Bishop of Smyrna. He was the leading Christian figure in Roman Asia Minor. On a February day in 155 A.D., Polycarp departed with the honor of the crown of martyrdom to the Church of Heaven.


The Church of Smyrna prepared a full account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, perhaps to be sent to other churches.

When Polycarp heard the news about his sentence to death, he did not want to leave, but rather stayed in the city. His brethren begged and persuaded him to withdraw quietly—he withdrew to a farm not far away from the city, where he stayed with a few friends. He did nothing day and night but prays for all the men and churches throughout the world, which was his custom. While in prayer, he had a vision, three days before he was arrested, in which he saw his pillow burning with fire, and he turned and said to those with him: “I must be burned alive.”

The policemen and horsemen went to the farmhouse, where Polycarp was lying down in a little room upstairs. When he heard the news of their arrival, Polycarp went downstairs to converse with them, while those who saw him marveled at his age and courage. He ordered that they eat and drink as much as they wished, and he asked them to give him one hour to pray undisturbed. They permitted him to do this, and Polycarp stood and prayed so filled with the grace of God that for two hours he could not stop speaking. Those who heard him were amazed, and many regretted coming after such a holy and old man. After praying for every person he had ever met both small and great, and all the catholic church throughout the world, the time came for him to leave. He was taken into the city, and advised by the police captain to declare, “Caesar is Lord” so that he may be saved—but Polycarp, of course, refused.

As Polycarp was led into the stadium, the uproar was so loud that many did not hear the announcement. A voice from heaven came to Polycarp as he was entering the stadium: “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man!” No one saw the speaker, but many witnesses heard the voice. The proconsul attempted to persuade Polycarp to worship Caesar and say “Away with the atheists”—Polycarp looked up to heaven (some said that he looked to the stadium crowd and waved his hand at them) and groaned “Away with the atheists!” The proconsul asked him to revile Christ, and Polycarp replied: “I have served Him eight-six years and in no way has He dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my King Who saved me?” Polycarp declared his Christianity and refused any persistence by the proconsul.
Many threats were made against him: wild beasts, fire, and any torture possible. Polycarp’s response to these: “You threaten fire which burns for an hour and is soon quenched; for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the wicked. But why do you wait? Come, do what you will!” As Polycarp spoke, he became filled with courage and joy. His face was covered with grace so much so that none of the threats stirred terror in his heart. The crowds shouted that Polycarp should be burned alive—they gathered wood and fuel from shops and baths; the Jews were especially energetic in helping with this task. As they were about to nail Polycarp, he said: “Let me be as I am; for He who makes it possible for me to endure the fire will also make it possible for me to remain on the pyre unmoved without the security of nails.” Thus, they only bound him, but did not nail him.

Polycarp looked up to heaven and said a last prayer. When he lifted up the Amen and finished the prayer, the fire was lit. When the flame shot up, a miracle was witnessed: The fire took the form of an arch like the sail of a ship filled by the wind and encircled the body of the martyr like a wall. He was in the center of it not like burning flesh but like baking bread or like gold and silver being refined in a furnace. Those who witnessed this miracle also smelled a fragrant odor like the scent of incense or some other precious spice. When the pagans saw that his body could not be consumed by fire, they ordered the executioner to plunge a dagger into him. When he did this, a large quantity of blood came out—so much that it quenched the fire. Everyone was amazed that there was such a great difference between the unbelievers and the elect, of which Polycarp was a member.

“Blessed are those who suffer persecution for being and doing right, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Blessed are you when people abuse you, and persecute you, and keep on falsely telling all sorts of evil against you for my sake. Keep on rejoicing and leaping for ecstasy, for your reward will be rich in heaven; for this is the way they persecuted the prophets who lived before you.” Matthew 5:10-12 Williams Translation

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