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Today the church remembers Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr of Smyrna, 156.Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna in what is now called Turkey, did not seek martyrdom and did not encourage others to do so. When persecution broke out, Polycarp made every honorable effort to protect his flock and himself. He even hid in the country but, eventually, the authorities found him. Since Christians worshiped Jesus Christ, an “unauthorized god,” and since they refused to worship the Roman gods or the “Divine Caesar,” they were considered atheists and subversives. At a great public festival in the arena in Smyrna, Polycarp was presented to the governor amid cries of “Kill the atheist!” from the excited and unruly mob. The governor admonished Polycarp to swear by Caesar and to revile Christ and thereby save himself. The old bishop"s famous reply was, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my King who has saved me? . . . You pretend not to know who I am; let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian. If you want to learn the doctrine of Christianity, set a day and hear me.” Polycarp was publicly burned to death. The Christians in Smyrna who escaped death in this wave of persecution wrote a letter describing the execution of their great bishop and sent it to other churches. We still have this famous letter, “The Martyrdom of Polycarp.” May we always share the tidings of the King who has saved us. Amen.
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O God, the maker of heaven and earth, you gave your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and to rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.