Pangratios was born about 69 AD to a Christian family who received its Christian faith from the very Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Apostolic Ages, the young church survived and was strengthened by visits from the chosen Apostles and the Apostles disciples. With such a strong religious background, it is not difficult to understand how one could become such an ardent defender of the Orthodox Faith.
History tells us that Pangratios became a priest and was chosen by the bishop at the time as His Grace’s personal secretary. One of the first stories told about Father Pangratios and how he derived the name of "Polycarp" is as follows:
The drought had brought disaster throughout the countryside of Smyrna. The crops had failed, animals were dying, and disease was spreading due to the lack of clean water. The community would not be able to endure much longer. The bishop and his young priest, Pangratios, exhorted a three-day period of prayers and fasting to be observed by all Christians. Father Pangratios and as many as could manage, fasted the entire period. Finally on the third day, the clouds began to appear in the Heavens; that afternoon the rains came and refreshed the parched land.
Everyone rejoiced and it soon became known throughout the land that God had ended the drought in answer to the fast and prayer of Father Pangratios and the faithful Christians. Soon Father Pangratios was being called by a new name: Father "Polycarp" which means "many fruits."
Appointed to be Bishop of the See of Smyrna by the Apostles themselves, at the age of 40, he provides us with an important link in our long historical chain of Orthodox tradition clasping together the Apostles and the Second Century Church. The See of Smyrna’s present day location is Izmir, Turkey on the Aegean Sea in Asia Minor. St. Polycarp was soon to become: a bishop known for good works, a renowned defender of the Orthodox Faith against Gnosticism, and a noble martyr.
St Polycarp sat at the feet of St. John the Apostle. Documents written by St. Polycarp confirm that he knew others "who had seen the Lord in the flesh." It can only be imagined the lessons that St. Polycarp learned from these blessed men. But a glimpse of his knowledge obtained from them can be found within St. Polycarp’s teachings.
He taught that one should rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ, to serve God in fear and truth and to always walk in His Commandments. St. Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians is filled with these messages using quotes from the Holy Gospel, Acts, and the Epistles of the New Testament. It seems that this particular saint not only was a link between the Apostles and the Second Century Church but a faithful transmission of church doctrine as well.
St. Polycarp devoted much of his life to refuting Gnosticism. Being a strong defender of Orthodoxy, he admonished all heretics. It is written that St. Polycarp once met a heretic Marcion in the street. Marcion asked if St. Polycarp recognized him. St. Polycarp replied, "Indeed I do for you are the firstborn of Satan!"
St. Polycarp’s martyrdom is perhaps one of the most endearing. On a day in February about 155 AD this great bishop departed with the honor of the crown of martyrdom to the Heavenly Reward. His martyrdom is much more than a story; it is an actual recorded eyewitness account.
The year in which St. Polycarp was martyred there was a civil celebration in Smyrna and games were being held in the local amphitheater. The beasts had killed a Christian boy for his Christian beliefs. The crowd blamed St. Polycarp for installing these beliefs in the mind of the young boy and called for his death also.
The faithful, against his wishes, insisted he go to a nearby farm. St. Polycarp prayed night and day for all men and for all the churches throughout the world. One night in prayer he had a vision that his pillow blazed with fire. He knew then he would be burned alive.
The legal authorities in the upper room of the farmhouse discovered him. St. Polycarp ordered a meal for his captors and asked for an hour in which to pray. When the saint finished praying he was taken on a mule to ride back to the city. On the way to the amphitheater he was insulted and threatened but he would not deny God. In the amphitheater facing his death, He confessed the Lord God with his very last breath.
When the executioners came to tie St. Polycarp to the stake to be burned he asked them to leave him as he was. So, they bound his arms only yet, they did not tie him to the stake to be burned. A great fire was lit and a great flame burst over the entire pyre completely covering St. Polycarp’s body. The flames failed to consume his flesh. The executioner then stabbed his body with a dagger. Once dead, the flames reduced St. Polycarp’s body to ashes. This was an aged man who died with valor. His testimony was a simple one; he loved the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with his very life.
Now, within this article many stories of this St. Polycarp’s life have been told. But the greatest story that remains with us today is actually not a story at all but a lesson. Beneath St. Polycarp’s endurance, nobility, and obedience was peace. The way in which he drew each breath was one of peace. If the weather was foul he prayed and fasted. His teachings were of joy and ways that would lead to peace. If Gnosticism was to be refuted he confronted the heretics staunchly yet he had the peace of the Lord. When discovered in the upper room, he invited his captors for a meal. Before his being led back into the city he prayed. With the peace, which abides only in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ he withstood the flames of fire, which led to his departure from this earthly world.
Indeed we treasure this blessed saint’ and all his glorious stories. But let me assure you, I honor him first and the most for the peaceful way in which he conducted his life. His path of peace left footsteps to mark The Way. Let us all learn from St. Polycarp, the true meaning of peace and how to apply it in our daily life. During this Great Fast, let us all contemplate on this beloved saints lesson of peace and how he gave his all to the PRINCE OF PEACE.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the "children of God."