February 23 : The Feast of Saint Polycarp


 

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On this day, the Church remembers St. Polycarp, one of the Apostolic Fathers of the Church. Although the exact date of his life time is not known, the general agreement among historians is that he was born about 69 A.D. and was martyred in 155. He is called an Apostolic Father because he had contact with at least one of the Apostles of Jesus. The ancient Church Historian Eusebius quotes St. Irenaeus as saying that as a boy he had heard Polycarp speaking about his relationship with John and others who had seen the Lord. From the circumstance we guess that it was John the Apostle and Evangelist he meant. St. Irenaeus is said to have been born between 130 and 140 and died about 200.

Courtesy of http://ericsammons.com

Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna (modern Izmir in Turkey). According to Eusebius he visited Rome during the reign of Pope Anicetus (about 154-166). Soon after his return from Rome to Smyrna a persecution of Christians broke out. Polycarp went into hiding outside the city but was betrayed by a slave and arrested. Proclaiming that he had served Christ faithfully for 86 years, he refused to disown his faith in Christ and was burnt to death. He is considered as one of the Greek Fathers of the Church. He wrote strongly opposing the heretical sects such as Docetists, Marcionites and Valentinian Gnostics. A letter written to him by Ignatius of Antioch shows that Polycarp was known to him.


Coming to today’s Scriptural readings, we see first Ex. 3:1-6. This passage tells us the story of the first Divine Revelation to Moses on Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai. The fire and the bush which was not consumed by it were the symbols of God’s unfailing fidelity to His People despite their ingratitude which may be compared to the fire. Normally fire consumes everything that falls into it. But God cannot be consumed by any created thing like fire which symbolizes here the provoking ingratitude and sins of the People. Another signification of the fire here is that although it was an object of worship for some groups of peoples, it is an attendant at the appearance of the Creator, the true God, in this context. The majestic manifestation of God requires that man should stand before Him with naked feet symbolizing his genuine contact with the earth which is the foot stool of God and the medium of the sustenance of man. God reveals Himself here as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Moses experiences the majesty of God so much so that he hides his face. On this day of the commemoration of St. Polycarp this scene should help us to realize the devotion the saint had when he considered the mystery of Incarnation as a clearer manifestation of God.

The second reading for today is from the Book of Daniel 3:19-26. This is the story of three youths being thrown into an intensely burning furnace. Three Jewish youths, Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah, refused to worship a big statue erected by king Nabuchadnezzar during the Babylonian exile of the Israelites. When they were the favourites of the king they were named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego respectively. On their refusal they were thrown into a fiercely burning furnace, but they were unaffected by the flames and they were chanting praises of God standing in the furnace. This episode may be likened to the fire and bush seen by Moses as mentioned above.

 

The third reading 2 Cor. 6:4-10 is enumerating the hardships and toils St. Paul and companions had to endure for the sake of the Gospel. There were persecutions, imprisonments, affliction by others, sleepless nights, hunger etc to be endured. But they were not swerved. They were pure, patient, kind, holy, loving, and truthful. Their weapon was righteousness. Through their dishonour and privations they were honouring and enriching others. This should be an inspiration to all the Christians.

 

The reading from the Gospel for today is Lk. 11:43-53. Here Jesus makes a series of denouncements against the Lawyers and Pharisees of the Jewish people of His times. These denouncements are regarding their hypocrisy and wicked deeds. We know that could not stand against the integrity of Jesus.

 

All the Biblical readings prescribed for today manifest that adverse forces cannot affect righteous people. St. Polycarp’s body was burnt alive. But his holiness and good repute remain remembered and honoured even today whereas the hostile forces have eclipsed into oblivion.

 

 

Credits: Father Thomas Kalayil, CMI <thomas 'dot' kalayil 'at' cmi 'dot' in>

 

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