February 23, 2014

Saint Polycarp as a Model for our Lives

Hieromartyr Polycarp of Smyrna (Feast Day - February 23)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of the Holy Apostles, in particular Saint John the Theologian and Evangelist, which is why he is called an Apostolic Father of the Church. He was, according to the sacred hymnographer, "a sharer in the ways and successor to the throne" of the Holy Apostles. In other words, he was a successor of the Apostles in the episcopal office, and shared in their way of life. He had the same way of life as the Holy Apostles and this is the most important.

What really is impressive when we study his life, besides his martyrdom, is his true love for his flock entrusted to him by God, his spiritual nobility, and his philotimo. When he was urged to deny Christ and offer sacrifice to idols, he gave an amazing response that has come down through history: "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?"

The Hieromartyr Polycarp was throughout his life a true child of God, and belonged not to the class of wage-earner or servant but a "son". Orthodox theology teaches that there are three categories of believers - servants, wage-earners and sons. Servants are those who implement the will of God in their lives out of fear lest they go to Hell. Wage-earners are they who abide by the commandments of God to enjoy Paradise, that is, to have a reward from God, or wages. Sons of God are they who live according to His commandments out of philotimo, because they love Him and feel gratitude towards Him, and not for the enjoyment of Paradise or avoidance of Hell. Arriving at this point, I remember an Athonite Elder who would say: "How much more God loves His children with philotimo."

The torture was not enough to break his morale. They threw him in the fire to burn him, but the fire formed an arch above him without touching him at all, and it appeared as if he was baking "like sweet bread". It was a great blessing from God that the relic of the Saint did not become ash but remained "intact", exuding the fragrance of the Holy Spirit, blessing and sanctifying the faithful throughout the centuries.

The Sacred Monastery of Ampelakiotissa in Nafpaktos, or more generally our Sacred Metropolis, is proud to have the right hand of the Saint, where it has been kept for more than five hundred years, as well as the Sacred Church of the Hieromartyr in Mamalouda, very close to Nafpaktos. Nafpaktos, as we chant in his Apolytikion, has him as an "unsleeping guardian protector", and his memory (February 23) is solemnly celebrated with brilliance and grandeur in the Monastery of Ampelakiotissa, in Mamalouda, as well as in Nafpaktos.

Saint Polycarp was a carrier and exponent of Orthodox Tradition, which does not abide in the mind and is the transmission of just some knowledge, but it especially abides in the nous and heart, renewing and transforming human existence. It creates character, spiritual sensitivity and philotimo. The phrase well-known to all of us "the Romios has philotimo" is very true, since it simply and clearly indicates the way of life offered by the Orthodox Roman Tradition.

Let us emulate the way of life of the Saint, until the sacrifice of love for God and man, with spiritual sensitivity and philotimo.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΠΟΛΥΚΑΡΠΟΣ", February 1997. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.