The Church has had her martyrs since her earliest days, and will have them unto the end of time. Saint Polycarp, whom we commemorate on this February 23rd, was bishop of Smyrna, in Greece, a disciple of Saint John the Beloved himself, who may well have ordained our saint. Polycarp was a correspondent with Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who mentions him in two of his letters written on the way to his own martyrdom in the Coliseum at Rome.
The contemporary and eyewitness, as well as vivid and endearing, account of his martyrdom in 155 A.D. – a few decades after the death of the ‘last Apostle’ – provides a window into the early Church, and the persecution of Christians at the very dawn of Christianity.
When faced with the choice of apostasy or death, Polycarp, then an octogenarian, replied: