09 March 2009

From St Polycarp's 'Epistle to the Philippians'

Apart from the wonderful eyewitness testimony concerning St Polycarp’s martyrdom, we are also blessed to have an extant letter written by the hieromartyr himself in ‘a direct and unpretentious style and a sensitive pastoral manner’ to the Church at Philippi (Michael W. Holmes, ed. and rev., The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., trans. J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996], p. 119). Here is a brief excerpt (Holmes, p. 127):

7. . . . (2) Therefore let us leave behind the worthless speculation of the crowd and their false teachings, and let us return to the word delivered to us from the beginning; let us be self-controlled with respect to prayer and persevere in fasting, earnestly asking the all-seeing God ‘to lead us not into temptation’ (Matt. 6:13), because, as the Lord said, ‘the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak’ (Matt. 26:41).

8. Let us, therefore, hold steadfastly and unceasingly to our hope and the guarantee of our righteousness, who is Christ Jesus, ‘who bore our sins in his own body upon the tree’, ‘who committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth’ (I Pet. 2:24, 22); instead, for our sakes he endured all things, in order that we might live in him. (2) Let us, therefore, become imitators of his patient endurance, and if we should suffer for the sake of his name, let us glorify him. For this is the example he set for us in his own person (cf. I Pet. 2:21), and this is what we have believed.

9. I urge all of you, therefore, to obey the teaching about righteousness (Heb. 5:13) and to exercise unlimited endurance, like that which you saw with your own eyes not only in the blessed Ignatius and Zosimus and Rufus but also in others from your congregation and in Paul himself and the rest of the apostles; (2) be assured that all these ‘did not run in vain’ (Phil. 2:16) but in faith and righteousness, and that they are now in the place due them with the Lord, with whom they also suffered together. For they did not ‘love the present world’ (cf. 2 Tim. 4:10), but him who died on our behalf and was raised by God for our sakes.

These are certainly words that St Polycarp himself was not deficient in fulfilling. As he has exhorted us to follow the examples of Ss Ignatius, Zosimus, and Rufus, let us now add his own name to the list who also ‘suffered together’ with the Lord, imitating his ‘patient endurance’.

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