Orthodox America


  Holy Youths - Hieromartyr Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna


Commemorated February 23

This was in the first Golden Age of Christianity, when over the world there still radiated the image of Christ, Who had not long before lived upon earth; when there still walked the earth those people who saw Him in the flesh and who spread abroad the words that they had taken from His Divine lips.

This was in those days when people newly converted to Christianity strove from far and near to visit Jerusalem, to bow before that living miracle of Christianity, the Most Holy Virgin Mary, and to breathe the grace that came forth from her, to listen to the heavenly music of her meek and meaningful words.

The prosperous and illustrious city of Smyrna, a bustling center of trade at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, was one of the first cities to have a sizeable Christian community. Its bishop was the saintly Bucolus, who was appointed to that see by the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, on one of his missionary voyages.

There lived in Smyrna a devout widow by the name of Callista. She had taken deep into her heart the Christian teaching and tried to lead a life pleasing to God.

At the same time that Callista had become a Christian, a young boy of Smyrna, Polycarp, had been orphaned. Callista yearned to undertake some particular good deed for the sake of Christ. She thought of taking in someone who needed a home, and when she heard of this small boy, left without mother or father, without a piece of bread, she took him to live with her as a son.

Polycarp had a happy childhood in the home of the widow Callista. Secret services in the homes of Christians or somewhere in caves on the city's outskirts, gatherings with Christians from other countries, who told stories about the Mother of God, about Christ, Whom they had seen walking in the flesh in the towns and countryside of Judea - all this was so fresh and joyous, and filled the soul with a tender happiness.

It happened when Polycarp was already somewhat older, that his benefactress had to go away for several months. She entrusted Polycarp with the care of the household until her return. And what did the pious youth do?

Polycarp began giving alms to the needy, to orphans and widows. He did not refuse anyone who asked him for bread; he gave them also wine and butter from the household stores. His generosity was such that the rich store of provisions finally became altogether depleted.

As the widow Callista was returning home, she was met by one of her servants, who told her that nothing was left, that Polycarp had given everything away. On reaching home, Callista went straight to the store rooms. They were full. Amazed, she called Polycarp.

Meanwhile, the blessed youth, anticipating the return of his benefactress, had reflected that it might be very difficult for her to come home and find all the provisions gone. With the pure faith of his young years, he called out to God:

"Lord, Lord, help me!  At the time of Thy prophet Elijah, Thou didst fill the vessels of the widow of Sarepta. For the glory of the name of Christ, fill these storerooms!"

And then, by the prayers of the youth, there was a miracle. All the food supplies in Callista's house were miraculously replenished, and in greater abundance than before.

When Callista saw that everything in the house was in order, she grew angry at the servant who had informed her that Polycarp had given everything away, and she wanted to punish the servant. But Polycarp related all that had happened. This miraculous occurrence prompted Callista to be even more charitable. And when she died, she made the young Polycarp her heir. Polycarp distributed this inheritance among the poor; he tried to help all those in need. Bishop Bucolus made him first a deacon, then a priest. Before he died, he received a wondrous revelation from God that Polycarp was to be his successor on the episcopal throne.

For many decades, Polycarp guided the Church of Christ in peace. He enriched the Christian world with his inspired pastoral epistles, and, in the year 167, when he was approaching one hundred years of age, he was martyred for Christ in his native city of Smyrna, in the arena on the slope of Mount Pagus.

Translated from Svyataya Yunost', Moscow 1994; reprinted from a pre-Revolutionary edition.

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