"O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through Whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Your presence; I bless You for that You have granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of Your Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Your presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You did prepare and reveal it beforehand, and have accomplished it, You that are the faithful and true God. For this cause, yes and for all things, I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through Whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now and forever and for the ages to come. Amen." (St. Polycarp’s Prayer of Martyrdom)
Centuries have passed since the Apostles followed the Lord’s Great Commission to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all" (Matthew 28:19-20) that the Lord commanded. Their ministry, however, has not passed, but remains alive and well to this day!
As faithful stewards we recognize our obligation to promptly attend every Divine Liturgy. When listening to Holy Scripture during the Divine Liturgy, it is as if we are sitting at the feet of the Lord hearing for ourselves His words of eternal life. We are the recipients of this great Faith and Church established by the Holy Apostles and their disciples.
Did you ever wonder how it must have felt to actually sit at the Lord’s feet and hear His words or to meet with the Apostles and listen to their accounting of the many things Jesus did Among the first Christians to be brought to the Faith by the Apostle John was a pagan named Polycarp. His association with St. John the Evangelist enabled him to meet all the apostles. This experience had a great impact on Polycarp and he lived his life emulating their commitment to evangelize the world.
Along with his great preaching ability, St. Polycarp authored a number of epistles for the purpose of teaching the Faith. In his Epistle to the Philippians we read of his empathy for the members of the early Christian Church. He instructs them to: "Stand fast…follow the example of the Lord, being firm in the faith and immovable, in love of the brotherhood kindly affectionate one to another, partners with the truth, forestalling one another in the gentleness of the Lord, despising no man. When you are able to do good, defer it not…" Does this message not apply to us today? What kind of Christian Orthodox steward could ignore this teaching? St. Polycarp also states: "…he that has love is far from all sin. But the love of money in the beginning of all troubles. Knowing therefore that ‘we brought nothing into the world neither can we carry anything out’ let us arm ourselves with the armor of righteousness, and let us teach ourselves to walk in the commandment of the Lord…"
St. Polycarp was eventually questioned and, when told that if he did not deny Christ he would be put to death, he responded: "Change of mind from better to worse is not a change allowed to us!" The saintly bishop of Smyrna was tied to the stake and the fire was lit. Eyewitnesses reported that they saw a miracle as the "fire burst up in an arch around Polycarp, the flames surrounding him like sails, and instead of being burned he seemed to glow like bread baking, or gold being melted in a furnace. When the captors saw he wasn’t being burned, they stabbed him. The blood that flowed put the fire out."
Perhaps we do not appreciate the great legacy we have received as descendants of the Apostolic Church. Centuries have passed since the apostles walked on earth with Christ, but we do have the accounts of the Apostolic Fathers to remind us and encourage us to keep our lives centered in Jesus Christ our Lord. Remembering the example of St. Polycarp we, too, can remember that the Lord is near when we imitate His life as Christian Orthodox stewards!
To learn more about the stewardship of the saints, click here.