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Much Fruit

February 23, 2021

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Today the church commemorates St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and martyr.  Polycarp is an early church figure of monumental importance. He was a disciple of John the Evangelist, connecting him to the apostolic age. Along with Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of the three chief Apostolic Fathers. As such, he played a crucial role in shaping the theological understanding of the church. His work was important in the development of the church’s understanding of Christ, pushing back against Marcionite, gnostic, and docetic developments that denied Christ’s full divinity and full humanity.

Polycarp visited Anicetus, bishop of Rome, in 154 or 155. On the agenda between the representatives of the Eastern and Western churches was when to celebrate Easter. In the East, the custom had been to celebrate Easter on the fourteenth of the Jewish month of Nisan, tying it to the beginning of Passover, regardless of which day of the week on which this fell. The Romans, in contrast, kept the feast on the Sunday following the Passover. Amazingly, and in contrast to subsequent church behavior, Polycarp and Anicetus were unable to resolve this difference but nevertheless went their separate ways amicably and with good will! May the church’s disagreement always end with mutual love.

At the age of 86, Polycarp was martyred. He was bound and burned at the stake. When the fire did not consume him, he was stabbed to death. Those charged with executing him did not relish the opportunity of killing an old man. They urged him to recant. Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” Polycarp died, but in death he bore much fruit. This, as a matter of fact, is what his name means: “much fruit.” May we, in both our living and our dying, trust in the gospel of the King who saved us; may we bear much fruit.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of the church, we thank you for the witness of the martyrs and teachers who went before us in faith. As they lived and died faithfully, may we faithfully live until we, too, are called and welcomed into the Church Triumphant. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Icon of Polycarp (public domain).

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