Today in our liturgical calendar we celebrate the early father and martyr of the Church with the strange-sounding name of Polycarp. If we spoke Greek, we wouldn’t find it so strange-sounding, because the prefix “poly-” in Greek means “many,” and “karpos” means “fruit.” Thus this child who was born just about 125 years after Our Lord’s ascension into heaven and the great event of Pentecost, was given the name Polycarp to indicate the wish that he bear many fruits, or much fruit—one of the favorite concepts of scripture. Our Lord tells us that “by their fruits you shall know them. The good tree bears good fruit; the bad tree, bad fruit.” And in one of the visions of the Old Testament, the prophet Ezechiel sees water seeping out from under the threshold of the Temple in Jerusalem. As it flows it increases in volume and depth and becomes a great river so fruitful and fertile that the fruit trees that grow on both its banks give forth another harvest EVERY MONTH of the year! That is indeed “many fruited,” the meaning of the name Polycarp.
Saint Polycarp was the bishop of the ancient city of Smyrna in what was then the Roman province of Asia Minor, now the west coast of Turkey. He was the successor to Saint John the Apostle. A few years ago, my travel group and I went by cruise ship to the modern Turkish city of Izmir, what used to be Smyrna. It is now an enormous, bustling port city and predominantly Muslim. But the cruise ships call there principally to bring Christian pilgrims and visitors to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus where Saint Paul preached and founded a Christian community, and to which he wrote the magnificent Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament. There is fairly good evidence to indicate that when Saint John became bishop there, he brought Our Lady to live there with him. Today, thousands of tourist busses drive up a hill from the ruins of ancient Ephesus to a charming cool, shady spot which, it is believed, was the site of the house where Our Lady spent her last years on earth and from which she was assumed into heaven. Be that as it may, that area was one of the first areas where our holy faith was preached, took root and then spread across the Hellespont into Europe.
The proper name Polycarp might not be much used today, but the idea of our bearing much fruit in the kingdom of Our Divine Lord is still a very valid one and one that we should use as an inspiration. Let us do what we can to bear fruit—good fruit which will prove the goodness of our lives and our value to the Christian community of which we are happy to be a part. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.