The holy Apostle John the Theologian was still alive at this time. St Polycarp was especially close to St John, and sometimes accompanied him on his apostolic journeys.
Shortly before his death, St Bucolus expressed his wish that Polycarp be made Bishop of Smyrna. When St Polycarp was consecrated as a bishop, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. St Polycarp guided his flock with apostolic zeal, and he was also greatly loved by the clergy. St Ignatius the God-Bearer of Antioch (December 20) also had a high regard for him. Setting out for Rome where execution awaited him, he wrote to St Polycarp, "This age is in need of you if it is to reach God, just as pilots need winds, and as a storm-tossed sailor needs a port."
The emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) came to the Roman throne and started up a most fierce persecution against Christians. The pagans demanded that the judge search for St Polycarp, "the father of all the Christians" and "the seducer of all Asia."
During this time St Polycarp, at the persistent urging of his flock, stayed in a small village not far from Smyrna. When the soldiers came for him, he went out to them and invited them in to eat. He asked for time to pray, in order to prepare himself for martyrdom. His suffering and death are recorded in the "Epistle of the Christians of the Church of Smyrna to the Other Churches," one of the most ancient memorials of Christian literature.
[...and as he prayed he fell into a trance three days before he was taken, and saw his pillow burning with fire, and he turned and said prophetically to those who were with him, I must be burned alive...
But to Polycarp, as he entered the arena, there came a voice from heaven, saying, Be strong, and play the man, O Polycarp. And the speaker no man saw; but the voice those of our people who were present heard. And when he was brought in there was a great tumult, when men heard that Polycarp was apprehended.
Then, when he had been brought in, the proconsul asked him if he was Polycarp. And when he confessed, he would have persuaded him to deny, saying, Have respect unto thine age, and other things like these, as is their custom to say: Swear by the fortunes of Caesar; Repent; Say, Away with the Atheists. But Polycarp, when he had looked with a grave face at all the multitude of lawless heathen in the arena, having beckoned unto them with his hand, sighed, and looking up unto heaven, said, Away with the Atheists!
And when the proconsul pressed him, and said, Swear, and I will release thee, revile Christ; Polycarp said, Eighty and six years have I served him, and in nothing hath he wronged me; and how, then, can I blaspheme my King, who saved me?
...While he was saying these and more things, he was filled with courage and joy, and his face was filled with grace; so that he not only was not troubled and confused by the things said unto him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald into the midst of the arena to proclaim a third time: Polycarp has confessed himself to be a Christian. (http://www.voskrese.info/spl/polycarp.martyr.html)]
Having been brought to trial, St Polycarp firmly confessed his faith in Christ, and was condemned to be burned alive. The executioners wanted to nail him to a post, but he declared that God would give him the strength to endure the flames, so they could merely tie him with ropes.
[But he, having placed his hands behind him, and being bound, like a notable ram appointed for offering out of a great flock, prepared as a whole burnt-offering acceptable unto God, having looked up unto heaven, said, O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received our knowledge concerning thee, the God of angels and powers, and of the whole creation, and of all the race of the just who lived before thee, I thank thee that thou hast deemed me worthy of this day and hour, that I should have my portion in the number of the martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, unto the resurrection of eternal life, both of the soul and body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. Among these may I be received before thee this day as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, even as thou hast prepared and made manifest beforehand, and hast fulfilled, thou who art the unerring and true God. On this account, and concerning all things, I praise thee, I bless thee, I glorify thee, together with the eternal and heavenly Jesus Christ thy beloved Son, with whom to thee and the Holy Spirit be glory both now and for ever. Amen. (http://www.voskrese.info/spl/polycarp.martyr.html)]
The flames encircled the saint but did not touch him, coming together over his head in the shape of a vault. Seeing that the fire did him no harm, the pagans stabbed him with a dagger. So much blood flowed from this wound that it extinguished the flames. The body of the hieromartyr Polycarp was then cremated. The Christians of Smyrna reverently gathered up what remained of his holy relics, and each year they celebrated the day of his martyrdom.
A story has been preserved about St Polycarp by his disciple, St Irenaeus of Lyons, which Eusebius cites in his ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY (V, 20):
"I was still very young when I saw you in Asia Minor at Polycarp's," writes St Irenaeus to his friend Florinus, "but I would still be able to point out the place where Blessed Polycarp sat and conversed, and be able to depict his walk, his mannerisms in life, his outward appearance, his speaking to people, his companionable wandering with John, and how he himself related, together with other eyewitnesses of the Lord, those things that he remembered from the words of others. He also told what he heard from them about the Lord, His teachings and miracles....
Through the mercy of God to me, I then already listened attentively to Polycarp and wrote down his words, not on tablets, but in the depths of my heart. Therefore, I am able to bear witness before God, that if this blessed and apostolic Elder heard something similar to your fallacy, he would immediately stop up his ears and express his indignation with his usual phrase: 'Good God! That Thou hast permitted me to be alive at such a time!'"
During his life the holy bishop wrote several Epistles to the flock and letters to various individuals. The only one that has survived to the present day is his Epistle to the Philippians which, St Jerome testifies, was read in the churches of Asia Minor at divine services. It was written by the saint in response to the request of the Philippians to send them some letters of the hieromartyr Ignatius (December 20) which St Polycarp had in his possession.
The composer H.I.F. Bibier (1644-1704) has written a Sonata "Scti Polycarpi" for eight trumpets in honor of the holy martyr."
(http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=100589, http://www.voskrese.info/spl/polycarp.martyr.html; the Greek text is available here: http://www.ccel.org/l/lake/fathers/martyrdom.htm)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!