Observing Easter Customs
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Polycarp's Martyrdom 150

Observing Easter

Martyrdom of PolycarpJohn Foster in "The First Advance. Church History 1. AD 29-500" writes that observing Easter customs was unknown in the Western Church until Polycarp, (69-c155 AD) Bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome in c154 AD and tried to persuade the Bishop of Rome that observing Easter customs had been handed down by the Apostles. In c155 AD, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him. "The Martyrdom of Polycarp" was a very early work delineating the proper conduct of a Christian martyr was written by the Apostolic Fathers who are believed to have personally known some of the Twelve Apostles. A little after Polycarp's martyrdom and perhaps because of it, we find Easter being observed in Alexandria and in Rome on the Sunday following the Jewish Passover. It was observed on Sunday because that day of the week was the Resurrection Day, and it seemed wrong that the yearly festival should be on any other day but Sunday. So Easter, Christianity's oldest and greatest festival, came to be fixed for the first Sunday after the spring full moon, with the previous Friday (now called Good Friday) as the fast commemorating the crucifixion.

Saints Days

PolycarpAs early as A.D. 156, festivals alongside Easter customs were added to the Christian Year as "Saint's Days." In that year, the Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, (Icon shown at left) had been burned to death by the Roman authorities for refusing to deny Christ saying, "Eighty-six years I have served him. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" His friends, writing an account of Polycarp's martyrdom, added these words about his grave: "There we shall gather, with joy and gladness, to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom."

"Observing Easter Customs"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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