Easter Customs
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Easter Customs
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Polycarp's Martyrdom

Martyrdom of PolycarpJohn Foster in "The First Advance. Church History 1. AD 29-500" wrote that observing Easter customs was unknown in the Western Church until Polycarp, (69-c155 AD) then Bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome in c154 AD and attempted to persuade the Bishop of Rome that observing Easter customs had been handed down by the Apostles. In c155 AD, Polycarp died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake. When the fire failed to touch him he was then stabbed until dead. "The Martyrdom of Polycarp" was a very early work describing the proper conduct of a Christian martyr. It was one of the works of the Apostolic Fathers who were 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. So Easter, Christianity's oldest and greatest festival, came to be fixed on 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 156 AD, festivals alongside the Easter customs were added to the Christian Year as "Saint's Days." In that year, Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna, had been burned to death by the Roman authorities for refusing to deny Christ. He was reputed to have said, "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."

"Easter Customs"
by Ron Meacock © 2018

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