|A text showing Peter's martyrdom|
After finishing the Didache, I decided to translate portions of "The Martyrdom of Polycarp"--a letter written around 160 AD recounting the the persecution, trial, and death of the Bishop of Smyrna.
1- We write to you, brothers and sisters, things concerning the witnesses (martyrs) and especially the blessed Polycarp, who put an end to persecution by placing a seal on it with his own (witness) martyrdom. For almost everything that came before happened in order that the Lord might show from above a witness (martyrdom) in accordance with the gospel.
2- He waited until he was betrayed, just as the Lord, in order that we might be imitators of him, not only looking out for ourselves but also for our neighbors. For true and steadfast love does not only wish for itself to be saved, but for all the brothers and sisters.
The word martyr is the Greek word for "witness". That is why I included it in brackets. Polycarp's death "bore witness" to the power of Christ's resurrection, and this "witness" was meant to point others in the direction of Jesus and his Kingdom. Polycarp refused to deny his faith even when tortured and ultimately killed. He didn't do it to earn a good spot at the heavenly banquet table, he did it so that he might show others that Christ's "love is better than life"--that Christ is "the resurrection and the life".
People were so taken by Polycarp's "witness" that his story has been retold through the ages. His testimony remains a powerful reminder of self sacrifice. Polycarp was 86 when he "bore witness", reminding us that there is no retirement from Christian service.