Practically everyone in the world is dying to know more and more and more about the one and only Polycarp, 2nd Century Christian martyr, bishop of Smyrna, author of the best-selling Letter to the Philippians, and, of course, the Man of Many Carps! His is a story like no other, and it is soon to be brought to the big screen in a major Hollywood epic, starring Tom Cruise!
As a young boy, Polycarp was sold as a slave to a wealthy woman named Calisto, who raised him like her own son. Happy and carefree on the picturesque estate in the city of Smyrna (now Izmir, in Turkey), he liked nothing better than to fish for carp in the bay jutting in from the Aegean Sea. He seemed to have a magical talent for attracting carp. They would literally jump into his arms. He would stroke them, play with them, and kiss them before dropping them back in the water. He claimed to be able to communicate with them.
There was one carp he took a special liking to, and he brought it home and took it to bed with him. Calisto warned him that the poor fish would die out of water, but miraculously it did not! Polycarp would put it in a large basin of water by day and sleep with it at night. That carp is now believed to have been a divine channel, for during this period Polycarp began writing esoteric essays about God, which amazed the elders of the local church.
Upon the death of Calisto, Polycarp inherited her estate and soon brought many other carps to live in the house with him. Visitors were always surprised by the profusion of carps happily flapping about the grounds, needing only occasional immersions in the basins of water placed for their convenience.
When the pastor of the local church died, Polycarp was invited to replace him. He soon filled the church with exquisite carvings and paintings of carps. He even designed a carp costume for himself, which he wore during his sermons. The sermons were extraordinary: he would hold one or more carps to his ears and then translate their language for the congregation, expounding sublime thoughts and divine messages such as no one had ever heard before. Devout Christians flocked from many miles away to hear the words of this holy man who received divine wisdom from his blessed carps. Not surprisingly, Polycarp was soon elevated to the position of bishop.
In his major work, the Letter to the Philippians (whose descendants now inhabit the Philippines, of course), Polycarp wrote joyously of man’s love for the carp, and vice-versa, and how man could be brought closer to God by means of the carp. He encouraged the Philippians (and Christians generally) to love the carp and to commune with it, both in the water and in the bedchamber. This led to the Carpist Movement and the establishment of the highly secretive Order of Carpist Nuns, whose practice it was to sleep with carps. (The only remaining convent of the Carpist Nuns is located in Lebanon, Kentucky, which, quite oddly, is not on any body of water!)
At this time (the 2nd Century A.D.), the Roman Empire was ruled by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, a persecutor of Christians. The Emperor had long taken little notice of Christians in Asia Minor, but the exploits of Polycarp eventually came to his attention, and he ordered the bishop of Smyrna to be arrested for undermining the supremacy of the Roman gods and for alleged “unnatural relations” with his carps.
Polycarp was threatened with burning at the stake unless he renounced his beliefs and confessed to fraud in his communication with his carps. The bishop, now in his eighties, showed no fear of execution. He proclaimed, “The carp is the true fish of God, and I am His chosen fisherman.” He was then tied to the stake, and the kindling was lit. The fire burned, but it touched him not, for a miraculous rain of carp fell from the sky, dousing the flames and spreading confusion among the crowd! The captain of the guards, enraged by this humiliation, ordered his men to run Polycarp through with their swords, which they did, thereby giving the Christian world one of its most remarkable martyrs.
Today the influence of Polycarp lives on. In the centre of the city of Izmir can be seen a beautiful statue of St. Polycarp, dressed in his fish robe and hugging several carps. And throughout Turkey, even with its predominant Muslim religion, the carp is regarded as a holy fish, never to be eaten.
There are no less than ten churches named St. Polycarp throughout Asia Minor and Europe. The St. Polycarp Girls’ School in Blackburn, England, is legendary for its boisterous — and some would say shocking — revelries on February 23rd, the feast day of St. Polycarp. And the St. Polycarp Hospital in Bletchley, England, is world-famous for its treatment of nervous disorders.
The name Polycarp has been adopted by enterprises both humble and grand, including Polycarp Donuts, Polycarp Sporting Goods, Polycarp Fire and Casualty Insurance, Polycarp Casino, Polycarp Oil & Gas, Polycarp Pizza, Polycarp Polymers, Polycarp Propane, Polycarp Pet Supplies, Polycarp Vocational Institute, Polycarp Defense Electronics, and Polycarp Menswear.
Polycarp shall live forever, and so shall his many carp friends! May they find their way to us, from out of the sea and into our hearts!
Copyright@ 2008 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org