Long in ruins, Smyrna is the location of one of the seven churches in the Biblical ‘Book of Revelation’. It is also the first place that the apostle John and Benjamin visit on their tour of the fellowships in Hold the Faith.
They would have entered Smyrna by the Ephesus gate, and come upon the Golden Way, a wide road connecting the temples of Zeus, and Cybele.
As they walked up this road, they would have seen many other temples, and pagan schools of science, medicine etc. There was a large amphitheatre where, what we would call ‘stage productions’ were played… and, as in Hold the Faith, ‘the games’ were held.
Although Smyrna was proud of its reputation for Caesar worship, neither this, nor the pagans were the main threat to the Christians in Smyrna… the Jews were. In the early days of the Christian church, the Jews were the greatest enemy.
Interestingly, the first ‘bishop’ of Smyrna was someone about whom little was written…
Bucolus was a disciple of St. John the Theologian, who consecrated him bishop of Smyrna. In Smyrna, there were few that were baptized. In the darkness of paganism, St. Bucolus shown as a bright candle. He distinguished himself with every virtue, especially meekness and humility. Before his death, Bucolus consecrated the glorious Polycarp as his successor to the espicopacy. He died peacefully and took up habitation with the Lord. http://www.orthodox.net/menaion-february/06-saint-bucolus.html
There is an interesting legend, that at the grave of Bucolus a myrtle tree grew, the leaves of which healed the sick.
A name more people are familiar with is Polycarp. (His background and early history is mentioned in Hold the Faith.) Some references cite him as the first bishop of Smyrna and of these, most say that it was the Apostle John who consecrated him as overseer (bishop). I calculated this out. Polycarp was born in 69 AD, the Apostle John was sent to the Isle of Patmos by the Emperor Domitian, who died in 96 AD. At this point Polycarp would have been twenty-seven years old and if he had been ‘consecrated’ by the Apostle John, he would have been younger. Although this is not impossible, it seems more feasible that Polycarp followed his friend and mentor Bucolus in the position. (Yes, he could have been anointed as overseer by John after his release from the Isle of Patmos… but Hold the Faith was set between 92 AD and 94 AD. Grow in Grace continues the story.)
According to tradition, Polycarp was known for his care of the ‘flock’, especially the poor, widows and orphans. (Which is one of the commissions to the church.) He was also a fighter of false teaching…
He rejected the teachings of Marcion, an influential heretic who tried to create a “new brand” of Christianity by redefining God and rejecting Old Testament teachings. In his well-known thesis, Polycarp combats Gnostic heresies that were beginning to spread throughout the Christian church. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycarp
From the same source…
Because the Smyrnaean letter known as the Martyrdom of Polycarp states that Polycarp was taken on the day of the Sabbath and killed on the Great Sabbath, some believe that this is evidence that the Smyrnaeans under Polycarp observed the seventh day Sabbath.
William Cave wrote “… the Sabbath or Saturday (for so the word sabbatum is constantly used in the writings of the fathers, when speaking of it as it relates to Christians) was held by them in great veneration, and especially in the Eastern parts honoured with all the public solemnities of religion. This is plain, not only from some passages in Ignatius and Clemens’s Constitutions, but from writers of more unquestionable credit and authority. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, tells us that they assembled on Saturdays… to worship Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath.
The history of Polycarp and the church at Smyrna is colourful, and sobering. As with all my research for the Apostle John series, discovering the history of the early church both awed and humbled me. So far, we have it ‘easy’.
How would I have coped in those times? It is an interesting question, one that leads to others, about the sincerity of my faith. The early brethren often gave up their lives to ‘hold fast’ to their faith.