February: St. Bucolus, did he have middle child syndrome?
Saints with Funny Names
There is not a lot of information on this month’s saint with a funny name and that suits a greater purpose.
You see, St. Bucolus was the first bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor (present day Turkey to you and me). He reposed peacefully in the Lord (died) sometime between the years 100 and 105. His feast day is Feb. 6. Other than that, sources concur that Bucolus was wise, gentle, meek, and “shone like a light in the pagan darkness.”
And … that’s all she wrote.
No! St. Bucolus was ordained and consecrated bishop of Smyrna by none other than St. John the Evangelist. We know him as the youngest of the Twelve Apostles and one of Jesus’ personal favorites. He wrote a Gospel, some letters, and the Book of Revelation — a copy of which he sent to the church at Smyrna. He survived multiple attempts to martyr him and lived to a ripe old age — during which time he passed the power of the priesthood and the authority of the apostles down to a successor: our own St. Bucolus!
Check out the Troparion (hymn) sung on St. Bucolus’s feast day:
You shone with the rays of virtue/ received from him who leaned on the Master’s breast.
Then there is the Kondakion (another hymn):
He who was beloved of Christ/ saw the purity of your life;/ he made you a shepherd of the Church.
These two hymns tell us that St. Bucolus received virtue from John and he received authority from John. John received both of these from Jesus Christ.
It is also worth noting that when John wrote to the church at Smyrna, he was probably writing to St. Bucolus. St. John’s brief message to Smyrna gives you a glimpse into what was going on there: The Christians were persecuted but John tells them they are materially poor but spiritually rich.
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna, write this:
“ ‘The first and the last, who once died but came to life, says this:
“I know your tribulation and poverty, but you are rich. I know the slander of those who claim to be Jews and are not, but rather are members of the assembly of Satan.
Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
“ ‘ “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor shall not be harmed by the second death.” ’ (Revelation 2:8–11)
New Advent, the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that the Book of Revelation is dated around the end of the Emperor Domitian’s reign, which concluded in the year 96. Unless the dates given for St. Bucolus’ death are incorrect, this lands during his life time.
So why does St. Bucolus get so little attention? Here is my guess. Succeeding him as bishop of Smyrna was St. Polycarp. St. Polycarp was a miracle worker. He cast out devils, stopped raging fires, cured sick people, and prophesied his own martyrdom. Besides all this, everyone knows that St. Polycarp was converted and baptized by St. John. Maybe the hagiographers (saint biographers) are star struck by that fact because most of the sources I checked about St. Polycarp, quite rave about the whole St. John connection but completely skip over St. Bucolus.
Yet it was St. Bucolus who ordained St. Polycarp a priest and, before he died, picked him out as his successor. Sources say that St. Polycarp tried to imitate the virtue not only of St. John, not only of St. Paul, but of St. Bucolus. St. John thought St. Bucolus was awesome and St. Polycarp thought he was awesome, too! However, sandwiched right between these two superstars of the early Church, the gentle, wise, non-martyr St. Bucolus comes down to us sort of as a middle child. We love whatshisname.
That’s OK because the life of St. Bucolus illustrates perfectly the continuity of the Catholic priesthood. St. Bucolus received his priesthood and apostleship from St. John, who received it from Jesus Christ. In the same way, your parish priest – even if the world all but forgets his name — can trace his apostolic lineage all the way back to Christ. There’s no greater purpose than that.