Every March 10, the universal Church remembers the 40 martyrs, better known as the martyrs of Sebaste.
Around the year 320, the Roman emperor Licinus issued a decree ordering the death penalty for any Christian who is not capable of renouncing his faith. A group of brave soldiers of the Legion XII “Fulminata”, converts to Christianity, informed the governor of Sebaste (then the capital of the province of “Armenia Minor”, today Turkey) that they would not offer incense to any pagan idol and that they would they would remain faithful to Jesus Christ, whom they recognized as the only God.
The governor then took them prisoner and locked them in a dark dungeon. While they remained in their cells, a miraculous event occurred: the usually dark and gloomy place lit up, and a voice was heard encouraging them to suffer bravely. That voice was that of Our Lord, who manifested himself to give them the necessary strength to face death.
It was ruled that the forty men would die of cold, exposed to the very low temperatures of the region’s harsh winter. “For this night of ice we will achieve the endless day of glory in happy eternity,” they answered, knowing they had been summoned to the altar of sacrifice. At the top of their voices they cried out to the Lord to encourage one another, while they waited to be transferred to the place of martyrdom.
Immediately afterwards, the governor’s men tied them up and took them out of that place, and led them to a nearby lake. This sported a thick layer of ice that covered it almost completely.
When they were forced to undress to enter the cold waters, one of them exclaimed: “By taking off our clothes, we take off the old man; winter is hard, but paradise is sweet; the cold is very strong, but the glory will be more pleasant”.
Very close to the lake there was a pond with warm water waiting for those who wanted to discourage themselves from facing death. It turned out that one of them left the group and was led to the hot water pool. When that man touched the warm waters, he died instantly.
Tradition -mainly collected by Saint Basil- adds that forty angels came down from heaven, each one carrying a crown to place them on the heads of the men who were about to give their lives. However, one of them was left alone, finding no one to give the sacred prize to: he was the deserter’s guardian angel. At that moment, a governor’s guard, seeing that the martyrs continued to pray and sing hymns, shouted: “I also believe in Christ”, and lowered himself into the frozen waters. At that moment, that convert could see the angel from whom he had deserted heading towards him, with the crown of martyrdom in his hands.
A mother next to her son
Meanwhile, the soldiery insisted with the youngest among the forty to discourage him. Among those who witnessed the scene was the mother of that young man. She urged him to remain faithful and not lose heart. At dawn, the surviving martyrs were pulled from the waters, had their legs broken, and were left to die. Among the survivors was that boy, but he was already dying. He ended up dying in his mother’s arms.
When it was over, the commander of the imperial army ordered that the bodies be burned, however, to the glory of God, it was not possible and many of the remains were rescued by other Christians and distributed as relics in different places.
The memory of those who die for Christ
Christians in the East celebrate the forty martyrs on March 9, while in the West we celebrate it on the tenth day of the month. This celebration coincides with the days of Lent, and can help us deepen the path of faith, which is a path of love, dedication and sacrifice.
Just like those martyrs, at the beginning of the 20th century (1915 – 1923), many men, women and children suffered for their faith in the same lands, today belonging to Turkey, when the genocide against the Armenian people took place, massacred at the hands of of the Turkish Empire (Ottoman Empire), also because of his Christian faith.
To learn more about the history of these saints enter HERE