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The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste
March 320 A.D
In 320 A.D., Constantine was the Roman Emperor of the West and Licinius Emperor of the East. Constantine pressured Licinius to legalize Christianity in his region, and he conceded. Fearing treason among the troops, Licinius broke his alliance and wished to eliminate Christianity in his territory. He called upon Agricola, one of his men who commanded the forces in the Armenian town of Sebaste (now Sivas, Turkey), to carry out his evil intentions.
Agricola knew of 40 soldiers who were devout Christians and skilled in battle. In an attempt to force them to renounce their faith, Agricola said to the 40 men, “Either offer sacrifice to the gods and earn great honors, or, in the event of your disobedience, be stripped of your military rank and fall into disgrace.” The soldiers were thrown into prison to think about what Agricola had said. They encouraged themselves that night by singing psalms and praying.
The next morning Agricola tried to persuade them with flattery, praising them for their valor and good looks. However, the 40 were resolved, unwilling to fall prey to Agricola’s empty words and were again thrown in prison to await the arrival of an official. While the soldiers waited, they prepared themselves for martyrdom.
When the official arrived, he again unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the men. He ordered the 40 men to be taken to a frozen lake where they were told to strip off their clothing and stand in the middle of the frozen mass of ice. A guard stood watch over them, while warm baths were set up along the shore, along with fires, blankets, clothing and hot food and drink, in order to tempt them to turn their backs on Christ and sacrifice to the idols. One of the soldiers could no longer bear the cold and ran to the shore. Seeing this, the remaining soldiers cried out to God to help them. Their prayer was answered, as in the third hour of the night, a light warmed the shivering men. One of the guards was so moved by the resolve of the soldiers that he stripped off all his clothes and joined the men. One version of the story says that all the men were frozen to death by morning. However, another account says the men were still alive, were taken back to the prison, tortured to death and their bones crushed with sledgehammers.
Regardless of which version of the story is correct, the 40 soldiers of Sebaste courageously refused to deny Christ. May we stand guard of temptations that may lure us away from Christ, testifying of God’s grace amidst trials!
The Voice of the Martyrs, April 2006, p. 11
“Forty Martyrs of Sebeste.” Orthodox America. Accessed 30 January 2006. http://www.roca.org/OA/47/47k.htm.
The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs compiled by Mark Water (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books,2001), p. 431.