The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste

The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste

In 320, forty young Christian Roman soldiers refused to sacrifice to idols and were tried before the tribunal at Sebaste, Cappadocia. The governor tried threats, bribery, and torture to persuade the young men, but they stood firm. He put the forty in prison, where it is said that Christ appeared and encouraged them to persevere.

All forty signed a will, drafted by St. Meletius, the youngest, that expressed their faith, unity, and courage. Incensed by the soldiers’ obstinacy, the governor ordered that they be stripped and left to die standing on a frozen lake. He arranged a fire and warm bath on the shore to tempt them to apostatize. The young men did not wait to be stripped, but removed their clothes themselves. And together they prayed, “Lord, we are forty engaged in this contest. Grant that forty may receive crowns and that we may not fall short of that sacred number.” 

After one night’s ordeal, however, one soldier caved, but died of extreme heat in the bath, losing his martyr’s crown. But an off-duty guard, prompted by the martyrs’ courage and a dream, professed himself a Christian and took his place, thus preserving their number.

After three days the governor had the survivors’ limbs broken and their bodies burned. Officials hoped that young Meletius would save himself, but his mother herself lifted him onto the wagon, not wanting him to lose his prize.

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