Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Forty Martyrs, Memorial (March 10)

From the martyrology for March 9:

"At Sebaste in Armenia, under the governor Agricolaus, in the time of Emperor Licinius, the birthday of forty holy soldiers of Cappadocia.  After being chained down in foul dungeons, after having their faces bruised with stones, and being condemned to spend the night naked, in the open during the coldest part of winter, on a frozen lake where their bodies were benumbed and covered with ice, they completed their martyrdom by having their limbs crushed.  The most noteworthy among them were Cyrion and Candidus.  Their glorious triumph has been celebrated by St. Basil and other Fathers in their writings.  Their feast is kept tomorrow."

The story of their martyrdom in 320 is very well-attested to, being the subject of a sermon by St Basil of Caesarea around fifty or sixty years after the event. 

Forty soldiers who had openly confessed themselves Christians were condemned by the prefect to be exposed naked upon a frozen pond near Sebaste on a bitterly cold night, that they might freeze to death. Among the confessors, one yielded and, leaving his companions, sought the warm baths near the lake which had been prepared for any who might prove inconstant.

One of the guards set to keep watch over the martyrs beheld at this moment a supernatural brilliancy overshadowing them and at once proclaimed himself a Christian, threw off his garments, and joined the remaining thirty-nine. Thus the number of forty remained complete.

At daybreak, the stiffened bodies of the confessors, which still showed signs of life, were burned and the ashes cast into a river. Christians, however, collected the precious remains, and the relics were distributed throughout many cities; in this way, veneration of the Forty Martyrs became widespread, and numerous churches were erected in their honour.

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