Learning Perseverance from the *Really* Frozen Chosen
Today we continue our regular series here at The Thin Veil called "Learning from the Saints". Our guide is saint-expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Adventures In Daily Prayer.
His newest book is Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus. You can learn more about Bert and his work at www.BertGhezzi.com.
Today, Bert draws lessons from the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, or as Bert calls them, "the really frozen chosen."
After 316, the emperor Licinius began persecuting Christians in the Eastern Roman Empire. He threatened death to any Christian who failed to renounce his faith.
But in 320, forty young Christian soldiers refused to sacrifice to idols and were tried before the tribunal at Sebaste Cappadocia (modern day Turkey).
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.
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.
Yet the temptation failed. All forty men signed a will, drafted by Meletius, the youngest member, that expressed their faith, unity, and courage:
"When we by God’s grace and the common prayers of all shall finish the strife set before us, and come to the rewards of the high calling, we desire that this will of ours may be respected: that our relics be conveyed to our father, the presbyter Proidus, so that they may be deposited near the city of Zela at the spot called Sarin.
Although we come from different localities, we have agreed to make one common resting-place because we have set before ourselves one common strife for the prize. These things have seemed good to the Holy Spirit and have pleased us.
Therefore we brothers in Christ beseech our honored parents and relatives to have no grief or distress, but to respect the decision of our brotherly fellowship, and to consent heartily to our wishes, so that you may receive from our common Father the great recompense of obedience and of sharing in our sufferings.
We pray with our souls and with the Divine Spirit that we may all obtain the eternal good things of God and his kingdom, now and forever and ever. Amen."
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, 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 young Meletius would save himself, but his mother herself lifted him onto the wagon, not wanting him to lose his prize. The governor had the ashes of the forty martyrs scattered into a river, but Christians secured some which became treasured relics, inspiring many throughout the middle ages.
As a boy in fourth grade, I read about the forty martyrs of Sebaste in the Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints and was very impressed. Years later I told a friend that I might even have prayed for a martyrdom like theirs. “That’s why you moved to Florida,” he quipped.
(Image credit: Wikipedia)
Read more from Bert at his website, www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.