Governor Agricola of Armenia was confronted with "mutiny." Forty soldiers refused to offer the sacrifice ordered by emperor Licinius. The forty who stood before him that wintry fourth-century day in Sevaste were fine specimens of manhood who radiated an aura of courage. He was determined to make them see reason.
But the soldiers were adamant. They refused to sacrifice. To do so was to betray their faith in Christ. "But what about your comrades?" asked Agricola. "Consider--you alone of all Caesar's thousands of troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion!"
"To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still," replied the men. Exasperated, the governor threatened to flog and torture them. The soldiers stood firm, although they knew he would carry out his threat. In the fourth century, there were few civil rights. Boldly the men answered, "Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats-- we despise our bodies when the welfare of our souls is at stake."
Pairs of guards seized each man and dragged them out into the cold where they were stripped and tied to posts. Whips laid open their backs and iron hooks tore their sides. Still the forty refused to surrender. Agricola chained them in his dungeons. Finally, he commanded that they be stripped naked and driven onto the ice of a pond below Sevaste.
The "rebels" did not wait for the sentence to be imposed, but tearing off their own clothes, ran to the pond in the raw March air. "We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship," they said. "What is death for us but an entrance into eternal life?" On this day, March 9, 320, singing hymns, they stood shivering on the pond as the sun sank.
Baffled, Agricola ordered hot baths placed around the pond. Surely the warm water would lure the men off the ice! But the crisp night air carried a prayer to all ears: "Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be wanting from this sacred number."
One of the men did lose his nerve, however, and crawled off the ice to a bath. He died the instant he touched the hot water. This was too much for one of the guards. He shucked off his clothes, marched onto the ice and took the place of the man who had failed.
- Basil, St. "Homily on the Forty Martyrs."
- "Bravest Soldiers in the Army: The Forty Martyrs of Sevaste." Glimpses #146. Worcester, Pennsylvania: Christian History Institute.
- Gregory of Nyssa. "First and Second Homilies Concerning the Forty Martyrs." http://www.sp.uconn.edu/~salomon/nyssa/martyrs.htm
- Kirsch, J. P. "Forty Martyrs." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated May, 2007.