or the Holy Forty (Ancient/Katharevousa Greek Ἃγιοι Τεσσεράκοντα, Demotic Άγιοι Σαράντα) were a group of Roman soldiers in the Legio XII Fulminata,who became martyrs for their Christian faith in 320.
In the year 320, Constantine was Emperor of the West and Licinius of the East. Licinius, under pressure from Constantine, had agreed to legalize Christianity in his territory, and the two made an alliance (cemented by the marriage of Licinius to Constantia the sister of Constantine), but now Licinius broke the alliance and made a new attempt to suppress Christianity. He ordered his soldiers to repudiate it on pain of death. In the "Thundering Legion," stationed near Sebaste in Armenia (now Sivas in Turkey), forty soldiers refused, and when promises, threats, and beatings failed to shake them, they were stripped naked one evening and herded onto the middle of a frozen lake, and told, "You may come ashore when you are ready to deny your faith." To tempt them, fires were built on shore, with warm baths, blankets, clothing, and hot food and drink close by. The mother of the youngest soldier was present and encouraged her son from the bank. As night deepened, thirty-nine men stood firm, while one broke and ran to the shore. However, one of the soldiers standing guard on shore was so moved by the steadfastness of the Christians that he stripped off his clothes and ran out to join them. They welcomed him into their company, and so the number of the martyrs remained at forty, and by morning, all were dead of exposure. (One source says that the few in whom a little life remained were stabbed to death at dawn.)
We still have what some scholars believe to be an authentic eyewitness account of their martyrdom. It includes farewell messages to their family and friends written shortly before their deaths.
According to Antonio Borrelli, their names were "Aetius, Eutychius, Cyrius, Theophilus, Sisinnius, Smaragdus, Candidus, Aggia, Gaius, Cudio, Heraclius, John, Philotemon, Gorgonius, Cirillus, Severianus, Theodulus, Nicallus, Flavius, Xantius, Valerius, Aesychius, Eunoicus, Domitian, Domninus, Helianus, Leontius (Theoctistus), Valens, Acacius, Alexander, Vicratius (Vibianus), Priscus, Sacerdos, Ecdicius, Athanasius, Lisimachus, Claudius, Ile, Melito and Eutychus (Aglaius)."
Propers for The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
O Almighty God, by whose grace and power Thy holy martyrs of Sebaste triumphed over suffering and were faithful even unto death: Grant us, who now remember them with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to Thee in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Epistle - 2 Esdras 2:42-48.
I ESDRAS saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel. What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said unto me, Go thy way, and tell my people what manner of things, and how great wonders of the Lord thy God, thou hast seen.
The Gospel - St. Matthew 10:16-22.
BEHOLD, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall he brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
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