March 10th marks the feast day of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, who died in the fourth century during the reign of the Emperor Licinius.
March 10th marks the feast day of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, who died in the fourth century during the reign of the Emperor Licinius. Their story offers timeless lessons for all Christians but takes on special relevance during times like our own, in which the spiritual warfare has become more openly hostile. Dom Gueranger provides the following introduction in his The Liturgical Year, tying the feast of the martyrs to our Lenten penances:
“We know the mystery of the number forty. This tenth of March brings it before us. Forty new advocates! Forty encouraging us to enter bravely on our career of penance! On the frozen pool, which was their field of battle, these martyrs reminded one another that Jesus had fasted for forty days, and they themselves were forty in number! Let us, in our turn, compare their sufferings with the Lenten exercises which the Church imposes upon us; and humble ourselves on seeing our cowardice; or, if we begin with fervor, let us remember that the grand thing is to be faithful to the end, and bring to the Easter solemnity the crown of our perseverance. . . . The lives of the saints will be of great help to us in this, for they will teach us how we are to look upon sin, how to avoid it, and how strictly we are bound to do penance for it after having committed it.”
Before describing the specific martyrdoms of the forty, Dom Gueranger thus reminded us that the Church has given us their example for our own lives, so that we may bravely shoulder our Christian duties and ultimately save our souls. Having set the stage for the lessons the Church wants us to learn, he borrowed from the Church’s liturgy to detail the martyrdoms of the forty:
“During the reign of the Emperor Licinius and under the presidency of Agricolaus, the city of Sebaste in Armenia was honored by being made the scene of the martyrdom of forty soldiers, whose faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and patience in bearing tortures, were so glorious. After having been frequently confined in a horrid dungeon, shackled with chains and having had their faces beaten with stones, they were condemned to pass a most bitter winter night in the open air, and on a frozen pool, that they might be frozen to death. When there, they united in this prayer: ‘Forty have we entered on the battle; let us, O Lord, receive forty crowns, and suffer not our number to be broken. The number is an honored one, for Thou didst fast for forty days, and the divine law was given to the world after the same number of days was observed. Elias, too, sought God by a forty days’ fast, and was permitted to see Him.’ Thus did they pray.”
The architects of the Great Reset cannot succeed unless we are willing to sacrifice to the idols by going along with their diabolical initiatives.
So these men prayed together that they might all persevere to win the forty crowns. They no longer bothered themselves with what the world thought of them, for their only concern was to honor God and save their souls. As we frequently see in the lives of the saints, their single-minded pursuit of God was the example needed to save a soul who might otherwise have been lost:
“All the guards, except one, were asleep. He overheard their prayer, and saw them encircled with light, and angels coming down from heaven, like messengers sent by a King, who distributed crowns to thirty-nine of the soldiers. Whereupon, he thus said to himself: ‘There are forty men; where is the fortieth crown?’ While he was thus pondering, one of the number lost his courage; he could bear the cold no longer, and threw himself into a warm bath, which had been placed near at hand. His saintly companions were exceedingly grieved at this. But God would not suffer their prayer to be void. The sentinel, astonished at what he had witnessed, went immediately and awoke the guards; then, taking off his garments, he cried out, with a loud voice, that he was a Christian, and associated himself with the martyrs.”
One man lost his crown and the other gained it. From the perspective of eternity, that crucial exchange meant everything. Most of us can see ourselves in these characters — which path would we choose?
Dom Gueranger ends his narration with the story of the youngest martyr and his mother:
“No sooner did the governor’s guards perceive that the sentinel had also declared himself to be a Christian, than they approached the martyrs, and broke their legs with clubs. All died under this torture except Melithon, who was the youngest of the forty. His mother, who was present, seeing that he was still living after his legs were broken, thus encouraged him: ‘My son, be patient yet a while. Lo! Christ is at the door, helping thee.’ But, as soon as she saw the other bodies being placed on carts, that they might be thrown on the pile, and her son left behind (for the impious men hoped that, if the boy survived, he might be induced to worship the idols) she lifted him up into her arms, and summing up all her strength, ran after the wagons, on which the martyrs’ bodies were being carried. Melithon died in his mother’s arms and the holy woman threw his body on the pile, where the other martyrs were, that as he had been so united with them in faith and courage, he might be one with them in burial, and go to heaven in their company.”
The entire Great Reset would have ground to a halt already if Christians had recognized that we are in the midst of one of the most important spiritual battles in salvation history.
It almost seems too incredible to believe, and yet this mother was simply applying the truths of the Faith to the dire circumstances. Alas, the truths we learn from our catechism in comfortable settings do not become any less true when we must apply them in harrowing situations.
For better or worse, we can see in our own times echoes of the various characters, temptations, and instruments involved in the martyrdoms of the forty:
The Sacrifice to Idols. Almost certainly, these men would have preferred to have never been pressured to sacrifice to idols. However, when confronted with the choice between offending God and suffering, they knew they must choose the path that led to their martyrdom. In our day, the globalists, our friends and family members, and even our false shepherds may pressure us to make sacrifices to the idols of the world. As we have already learned through painful experience, the architects of the Great Reset cannot succeed unless we are willing to sacrifice to the idols by going along with their diabolical initiatives. The pressures for us to offer a pinch of incense to their Great Reset will only increase until God intervenes.
The Frozen Pond. Dom Gueranger refers to the frozen pond as the “field of battle” of the forty soldiers. If these soldiers had regarded their military duties as paramount, they never would have entered the real field of battle: the frozen pond where they would ultimately win the everlasting crown of glory and set the example for Christians throughout the centuries. It seems that we face an even greater risk of mistaking the real fields of battle in our own time. Everywhere we look we see good Christians who mistakenly believe that their worldly loyalties mean they cannot possibly be called to make sacrifices. The entire Great Reset would have ground to a halt already if Christians had recognized that we are in the midst of one of the most important spiritual battles in salvation history. Decisions to turn a blind eye to scandals within the Church and lies throughout society in the name of “duty of state” lead so many of us to step off the real field of battle, ceding it to the villains who know that they must suffocate true Christianity to win.
Fellow-soldiers! Let us not retreat. Let us suffer for a while, that we may obtain our crowns of victory from Christ our Lord, the Savior of our souls!
The Thirty-Nine. “The holy martyrs, generously suffering present evils, and rejoicing in the hope of reward, said to each other: ‘It is not our raiment, but the old man that we have put off. The winter is cold; but paradise is sweet. The ice is torture; but the repose is pleasant. Fellow-soldiers! Let us not retreat. Let us suffer for a while, that we may obtain our crowns of victory from Christ our Lord, the Savior of our souls.” We want to please God and go to heaven. Those of us who have duties to loved ones have the same wish for them. Accordingly, we are called to help each other persevere in honoring God and saving our souls, especially when we are tempted to give up the fight. What would we think of a man who had tried to persuade his fellow soldiers to flee to the tepid bath? Our greatest charity to our neighbors is frequently that of supporting them in their decision to suffer for the love of God. “Fellow-soldiers! Let us not retreat. Let us suffer for a while, that we may obtain our crowns of victory from Christ our Lord, the Savior of our souls!”
The Tepid Bath. “The soldier that loved this life, ran to the cursed bath, and there he met with death . . .” Almost everyone encourages us to relax in the tepid baths that surround us today: sure, we could dedicate ourselves entirely to serve God at this crucial moment in salvation history, but (they try to convince us) it is also just fine to keep our options open with the world, in case it turns out that things are not quite as bad as they seem. And so we are always at risk of choosing a lukewarm life to enjoy the things of the world without rejecting God outright. But, as we see from the solider who “ran to the cursed bath,” the next tepid bath we choose may be the one that causes us to lose everything.
The Guard. “The gaoler of the forty martyrs stood in astonishment as he beheld the crowns. Despising this present life, and ambitious to enjoy Thy glory, O Lord, which had been shown him in vision, he joined the martyrs in this hymn: ‘Blessed art Thou, O God of our fathers!’” The guard despised this present life to win eternal glory. While God may not grant us visions of the glory we would win by choosing Him over the goods of this world, we have absolute certainty that we should always follow the blessed example of the guard. If we are not willing to sacrifice everything to win eternal salvation, what is the purpose of our lives?
Most of us should not expect our mothers to literally carry us to eternal salvation, but the Blessed Virgin Mary, who stood faithfully beneath the cross of Christ Her Son, will be this mother to us if we let her.
Our Weapons. “Valiant soldiers of Christ, who meet us, with your mysterious number, at this commencement of our forty days’ fast, receive the homage of our devotion. Your memory is venerated throughout the whole Church, and your glory is great in heaven. Though engaged in the service of an earthly prince, you were soldiers of the eternal King: to Him you were faithful, and from Him did you receive your crown of eternal glory. We, also, are His soldiers; we are fighting for the kingdom of heaven. Our enemies are many and powerful; but, like you, we can conquer them, if, like you, we use the arms which God has put in our hands. Faith in God’s word, hope in His assistance, humility, and prudence, with these we are sure of victory. Pray for us, O holy martyrs, that we avoid all compromise with our enemies; for our defeat is certain if we try to serve two masters.” Today, many Catholics have recognized that our enemies are far too powerful for our natural weapons. Dom Gueranger reminds us of the supernatural weapons we need more now than ever: faith in God’s word, hope in His assistance, humility, and prudence. “With these we are sure of victory” Without these we should prepare for losing everything. “Pray for us, O holy martyrs, that we avoid all compromise with our enemies; for our defeat is certain if we try to serve two masters.”
The Mother of Melithon. “The mother, whose manly spirit made her dear to God, taking on her shoulders the beloved fruit of her womb, brings him to the martyrs that he may be a martyred victim with them. . . This mother, dear to Christ, cried to to her child: ‘O my son; quickly run the path that leads to life eternal. I cannot brook thy being second to any in coming to God, who rewards us.’” This holy mother knew that God had created her and her son to know, love, and serve Him in this life and be happy with Him for eternity in the next. Would the mother have loved her son by “rescuing him” from certain martyrdom so that he might lose his soul through a life of temptation?
Most of us should not expect our mothers to literally carry us to eternal salvation, but the Blessed Virgin Mary, who stood faithfully beneath the cross of Christ Her Son, will be this mother to us if we let her. She can remind us that the example of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste is not simply one good path among many — in it we see fundamental dispositions that we must share if we hope to honor God and save our souls. In this Lent of 2022 especially, we should beg her prayers and assistance, so that we may join the forty martyrs in winning the crown of eternal glory — “the winter is cold; but paradise is sweet.” Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
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