374. The Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste

How would you like to go swimming in a lake in Sivas, Turkey * on March 9, when the average high temperature is 46°F (8°C) and the average low temperature is 36°F (2°C)? No? Trip Advisor gives a nearby lake (Godpinar Golu) a five star rating. You still say that on the whole you’d rather not?

  • the Pontic Greek/Roman city of Sebaste, near the south shore of the Black Sea

But what if your choice were either to deny your Lord Jesus Christ or to spend the night in that cold, cold lake? What then?

Greek, 17th century (with permission of Saint Isaac’s Skete, skete.com)

First: an Explanation and an Attribution

None of what follows this section of this Post is my own writing. As I explained a couple or three weeks back, I am unexpectedly “un-retired” and am interim pastor at the church from which I retired ten years ago – Saint Nicholas, Cedarburg, Wisconsin *  – till a new pastor is appointed. I began this Blog five years ago to keep me busy in my retirement. Suddenly I’m double-busy! I’m not going to give up the Blog, even temporarily. I’d miss you! So please be patient with me if I have to punt occasionally till I “re-retire”.

  • Here’s the story of how Saint Nicholas founded our parish 35 years ago: https://frbillsorthodoxblog.com/2019/05/03/124-how-saint-nicholas-founded-saint-nicholas-church-cedarburg/

I’ve taken most of what follows, with his permission, from John Sadinopoulos’ Blog, “Orthodox Christianity Then and Now”, which contains an enormous amount of information about the saints and much more. Just for an example, here is the link to the multitude of material he has collected about the Forty Martyrs.


If you have time to keep up with even a small portion of Mr Sadinopoulos’ Blog each day, you’ll be richly rewarded. (You also might contribute to help keep his work going.)

Now to the Forty Martyrs:

from Dionysiou Monastery, Mount Athos (with permission of Saint Isaac’s Skete)

The Church’s Synaxarion for March 9: The Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste

Fascinating Facts regarding the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste 

by Father Dan Graves (priest and writer in the Anglican Diocese of Toronto)

It was one of the strangest episodes in all of military and Christian history–an army killing its own best soldiers. The time: A.D. 320. The place: Sevaste, in present-day Turkey. The issue: Would Christian soldiers obey and bow to pagan gods?

320. The place: Sevaste, in present-day Turkey. The issue: Would Christian soldiers obey and bow to pagan gods?

How many agreed to sacrifice?

A legion consisted from 3,000 to 6,000 infantry plus cavalry. Apparently at least 2,960 men from the Sevaste legion sacrificed at Licinius’s order. Barely 1% bucked his demand!

The famous Thundering Legion.

The legion stationed at Sevaste may have been the famed Thundering Legion. Dating back to Caesar Augustus, it took its name from a lightening emblem on its shields. The Thundering Legion is connected with another unusual historical event. During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it was trapped in a dry valley and only saved from dying of thirst by a furious thunderstorm which provided drinking water and threw enemy soldiers into panic. Christian writers spoke of the thunderstorm as a miracle in answer to the petitions of a group of praying Christian soldiers. Pagan authors attributed it to sorcery or to the prayers of Marcus Aurelius.

Why a legion of troops in Sevaste?

Licinius had to defend against Barbarians and Persians. Sevaste (now Sivas, Turkey) was a logical place to station a sizable force to meet challenges from North and East.

Elder Theophylaktos Nanopoulos from the Athonite Cell of Saint Nicholas (known as the “Cell of the Typographers”), which is under Iveron Monastery, once told the following story with tears in his eyes:

“During the years of the German Occupation I was arrested by the Germans, together with my brother according to the flesh Papa-Panteleimon, and they took us to Dachau. One night they took us outside to execute us. It was winter and they undressed us. We waited for our turn. There was no hope for our salvation.

Then I remembered the Holy Forty Martyrs, and I turned and said to him: ‘Hey, Panteleimon! What’s the Apolytikion to the Holy Forty Martyrs? Do you know it?’

Then Father Panteleimon began to chant in the first tone:

‘We entreat You, O Lord, by the sufferings endured for You by the Saints, and we pray You, who loves mankind, heal all our pain.’

Immediately after this, a warmth wrapped itself around the both of us, and we did not feel the cold. It was the presence of the Saints, who themselves suffered from the cold.

The night passed and the morning came. While we awaited death, an order came for us two monks to not be executed. No one survived, except us. This is why they wrote our names on a sign of the executed there at the camp.”

Next Week: Advice from the Fathers on how to keep the Fast

Week after Next: The Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God

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