Friday, March 10, 2006

The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, March 10 by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira -

Biographical selection:

The story of these martyrs unfolded in the city of Sebaste during the reign of Emperor Licinius in 320 AD. A garrison of Roman soldiers - 40 in number - were stationed in this remote Armenian town. They were bold, courageous Catholic Roman soldiers who preferred to die rather than renounce their Faith. Upon hearing of this, the infuriated Emperor issued an edict, stating that those throughout the Empire who would not worship pagan gods would be tortured and put to death.
The 40 martyrs of Sebaste in Armenia were whipped, tortured and imprisoned, but would not relent. Finally, the governor Lysias devised an extraordinary kind of death which he hoped would shake their constancy. He ordered the soldiers to be placed in a pond of frozen water and left for a whole winter night.
In the morning the bodies of all were supposed to be carted off to be incinerated. However, the youngest of the officials, whom the acts call Melito, was found alive. Seeing this, the pagan soldiers removed him from the cart with hope that he would apostatize when he came to himself.
The mother of Melito, who was present, understood their intention. Rich in faith, this good Catholic approached her son, quite frozen and barely breathing, looking on her with languishing eyes. She exhorted him to persevere to the end. Then she returned his body to the cart with the corpses of his companions. She told him, “Go, go, my son, proceed to the end of this happy journey with your companions, that you might not be the last of them that present themselves before God.” She pronounced these words without a single tear, and with a joyful countenance she followed the cart to the fire.
After the bodies were burned, the ashes were to be dispersed in the wind and their bones thrown into the river, but God conserved them so that the faithful could gather them later and keep these precious relics.

St. Basil imagines all the saints of Heaven coming to its gates to witness the arrival of the 40 martyrs of Sebaste.
Reflecting on these martyrs, St. Basil wrote:
“O sacred troop! O glorious company! O invincible battalion! Flowers of the Church, yes I repeat, human flowers! Stars that shine among the stars! Martyrs worthy of the praise of all the centuries! To you the doors of Paradise were opened, and from the palaces of Heaven the Angels, Prophets, Patriarchs and all Saints came out to witness your triumphal arrival. A sight worthy of the Angelic Army! Forty warriors in the very flower of their youth who have disdained this life, who have loved the Lord above parents, children, wives and relatives. They disregarded this temporal life that they might glorify God in their members .…
"Having raised up the trophy of their victory against Hell, each one received a crown from the hand of Christ Jesus Our Lord, to Whom be glory and dominion to the ages of ages.”