Forty Martyrs of Sebaste 

March 9, 320 AD / Sebaste, Lesser Armenia

The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste were a group of Roman soldiers in the Legio XII Fulminata (Twelfth Lightning Legion) whose martyrdom in 320 for the Christian faith is recounted in traditional martyrologies.

They were killed near the city of Sebaste, in Lesser Armenia (present-day Sivas in Turkey), victims of the persecutions of Licinius (c. 265-325), who after 316, persecuted the Christians of the East.

"These forty soldiers were sentenced to be exposed in a frozen pond on a very cold winter night, so that they could freeze to death. About to die, they exclaimed: Lord, forty have entered the battle, forty crowns we ask of you." The forty soldiers affirmed that no momentary torment would separate them from their faith in Jesus Christ. It was March 9, AD 320.


When the Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (c. 272-337) converted to Christianity and stopped the persecution of Christians to give them freedom of worship from 312 AD, he only had power over half the Roman Empire. The other half was under the rule of Licinius (c. 265-325), who for most of his reign was his rival and responded to the edict of Constantine I (c. 272-337) promising to do away with the Christians.

The then emperor Licinius (c. 265-325) ordered by decree that anyone who did not renounce his faith and went on to make sacrifice to the pagan gods, would be sentenced to death. His evil plan to eliminate Christianity from the lands under his control was beginning to be executed, and especially, for fear of treachery, among the troops of his army. Next, military commanders, including Agricola, the governor of Cappadocia, ordered all the soldiers under his command to make a pagan sacrifice in the Armenian city of Sebaste, in what is now eastern Turkey.

At that time, forty soldiers of the Legio XII Fulminata (Twelfth Lightning Legion) openly declared themselves Christians in front of the governor, stating that they were not willing to abandon their beliefs. These intrepid men prayed together to keep the faith and remain 40, at the end of their sufferings.

The governor couldn't believe what he was hearing and explained his intentions: If they did not surrender, they would suffer unbearable torments, on the other hand, if they went on to worship the pagan gods, they would receive great honors. This did not change the opinion of the brave soldiers, who accepted with great courage the fulfillment of any type of punishment to which the governor subjected them.

One document maintains that during this time they also prayed that there would still be forty soldiers left at the end of their sufferings. When Agricola again caught their attention, he persuaded them to bow down to the pagan gods and gave them two alternatives:

"Either offer sacrifices to the gods and obtain great honors, or, in case of disobedience, be stripped of military rank and fall from grace."

The soldiers were imprisoned to reflect on this where they were also tortured. However, none of this made them change their minds and that night they strengthened themselves by singing psalms and praying to God.

The prison lasted for a long time, probably because orders were expected from higher commands or even, given the seriousness of the case, from the Roman Emperor Licinius (c. 265-325) himself.

At midnight, they were filled with holy fear as they heard the voice of the Lord: "Endure to the end and you will be saved." During the wait, the prisoners, anticipating their end, drew up their collective will by the hand of one of them, Melecio.

"When by the grace of God and all his prayers we finish the fight that we have ahead, we will reach the crowns of a higher vocation ...", they expressed in the first part.

In this distinguished deeply Christian document, those who were to die express their wish that their remains be buried together, exhorting Christians to remain steadfast in the faith and finally greeting some of their friends and family for the last time. The document contains, as usual, the names of the forty martyrs and, from there, the names were later copied into other documents, with minor spelling differences.

During this time they prepared for the approaching test and one of them, named Cyrion, exhorted his fellow soldiers:

"God ordained that we be friends in this temporal life; let us try not to part; just as we have been found pleading with a mortal king, so may we fight to be worthy of the favor of the immortal King, Christ our God."

Cyrion reminded his companions how God had miraculously helped them in other times and assured them that he would not abandon them now in their battle against the invisible enemy. When Judge Licius arrived, the soldiers marched to the interrogation the next morning singing the psalm "O God, save me in your name," as they always did when entering the battlefield. Licius spoke to them of the dishonor that stained his reputation, but they replied that he could take their lives, because there was nothing more precious than faith in Christ.

In principle, the emperor Licinius (c. 265-325) sentenced them to death by stoning, but the stones thrown at the forty soldiers returned to their executioners by the crowd and wounded them.

Governor Agrícola, who was injured by one of these returning stones, summoned them again and this time tried to persuade them with flattering words, praising their bravery and beauty. Yet the soldiers, refusing to reject their Savior, remained impassive and continued to confess Christ with firmness and unwavering courage. And they were again imprisoned for a week pending the orders of the Roman emperor Licinius (c. 265-325).

After one night's prayers, the soldiers heard the voice of the Lord a second time: "He who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Be brave and fear nothing, and thus you will obtain imperishable crowns."

Upon sentencing, the forty Roman soldiers were sentenced to die of hypothermia: they had to remain exposed in a frozen lake during the cold winter night, and there await death. The place chosen for this difficult ending seems to have been an icy lake in front of the Sebaste hot springs guarded by guards to prevent them from coming ashore.

Basil the Great (330-379) tells us that they encouraged each other to remain faithful until death with this prayer: "Lord, forty we entered the battle, forty crowns we ask of you." Their Christian conviction was not altered and they marched together encouraging one another.

The soldiers were stripped of their clothes and ordered to stand overnight in the icy waters. Athanasius and Claudius continually sang to God when submerged. Guards were set up to watch over them, and hot baths were set up by the lake to tempt the holy warriors of Jesus Christ to recant.

Cyril and Dometian did not stop praying as the cruel cold penetrated bitingly. Ecdicio and others prayed asking the Lord that no one be absent and continued in fervent prayer. Elijah and Eunoico were tempted by the guards to push them back, but they remained in the icy water.

Anyone who renounced their beliefs and worshiped the pagan gods could flee the cold waters and warm their bones in the thermal baths. This was a great temptation that in the early hours of the night he defeated one of the soldiers. However, as soon as he got out of the water to get to the hot springs, he fell to the ground and died. Some claim he did it by dragging and others on foot, only to collapse when he got there.

Seeing this, the rest of the soldiers were deeply saddened and fervently prayed to God: "Help us, O God our Savior, because here we are in the water and our feet are wounded with our blood; ease the burden of our oppression and tame the cruelty of the air; O Lord, our God, in You we hope, we are not ashamed, but let everyone understand that those of us who call on you have been saved."

His prayer was heard. In the third hour of the night a warm light illuminated the saints and melted the ice. By then all but one of the guards had fallen asleep. The guard who was still awake had been stunned to witness the death of the soldier who had fled to the calidarium and to see that those in the water were still alive.

Now, seeing this extraordinary light, he looked up to see where it was coming from and saw thirty-nine radiant crowns descending on the heads of the saints and immediately his heart was enlightened with the knowledge of the truth. He woke up the sleeping guards and, taking off his clothes, ran to the lake shouting for all to hear: "I'm also a Christian!" His name was Aglaius, and he raised the number of martyrs once more to forty.

This last Roman soldier, moved by the fortitude of the damned and the resplendent light that descended from heaven, took off his clothes and decided to be a witness of Jesus Christ that night. Until the last breath, the martyrs sang: "Our help comes from the Lord", and all gave their soul to God. Only Meliton remained alive until the next morning, although he was barely breathing.

At dawn, the evil judges arrived at the lake and were enraged to discover that not only one was still alive, but that one of the guards had joined them. The rigid bodies of the martyrs were burned and the ashes thrown into the river.

In this way, the martyrdom of the forty soldiers of Legio XII Fulminata came to an end, to finally enter into the joy of the Lord. Courage and perseverance in the midst of torments exemplify faithfulness, love, and unwavering faith even when they tried to stone them, they suffered contempt, were in prison, and were thrown into the frozen lake so that their love for Christ would wane.

These faithful soldiers of Christ are witnesses through the centuries of the elect who cry out to God and continue to encourage Christians of all time to be faithful to Jesus Christ to the end.

Final Words

"Meletius Aetius and Eutichius, prisoners for Christ, to all bishops, priests, deacons, confessors and all other men of the Church who reside in every city and country, rejoice in Christ!"

"When by the grace of God and all his prayers we finish the fight that we have ahead, we will reach the crowns of a higher vocation ..."

"That is why we too, along with Aetius and Eutiquio and all our other brothers in Christ, ask our respected parents and brothers to be oblivious to all pain and disturbance to respect this pact of fraternal society and jealously adhere to our desire, to achieve through him the great gift of obedience and compassion from our common Father".

"The present tense is appropriate for those who wish to be saved: on the one hand, it provides a great span of time for repentance, and on the other hand, it provides an implicit vital activity for those who do not postpone it for the future. Changes in life are unforeseen; However, if you have learned this, then, contemplate the beneficial and also in this life show purity of reverence to God, so that, being captured by Him, you can erase the writing of your previous sins, because the Lord said: "As I find you, so I will judge you."

"That is why I ask you, brother, and command you to ignore all worldly voluptuousness and deception, because the glory of this world is not strong but mutable: It blooms for a short time, but then slowly dries up like grass; it ends before it has even begun. But wish more to go to the God who loves men, who gives inexhaustible riches to those who turn to him and the crown of eternal life to those who believe in him."

"Therefore, be careful to be pure in the commandments of Christ, so that you can escape the eternal fire that is not quenched. Because the divine voice cries out from ancient times that time is short."

"Therefore, honor love above all else, because it honors the law of brotherly love, submitting yourself to God according to the law, because through a visible brother the invisible God is also honored. These words apply to brothers of the same womb, but this opinion also applies to all those who love Christ, because our Holy Savior and God said that brothers are not only those who are related to each other by a common nature, but may they be united in faith in the best of deeds and may they carry out the will of our Father who is in heaven."

"That is why we salute you all in our Lord, we, forty brothers and fellow prisoners: Meletius, Aetius, Eutiches, Cyrion, Candidus, Agnius, Gaius, Chudion, Heraclius, John, Theophilus, Sisinius, Smaragdus, Philoctimon, Gorgonius, Cyril, Severianus, Theodulus, Nicolás, Flavio, Xantheas, Valaus Dometian, Helcio, Leonychius , which is Teoctisto, Eunoico, Valente, Acacio, Alejandro, Vikratius, which is Viviano, Prisco, Sacerdón, Ecdicio, Atanasio, Lisímaco, Claudio, Elías and Melitón. Thus, we, forty prisoners of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the hand of Meletius, one of us, have signed and confirmed all of the above. We pray with our souls and the Divine Spirit, that we receive the eternal blessings of God and His Kingdom, now and forever. Amen."

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