11 March 2006

Forty Holy Martyrs

Yesterday's commemoration of the Forty Holy Martyrs should not go unremarked upon, especially by one serving in Detroit. For Detroit has a significant population of Aremenians, and these martyrs are some of the few (if not the only) from that ancient Christian land commemorated by Western Christians. (Above left is a photo of St John's Armenian Apostolic Church, an architectural jewel and one of the most significant Oriental Orthodox parishes in the US.)

The inspiring story of the martyrs is told here and here. Let me simply highlight this part of the story:

After being often remanded to an horrid prison-house, bound in fetters, and their mouths bruised with stones, they were ordered out in the depth of winter, stripped naked, and put upon a frozen pool, to die of cold during the night. The prayer of them all was the same: "O Lord, forty of us have begun to run in the race, grant that all forty may receive the crown, let not one be wanting at the last. Behold, is it not an honourable number in thy sight, who didst bless the fast of forty days, and at the end thy Divine Law came forth to the earth? When also Elias sought thee, thou, O God, didst reveal thyself unto him when he had fasted for forty days." Even so was their petition.

When the keepers were all asleep and the watchman only was awake, he heard them praying and saw a light shining round about them, and Angels coming down from heaven, as the messengers of the King, bearing nine-and-thirty crowns, and distributing them to the soldiers. Then he said within himself: "Are not forty here? Where is the crown of the fortieth?" And as he looked he saw one of them whose courage could not bear the cold, come and leap into a warm bath that stood by; and the Saints were grievously afflicted. Nevertheless God suffered not that their prayer should return unto them void; for the watchman wondered, and called the keepers, and stripped himself of his clothes; and, when with a loud voice he had confessed himself a Christian, he joined the Martyrs.

1 comment:

Nan said...

Thanks for including this bit of History in Sunday's teaching. May God give us the courage to make the hard choices that come to us in our lives.
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From a Homily by St. Basil :
Reflecting on these martyrs he 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.”
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The late Prof. Plinio CorrĂȘa de Oliveira, Catholic thinker, writer, university professor, comments on what they actually gave up when they chose Christ, and ultimatley death:

"...interesting that when St. Basil presented the highest merits of these martyrs, he did not say that they loved God more than the pleasures and seductions of the world. It would have been very beautiful, but it was not what he did. What he said was that they had loved God more than their parents, children and wives, who remained on earth mourning them because they had chosen to die rather than apostatize. Loving God more than their relatives, they fulfilled those words of Our Lord: “Do not think that I am come to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother …. He who loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” (Math 10:34-37)

Our Lord said this because at times we have to make such a choice, we have to break with our families to do the will of God. Even of it is very difficult, we should follow the words of Our Lord. This is the reason why St. Basil gave the greatest merit to this point when he eulogized the 40 martyrs of Sebaste. I consider this tribute of St. Basil a truly marvelous thing!"

Source: The Saint of the Day on Tradition in Action Website