1. THE HOLY FORTY MARTYRS OF SEBASTEA
All of them were soldiers in the Roman army and steadfastly believed in the Lord Jesus. When the persecution of Christians began during the reign of Licinius, they were brought to trial before the commander. When he threatened to strip them of their honor as soldiers, one of them, St. Candidus, responded, "Not only the honor of being a soldier, but take away our bodies, for nothing is more dear or honorable, to us than Christ our God." After that, the commander ordered his servants to stone the holy martyrs. While the servants were hurling stones at the Christians, the stones turned and fell back on the servants, severely striking them. One of the stones struck the commander's face and knocked out his teeth. The torturers, angry as wild beasts, bound all of the holy martyrs and tossed them into the lake and stationed a guard around it so as to prevent any of them from escaping. There was a terrible frost and the lake froze around the bodies of the martyrs. So that their pain and suffering would be worsened, and in order to persuade one of them to deny Christ and acknowledge the idols of Rome, the torturers heated a bath by the side of the lake in sight of the frozen martyrs. Indeed, one of them was persuaded. He came out of the water and entered the bath. And behold, an extraordinary light appeared from heaven which warmed the water in the lake and the bodies of the martyrs. With that light, thirty-nine wreaths descended from heaven over their heads. Upon seeing this, a guard on the shore removed all his clothes, confessed the Name of the Lord Jesus and entered the lake so that he could become worthy of the fortieth wreath in place of the betrayer. Indeed, the last wreath descended upon him. The next day the entire town was astonished when they saw that the martyrs were still alive. Then, the wicked judges ordered that the lower part of their legs be broken and their bodies thrown into the water so Christians could not recover them. On the third day the martyrs appeared to Peter, the local bishop, and summoned him to gather their relics and remove them from the water The bishop with his clergy went out into the dark of night and beheld the relics of the martyrs shining brightly in the water. Every bone which was separated from their bodies floated to the top and glowed like a candle. Bishop Peter gathered and honorably buried them. The souls of these martyrs, who suffered for all of us, went to the Lord Jesus, resurrected with glory. They suffered honorably and were crowned with unfading glory in the year 320 A.D.
2. THE VENERABLE FILOMORUS
He lived and mortified himself in Galatia in the fourth century. It is said about him that he was so perfected in all virtues that he resembled an angel rather than a man. He was especially glorified because of his patience. He was persecuted by the Emperor Julian the Apostate and suffered much for Christ. After the death of Julian,this wicked persecutor of Christ, St. Filomorus lived peacefully, benefiting many. He died in his eightieth year.
3. SAINT CAESARIUS
St. Caesarius, the brother of Gregory the Theologian who died in the year 369 A.D., was also a theological writer. Among other things he attempted to answer the question: How long a time did Adam and Eve spend in Paradise before their expulsion? Some have determined the time to be six hours; others, twenty-four hours; and still others, three days. St. Caesarius was of the mind that the length of time was forty days. "Because," he says, "Our Lord fasted forty days in the wilderness and during that time He was tempted by the devil. Since the old Adam could not resist the temptation of the devil in the abundance of Paradise, the new Adam resisted the devil gallantly in the hungry and thirsty wilderness."
HYMN OF PRAISE
THE HOLY FORTY MARTYRS
Martyrs in the lake shackled by frost,
Strongly adhering to Holy Faith, by hope illumined,
To the dear God, cried out: You, Who astonished the world
By Your awesome sacrifice and resurrection, O You, enliven us!
The firmament of heaven and everything created, glorify You,
Behold, the abyss, fire, hail, snow, ice and heat glorify You!
You helped the great Moses, your servant,
And Joshua Son of Nun, and after that Elisha,
That nature, calm the waters and it, to divide,
Now, help your faithful as you have until now,
Do not allow the frost to be stronger than man,
That we, Forty Martyrs, not become the subject of scorn;
Oh, You can, if You want, for You rule over all,
You, when You want, can change ice into heat and heat into ice;
Because of Your Name, the frost consumes us as an angry beast--
Oh, help us that the Name of the Almighty may be praised!
Martyrs in the lake, shackled by frost,
From heaven, by God's light, were warmed,
Gloriously they fell and remained Forty Martyrs
To the fear, horror and shame of the darkened unbelievers.
Conceal your spiritual treasures and do not reveal them unnecessarily. Behold, how men conceal and hide their material wealth and how, when forced to reveal how much they have, they always conceal the greater amount and only reveal the lesser amount. Very few are the number of men who want to reveal all that they possess, and fewer still are those who would reveal more than they, in reality, possess. This, the world considers frivolous and mindless. This clearly shows you how you need to conceal your spiritual wealth, that is, your virtues, your good works, your fastings, your vigils, and your prayers. Why do not the wise children of this world reveal their material wealth? For two reasons: So that thieves would not hear of it and not to provoke the envy of evil men. There also exist envious and jealous thieves after spiritual treasure. They are the spirits of envy. As soon as you reveal your spiritual treasure, they will endeavor to belittle it and to squander it. Just as soon as you reveal it without need [let us say, out of vanity, so as to be praised], they have seized it and disparaged it; and you, O rich man of spiritual treasure, will imperceptibly and suddenly become a poor man. Many who were spiritually rich, the saints, made themselves out to be fools before the world so that by appearing foolish, they would conceal their great wisdom and strength within themselves. The Abba Isaiah writes, "Those good works which are performed in secret are more pleasing to God." St. Nilus of Sinai says, "The covered skin of the body is white, but the uncovered skin in parched and black." So it is with our concealed and revealed good works.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in the hands of the enemies of God gathered together in the home of Caiaphas:
1. How all of them hurriedly sought false witnesses, for they wanted, by whatever means, to kill Christ;
2. How they spit in His face and struck Him on the face;
3. How our Lord endures all with unspeakable dignity and without anger.
About enduring to the end
"But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved " (St. Matthew 24:13).
O Lord most wonderful, You have endured all, all to the end. That is why You became not only blessed but the source of blessings for all men who desire good forthemselves throughout the ages of ages.
The apostles endured all to the end and entered into blessed eternity. The saints willingly endured the difficulties and sufferings to the end and were glorified, both in heaven and on earth.
The martyrs willingly endured all pains to the end and became the adopted co-inheritors of the Kingdom of Christ.
Every founder of a new organization recruits followers for himself with the promise of good fruits and many pleasures but deliberately remains silent about the hardships and labors which lead to those fruits and pleasures. Our Lord Jesus is the only one Who spoke the whole truth to His followers, both the bitter and the sweet side of the truth. He did not promise fruits without service, nor glory without suffering, nor ultimate rest without the thorny path, nor victory without struggle, nor pleasure without bitterness, nor the kingdom without tears and self-denial.
Although our Lord counted the many difficulties which would befall His followers, in the end He does not abandon them without comfort. He gives meaning to their sufferings and does not leave them in darkness. He says, "The one who perseveres to the end will be saved." What is that blessing which awaits those who endure to the end that He Jesus fully revealed and that has been witnessed even until today and is being witnessed by many saints, who, have either appeared in glory to the faithful from the other world or who, while yet in the flesh, were uplifted in the spirit to a vision of that glory and blessedness which await the faithful, the chosen and persevering?
O Lord, You are our strength. Help us to endure to the end with faith that You are beside us.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
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