Mar 10 – 40 Martyrs of Armenia, (d. 320 AD) – Soldiers of Christ

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-Forty Martyrs, ivory relief, 10th century, Constantinople

The phrase “Soldier of Christ (2 Tim 2:3)”, Ecclesia Militans, Church Militant, “The Fighting Church”, are all a bit dated, some may say.  Others, not so.  But here is a story of real ones.  We know their names. At Confirmation, Catholics become adults in the Church, and, traditionally, “Soldiers of Christ”.  At Confirmation, when the confirmandi are anointed with sacred chrism, they, by allowing this act say, “I am willing to die for the faith.  Never to deny my Lord and Savior.  No matter what.”  No exceptions.  “…more strictly obliged to spread and defend the Faith, by word and deed.”

Heralded in the sermons of St Basil, only fifty or sixty years after their deaths, we know they belonged to the Twelfth Legion, Legio XII, the Fulminata Legion, or “Armed with Lightning” Legion, or “Thunderbolt” Legion.  The Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Licinius, who was eventually defeated and executed by Emperor Constantine the Great, was persecuting Christians.  The Emperor ordered all in his armies to sacrifice, to perform their pagan religio.  These forty legionnaires refused.

The military judge in charge of their case first tried persuasion.  He instructed them on the dishonor they would incur for refusing to worship the pagan gods.  Then, he made them large promises of preferment and high favor with the Emperor.  These were refused.  He recoursed to threats, most terrifying.  All in vain.  They were torn with whips.  Their sides rent with iron hooks.  Thrown in jail and chained.

Lysias, their general, returned.  They spoke freely and bravely of their love of the Lord.  A slow and severe death was devised especially for them.  They were stripped naked, marched onto a frozen pond and made to lie exposed to the cold.  On the shore were made warm baths and hot soup, within their sight.

Finally, one of their number fell, and ran to the warm baths.  As in battle, when one falls, another takes his place, a guard attending the baths on the shore was so moved by the courage of the remaining thirty-nine, embraced Christ, stripped, and took the place of the apostate, in formation, on the ice.

In the morning, the judge ordered the dead with cold and those nearly so, all of them, to be thrown into the fire, to be cremated.  As the bodies were being thrown into a wagon to be transported to the pyre, Melito, the youngest among them, was found to still be alive.  His tormentors hoped still to turn him.  So, they left him on the ice.

Melito’s mother, also a Christian, found her son in this condition.  Quite frozen, not able to move, and scarcely breathing.  He looked at her, and she encouraged him to persevere.  Reproaching his executioners, she picked him up and placed him in the wagon herself.  Their bodies were burned, but the ashes and remains collected by other Christians as relics, spread throughout many cities, around which many churches were built.

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-relics of the 40 Martyrs, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

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-Church of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, Bitola, Macedonia

“We beseech you, O most holy martyrs, who cheerfully suffered torments and death for His love, and are now more familiarly united to Him, that you intercede with God for us slothful and wretched sinners, that He bestow on us the grace of Christ, by which we may be enlightened and enabled to love Him.” – St Ephrim

“If we die with Him,
we will also live with Him.
If we endure hardship,
we will reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He will deny us.
If we are unfaithful,
He remains faithful,
for he cannot deny Who He is.”

-2 Tim 2:11-14

Blessed Lent.

Love,
Matthew

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